Don’t Chase The Paper, Chase The Dream
Last night I had the opportunity to hear Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos speak at the SFJAZZ Center. The talk was hosted by The Long Now Foundation. Tony shared his story and the origins of Zappos.com followed by updates on his more recent Downtown Project. It was an inspiring evening, seeing someone so young and successful share his story and ideas.
One of Tony’s slides mentioned the 2009 movie Notorious and the quote by rapper Sean Combs AKA "Puff Daddy":
“Don’t chase the paper, chase the dream.”
Today I volunteered for a private demo day of 500 Startups. In exchange for helping out with setup and cleanup, I got to hear almost 20 early-stage companies pitch to a room full of investors. Though exciting and interesting, Tony’s presentation was still echoing in my head. “Don’t chase the paper.” I wondered how many of these teams are chasing their dreams, my conclusion was underwhelming.
I’m convinced the only way to make a major impact on humanity is to have the courage to imagine what “could be”. Society puts a juicy orange carrot on a stick and tells us to catch the carrot. Unbeknownst to us, the stick is attached to our back. To escape this relentless chase is to realize you’re playing someone else’s game.
Over the weekend I watched The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. In the film, Katniss (the protagonist) is repeatedly told “remember who the real enemy is”. She must understand she’s not fighting her opponents in the games, rather she's fighting "The Capital" (who put her there). That's how I feel about companies chasing paper. They’re after the wrong enemy.
Tony openly admitted he’s not that into shoes (even though Zappos.com started by selling shoes). He sees Zappos as a company delivering great customer service regardless of the product. His book, Delivering Happiness elaborates on this vision, but hearing the founder of a shoe company say he doesn’t really care for shoes sums it up. In business and life you have to derive things to their essence. Who’s the real enemy?
Sometimes people won’t like you chasing your dreams. They’re scared by your ability to play by your own rules. “That’s not supposed to happen,” they’ll think. There will also be people who help you and are inspired by your bravery to dream openly. If you need help, ask. People find inspiration in helping others. Don’t chase the paper. Chase the dream.