Jennie and I spent the past two weeks negotiating with a procession of incompetent / scummy U.S. health and life insurance providers that make up our banana republic healthcare system. And we’re not amused. So if you’re not in the mood for a rant, I’d skip this post.
You’ve been warned.
Why Millennials are Killing Businesses
If I had a nickel for every headline crying about millennials killing yet another business that I didn’t know still existed, I’d have more money to spend on their competitors.
It’s not even worth my time to link these click-bait articles (SEO be damned). That’s because the majority of these publications will eventually die. Because they add no social value, can’t even make a profit, and are kept alive by faux outrage, diverting our attentions from more important issues that take longer than a half-skimmed article to explain.
My overall response to these articles can be summarized thusly:
"Do you know what this is? It's the world's smallest violin playing just for your business."
Instead of “why are millennials so entitled and killing everything?” let’s ask, “why do businesses built on stale ideas feel entitled to survive?”
Becoming a more conscious consumer
Flaws in human beings are natural and often beautiful, shaped by our experiences, and deserving of empathy. Our strengths and weaknesses are what make our individual stories unique and relatable.
Flaws in businesses, on the other hand, are just sad excuses that leech valuable (and limited) resources from the economy, and from people who could’ve had better uses for their time and money.
While nobody has ever asked to be born, at some point, somebody made the decision to be in business. This means that they are subject to the Darwinian rules of the markets - and to ruthless scrutiny by the consumer.
The rules are pretty straightforward:
If you can’t make a profit and/or can no longer add more social value than you take away, then your business is worthless and deserves to die. What’s more, the sooner you die, the more resources get freed up for companies that might actually improve peoples’ lives.
Some businesses today are part of the solution, others are part of the problem. While we can’t simply “get rid of” problematic individuals (marginalize and ignore, yes), it’s extremely possible to get rid of problematic businesses. Businesses are just vehicles made of money, and money is just the sum total of our values and decisions.
As millennials, what we have to ask ourselves as consumers is:
Are we part of the solution or are we part of the problem?
If you think of our world as a system, and each individual choice is a component of that system, then what are the small things we can do today to improve things over the long term?
6 Things (These) Millennials Look for in a Business
Here are six ways that Jennie and I evaluate businesses:
1. Follow the golden rule
Repeat after me: always add more value than you extract. And every day that you’re lucky enough to stay in business, you should be working relentlessly toward providing more value for less (or eventually, somebody else will). Define value how you will - but in the long run, the market decides.
2. Transparent pricing
If it takes me more than a minute to figure out your pricing, if you don’t list prices at all or if you include “optional” add-ons that are actually extremely mandatory, I’m going to assume you’re running a non-profit because that’s what you’re going to be.
3. Trust is personal
Business is business, but trust is personal. Do I like you and trust you with my money? Because I only engage with people and companies I like. If you change the rules on me for whatever reason after an agreement has been reached, then you’re getting replaced. I don’t care if it’s $0.01 more than we agreed. Just on principle, I’m going to dispose of you anyway.
At Spectrum / Time Warner Cable, if your own employees have to warn its customers to always keep their receipt after they return their internet routers (in case it gets “lost” and the customer gets charged a fee), then I’m here on my knees praying for the day when I can dance on your grave.
4. Ease of use / technology
If you make the process of buying your product/service hard, or make me wait for hours on the line, I’ll use that time to silently count the days until I can get rid of you for a simpler option. For example, if you only accept physical checks and money orders in 2018, you’re dead to me. If change is too hard or happening too fast for your slowass to catch up, then quit.
If the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, if I have to give you the same information three or four times on the same call, then maybe your business needs to be dismantled and cut down to a more manageable size.
6. Customer service
When someone calls customer service, that means something has gone wrong. That’s okay, life happens. Nobody’s perfect. But how will you respond?
This doesn’t mean giving customers whatever they ask for. The average customer is probably insane. It just means that when you’re dealing with a human being, you need to act like one. If a request is common sense and reasonable, then it should be accommodated. If not, you should be able to explain clearly the reasons why. Any version of “that’s just the way it is” tells me your business has no idea why it does the things it does. Ergo, it should not exist for much longer.
The Origami Life: How We Like to do Business
Let’s face it: we’re buying products and services here - not saving the world. And yet our choices, in some small way, matter. If we don’t like the way the world is going, the least we can do is act on it. It may seem insignificant, like a drop in a ocean, but even if you “fail,” at least you can sit back and say that you did the best you could, at a time when most people didn’t bother to try at all.
As partners in a new business, here are some basic principles that Jennie and I would like to live by:
Putting client interests above our own (e.g. be upfront and honest about our input/thoughts).
Always try to add more value than we’re taking away.
Growing and evolving with our business to make sure our skills are always up-to-date.
Communicating and treating people like human beings and not numbers with a customer lifetime value attached.
It’s a harder way to do business, but it’s also cleaner. Call us narrow-minded, but after a certain point, what’s the point of doing anything if you can’t live on your own terms?
This also explains why Jennie and I haven’t we put any ads or accepted any sponsors on The Origami Life blog. The number of companies we’d gladly associate ourselves with can be counted on one hand (towards the rest we’re lukewarm at best, hostile at worst). It would be hypocritical of us to endorse anything we wouldn’t pay full price for ourselves. As frugal “minimalists,” that’s an extremely short list.
Luckily, The Origami Life happens to be our space. It also happens to be our life. So basically, it’s going to be our way or the highway. And if we can’t have it our way, at least we’ve put ourselves in a position to be patient and build for the long term.
Because freedom is the leverage that comes with wanting things without ever really needing them.