Should Your Business Chase More Than One Bottom Line?

It’s hard to imagine someone achieving long-term success in business without focusing on how every move will impact the bottom line.

Traditionally speaking, your net income drives almost every decision you make. It’s a simple concept — not always easy, but simple. But what if your objectives include more than profit? What if you’d also like to do something to make the world — even if it’s just your little piece — a better place to live and work?

That’s the “double bottom line” — where in addition to the traditional metric of profit, performance is also measured in terms of a specific, positive social impact to be made. Today, some large organizations have even moved on to a “triple bottom line” that adds in environmental considerations as well.

Everything at JumpStart ties to a broader mission of working with diverse, ambitious entrepreneurs to unlock their potential and, in doing so, helping to transform entire communities.

Ours is a mission built on delivering a double bottom line. We invest in tech startups with the intention of generating cash returns that will help us sustain our operations — bottom line No. 1. But we are also an economic development organization, which means we also exist to help improve Northeast Ohio’s economy as a whole — bottom line No. 2.

Added complexity
Of course, adding another bottom line can make things more complicated — especially when it comes to creating a singular identity.

For example, although many know JumpStart primarily as an early-stage venture capital investor, we also offer consulting services to more established businesses (we call them scale-ups) and help minority entrepreneurs grow non-tech businesses in the neighborhoods of Cleveland.

If we were motivated solely by profit, these service-based initiatives might fall outside our scope. But scale-ups have the potential to grow and hire very aggressively. Entrepreneurs who live and work in the city’s neighborhoods have the potential to economically transform those communities. That makes helping them a good investment in our double bottom line.

No matter what kind of work you do, adding another bottom line also comes with added complexity, along with the need to define a guiding mission that can help serve as the standard against which you measure your work. Whether you are a nonprofit or a socially conscious for-profit company, chasing more than one bottom line means that each initiative you consider must now be balanced against multiple priorities.

It can be done
Profitable work may no longer be considered a “success” if your business ignores communities around you instead of strengthening them. This can be hard, but those who make the adjustment can become major forces for positive change.

In the end, I can’t tell you for sure that a single, double or even triple bottom line is right for your business. However, whether your business is one year old, 100 years old or somewhere in between, it’s entirely possible to successfully prioritize financial success and positive social impact at the same time.

This post originally appeared in Smart Business on March 1, 2017

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Thought Leadership