Supercharging a lifestyle business with impact

Why the best experiential businesses put the lifestyle of the entrepreneur first

By Tom Nixon 

Photo by Alain Bachellier

Peak Lifestyle Business

The startup world reached Peak Lifestyle Business with Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Work Week. The idea is to find a way to sell any old crap you think people will buy online; automate the business so you can run it from anywhere with minimal work; and then use the income to live your ultimate lifestyle. The product, the customers, the business and its impact in the world are all unimportant. Ferriss doesn’t even call something like that a business. It’s merely a muse.

Now I’m not bashing Tim. There’s all kinds of other good stuff in his books. Yet something leaves me cold about lifestyle businesses. It’s the lack of purpose. The lack of positive impact in the world beyond the narrow confines of your own lifestyle.

Purpose in business matters today. It matters because meaning is a powerful human need. It’s a source of motivation and fulfilment. And more importantly, the world needs us to come together to address the big challenges of our time. We need impact.

Lifestyle business with IMPACT

It’s well known that many of the best product ideas are created by people with a need for some kind of gizmo or service which just doesn’t exist yet. So they go out and create it. The passion comes from their own unmet need and they know the chances are that others have the same need. That’s good entrepreneurship.

The impact lifestyle entrepreneur goes further and extends this to an entire lifestyle, not just a particular product.

An impact lifestyle entrepreneur starts with their own needs in life. How they want to live. How they want to be. How they want the world around them to be.

It starts with self and in the present moment, not putting off happiness into the future when they have the money. But it extends far beyond them. They see others with a similar yearning and want to create the opportunity for them to enjoy that lifestyle too.

In pursuit of living the life they want, they draw in others – colleagues, customers, partners and more – and create initiatives where their lives become richer too.

Impact lifestyle business in action

Ed Templeton gave up his stressful career and went travelling with his wife Sofie. They discovered a simpler lifestyle full of surfing and yoga. They now run surf and yoga retreats in India and Sri Lanka. They get to surf and practice yoga every day. That’s a lifestyle business, but they didn’t stopped there. The purpose of Soul & Surf isn’t just for Ed & Sofie to live a cool beach lifestyle and sell holidays to tourists. They give all of their guests a taste of a different lifestyle and tell them the story of their own journey. Over dinner, others hatch plans to change their own lifestyle too.

Soul & Surf attracts employees who want the lifestyle, and also want to make that lifestyle available to others. Sometimes guests become colleagues. Plans for growth give employees the chance to create pop-up surf spots in other countries, and some will go on to setting up their own locations for which they can take full responsibility.

And it extends into the local communities where they operate. Whilst being sensitive towards local culture and traditions, their surf trucks also pick up local people who they take surfing too.

This is neither growth business nor lifestyle business as we previously knew it. And it’s not just a purposeful business, trying to do good for other people. This is an impact lifestyle business.

And of course The Happy Startup School is another shining example. The co-founders Carlos and Laurence want to lead happy, inspired lives where work is fun and doesn’t feel like work. They want to work on things that matter. So they jacked in their digital agency which was a decent business but not truly making them happy. Now they’re focussed 100% on The Happy Startup School – once a side-project, now the main event. Their own happiness is too important to not be front and centre.

Yet it’s clear not just about them. They know others are unhappy and have trapped themselves in jobs or even companies they have started. Just as Laurence and Carlos made their big transition, they want others to have the chance to do so as well and be supported on the journey.

They’ve built a huge community of others doing just that. They’re living it themselves and building a movement at the same time. The more Laurence and Carlos live the lifestyle they want, the more they draw others in, the more the movement builds and the greater the positive impact in the world.

It’s scalable too. If the fulfilment of needs is baked into the operating model and strategy you can recruit more colleagues and find ways to organise so everyone’s needs are met and more and more people are drawn in to benefit.

Never sacrifice yourself

There’s a danger to watch out for. Once an impact lifestyle business becomes successful and grows, it’s easy for the lifestyle to gradually erode. It becomes about the business, not about the need, the lifestyle, the yearning. You can relentlessly focus on customer experience and hitting the numbers at the expense of your own lifestyle.

This is a noble but foolish strategy. Never forget that the passion and energy which has drawn in others started with you. If you lose your passion, it will drain from the whole initiative. It will become just another business. Ensuring you’re meeting your own needs creates the conditions where you can offer a life-changing experience to others.

It’s not about work/life balance either – such a dated phrase! Work and life needn’t be two separate things to be traded off against one another. There’s only life.

Start with you

In a world that’s stuffocated itself with individualistic, consumerist drives, focussing on yourself is becoming unfashionable. Today we praise servant leaders and rightly so. However we also need to love ourselves and give ourselves the chance to live the life we want. But this is about life experience, about vitality, not just getting more stuff. And whilst it starts with self and the inner yearning, the deeper fulfilment comes from building connection to others and bringing them along on the journey with you.

So could your startup be an impact lifestyle business? What’s the lifestyle you want, and how can you begin to live it, right now, whilst drawing others in to enjoy it too?

Surf’s up!

Tom Nixon helps founders explore how they can make their wildest dreams a reality through workshopstalks and the words he shares on his medium blog

Tom Nixon

Exploring how founders can make their wildest ideas a reality and keep the startup passion forever. 1 part research, 2 parts bitter experience.