“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”

Stephen R. Covey

It’s often said that if you can go on a trip with someone, you can pretty much handle anything together. Well, I’d like to propose a new test: try running a business with them for two decades. That’s right, twenty years. That’s longer than most Hollywood marriages, and certainly longer than my endeavor to become a morning person.

Enter Chris. Chris wasn’t just any business partner. He was the kind of guy for whom a hearty laugh made him raise an eyebrow, and too much merrymaking made him worry we were losing focus. If grumpiness were an Olympic sport, Chris would have been a gold medalist. But here’s the thing: behind that seemingly impenetrable grimace was a heart of gold.

We embarked on our entrepreneurial journey with the kind of naive enthusiasm you’d expect from two people who had no idea what they were getting into. I brought the optimism, and Chris, predictably, brought the skepticism. It was a match made in business heaven.

Over the years, we faced our fair share of challenges. There were times when our profits looked more like the EKG of a man who’d just run a marathon after a three-day fast. But through it all, we had one guiding principle: people first, profits second.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “That’s a lovely sentiment, but how did you actually make it work?” Well, it wasn’t always easy. For instance, when we had to decide between giving our employees a well-deserved raise or splurging on those sleek, modern desks from the latest office design magazine, Chris would raise an eyebrow and comment, “Are these desks for doing business or launching people into space?” I’d chuckle, “Why not a bit of both?”

But in a move that was pure Chris, he volunteered to build our office desks. Yes, you read that right. The man who’d raise an eyebrow at too much merrymaking was now in the workshop, sawdust flying, determined to craft the perfect workspace for our team. The results? Let’s just say our office had a unique, rustic charm. And while the desks might not have had the sleek lines of a designer brand, they were built with love, dedication, and a touch of Chris’s signature grumpiness.

In the end, our business wasn’t just about the balance sheets or the accolades we amassed. It was about the journey, the people we uplifted along the way, and the lives we touched. Chris’s grumpy exterior never fooled anyone for long; it was merely the shell protecting a boundless reservoir of compassion and integrity.

Our desks, much like our partnership, stood the test of time—not because of their material, but because of the spirit in which they were made. They were a daily reminder that true success is built on a foundation of genuine care and relentless commitment, not the fleeting allure of profit or prestige.

As I look back on those two decades with Chris, I’m reminded of the power of steadfast values in the whirlwind of business. Our commitment to putting people first didn’t just sustain us; it propelled us forward, turning challenges into opportunities and skeptics into believers. Chris taught me that sometimes, a bit of grumpiness isn’t a barrier but a beacon—a sign of someone who cares deeply, perhaps too deeply, about making a meaningful difference.

So, to those embarking on their own entrepreneurial journeys, remember this: the heart of your business lies not in the numbers, but in the hands and hearts of those who nurture it. Embrace the grumpy craftsmen among you, for they are often the keepers of your most cherished values.

In a world chasing profits, let the power of your purpose be your guide, and may you find the kind of success that fulfills not just your bank account, but your soul.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.