What does success mean to you? If you’re an entrepreneur, this probably feels like a straightforward question with a simple answer. You want your business to thrive, you want to make a profit, you want to stand out, you want to be noticed, but then what? When are you done? Are you fulfilled, are you happy?
In his new book, Life Profitability, Adii Pienaar provides you with a new perspective for becoming self-aware, recognizing your values, and understanding your impact. An enriched life and a successful business are not mutually exclusive. He’ll provide you with the first steps in building a business that is more sustainable, with increased options for you, your employees, and your community.
Learn how to give yourself some space, measure meaningful output, and live with intention so you can maximize profit that truly counts.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum and I’m excited to be here today with Adii Pienaar, author of Life Profitability: The New Measure of Entrepreneurial Success. Adii, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour podcast.
Adii Pienaar: Thanks man, me too.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Adii Pienaar: Yeah, totally. I’m Adii Pienaar, I think most important thing is, I live all the way down south in Cape Town South Africa, and in the last 13 years, I’ve built and sold two software businesses, built remote international teams from here, built this national business, and have recently started my third software business.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to write this book? Do you have more time in your hands because of COVID? Was there an “Aha” or an inspirational moment?
Adii Pienaar: I think there are two things that made the timing right, now. I think the more obvious one is that many of the lessons and the genesis for this idea for life profitability, came to me and crystallized during my previous business, which I sold and exited in August 2019. I essentially kicked off the writing process shortly after that, taking all those lessons that I’d learned through building my second business. I really wanted to put that out into the world. I think that’s the more obvious thing there.
I think the second part is almost more grandiose-wise and in the sense that I knew through that second business, we tried to build a business the way that would inspire other businesses, because we build software for other businesses and we try to build it in a way that would inspire them to–in our words–be kinder, that was what my team and I spoke about.
We never got there. Subsequently, having sold the business, having a little bit of that extra space, I still came to that idea that I don’t think that capitalism in its current form and the extent to which it influences society is the perfect model, and to a large extent, what I wanted to do was create this new idea, this new concept of life profitability almost as an augmented version of what capitalism is.
I think that only comes from I think having first the space in my own life, which is one of those concepts that I discuss in the book, as well and creating that space. But it just felt like now was the time and then COVID happened in between.
I wouldn’t say luckily or fortunately in how it influenced the thinking, even though, like many of the concepts in life profitability, almost dovetails really well with some of the struggles that people have experienced during the past 12 months.
An Entrepreneur of your Own Life
Drew Appelbaum: Now, did you have the book in your head, and you knew what you wanted to write, or did you have any learnings or breakthroughs during the writing of the book? Sometimes it comes through research, sometimes it comes by looking back at your own history and your own journey?
Adii Pienaar: I love that question, and yes, if I think about the concept that I had in my head going into the process of writing a book, it was all around how to think about building a better business and how to be an entrepreneur of your own life.
Many of those things in my mind, the dots that I connected, were inspirations from the stoics philosophy and Buddhism, all those kinds of different things that had impacted me through my journey and those are the things that I took into the writing process.
I think the thing that I ultimately discovered most and learned most through the writing process was how much of nature, and almost universal laws or universal occurrences in nature actually just show up by doing these things that are supposedly better practices, or more holistic or more wholesome practices, we’re actually doing what we’re naturally built to do. There are so many other asset examples in nature, in the universe of those things.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, who is this book for? Is it for founders or executives like yourself or can everybody at every level of employment take something from this book?
Adii Pienaar: Yeah, I think the primary reader that can probably gain most out of the whole book is an entrepreneur, is a founder, it’s someone that runs their own business, regardless of whether they just started, whether they’ve been in the same business for 10 years, or whether they have an idea for a business.
That’s definitely the primary reader here. I do think that any ambitious individual that works in a team and especially leads a team, can definitely benefit from the book. Because that’s the broader concept where the book isn’t just about the person reading the book. It’s not just, for example, about that executive leader or about the entrepreneur.
The concepts ripple outwards from you as an individual, you as a reader, to your immediate surroundings and the people around you. In any space where individuals, which literally means all of us, operate where there are other people involved, that’s someone that can probably benefit from the idea of life profitability.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, what should readers do to get the most out of this book? You spent a little bit of time talking about, “This isn’t the book to skim.”
Adii Pienaar: Yeah, I think the important thing about not skimming the book is that a big part of life profitability as a concept is all about this holistic and wholesome nature to our lives. When we think about the concept that many people are aware of, this notion of, we, as individuals being on this rat race. We are constantly running faster and faster. Every year we need to run faster, just to keep up with the Jones’, right? In doing that, we neglect so many parts of ourselves, so many parts of our life.
For many of us, when we work hard, we sacrifice health, we sacrifice hobbies, we sacrifice family and friends, those things. I think that’s a very important part of why it’s also then important not to neglect certain parts of the book because a big part of what I hope readers get out of this is to take that step back and literally view their whole life as a unit, as a whole thing. Not this compartmentalized, fractional thing where we’re constantly shaving parts of ourselves off, to adapt, and to fit in.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s start from the beginning and usually, business leaders in the early days, make a choice to say, I’m going to live my business, and they give it all of their focus and they put all of their energy into it. What are they missing when they do this?
Adii Pienaar: I think there are two things that I think are broadly missing there. I think the first part is, this notion of sequencing important life events. That idea of, saying, I will start my business today and I will totally take this short-term pain because there will be long-term gain here.
I will make compromises, sacrifices in the short-term and then eventually, there’s going to be a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. The challenge with that is that getting to that pot of gold isn’t a guaranteed outcome. It doesn’t matter how hard you work, doesn’t matter how smart you are.
That’s simply not guaranteed. But more importantly, we don’t know how much time we need to get to that point, and we don’t know how much time we have as humans on this earth, right?
We’re mortal beings. I think that’s the biggest risk of doing anything ambitious, whether it’s building a business or otherwise is that we take that notion. It’s just risky that we could run out of time before we really do the things that we want to do.
The second part of that for me is all around being in alignment with who you are as an individual and what your values are at this moment, at this starting point, if today is the starting point and I said, “You know what? My values are X, Y, and Z.” For me, my highest value is my family. As I take these next steps on my own ambitious journey, if those steps aren’t in alignment with my other values, then, it’s never going to be in alignment and there’s always going to be that friction.
The reality of that is that on this journey that we’re all on as individuals, we are the only common denominator on that journey. The business can change, the team can change, the idea can change. People get divorced, spouses change, families change, and as a result, you can move to a different country, you can make new friends. All of those things can change. The thing that always stays the same though is, “I’m still there on this journey of mine.”
Being crystal clear about who I am and why I’m starting this journey of building a business, I think is crucially important. I think the irony in all of that is that many entrepreneurs will tell you that part of why they start a business is this notion of freedom.
They have their own definition of what that freedom is, whether it’s the freedom to work when they want, work on what they want, work with whom they want. All of those things. But there is some part of freedom in that and, what many entrepreneurs do and what I did for so long is I trade that freedom that I get back from not working for the man, right? I get some freedom, I invested in my own business, and it just becomes beholden to that business.
In the book, I speak about this notion that, in many cases, the business becomes this beast that needs to be fed at all times. That’s not freedom either. Instead of being beholden to the man, I’m now beholden to this different beast. This is why you need to be very clear about who you are at the starting point. Making sure that you honor that, that You, that unique magical you. I think is crucially important.
Without a Compass
Drew Appelbaum: Now, Adii, I want to put you on the hot seat. Why should folks be listening to you on this subject? And, as you spoke about earlier, maybe since it seems like you did live in both of these worlds, can you tell us about the difference in philosophy between business one and then what happened in business two?
Adii Pienaar: Yeah, I’m never one to blow my horn. But I’ll share this story as some credibility about why both my journey and my anecdotes and examples from the journey, as well as the idea of life profitability, might be valuable to your listeners and readers.
I built my first business straight out of university. I spent six weeks in a corporate employment gig before I quit, and I bought my first business. That business is with things and WooCommerce which today is the biggest open-source e-commerce platform in the world. It’s probably second only to Shopify in terms of merchant volume. It is a really significant business.
When I exited the business, I became a millionaire and I left with this notion that I was a one-hit-wonder and I needed to prove that I wasn’t a one-hit-wonder. I immediately started a new business because that’s the only thing that I, as an entrepreneur knew.
But I also went into this new thing, thinking that it’s going to be easier. I had capital, I had connections, networks, friends, in the ecosystem, in the business world. I had skills and experience that I didn’t necessarily have at the start of the first business.
Then, two years into my second business Conversio, I ticked that box of that I’m not a one-hit-wonder, I’ve built another significant business here. I can remember the moment where I realized that meaning, the meaning of this thing, the purpose of building this business just drained from me.
I remember this weird sensation of, almost just feeling like I was in a boat, lost at sea. There are just vast open oceans ahead of me. I’m not clear. I don’t have a compass, I don’t know which direction I should go.
I think many of these stories, and that’s why I started by saying, I don’t come in bloated mode here. Because many of those stories sound like a rich person learns lessons after getting rich. But in saying that, for me at least, I think that’s exactly how I learned. Which was, I did it the first time. Then I learned by failing almost the second time and failing in life because that’s ultimately what happened.
After I realized that meaning in the business got lost, many things happened in my personal life that almost made me lose the things that are most dear to me.
Halfway through the period’s business, this idea–I didn’t have the term at that stage of life profitability–but at least to see planted where I realized, I needed to change. Things needed to change.
This meaning and purpose of building a business needs to change for me to continue doing this because otherwise, I will burn out and everything around me will probably burn away alongside my own burnout.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, can an entrepreneur still feel fulfilled if they move the business from the center stage of their lives, and is there a fear that builds as you take a few steps away from that something might get lost, something might go wrong?
Adii Pienaar: Yes, I think the interesting thing here is that, when we think about building businesses and being an entrepreneur, we constantly think about always having a yardstick, always having some benchmark by which we compare ourselves.
Because we see all these great success stories in the media, this millionaire, that millionaire, that billionaire, right? These things become benchmarks that we measure ourselves against. I think what is interesting is that, when we look at that and if we don’t measure, then we go into imposter syndrome mode.
The irony of the label of being an entrepreneur is that it feeds that imposter syndrome. We say, “You know what? Not to be an imposter…” But we’re an entrepreneur, it’s okay, we’re aspiring, upwards, even though we’re not there, we buy into that narrative.
To some extent, being an entrepreneur, even if you’re a struggling entrepreneur, is safer than being something else. For the longest time, that was one of my challenges as well, this notion of, if Adii is not the entrepreneur, who is he? I think it’s through talking about my adult life, if we sat down to chat for five minutes, if we just met today, I would have probably told you, “Listen, I own my own business. I am entrepreneur,” whatever words are used but you would know that about me. Sacrificing that for the largest part of me was a big challenge.
I think, again, that’s part of what I want to challenge with this idea of life profitability, which is again, entrepreneurs build businesses because they want to improve their lives and that’s a real thing. But then somewhere in that journey, we attach all of this value and the warm fuzzies that we fill our daily lives with to the business, and we neglect everything else that we actually wanted to achieve.
Whether it’s this hobby or your passion project, whatever it is, we neglect all of the other things along the way and the business becomes just this bigger, bigger component of our life. I think that’s the irony. I think it’s hard to think about not just being an entrepreneur, not just wearing this badge of honor of saying, “My work comes first,” but once someone makes that shift and explores what that greater life profitability means and shifts their perspective to, “How do I build a business that profits my life?”
I think that is a very small thing to tweak. The subsequent actions are probably more involved, more comprehensive, but just that mindset change I think already changes the way one thinks about building a business. How do I build a business that truly profits my whole life and not just financially?
Money does not solve all of the things that we want in life, unfortunately, which is why we need to take that expanded view on what a business needs to be life profitable and not just financially profitable in the way that we’re used to at this stage.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that. I would love to dig into the words life profitable. Can you define that for us as you see it and tell me about the life profitable vocabulary that there is?
Adii Pienaar: I think the simplest way that I explained it first is if you think about how any financial investment works then generally I’ll take a step back. My wife always jokes and says that I can find a way to bring a financial term into any conversation regardless of the said topic. I think that if we speak about vocabulary as the starting point there is the typical business vocabulary or financial vocabulary that we would otherwise use.
Profitable literally means that the positives outweigh the negatives. When I try and explain profitability to anyone, the idea here is two-fold. First if you–similar to what you would do with your investment portfolio–if you take your life portfolio, there are probably many things in that portfolio. I have mentioned some of the things, work is one of them, ambition. But family, friends, hobbies, passion projects, your health. All of those things you put into that portfolio and ultimately, you want to see that portfolio grow. You want to see it being successful whatever your measures.
I think the first part is understanding that life profitability is a life portfolio with many different components and acknowledging all of those individual components.
The second part of it is really thinking through the cost of doing business. The philosopher, Henry Thrall said, I am going to slightly abbreviate the full quote, but he says, “The cost of anything that we do in our life is this thing called life.” That is, the cost of doing anything is life because our time, our energy, our attention, all of those things are finite.
Our choice to do anything has a cost and that cost is our life. In the same way, that’s like taking a Buddhist mindset that we can only understand light because we also understand dark. We understand good because we understand bad. I think to understand life profitability, we need to think through the life costs of building a business or doing things in a certain way because only once you understand that cost to yourself, then you can start figuring out what does that return on your life portfolio actually look like?
Drew Appelbaum: Now, how do other people play a role in this transformation, and can you Jerry McGuire this and take other people with you on this journey? Is this a whole company thing or is this only a self-transformation?
Adii Pienaar: Yeah, so it is definitely a whole company thing. I love this question. A big part of where life profitability started was exactly at that point. I mentioned earlier that in my previous business, one of the things that my team and I wanted to do was we wanted to influence our little corner of the software e-commerce ecosystem in a way that we’d advocate for kinder businesses. We never really got there.
Whether it was our size, where we weren’t significant enough so that we could get enough people to buy into our mission or maybe the mission didn’t resonate, but we didn’t hit that goal. Part of my thinking is almost admitting defeat and going back to the drawing board and saying, “Where can I actually make an impact?” If that’s where can we make an impact as we start a business, I realized it is the old cliché of charity starts at home.
In that case, first, I can take good care of myself, and then I could take good care of those closest to me, I.E. my own family, and then in my team, and in the company context, I can probably build the business in such a way that allows my team members as individuals to be life profitable as well. If I could do that for them then they could probably go back and do that for their spouse or their kids or within their community.
In that sense, it has this rippling outwards effect–we all ripple outwards from our most magical selves. Where I am in line with myself and I am manifesting my truest expression of self, that magic. Then I am rippling outwards. But then as soon as I do that for someone on my team and they’re rippling outwards as well–everyone has seen this, when you see a pond and there are multiple ripples and that point where the ripples meet there is this exponential bump–I think that was a big part of that initial inspiration that I had.
It has so much momentum in my thoughts about, “What could this look like if it was amplified and it was actually properly facilitated in our team?” That’s the long version but to that extent, I think the others are core components of life profitability and in those ripples, we define life profitability and those three broad concentric circles.
They are–me, myself. Others, whether it’s your family, friends, or your team members, or greater society. The third ring is almost the container or just the manifestation ultimately, so then it’s the business. Others play a core part in what life profitability actually means.
Drew Appelbaum: Now you have reflections at the end of each chapter. You ask the reader to almost slow down, pause, take a moment, answer some questions, and ponder some things that they might have just read. Could you talk about what these reflections contain and what they ask of the reader?
Adii Pienaar: So, when I went into writing the book, I made the decision that I didn’t want to write a how-to book and I didn’t want to propose, “Hey Drew, here is a 10-step process for you to build a life profitable business.” The reason for that is I don’t believe that those things exist. I don’t think that there’s this perfect blueprint that you can just take and you can implement in your life and it’s going to give you the exact results the author of that blueprint proposes.
I didn’t want to do that and the reason we built in the reflections for every single chapter was essentially inspiring and provoking the reader to think through what their own version of life profitability looks like. To that extent, I just spoke about life costs. I think one of the reflections is all about if you took stock of your life at this stage, where are you bleeding life cost or life losses at this stage?
Where are you sacrificing or compromising and it doesn’t feel good anymore? That’s the reflections that we included, ultimately, if the reader went through all of those, by the end of the book, they should have almost to traced their way to what their version of life profitability should look like. The reason for that is every person has a version of life profitability that would be super unique to themselves.
Small Changes that Create Space
Drew Appelbaum: Beyond the chapter reflections, you also add a lot of resources toward the end of the book as well and worksheets, and can you talk about those?
Adii Pienaar: Yeah, so in addition to the reflections, the reflections build up to the final chapter or at least the later chapters in the book where there are multiple worksheets designed to take you through the thought experiment, the thought process to figure out like first where you’re at, at this stage and if you set goals like what do those goals look like with regards to life profitability?
Then, we take you through how to break that down, that big vision, break that down into a 90-day plan, and then we’ve got a mechanism to help you track your progress in a new way, that’s not just KPI driven or metric-driven, right? It is something as more that you personalized yourself over time. The key is why we wanted to do this as an entrepreneur, I have often been in that space where I felt my to-do lists are never-ending.
When you read other books, the proposals are going to help you with this thing, or this is how you solve this marketing challenge or that sales challenge or whatever, but what it ultimately does is it just adds more items to my to-do list. I am already demoralized because I can’t get through that to-do list.
The way we structured the worksheets for Life Profitability has this very simple notion of doing one or two things, incremental things, small things that create space in your life. Space is big–I speak about space in the book often. But you create that space and once you have that space, then you can use that space and start reinvesting it elsewhere, whether it is back into the business to create more space, or somewhere else in your life, but what the multiple different worksheets allow you to do is have a bit of process or structure, so that any reader can figure out what life profitability looks like for them and what a plan could like for them to actually make progress towards greater life profitability.
Drew Appelbaum: Adii, writing a book especially like this one, which is going to help so many business professionals is no small feat so I just want to tell you congratulations.
Adii Pienaar: Thank you very much, Drew.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, if readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would it be?
Adii Pienaar: That’s a big, big, big question.
Drew Appelbaum: This is the second hot seat question I am giving you. So, I apologize but it’s an important one. What would you want someone to take away if it could just be one thing?
Adii Pienaar: Yeah, I will take the moon shot here and I’ll say that if there’s just one thing that readers take away from the book, it should be that there is actually an alternative to building a business or building a career to the one that often gets advocated in the mainstream. There is definitely a different way. It doesn’t have to be as hard as it mostly is at this stage.
Drew Appelbaum: This has been a pleasure and I am so excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called Life Profitability and you can find it on Amazon. Adii, besides checking out the book, where can people connect with you?
Adii Pienaar: Yeah, the best place is either the book’s website, which is lifeprofitability.com one word, or connected words. Otherwise, my personal website, adii.me has all of the book details, has loads of things that I and the boss wrote in the past as well. I am also building my current startup in public, so I am sharing all the behind the scenes, almost gremlins as I build that. I also started my own live daily podcast a couple of months ago. That is all on adii.me as well.
Drew Appelbaum: Very cool. Adii, thank you so much for coming on the show today, and best of luck with your book.
Adii Pienaar: Thank you so much, Drew.
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