If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
- Antoine De Saint-Exupery
I recently had the pleasure of leading an export seminar on behalf of the U.S. Department of Commerce and New Hope Media at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California. My presentation was titled, It’s a “C” Change, an obvious play on words from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. As such, I focused the entire presentation on several “C” words, from Commerce to China to Cross Border eCommerce to Consumer Confidence. However, the notable quote setting the mood for my talk was this from the author of The Little Prince.
This writer, poet, journalist and pioneering aviator certainly walked his own talk–even if his “longing” was not for the sea, but for the air. He often complained about those who flew planes like accountants as opposed to true pilots, flying for the trailblazing adventure of it all. It was for this reason that I used this quote to set the stage for my talk. I contend that it’s when we focus too intently on the countless details of collecting wood and other organizational tasks that we get so lost in the minutia we forget the original vision that inspired us to long for the sea in the first place.
I felt this was especially important to point out to my audience in recognition of who they were–pioneering entrepreneurs who have sacrificed everything they own, putting themselves, and often their family, at risk because they are compelled to launch a brand that they truly believe can “change the world."
My audience was the embodiment of the spirit of Antoine De Saint-Exupery!
And yet, if my audience statistically represented the average SME (small to medium enterprise) that makes up 99.7 percent of all USA businesses, then less than 1 percent of them even attempts to export. That’s worth repeating. Less than 1 percent of 99.7 percent of all American businesses export!
How is it possible to “change the world” when your product isn’t available to the world? How do you “change the world” when your product can only be purchased by 4 percent of the world’s population? How do you change people’s lives if you are not involved their lives?
Which prompts the real question, “Why aren’t they exporting?”
I can answer that. And my answer has nothing to do with a “C” word. My answer is a four-letter “F” word. A word that used to spell export–F.E.A.R. Export for so many USA brands, and I do mean to implicate exclusively USA brands, has meant the fear of getting paid, the fear of the product getting lost during shipment, the fear of Intellectual Property Rights infringement, the fear of not knowing the market, the consumer, the competition–basically, the fear of the unknown.
But isn’t that why they got in the natural CPG business to begin with–a big vision coupled with a big unknown? I can’t tell you the number of brands over the past 25 years that I have had the honor of helping grow that started with only a vision, a prayer and a deep longing to change the world as they knew it.
They admittedly didn’t know how, but they did know why. And it was their deep commitment to the “why," to the “longing," that today finds many of them successful, many of them global, natural brands.
That’s what I believe Antione De Saint-Exupery meant by “long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Don’t lose focus for the sea simply due to the immensity of how much wood you need to collect to build your ship.
To inspire them, I left them with one more quote from Antione De Saint-Exupery:
The time for action is now. It's never too late to do something.
P.S. If you are longing for the sea and need help “collecting wood,” go to the end of my previous article, “Stop listening to the news: Why the US Government is pro-global trade, and how it can help your brand” and click on the many URL’s that lead to a vast array of resources designed to help you build your ship!
Craig Ostbo is co-founder and the Chief Brand & Marketing Officer of hoopla Global, an eCommerce retail and logistics operator in China featuring exclusively Made in the USA natural, organic and sustainable CPG brands. You can email Craig at: firstname.lastname@example.org