The Human and Ecosystem Value of Your Product

Every generation has an opportunity. Today’s generation, with the help of previous generations, has helped redeemed the view of the for-profit company. We see the benefit in its existence and the value it provides to the world. Yet, just because you oversee or work at a for-profit company doesn’t mean that you’re automatically providing the right kind of value. 

If you are running a for-profit company today, you have created a product that others are paying you for. They are paying you because, in some way, you are helping people’s lives be easier/better/more efficient, and, as a result, you’ve created utility and monetary value.

But first, what exactly is utility value and monetary value?

  • A utility value – Just by providing a product or service customers deem worthy to use, you have created utility value. People are willing to spend the time using the product you created because of the benefits it offers. For instance, we use Instagram because it helps us laugh and share memories with others.
  • A monetary value – A product with monetary value is a good or service that people pay for. When we have created something with utility— something people find necessary, useful, and helpful, people typically give us something (i.e, money, some other trade of services, etc.)  for our creation. For example, I just bought a Spark Grill (one of GAN Ventures’ portfolio companies). I needed a new grill and thought this was the best choice for my budget and needs, so I was willing to pay for the product. Spark Grills has a monetary value just because someone is willing to pay something for it.

These are good types of value. Frankly, we have to have them because otherwise, our companies would not stay afloat. 

Yet, there is an opportunity for all of us. Right now it seems like many companies are only focused on creating two types of value: utility and monetary. And, while these types of values aren’t inherently bad (i.e, it is great providing others a product that they find useful and it’s great getting paid), our companies are missing out if these two values become the ultimate value created. So, let’s stop for a second and realize the implications if we only prioritize these two types of value.

For instance, to take a drastic example, there are a lot of drug mafias who are doing exactly what we describe above. They are shipping drugs around the world, creating both utility value (demand for illicit drugs) and monetary value (people are paying them for a product), but the product ends up destroying its end users’ lives as a result. Or, less drastic, we see influential companies, like Amazon, that are providing a great deal of utility and monetary value, yet a high-pressure work environment seems to harm employees in the long run, the shipping demands harm the environment, and some of the products sold might not necessarily lead to human flourishing. 

We won’t have a startup unless we create monetary and utility value. But, without some sort of additional direction or focus, we could be stuck creating a product where our most important goals become making a profit and creating a great product. Most startups have great intentions of creating lasting value, but lack direction. 

You can see this play out in pitch competitions. Most companies pitch their product as an avenue “to make a better world,” meaning they believe the existence of their company will lead the world to be “better” (see TV show Silicon Valley’s take on Tech Crunch Disrupt’s pitch competitions). But, most startups can’t tell you what type of world they ultimately want to be part of. And, even if they do know what they want the world to become, they may not know how to tie their product into that vision.  

So, for every startup out there looking for a roadmap, there seem to be two types of value we can create, in addition to utility and monetary value.

The Other Types of Value

First, a “human” value. A human value is one where humans’ individual lives become better as a result of your product. Think about Buffer. If you read anything about their company culture, you realize that their employees seem to grow in their ability to love and ability to connect with others, as a result of the work they do. Or the car company Volvo — which is aiming for zero car fatalities. And Nicolette, a GAN Ventures portfolio company, seeks to empower parents with babies in the NICU, eliminating confusion and fear. 

The question to ask yourself as you focus on this value is: How does my product make people’s lives better?

Second, an “ecosystem” value.  An ecosystem value is one where our collective world becomes better as a result of your product. It’s one where we’ve created products that have changed the world (not only people’s individual lives) in some meaningful way from the direction the world is already going. Consider GAN Startup Canduit, from 757 Accelerate. They are solving the workplace talent gap of underrepresented groups, by connecting minority students to high paying jobs and helping employers cultivate diverse talent. Or look at Miir — they make sustainable drinkware “relying on earth, water, and the relationship people have with both.” Another great example is the family of B Corp companies, which focus on creating a positive impact on people, communities, and the environment. 

The question to ask yourself if you are looking to focus on this value is: How does my product make my city or country stronger or healthier?

When balance is achieved between human, ecosystem, utility, and monetary value, you will find yourself with, what we’re calling, a Values-Driven product. It’s a product that others find useful (utility value), is worth paying for (monetary value), creates net benefit for people’s lives (human value), and creates a world that is stronger (ecosystem value). 

And the good news is, even if you’ve been focusing mainly on monetary and utility value for years,  you can adjust to focus on those two additional values. For instance, let’s say you’ve created a thriving B2B email solution. What would happen if you started asking, “How can we make people’s lives better?” Maybe you set up an option to hold email delivery after 6pm so that people are able to disconnect and be with their families. Or you could help remind people to email certain people who seem to be important in their lives who they haven’t emailed in a while? 

Or, let’s say you’re a clothing company and realize that the thread you’re using will never leave this earth. What would happen if you started asking, “How can my product make my country healthier?” and created products that won’t be in landfills the rest of our earth’s existence.

The point is, you can get creative and adapt what you’re already doing.

How To Get Here

Now, the big question is how can we quickly and efficiently ensure that our products have ecosystem and human value, especially with everything else going on?

Last month, we introduced the External, Empowered Vision. It’s the idea that visions that are focused more on all humankind instead of focused on self and on what the world could become instead of where the world is already going, seem to be the visions that build the best companies and engage the most of our stakeholders. Below is an overview of the idea.

An external vision focuses on the success and flourishing of all humankind, not only the individual or company’s success. An empowered vision is active, identifying the type of world we want to work towards. It begins by asking what kind of world we want to have that’s different from what we see today. Companies that begin from a place of external, empowered vision are inherently on a trajectory to build transformative, useful products that will lead to human flourishing while remaining profitable. 

A values-driven product will naturally come as a result of having an external, empowered Vision.

It all starts with your vision, and that vision will lead you to create products that align. You can see this – by having a vision for your product that “imagines what the world could become as a result of human flourishing” you will automatically build a product focused on both a) an individual’s success and b) a world that is positively changed as a result of your product.

And then, maybe by building these values-driven products, we can do what Pope Francis called his church to do in October. “Technology is constantly advancing, yet how wonderful it would be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation could come with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, even as we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters who orbit around us.”

You don’t have to be a social impact enterprise to create good, flourishing people and ecosystems. Begin with vision, and direct your product through the lens of not only monetary and utility value, but also human and ecosystem value. 

I can’t wait to see what you do with your increasing value.