What To Do When War, Climate Change, And Other Global Threats Inevitably Hit Your Startup
I wouldn’t have thought that a book about an obscure school of ancient philosophy would put me in the manufacturing business, but life is full of surprises. Several years ago, after writing a book called The Daily Stoic, I started an email list that delivered one philosophical meditation each day. From there, I expanded the business into prints and then into an e-commerce company that sells all sorts of physical products–statues, coins, printed books–all over the world.
The Daily Stoic Store is a small business in the sense that there are only six or seven of us in the office every day–and yet it’s not really small at all, ranking in the top 1 percent of all Shopify stores. The result has been a surprising thrust into a world I had experienced before only from the outside. Labor practices, manufacturing practices, environmental practices–these were no longer abstract issues that other companies grappled with. They were things that I had to face, firsthand.
We all have opinions about big sweeping issues. We tell ourselves that if we were in charge, we would do things differently. If we were a multinational conglomerate, we wouldn’t use chemicals that harm the environment. If we were the decision makers, we’d have a diverse workforce, we’d be family-friendly employers, we’d speak out on political issues. We would pay a living wage. We wouldn’t do business with an overseas company that uses child labor.
But then the order for company T-shirts comes across your desk and you suddenly have to choose between the $9 option from China and the $19 one manufactured in the U.S. The right thing is still obvious. It’s just harder.
I’ll give you an example: At Daily Stoic, we sell challenge coins inspired by philosophical concepts (one says Memento Mori, another Amor Fati). After receiving many bids, I learned that it would be significantly cheaper to manufacture those coins in China than in the United States. Although I might have previously nodded my head in agreement with people who criticized outsourcing, now the tradeoffs directly affected my own bottom line.
Suddenly, it was ethics versus expenses: It was out of my wallet that the higher cost per unit would come. I would be the one…