Occupy Wall Street: What Does It Mean For Entrepreneurs?

Despite a mainstream media blackout, the Occupy Wall Street protest is becoming hard to ignore for people who would prefer it to just go away.

The protest has now spread to other cities across the United States and the world, with a Global Day of Action having taken place on October 15. There’s an occupation going on right now here in my city at the bottom of the world (Auckland, New Zealand). I thought I’d take this opportunity to analyze the protest and look into the implications it may have for entrepreneurs, both aspiring and the established.

Occupy Wall Street Protestors

As you’ll see, I think what’s happening right now on Wall Street – regardless of the eventual outcome of the protests – has some important implications in terms of business ethics. Stay with me. I’m going deep on this one. I’m not going to discuss surface techniques for making money here – there’s tons of that sort of content all over the web, so you can afford to take a break and step back for a moment. I want to get you to examine the core principles at the heart of your business or idea.

What Is Occupy Wall Street All About?

One of the big criticisms that has been leveled at the Wall Street protestors is that they don’t even know what they’re protesting. And I’m sure for many of them, that’s entirely true – they’re just generally discontent so they’re “on the bandwagon.”

Many of the protestors, if the signs they wave are to be taken as a good indication, are protesting income inequality and corporate greed – and these are certainly legitimate concerns in America and virtually every other country around the world. After all, if you really think about it, this is the core reason why many of us become entrepreneurs in the first place, isn’t it?

We all turned to entrepreneurialism in the first place because we realized that working for a fixed income that kept buying less and less over time was a losing battle. We recognize that the system we live in has an inherent imbalance – there will be winners and losers, and we want to be among the winners.

Occupy Wall Street Protestor With Sign

As entrepreneurs most of us have also had that rather shocking realization at some point throughout our lives that most of the education we received growing up was never meant to turn us into entrepreneurs. The mainstream education system, ultimately, is designed to create employees. It instills an employee mindset, employee values and ultimately an employee world view. That’s why websites like this exist – not just to teach techniques for success in business, but to offer an alternative world view, one in which you’re the boss, not the worker.

Anyway, those reading Entrepreneurs-Journey.com are the ones who have decided they’re going to go to the top of the heap (or at least not get stuck at the bottom). Perhaps once we get there we’ll share the spoils with some of the less fortunate, but in any case we recognize there’s a game to be played, and strategy and work are required to succeed.

As a result of this line of thinking, the knee-jerk reaction of many people in business to the protests is that it’s a bunch of spoiled college kids and “unwashed hippies” looking for hand-outs they don’t deserve, recommending economic policies they don’t understand and which will never work.

But the reality, I believe, is that this protest is essentially one about business ethics. Many of the protestors are quite openly anti-capitalist, be they anarchists, socialists, communists or something else entirely – but there are also quite a lot of free market capitalists amongst them who recognize that the system is broken, and it’s broken because some of the people in the halls of power – both in Wall Street banks and Washington – have been up to no good.

As the protests evolve and become more coherent in their goals and message, I believe you’ll see more concrete demands coming out asking for greater transparency in government, and especially in the relationship between government and big business. On top of transparency, people want to see some accountability.

Occupy Wall Street Protestors

People in the street are beginning to catch on to the games being played within the big Wall Street banks – engaging in behavior like shorting the very financial products they’re selling to their own investors. In other words, misrepresenting an investment product, selling it to a company and then gambling on the failure or fall of that company. I think we can all agree that’s not an ethical business practice.

If you haven’t heard about this sort of behavior, check out this article from the Huffington Post providing some details of what Goldman Sachs was up to during the financial crisis.

People are sick of seeing bankers get away with punishments that equate to a slap on the wrist. Of course, protestors targeting “capitalism” and “the free market” are off the mark, because a true free market would have cleaned house a long time ago. The free market didn’t get us where we are – an unhealthy marriage between governments and big corporations did.

How This Relates To Entrepreneurialism

What does any of this have to do with your own business ventures?

Well, I think it illustrates a very important lesson. For one thing, it’s instructive of the world of difference between certain high-flying CEOs on Wall Street and your typical Internet entrepreneur or home-based start-up. The value systems are often completely different, and they have to be.

I’ve often found myself distressed by the lack of integrity in Internet marketing. The anonymity, lack of transparency and lack of accountability of the Internet has unfortunately allowed a snake-oil-salesman mentality to survive online for quite a while.

The way I see it, there are two extremes on the spectrum of profitable Internet business models:

  1. At one extreme you have the model which assumes a never-ending supply of “suckers” and “fresh meat,” which aims to use powerful copy and psychological tricks to get customers to buy a product for a price, which is well beyond the product’s true value (if the product has any real value at all). The mentality of someone running such a business is more or less the same as that of someone running a Ponzi scheme.
  2. At the other end of the spectrum are businesses which put delivering true value at the heart of their entire business plan. They focus on developing the best product on the market and putting it in front of their customers. They see copywriting and sales as key tools to maximize sales, but they’re not resorting to trickery or outright lies in order to sell their products because their products are actually good. They do what they say they’re going to do.

So ask yourself – where does your business lie on this spectrum?

Is what your customer needs your ultimate guiding beacon? Or have you been slipping towards using tactics where you’re trying to create a fake impression of value where no value to the customer really exists?

Remember, as an entrepreneur you’re competing on the free market. You don’t have the benefit of a government lobby which can help put in place subsidies or hook you up with a bailout if you take a bad risk.

So I suppose what I’m trying to say is: always measure your success and orient your goals in terms of the value you put out into the world. If you do that, the profits will come and you’ll be able to sleep at night.

If you’re anything like me your ultimate goal as an entrepreneur is personal freedom. When you put profit ahead of your contribution to the world, you’re giving up a part of that freedom.

Money is the means to an end – when you make it an end in itself, it rules you. Not the other way around. Don’t forget that.

Tom McSherry

Images courtesy of David Shankbone from the Wikimedia Commons

About Tom McSherry

Tom McSherry is the founder of Premium Online Writing, a provider of top-notch SEO copywriting services. His company is built on the idea that SEO is more than just quantity of content and links – it's about maintaining high quality in every aspect of your website and promotional campaigns. A commitment to high quality is key to achieving long term growth and success online.

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  • Occupy Wall Street has taught the common man one fact. That, in reality there is no freedom and speech and expression even in the west. Occupy Wall Street was a peace protest, and see what form it has taken now.

    • I have not followed the Wall Street protest or do I have any interest in it but it is getting harder to ignore.You know when people protest, some thing isn’t right at the same time they need to know what the problem is and where the problem lies. In this case like you said many are not sure what it is, but they are sure some thing is broken and it needs a fix.

      The mainstream education system, ultimately, is designed to create employees. We as parents start our kids the same way (don’t you want to get a good JOB)when you grow up. So I ask you when we are programed to work for the MAN how do you break free of this way of thinking?
      All through history we read about Kings and servants,peddlers and the poor, this is a system that will not change.

      How ever there is room for improvement, as long as governments do as they please there will be broken things. The way I see it we are head to a one financial system and the free thinking entrepreneur will be a thing of the past.
      Our governments are to busy covering up for their class of person to take notice of the lesser class.

      This kind of thinking leads to wars in the end just like the unrest in many European country’s today. In Wall street it’s a protest but if this is to spread farther what kind of implications will it have? I’m not talking about a war in the US but many other city’s will come to the same fate.

      Just like the people on wall street I don’t know what I’m talking about so I’ll shut up now.
      Thanks for letting me rant.

    • I think it is even more interesting that we are now seeing the commercialization of the Occupy Wall Street Protests.

  • Great post Tom ! We will see fundamental changes in the way we make a living over the course of our generation. Occupy Wall Street is one of the steps taking us, hopefully, to a cleaner market.

    • Well said Tom, and Jean-Philippe. I’m not particularly following the protests (we have them outside St. Paul’s in London with suggestions they may spread to other London sites) but what is interesting is that this does seem to mark a sea change (or tipping point?) where the next generation are not happy to accept things as they are. I for one, feel strongly that more people should look at entrepreneurialism, rather than feeling that the world owes them a living, but that is not without its challenges. Especially, as has been noted here, the current education system is set up to produce employees.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking post and comments.

  • I’ve been seeing a lot of the first kind of approach to marketing recently – partly people getting more desperate. What they don’t seem to ‘get’ is that the second approach, giving real service and value, is the one that retains customers.

  • If we can somehow manage to destroy the Federal Reserve Bank then the world will be a much better place. If you read “The Creature from Jekyll Island” by G. Edward Griffin it is mind boggling how these scum bags can get away with owning around 95% of the entire worlds money supply.

    I know this article is more about Wall Street, but it is part of the same thing.

  • Great post Tom, My philosophy about life is simply this….the essence of life is to fulfil His purpose; and His purpose is all about services. And I believe, that your calling in life is ultimately selfless service to others in some form or another.The old truth still stands sure “who ever wants to be great let him serve”. A heart to genuinely serve is the pathway to business and financial success. Let’s make this a guiding principle in all our dealings.

  • OWS is not nearly as big as deal as even the media is making it out to be, in my opinion. I live smack in the center of the country, and I’d have to drive a minimum or 4 hours to even find where a protest was held. All of the raw video I’ve seen shows a disorganized mess with no consistency in goals or viewpoints.

    As for me – I have a very simple philosophy. It is best summed up with a single quote: “I shall never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another to live for mine” [Ayn Rand]

    So long as what you do, you do with rational consideration of your own interest and clear intent, you can live a happy and free life. Take action based on emotional appeals or by hiding your intentions from the people to interact with, and you become part of the problem.

  • To me it’s all about personal accountability. Those that hold themselves accountable typically put out great vibes, great messages and great products. The United States is being disemboweled by leadership that believes welfare breeds “fairness” when in fact it breeds laziness and entitlement. The free market economy, when allowed to, rights itself every 7 to 10 years followed by a cycle of greed and entitlement and then it flushes itself to start anew. These protesters should go back to work

  • Good post, My philosophy about life is simply this….the essence of life is to fulfil His purpose; and His purpose is all about services. And I believe, that your calling in life is ultimately selfless service to others in some form or another.The old truth still stands sure “who ever wants to be great let him serve”. A heart to genuinely serve is the pathway to business and financial success. Let’s make this a guiding principle in all our dealings.

  • Well it’s certainly not fair if someone is greedy but if someone agrees to a set wage without fighting for a bump in payment then they shouldn’t blame anyone but themselves.

  • Hi Tom,
    This post is brilliant and I totally share your some views on the education system and entrepreneurism. People are fed up and they have had enough, protests are one way of voicing themselves, but being able to change a broken and outdated system that benefits the few at the expense of many is the big problem.

    Its the proverbial pyramid/hierarchial structure that needs to collapse and it will once the people on the bottom get out from underneath.

    Being an entrepreneur for me is all about personal freedom plus added flexibility and creativity to create and sell useful products.

  • […] Occupy Wall Street: What Does It Mean For Entrepreneurs? (entrepreneurs-journey.com) […]

  • gracepmc

    I’m all in when it comes to entrepreneurship, personal responsibility and ethics in business — either in the real world or online. The lack of personal responsibility that runs through OWS takes everything away from it in my opinion.

  • Many would like to believe that there is a conflict between government and freedom on the other side. The issue is more complex as corporations are pushing their power at the expense of individual freedom!

    Late in the 1960’s my dear old dad warned me that living in America is horrible when you work for a corporation and are over 50 years old. I told him that is impossible we have laws to prevent age discrimination. “You just wait boy you will see”. I did not have to wait till I was 50 I worked in the recruiting department of AIG and saw age discrimination first hand. I turned toward computer programming to acheive “freedom”. The H1-b program and off shoring destroyed my career. Thus I work as a unionized civil service blue collar worker. But my job is a “hands on job” that cannot be off shored. (I drive a bus).

    How can one live at the mercy of a corporation?

    When the role of the referee (government) is reduced the result is NOT freedom! Because the BULLY moves into the vacuum and that vacuum is corporate greed.

    The Occupy Wall Street Movement is not simply a reaction to the 2008 crisis, nor that blue collar jobs are being off shored. It is fueled by the young who were told to get a degree and the world would be theirs! Now they find they are in debt and their careers are off shored.

    In the March 27, 2007 issue of the Wall Street Journal on the front page the following jobs were listed as vulnerable to off shoring:

    1. Computer programmer (well under way then)
    2. Financial Analyst
    3. Marketing
    4. Accountants
    5. Graphic artists
    6. Bio Engineering

    We cannot rely on the so-called “free market” to protect us since those corporations that play by ethical rules are at a disadvantage. The “contingencies of reinforcement” will push out ethical behavior and replace it with slave labor.

    We live in a world where democracy will shape the market OR the market will undermine democracy. I do not fear government intervention I fear corporate intervention in the political processes of a democratic society.

    The “freedom” of the market is not my freedom!

  • Ronert

    Very well put. You captured the essence of a topic that has a lot of people confused, and you’ve paired it with some powerful insights about how to maintain personal integrity as bloggers.

  • Robert

    p.s. my name is Robert, not Ronert =)

  • Robert

    Excellent post!

  • Just like most major issues, those protesting have no clue what they really want. More jobless graduates in the country? more people jumping in the internet market as competitors? More people with no buying power. This is what it will result

  • Youth angst.

    95% of these protesters are clueless, anti-establishment kids who decided to major in something that isn’t marketable. Or kids that can’t find a job, because of lack of brain power. Well, sooooooooooo sorry, get off of your butt and do something that is in demand.

    I’m not saying the Capitalism is perfect, by no means. However, show me a better one…!?

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