This is something I've pondered as I embark on my own entrepreneurial journey with a social impact business. I'm fairly active on social media and I'm frequently engaged in political discourse. Most recently my social media feeds have been overwhelmed with news on my own favored candidate, Andrew Yang. And all this political activity led me to wonder, should I remain politically neutral to ensure that my business appeals to a wider audience? Or, should I remain honest with my audience about my real views?
This thought echoed through my mind as I went through the YCombinator application process. I was just rejected, and truth be told, I can't pinpoint one exact reason. It could be because our product isn't quite ready for market yet, but then again, it's hard to create an MVP (minimum viable product) for a restaurant when you need the capital to build a restaurant in the first place. I wondered if maybe it had anything to do with my frequent use of social media, but then again, my business relies heavily on social media due to it being a community driven business. Cafe Lingua is literally a business about the exchange of language, culture, and ideas, which relies heavily on both our online and offline communities.
Then I wondered if my rejection from YCombinator had anything to do with posting about more controversial topics such as the latest controversy between Hillary Clinton and Tulsi Gabbard, when often it seems easier to just remain quiet.
However, while I may be more vocal about my political affiliation, is it any better for powerful executives like Mark Zuckerberg to remain "politically neutral" by donating to both Paul Ryan (R) and Nancy Pelosi (D), which appears to be more about self-preservation than actual values? I don't mean to say Zuckerberg is malicious with his intentions because I don't know him personally. But through faux political neutrality he has lost a lot of trust with his users and in turn leaves his audience ripe for the taking. While it seems unlikely now with the amount of power Facebook has amassed, I strongly believe new competitors who are willing to be upfront about their beliefs from the get-go will spring up out of nowhere and begin draining Facebook of its user base.
As I navigate the messy waters of entrepreneurship myself, I realize that I will lose some customers by being honest about my support for a particular candidate or political ideology. However, I wholeheartedly believe that the majority of people will see that my honesty and candor are more important than my beliefs, because beliefs can always change when new information is presented. While my friends on all ends of the political spectrum may disagree with my beliefs, very few of them question my honesty. And while I push my own beliefs, I encourage open dialogue as I too want to know the truth and know if I've been mistaken in my judgments.
There have been countless times that I have been wrong, but staying quiet or pretending to be neutral has never helped me reshape my beliefs. It was by being vocal and then having people present me with new information that eventually lead me to change my beliefs.
What we lack more in this day and age than anything is trust. I have friends and family who support Trump. I have friends and family who support Biden. I have friends who support Gabbard. I have many friends who still support Bernie. And I have friends and family that support Yang. But despite our vast differences and constant desire to strangle one another, our friendships are ultimately built on trust. We all feel that the person who has those beliefs is still a genuinely good person even if we think the other person's methods for solving certain problems are wrong. We all want to better our country, and our world for that matter, but we don't always agree on the ways to do so.
So one of the best ways to promote trust as an entrepreneur is to be honest, but maintain an open mind. While I won't use my business as a means to push specific political ideologies, I will continue to be vocal from my personal social media accounts about my support for candidates or policies that I truly think will make America stronger and more united.
In all honesty, my outspokenness could have had nothing to do with my rejection from YCombinator. There could be a million and one reasons I didn't get in, because rejection is a pretty common phenomenon for a startup that's still trying to make a name for itself. But if you're someone who has ever thought to question whether it makes sense to be vocal about your beliefs or political ideology as an entrepreneur, I think the more important question to ask yourself is, are you being honest with yourself and your audience when you choose to be vocal? Because if you pretend to be "politically neutral" that can come to bite you in the ass once people dig up your dirt... or mine.