As a Canadian entrepreneur with the majority of my customers, investors and partners located in the U.S., I've been watching the presidential election very closely this year. I've tried to anticipate what either a Clinton or Trump presidency could mean for my business and for entrepreneurs across the country. Now that we know president-elect Trump will be taking office, we have some answers, more questions and some very important lessons we can take away from the campaign.
Trump has been clear that he intends to renegotiate trade deals, which almost certainly will mean higher costs for anyone selling goods into the U.S. or whose supply chain depends on the U.S. His stance on immigration could also mean longer border crossings and the elimination of visas that many of us rely on to conduct business in the U.S. Finally, Trump hasn't specifically touched on cross-border investments, but given the theme of his policies, I wouldn't rule out a new tax placed on gains U.S. investors see on their foreign investments. This would be very disappointing given the appetite U.S. investors are showing in Canadian startups and tax restrictions the Canadian government has lifted to encourage U.S. investment in Canadian startups.
There are also some positives about a Trump presidency for Canadian entrepreneurs. Reduced regulations can often create room for smaller startups to compete with larger, established players without being bogged down in red tape. We should also be able to keep our local talent, repatriate talented Canadians, and recruit foreign talent who do not want to (or cannot) live in a Trump-led United States. Finally, Canadian companies may be able to attract foreign investment from investors who are not willing, or able, to invest in U.S. companies any longer because of new protectionist policies.
This is all speculation, since we haven't heard many concrete plans from the president-elect to date, but we can learn the most from understanding how and why Donald Trump was able to win this election, despite his polarizing personality.
I've witnessed many friends on both sides of the border go through fear, shock, anger, confusion and disbelief at the election result. However, if you claim that your target market is America and you don't understand how Trump won, it means you don't really understand your market.
If you only spend time in major cities on the East and West coasts, there is a huge section of the population you never encounter. They have been let down, feel left behind and are increasingly frustrated. They're often distrusting of new things because, unlike for many of us, technological progress and globalization has led to a worse relative situation than they were in before. If you sell into the U.S., this is half of your market. You can't ignore them because they have shown they can have a huge influence when they get behind a cause.
I believe most of the Americans who voted for Trump are not racist, sexist or xenophobic. Instead they are so desperate for change, for anything but the status quo, that they are willing to overlook these behaviours in the candidate they voted for.
Exit polls showed that less than 38 per cent of voters had a favourable opinion or Trump and only 1 in 3 believed he was "honest and trustworthy", yet many people still voted for him because their desire for change outweighed their disapproval of his character.
This is a very important lesson for entrepreneurs: your product doesn't have to be perfect, especially if you can tap into a burning need within your customer base. In fact, you know you've really identified a market opportunity when customers are willing to overlook even glaring imperfections in your product as long as the core of your message resonates deeply. I truly believe that Donald Trump won the election, not because of his offensive rhetoric, but because his promise of change to his disenfranchised base was so appealing that they were willing to overlook statements that they may even strongly disagree with.
As entrepreneurs, we are now faced with a choice: we can choose to distance ourselves further from a group we may not understand or relate to, furthering the divide that led to this election result, or we can start to build bridges and solve problems.
One way to start bridge-building would be to move away from the echo chambers we're exposed to and welcome a diversity of opinions. In this world of hyper-personalized media content, where traditional independent business models are failing, the first new media company that enables thoughtful dialogue between differing voices, without devolving into Internet trolling and name-calling, should be worth billions.
There is an even larger crisis looming that technology entrepreneurs are actually accelerating, without even realizing it. Many of us are working on technologies that enable efficiency – allowing one person to do more with fewer resources. This is great from a productivity perspective, but leads to a question we haven't given nearly enough thought: How does everyone have a dignified and fulfilled existence in a world where you don't need to work to survive? Plans such as universal basic income only solve the financial side of this future, but not the mental and emotional.
Working-class America isn't looking for handouts. They're hard working, but they feel like they've been denied what was promised to them and don't have a productive place to direct their energy and talents. Entrepreneurs who are proactively thinking about these implications to their efficiency-creating technologies will end up winning big and saving humanity in the process.
Andrew D'Souza is co-founder and CEO of Clearbanc, which provides financial services for freelancers and independent contractors.