In the start-up world, purpose isn’t talked about. Unless a founder is determined enough to drive home their beliefs, the conversation always starts with, “So what do you do?”

Especially in the beginning, having a purpose can be terribly lonely. Finding others who share your same beliefs takes a lot of time. If you have a consistent commitment to start with “why” instead of “what,” you will spend a lot of time meeting people who just don’t understand.

Simon Senick says it best, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

The Marines are an incredible organization. Whether you believe in the military or not, there is no denying that every Marines have an unwavering sense of purpose. Whenever I see a Marine in uniform, I can’t help but notice because they have such a presence to them, a strength that leaves no doubt about the reason they wear their colors. Adopting the mark, Semper Fi (Always Loyal), members of the marines are clear about why they exist.

Most startups don’t have this same loyalty or this same collective unity. The startup culture has become one of minimal viable convincability. A culture focused on quantity over quality, we are in a rush to convince a lot of people that *what* we are building is meaningful. Because if not, the best talent won’t join, investors will pass, and we will spend a lot of time coming up with new ideas until something sticks.

Your company will stand for one thing, which means you must be clear about what it is.

To provide inspiration…
  • “We make things that work for people.” ~ Nest
  • “Tools for living the city.” ~ Chrome Industries
  • “Enhance each life we touch.” ~ Apple

Just because the product you make doesn’t save lives, doesn’t mean you can’t have a deeper purpose. Personally, I love photography and as a former camera maker I definitely believe that the world is a better place with beautiful pictures. Even if I was going to add more plastic to the world by making another camera, I would want to tie it's existence to impacting the world through beautiful pictures.

“Making the Web a Better Place and loving every second of it” ~ Moz

A simple purpose, Moz is focused on making the web a better place for its customers. Empowering people to optimize their business, Moz is consistently telling the world what they believe in. Whether it’s their purpose, their TAGFEE values, or their complete transparency, Moz is clear about what they believe in.

At the end of the day, nothing matters unless you measure it. Sticking a purpose on the wall that is not tied to what you track, is pointless. If all you measure is revenue, customer engagement, and profits, then you should just change your purpose to, “We are leveraging our customers so we can make as much money as possible.”

Instead, spend time on creating a single purpose, measuring it, and telling the world about it. When you are winning people will follow you, but when you hit a massive bump in the road having a team with shared beliefs is the only way to survive it.

Image Credit: No Author via Creative Commons

This guide was first published on Oct 14, 2013. It was last updated on Oct 14, 2013.

This page (Have A Purpose) was last updated on Oct 13, 2013.

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