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For Startups, The Why Comes Before The How

by Jay Baron


It took me five years to learn possibly the most important thing you can learn about building a business: your success lies not in the how, but in the why. Before you start hashing out the details of price and growth strategies, Business 101 style, can you explain why your business needs to exist in the first place? What is its purpose, at the core?




Now, here’s the rub: your business’ purpose can’t have anything to do with you. I know you think you’re being honest and noble, admitting that your primary motivator is to become a millionaire. But revenue isn’t a purpose, in itself – it’s just validation that you’ve uncovered the right purpose.


Learning to connect

Every startup has the same common denominator: people. Find out how to connect with people in a meaningful way and to make their lives better through your business, and you’re on the right track. Throw everything you’ve got behind that mission until it becomes your true passion – a passion that trickles down into every crevice of your business – and you’ve hit the entrepreneurial jackpot.


Great startups become great not because of their awesome products or brilliant marketing strategies, but because of their ability to connect with people. This connection usually happens through effective branding. You can write a sharp business plan and execute it so flawlessly that it would silence Trump, and still, you’ll watch your business flounder unless your efforts are backed by a solid brand.


Asking the right questions

When I started Madtown back in 2007, I did what most entrepreneurs do and started with the how.

  • How are we going to get business?
  • How much are we going to charge?
  • How are we going to market ourselves?
  • How are we going to find even more business?
  • How are we going to spend the millions of dollars we’re making?


These are great questions that need to be answered (especially that last one, right?), but I answered them too soon. Instead, I should have been focusing on something much more important: the why. I didn’t have a clear vision of our purpose as a company, and without that purpose, everything I did lacked true direction.


Your business’ purpose is the reason you will get up and throw yourself into your work every morning, even when the mountains you’re climbing feel insurmountable. It’s the reason you’ll skip a step up the stairs to your office and fail to even notice when the clock hits 5 PM (or 6, or 10…) Your purpose is what will keep the passion burning, not just in you, but in your employees, your clients, and every person your company interacts with.


Oh, and then there’s that other little thing: your purpose will bring you customers. Lots of them. And they’ll keep coming back because they believe in you and what you’re doing.


Here are some why questions that can help you uncover your purpose, and that need to be answered long before you get to the hows:

  • Why am I the right person to create this business?
  • Why am I going to risk everything I have to follow this dream?
  • Why do I think this business is going to make a difference in the world?
  • Why should people care?
  • Why are people going to give us their money?
  • Why will people want to work here?


Finding your why

There has to be a deeper reason your startup exists – one that has nothing to do with money or customer service or cool products. Your “big idea” is only going to take you so far, and then you have to actually build a business around it. Before you can make the big bucks and change the world, you need to spend some time digging up what’s at your company’s core.


Finding your purpose can be one of the hardest parts of building a startup, if only because it’s so easy to do it wrong, or to bypass it altogether.


Too many startups get lost in the logistics of physically running a business. You can happily burn through hours upon hours tweaking your website, tinkering around on social media, blogging, and designing new brochures and logos. These technical details are alluring because you have full control over them, and they provide the immediate, visible feedback you so crave.


But without a solid foundation under all those menial technical aspects, your company will eventually fall over.


Instead, take some of that energy and invest it into really getting to know your own company. As T.S. Elliot said, “Arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”


This is what we call inside-out branding. Starting at the core of your business, finding firm footing in a real purpose, and using that solid foundation to launch your business to unimaginable new heights.


So ask yourself: What is our real purpose? How are we making people’s lives better?


Don’t expect the answer to come to you immediately. Think long and hard to uncover the real, deep-seated why that will ultimately transform your business.


Here’s ours:

Our primary goal is to make people’s lives better by helping our clients create meaningful and memorable experiences for their customers. We do this by nurturing brand loyalty in our clients’ sites and infusing emotion into the buying process. By connecting clients’ customers with the things they care about in a meaningful way, we’re simultaneously building our clients’ businesses and, ultimately, boosting both parties’ quality of life, as well as our own.


So there’s our why. What’s yours?


jay editJay Baron is the brand strategist at Madtown and Mighty Zombie. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.



Photo Credits

Ken Lund | Courtesy of the author

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