Building a startup takes great personal and collective effort. This starts with the founders, but in the shortest amount of time it is required of the entire organization and its community.
A startup with a clear mission and purpose — one every employee and client can rattle off without hesitation — doesn’t get stuck at as many of the many, many crossroads one sees in business. To ask, ‘Is this what we’re about?’ requires self-knowledge. If you can answer this easily then you have direction.
Here are some starting points.
Start With Why
Simon Sinek’s Start With Why is a good example of clarity of purpose. It’s all right there in the title. To ensure the strongest of foundations, begin designing your startup with its purpose, the problem you wish to solve, and why it matters to you.
Only once you have your why can you move on to how. Put another way, your how is your mission. It is what you must do. It is all the various sub-jobs — hiring, strategy, design, marketing — that end up becoming your product.
Self-evidently, product-oriented entrepreneurs focus on their product. There is tech to improve upon here and problems in the market to solve. This is very important. But if you go too far down the line before answering why, unforeseeable problems crop up and these are the kind that keep a startup from scaling into a real business.
(As said, Sinek’s idea is there in its title. If you want expanding on it, take the seventeen minutes to watch his TED talk.)
From the Bottom to the Top
Conceptually, he subdivides the firm into seven layers:
- Mission & purpose
- Organizational model
- Operating model
- Business model
- The market
The order here matters. It is the most important thing about the model: that starting with people and building upwards helps sustain each additional layer. The people set the mission which sets the culture which sets the…
Make It Matter
Consider taking up Salim Ismail’s charge: organizations must have a real purpose, something beyond simply maximizing shareholder value, something inspiring and transformative for their community. (NXTP is a B Corp and we cover social impact elsewhere on the blog.)
Ismail wants you to improve your world, your industry, your community, yourselves. He calls this Massive Transformative Purpose. MPT is a way of forecasting what having a strong moral purpose might look like and then working backwards from it. As startups grow exponentially (ideally), so too do their good and bad habits. Do the work early.
More Than The Founders
Ismail’s Singularity U colleague Jeffrey Rogers paraphrases this slightly. Perhaps it will resonate more cleanly. He asks us to ask ourselves:
What does the future want from us?
Your purpose must be larger than yourself. To hear Rogers tell it, it is your destiny.
What Do You Commit To?
In my book, Learning to Start(up) , I define the life cycle of companies as a series of life stages. As in life, where e.g. swallowing is perilous for infants and effortless for adults, each stage in a company’s growth has peculiarities that are easy in one moment and existential in another.
In the first stage — the ‘commitment’ — founders want to devote themselves to their idea. This devotion will become the mission. Being able to articulate, to validate, and to draw people to it — co-founders, partners, family, friends, future employees, investors — is of singular importance.
We mustn’t confuse the mission with marketing. The mission statement has to be simple and concrete. It serves as a litmus test for coworker and client alike: ‘Is this us?’
In Eight Words or Fewer (in 130 Words)
When sharpening your mission to its finest point, Kevin Starr recommends you phrase it in eight words or fewer.
1- Verb. Start with the verb as it’s your action.
2- Target. To whom is your verb aimed at? Who is the client or beneficiary of what you are going to do?
3- Outcome. What is the hoped for result?
(Kevin explains this briefly here.)
One Arce Fund: To get African families out of extreme poverty
NXTP Ventures: Supporting Latin American Entrepreneurs to Transform Industries
When you have your mission statement, the next step is to tie your startup’s KPIs and OKRs to it in a way that is consistent. Defined, measurable, aimed at. With mission in hand, you also have your compass.