Over the past several years, with his juggernaut Tedx Talk Start With Why and best-selling book of the same title, Simon Sinek has popularized a concept first introduced by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Although the concept of “beginning with the end in mind” was first applied by Covey to the habits that highly effective people develop, and then later by Sinek to how leaders inspire action, this concept is vital to every entrepreneur.
“Why?” Informs Everything for the Entreprepreneur
Entrepreneurs solve problems. Whether he is a small business owner or a VC-funded entrepreneur seeking to grow and scale a business, understanding the “why” is essential to entrepreneurial success.
The why–or the purpose–drives (or should drive) all strategic decisions for the entrepreneur. As Covey pointed out, the person who has his or her eye firmly focused on the larger why is positioned for success. The entrepreneur who thoroughly understands his “why” and can articulate it clearly is able to inspire others to join his cause, to take action, and to build something that is greater than the sum of the parts.
How to Find the “Why?”
Many entrepreneurs understand the why instinctively. Solving a problem is an impulse for the entrepreneur. He often “just knows” that it needs to be done. And many entrepreneurs are driven, focused and passionate by nature, so they may be able to influence and recruit talent, employees and investors to join them without fully exploring the why. But what does the entrepreneur who understands the power of the “why?” but does not yet have it clearly articulated do?
1. Identify the Problem That is Being Solved
Take the time to clearly identify the problem you are solving. No matter how complex the solution is that you imagine, distill the problem you are solving into one simple sentence. “Our company solves X (problem)”
2. Add The Target Market
You have identified the problem you solve. Now identify who you solve it for. “Our company solves X (problem) for Y (person/group of people).”
3. The “Five Why’s” Exercise
Startup guru, Ash Maurya developed the Lean Canvas as a way for entrepreneurs to easily articulate their basic business model. In the process of filling out a Lean Canvas, Maurya introduces an exercise to help the entrepreneur truly uncover the fundamental problem he solves. It is a simple exercise, but one that takes a little work. Once you identify the problem you believe you are solving, you begin to ask “Why is that a problem?” Once you have an answer to that question, you take that answer and ask the question again (up to five times). Pushing through the simple, obvious answers to this exercise uncovers the deep problem that an entrepreneur is really solving. Once you uncover the problem that is an emotional pain point for your target market, then you are equipped to connect in a meaningful way that will ultimately drive sales and profitability.