What’s authenticity about anyway?

See the image below? It appeared in my Facebook feed. No, it was not an Onion article.

Amazon bought Whole Foods and the whole Internet seemed to seize up with joy, angst, or terror. Yep, your margin is still Jef Bezos’ opportunity. Amazon, as we now know, is on its way to being the world’s most customer-centric and most valuable company. Until now, those two things might have been mutually exclusive. Today, it is a highly causal relationship.

So back to United. Customers do not want patronizing invitations to be comfortable, phony apologies or pathetic slogans inviting you to “Fly the Friendly Skies.” Especially, before they are assaulted or fleeced. You need to actually care about people.

Clearly, positioning and branding is no substitute for authenticity. Your brand needs to be authentic and if it is not or if your brand stinks, well, Uber is an obvious cautionary tale. So why do so many startups try to get to market first, ignore people, and figure out their values or culture later?

Values are the foundation upon which people act every day. Those actions define a culture. They can’t be an afterthought. The good news is that this is not just a requirement of the CEO. There is a design process at the heart of this: Talk to users. Own their problem. Make that your purpose and make the purpose everyone’s job. It’s a foundational process in my work with new ventures.

Make the team share it with others. Be intentional with the first 30 people you hire and enroll them to build the culture you can be proud of and customers can love. Hint: Care. Be authentically customer-centric.

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own.