Why Purpose Fuels Your Startup — and How you Can Use it to Grow Your Organisation.

Neil Lewis
Sep 13, 2018 · 8 min read
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There are two ways to fund a startup with other people’s money — apart from friends and families that is; either you raise equity finance or you find customers to buy your products and services.

So what’s the secret — not of how to raise loads of money, but of how to attract and build a customer base of raving fans who’s purchases fund your growth? Not just customers who accept your product or service, but customers who love what you do so that they want to share your company with other people?

How do you achieve that? Answer…purpose

Purpose fuels your startup

Every startup needs fuel. You can fuel your organisation with a combination of money, energy or resources… which could include purpose.

The wonderful thing about purpose is that, unlike money and energy, it is unlimited! At the end of the day, even if you raise $1bn, you still have a finite amount of money; and, even if you eat well and practise mindfulness to double or triple your energy, your energy remains finite.

Purpose, on the other hand is an infinite resource.

If your purpose drives you to help one person who is in pain, in difficulty, struggling, hurting, frustrated or disappointed; then you can help millions and then help billions.

Apple, back in the early days, had a purpose and it was to remove the frustration of the early Microsoft products. Until Windows 7, we used to wait 5 or 10 minutes for our machines to turn on! Can you believe that? Apple solved that frustration.

Later, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he enthused that organisation for beautiful design, but still, the underlying pain he solved was getting rid of the frustration of ugly, awkward, clunky and difficult to use digital products.

Steve Jobs was a man driven by his purpose. His love of good design and understanding that design was how the receiver perceived it (not always how the designer intended it), came from his time spent learning graphic design and studying fonts as a young man.

Yes, that graphics experience shaped him, but in turn, Steve Jobs allowed that design course to shape everything he did thereafter. And in that, he accessed huge power and impact. He created his purpose and acted on it.

Customers love purpose

You see, when you have a purpose — to make the world better in some way — you may exclude a few old curmudgeons, but you enthuse a core group of supporters who think — ‘at last, someone is going to tackle this’! Note, they aren’t customers anymore, they are supporters.

And it is supporters that you want. Because supporters will talk to their friends and colleagues, they will share your social media posts, they write rave 5 star reviews and they may even write positive posts and messages about you.

You see, this kind of ‘fuel’ is unlimited. It can quickly turn your organisation into a media star, a go-to source for any major newspaper for comment and stories. And it’s all free! And it need not have an end!

False purpose

But be careful, don’t fall for ‘false purpose’. That is, don’t treat this as a quickie sticking plaster job when it is a much more profound solution.

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And don’t think that you can invent a purpose which isn’t yours and slap it on top of your mission statement. Instead, purpose has to be deeply connected and consistent with who you are and how you live and will live your life.

What’s your purpose?

The key reasons that entrepreneurs I work with struggle to engage the power of their purpose, is that they either aren’t sure what their purpose is; they aren’t confident to boldly state it; or, they are cautions about making a choice.

So, one way to start uncovering and creating your purpose is to ask this question; ‘what will my family and my friends write on my headstone’?

Let me share an example of a headstone I found languishing in a corner of London’s Highgate Cemetery; it made me laugh at the time, but the impression it made stuck with me.

The family of Mr Bloggs, (okay, I changed his name), understood the work purpose of their dear relative — he was a dentist who would answer his phone anywhere and at anytime — even beyond the grave!

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So what would friends and family write on your tombstone?

Or, if you are starting out, what do you choose for them to write?

Now, you may begin with concepts like ‘entrepreneur’ — but the value in this exercise is to go beyond general concepts and find something that is specific to you.

Me? I’m a Publisher Entrepreneur!

I’m a Publishing Entrepreneur, because my purpose is to democratise knowledge. How so?

Well, when I got married, I had to write down my occupation on the marriage certificate. At the time it made me think — not just, what am I doing now, but how do I want to be remembered? At the time I was working at The Economist and had spent 10 years in information publishing working in various marketing and innovation roles — so what did I choose? I chose Publisher.

Curiously, it was many years later that I realised what a great decision that was for me.

Shortly after getting married, I co-founded a highly successful online publisher selling ebooks (well, downloadable pdfs and spreadsheet business models). Since then I have launched a range of publications — physical and digital — some very successful like 100 Rules for Entrepreneurs and others less so.

However, what captures both my entrepreneurial publishing and political activities (yes, I also stood for the UK parliament) is that I have spent my life democratising knowledge — that is, taking very high value knowledge and making it available at a price point that anyone can afford.

Even when I worked at The Economist in the Intelligence Unit and we would sell our reports for hundreds and thousands of dollars, those reports also got sold to public libraries where they could be accessed free of charge. That’s making knowledge available to everyone — democratising it. I was very proud of that.

The work I have done around public services has been around making access to advice, coaching and knowledge available and affordable — particularly, for young businesses / organisations, as they create all the net new jobs.

So, what’s your purpose? And is your startup aligned with that purpose? But before I get to that, let me explain…

What Purpose isn’t…

I’m specifically talking about your work / career / work-life purpose here.

I’m not asking whether it is your purpose to be a great mother to your child, or father, or a great son or a great aunt or Godfather or sister. Not because I don’t value those traits, but because they are not unique to you in the wider world of work and careers and professions.

In other words, we can all be great friends/ brothers / sisters — we can’t all be Publisher Entrepreneurs whose purpose is to democratise knowledge (for example).

To find your work purpose, you have connect up the various things you’ve done from the different parts of your public life.

It may not always be easy, it may take time and you may need a coach to help you through the steps. But it is so worth while…

Six more amazing things that ‘purpose’ does for your organisation…

I’ve talked earlier about how ‘being on purpose’ in your startup will help you find customers who love you, but that’s not all;

  1. Knowing that you are fulfilling your purpose — or at least creating a purpose you love, is just a great way to live your life. Can’t beat it! Hands down, it’s the best! It’s just so much more fun…

Lastly, there is nothing worse than climbing a ladder only to find it is leaning against the wrong wall. All that blood, sweat and all those tears for something you despise! So, spend your time working through your work based purpose, asking questions of yourself, ask others to tell you what they think and feel about your purpose too. Then create…

…remember, you can create a new purpose, you do not need to be bound by the past.

Finally, here’s a message from me on purpose and passion in startups and scaleups.

Thanks for reading, if you loved this article, please help me to share it far and wide. :)

I’m Neil Lewis from Media Modo — I’m a Got The T-Shirt Scaleup Coach and I coach founders and startups to scaleup(s).

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