Start with purpose: how everyone can be an entrepreneur

by Scott Ewings, Joint-CEO — Potato

Shared lunches help build a collaborative culture at Potato

You hear a similar story with entrepreneurs and the companies they create — they have a dream, or they experience something that didn’t work and they want to fix it.

This dream or experience creates a singular purpose their company or brand lives by. That purpose is in their mind’s eye when they write their goals, when they hire their staff, and in every single action they take. Like it or not, the businesses, products, services and experiences we create shape the world for everyone. So that entrepreneurial purpose… everyone should have it and never lose it.

Sometimes you hear of companies being acquired and losing their purpose. Green&Blacks was a high-end chocolate bar, defiantly organic and fairtrade — even to a political level. It was sold to Cadbury in 2005 (which itself has been absorbed into Kraft) and last year the first Green&Blacks bars which have totally dropped organic and fairtrade were on the market. What is Green&Blacks now? Nothing.

Sometimes that purpose can be blinding. Facebook wants to “bring the world closer together” but didn’t think about the data consequences in doing so and there has been a backlash which has cost them value and time as they work to try to rectify it.

So how can we, as business people, build or retain our entrepreneurial purpose?

Stand for something

Having a purpose doesn’t mean you have to save the world every time you wake up. We can leave that to The Avengers. Transferwise is a great example of a company that has a purpose “build a better (and cheaper!) way of transferring money internationally” with “no hidden charges”. It’s a simple, but positive, purpose which helps people. This purpose is driven into everything they do, product development, design, marketing. To date, Transferwise has raised around $500 million in funding and has a reported valuation of $1.6 billion. Stand for something, drive positive outcomes for society, and make a difference. It’s valued, and it’s valuable. Increasingly, this is where profit will live.

Always be authentic

Authenticity is now a pre-requisite for success with the incoming generations and the instant backlash against perceived inauthenticity that we are witnessing illustrates a basic truth: what you stand for and live for, IS your company or brand. Those that neglect to incorporate their purpose into their external stories, products, services, experiences, and culture will, actually, fail in the future.

There are inspiring examples to follow. Patagonia is a clothing and food brand with an ethical and traceable supply chain from labour, to ingredients, to suppliers being treated fairly, to environmental impact. This is brought to life in everything they do and accessible for customers via their Footprint Chronicles as well as through Patagonia Action Works, a digital hub to connect customers with the grassroots organisations they support. Patagonia donates 1% of their total sales or 10% of their profits (whichever is greater) to environmental projects. They present a truth and are valued by their customers for doing so. This fact has a direct correlation to their profitability, and they work hard to stay true.

Embrace the truth

According to IRI and Boston Consulting Group’s 2015 European study, responsible consumption (RC) brands have now overtaken “conventional” brands in terms of growth rate. It also finds RC products are able to command a higher price point, on average 58% (and as much as 113%) more. And the Meaningful Brands survey found that “meaningful brands,” which contribute to consumer well-being and quality of life, outperform the stock market by 206%. Companies that embrace real values throughout their process have been shown to benefit from increased longevity and, ultimately, profitability.

Put people centre stage

All people. Your customers (external) and your teams (internal). Externally, if you’re not putting your customer’s needs first, it won’t end well. Let’s look at a very famous case: Blockbuster. Blockbuster had a slogan “never be without a movie”, however that didn’t seem to follow their changing customers’ tastes and needs. What if we’re on the move? What if we’re using a mobile device? If Blockbuster had thought about their purpose continuously and inline with their customer’s needs — I have no doubt we would all be enjoying “Blockbuster and chill” but as it happens, a more innovative and customer focused Netflix stole that crown.

Putting customers centre stage will also help you understand that it’s not all about your products and your tech, and should help open your eyes to any unintended consequences. Constantly validating your products, services, experience and ideas with customers will give you insights into how they are used, perceived, valued and help you make more informed choices with better outcomes.Internally your teams need to understand your purpose and how well you are doing at either achieving it continually or getting there if you are going through change. Every meeting, all planning, all strategy should point to the purpose. If you are changing — engage your teams in reshaping the business. Create a culture which fosters ideas and innovation — as long as it’s aligned with the purpose. The prize will be an entrepreneurial culture, and teams who are connected to a purpose are happier and more productive.

Don’t ever compromise

Don’t ever compromise. You’ll lose customers, you’ll lose team members. If you are doing things with your company that are counter to your purpose, whether that’s accidental or deliberate, then it’s going to be toxic in the end. If it isn’t accidental, then it’s quite likely to be terminal, not just toxic.

Don’t lose that entrepreneurial purpose — everyone can have it, individuals, teams, tiny start-ups and huge corporates. JFDI.