Teach Starter’s Journey to Becoming a Purpose Driven Business

Scott Tonges
Aug 7, 2017 · 5 min read

The title of this piece might be misleading. Innately, Teach Starter is a purpose driven business — the educational resources we create have a positive impact on children. This is the story of our journey to articulating that purpose.

Jill and Scott giving away freebies to our inspiring members.

As Simon Sinek would say, “it starts with ‘Why’.”

At Teach Starter the ‘What’ is evident in our work. What we do is create the best teaching resources for primary and elementary school teachers around the world.

But the ‘Why’? Well, that’s a tougher proposition.

The ‘Why’ inspires us. It’s our purpose. It gets us out of bed every morning to do what we do. It brings our team and our community together to share in a common goal.

To find our ‘Why’, we had to dig a little deeper…

The Story So Far

Like seemingly all modern-day startup stories that emerge from humble beginnings, so too does Teach Starter.

Perched high on a hill overlooking the Bli Bli valley on the Sunshine Coast, was my grandparents’ home. Taking refuge from Queensland’s famous summer heat, Jill and I sat under four great mango trees that lined the perimeter of the property’s western fence line.

A month earlier, the idea for Teach Starter began coalescing after I had helped Jill create a customised sign for her classroom, using Photoshop. Her colleagues soon requested their own versions.

Under the mango trees, Jill and I spoke at length about what other resource options were available. We concluded that we could provide quality, well-designed teaching resources that children and teachers alike would love to use in the classroom.

We spent the next six months creating resources to send out to our small but growing subscriber base, in a free monthly email. Our website was nothing more than a landing page, encouraging other enthusiastic teachers to sign up for free resources.

By January 1, 2013, we were ready to launch the Teach Starter website with over 200 pages of teaching resources (we now have over 40,000 pages). For a small fee each year, members could download all of the resources we offered. To our surprise, someone signed up on the first day.

Over the next four and a half years, Teach Starter grew from a team of two (Jill and I) to over a dozen talented, creative and unique individuals.

The Moment of Clarity

I think all along, Jill and I have known our ‘Why’. We have just had difficulty articulating it. From what I have read, this is not uncommon. After a number of failed attempts we knew we needed help converting our thoughts into words.

For us, business has always been about more than the bottom line. Revenue is essential for the sustainability of a business; however, it shouldn’t come at the expense of all else. We have a responsibility to our team, our community and to those without the means to seek our help. It was with this in mind that we embarked on obtaining our B Corporation certification.

As described on their website, “B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee”. It is a rigorous assessment of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

We had found our people!

A few weeks ago, Jill and I were invited to attend a B Corp morning tea to find more information about the assessment process, and hear from other certified B Corps within the community. It was at this meeting that we met Tim O’Brien.

Tim helps to build and transform businesses for positive impact, through his company Hatched.

Tim was the spark we needed to pull our ‘Why’ from the clouds and share it with the world. We spent three intensive days talking through all aspects of Teach Starter with Tim and our team, and at the end of it, were left with this…

Our impact model:

Teach Starter’s Impact Model

To say I am proud of this sprawling scribble is an understatement. It is Teach Starter. It is the summation of five years of incredibly hard work, late nights and tough conversations, mixed with good times, milestones and ‘pinch-me’ moments. It brings a tremendous sense of clarity.

It is our ‘Why’.

The Future

Jill and I have always had grand ambitions for Teach Starter. Now we have a north star to lead us on a journey of purpose. We have our ‘Why’…

Our purpose is to make every classroom buzz.

We help children and teachers experience that state of happiness from being deeply engaged. We help teachers to feel that positive energy radiating from their classrooms when their students have had an ‘aha moment’. We want to encourage a love of learning.

Our vision is to inspire every child to build a purposeful and happy life through learning.

When we thought deeply about why we do what we do, it came down to our impact on the future. By providing equitable education for all, our dream is that more children will lead purposeful and happy lives, and this will flow on to future generations.

So why am I documenting and sharing our story?

As part of our impact model, we identified five key items we need to implement. The first item on that list is Storytelling.

I’m a huge believer that if you’re not producing content for social, your business is invisible. At Teach Starter, we are building a content team with the mandate of providing as much value as possible to our members, with no expectations in return. In order to prevent my own hypocrisy, it’s time I start being visible — one piece of content at a time!

So this is me, telling Teach Starter’s story in my own words, starting with ‘Why’.

Sinek would be proud.

Did you find this story interesting? Would you like to hear more? I would love to hear your feedback! Please email: ourstory@teachstarter.com

To hear more about our journey, follow Scott on Facebook and Instagram: @tongesy

Creating Teach Starter

Let’s make every classroom buzz!