Step 1: Understanding Your Purpose

Ever asked yourself why you’re doing this (other than for profit)?

This is part of a series of free lessons on using The Happy Startup Canvas to building a startup that matters. If you haven’t already, read the first introductory post and download the worksheet.

There’s a growing body of evidence showing that purpose-driven companies are more successful.

In an ever more competitive world people are not just looking for a product or service to buy, they’re also looking for companies they trust and believe in.

When thinking about your big idea the starting point should really be your why. Too often we dive straight into building solutions rather than thinking about why we’re doing this in the first place.

  • What’s driving this big idea?
  • Who’s needs are we serving?
  • What’s led us to this point?
“Your purpose is the wind in your sail. And without a why there is no wind.” David Hieatt

By taking time to reflect on, and define your purpose you’ll not only attract the right customers, you’ll also get more clarity as to what you should be working on.

It will help you to know what’s in and what’s out.

Starting with why

In his famous TED talk ‘How great leaders inspire action’ Simon Sinek points out that you need to awaken an emotion with your early customers so that they feel something — on the basis that most buying decisions are based on emotion not logic.

This is where the above Golden Circle comes in.

When communicating what you do and focusing on the why you can create much deeper connections with your audience and give your business a better chance of success.

You want to capture people’s hearts as well as minds.

The products you offer will no doubt evolve over time, but your purpose most likely won’t — it should just get clearer if anything.

This clarity on your why may take a little while to fine tune, but it will become your True North, guiding you to make better decisions more often than not.

At The Happy Startup School, we’re living proof that it’s possible to build a passionate tribe and evolve your offering from a loyal base.

[Power up: Watch The Celery Test by Simon Sinek 3 mins]

Defining your purpose

The tip of our canvas is all about defining the vision and purpose of your startup. Today we’ll be tackling purpose.

Your purpose is the benefit you bring to the world through what you do.

We want you to think about the why behind your idea and to craft a statement that feels clear and authentic.

You want to think about how you will make a difference in the world, and in the lives of those who matter most to you. Try to look for alignment between “what you do best” and “how you benefit the world.”

Helping Hand

To give you a hand here are a couple of examples of purpose statements from well-known companies:

Southwest Airlines
As the story goes, it took Southwest a few years as the leader in low-fare air travel before the company defined its purpose:

“Give people the freedom to fly.”

It isn’t just about cheap flights across the US, it’s about making travel to far flung places accessible to those that otherwise couldn’t afford it, therefore expanding people’s horizons.


The company known for delivering happiness to customers says its purpose is:

“To inspire the world by showing it’s possible to simultaneously deliver happiness to customers, employees, community, vendors and shareholders in a long-term, sustainable way.”

Tony Hsieh and his team are out to prove to the world that focussing on the happiness and wellbeing of the people in the company will help drive business success. As Tony himself says ‘we’re a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.”

And one lesser known example of a purpose-driven company…

Greystone Bakery

Greystone provides individuals in Southwest Yonkers, NY with employment skills and resources to lift them out of poverty. As they say in their own words:

“We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.”

A true purpose-driven company if ever there was one.

Companies such as Greystone and Zappos are so clear about their purpose that you can imagine them applying their ethos to any sector. For instance if Zappos started an airline you’d know what to expect — great service delivered by people who care.

Others may try and copy what you do but they can’t copy the way you do it. And anyway, when you’re following your purpose there is no competition, only collaboration.

What about you?

  • What’s driving your big idea?
  • What needs are trying to address?
  • How do you want to positively impact people’s lives?

Bear in mind your answers for these exercises don’t need to be perfect now. Don’t let perfection get in the way of completing the tasks. Go with your best guess and re-visit later.

Complete the following section of your worksheet:

Using an example of The Chirpy Business School:

Next lesson: Step 2: Vision »