[“‘Why’ Is The Most Important Question An Entrepreneur Will Ever Ask” originally appeared in Forbes and is written by Larry Myler.]
Even though “why” is the most important question entrepreneurs will ever ask, it’s too often the last question they think of asking. When you’re busy focusing on solving a problem and coming up with a product indispensable to others’ lives, your focus is unwaveringly on the “what.”
As Simon Sinek explains in his TED Talk, “Finding Your Why,” every business knows what they do. They make cars, invent cellular devices, sell productivity software or provide a service. Many businesses also know how they do what they do; what makes them better than the competition and what their USPs are. But very few of them can explain why.
What is it that drives your team forward? What causes your business to exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And, more importantly, why should people care? Sinek uses the example of Apple in his talk, as an innovative company that breaks the mold by not only knowing their why, but by beginning every communication with it. Instead of starting with the fact that they make quality computers and mobile devices, they kick off by challenging the way people think.
Knowing your why isn’t about your USPs, or the fact that your products are cheaper or more luxurious than your competitor’s. It’s more about the psychology and the passion that runs through the veins of your business. We’re all used to seeing companies marketing their products as cheaper, or in some other way better than the competition. It might convince us to buy, but it’s hardly inspiring. The few innovative companies that truly understand their core purpose and manage to communicate that to their consumers are the ones that go the distance.
Finding your why isn’t only essential for large companies. How do you think cutting-edge startups are founded out of dorm rooms, basements and garages? Or, how can two college buddies, holed up in a hotel room, disrupt an entire industry? Knowing your why is essential for the smallest one-person operation as well as the established global conglomerate.
It’s easy to confuse your why with your passion, and they’re not always mutually exclusive. But loving your work and being enthusiastic about what you do may not be enough of a catalyst to keep other people buying into your business. The leaders behind CarVi, an automobile technology company that designs safety technology for cars, are quite clear about what they do, and they’re even clearer about why. Amy Ching, Senior Data Scientist, can recite her motivation without hesitation: “Zero accidents,” she says. Her team shares a collective understanding of the impulse behind the company’s inventions, to prevent accidents and save people’s lives. This propels their innovation forward—to the point where they are currently disrupting the automotive industry.
Examples of companies obsessed with their why abound. Take fintech leader, YapStone, a payments company dedicated to “changing how the world pays.” YapStone provides complex payment solutions for marketplace companies that enable them to focus on their core business. And they do it because of the belief that their technology can transform businesses. With its own why written on the walls of the 400+ person company, YapStone has also been able to attract top talent from major financial services companies, most recently, adding Sanjay Saraf, former CTO of Western Union Digital, to its Executive team.
Many entrepreneurs never actually stop to think about asking why. And that can be the one thing that stands between a run-of-the-mill profitable company and a worldwide success with fanatically loyal customers. Most prospective customers will hardly be inspired by yet another flashier pair of running shoes or faster service provide. You may run a successful, short-term marketing strategy that way, but will you attract A-Grade talent from far and wide? Will you build a company that strikes envy in the hearts of competitors, inspires employees to join your cause, and forges customer relationships for life? If so, why?