How Starting with “Why?” Leads Entrepreneurs to Success
Why are some companies more innovative, more profitable, and inspire greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? It’s because they start by asking “why,” according to Simon Sinek, an ethnographer, author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and speaker (his TED speech is among my favorites).
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says Sinek. Your story and your passion make you stand out in a crowd and help you connect with like-minded people, the kind of people who will support you even when times are tough.
When you follow your heart and are passionate about what you do, you lay the foundation for creativity. That keeps you motivated. When obstacles get in your way, you have the strength to go on. Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing four start-up entrepreneurs whose passion and purpose inspire me, their customers, employees, suppliers, and investors.
- Danielle Applestone, OMC, developed a 3D mill that will revolutionize small-run manufacturing, bringing jobs back to the U.S. and providing a path to higher paying jobs for low-skilled people. When she did a rewards-based crowdfunding campaign that pre-sold the 3D mill, she raised more than six times her goal. When pitching angels, her bold vision captured the imagination and wallets of more Broadway Angels investors, a group of world-class angel investors, than any other entrepreneur’s vision.
- Sheri Atwood, SupportPay, created an app that makes it easy and transparent for parents who live apart to share child expenses. She was the child of an acrimonious divorce and her father was a “deadbeat dad.” For Atwood, it was critical to reduce the tension between parents who live apart. As it turns out, if there is no conflict, children who come from homes in which parents live apart are no worse off than nuclear families, so minimizing conflict is a goal that is personally very important to her. Atwood has raised equity from Silicon Valley’s most respected angel and corporate investment groups, including Draper Associates, Tim Draper’s angel investment fund; TEC Ventures; Broadway Angels; Aspect Ventures; RPM Ventures; and salesforce.com. Atwood recently won a competition created by Financial Solutions Lab to encourage innovative approaches to improving the financial health of households having difficulty managing their cash flow.
- Sarah Bellos, Stony Creek Colors, creates plant-based dyes to replace petroleum-based dyes that are the leading causes of industrial water pollution. She’s raised over half a million dollars, including grant dollars from the prestigious Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and an angel investor. Developing environmentally friendly dye has required building relationships with farmers, chemists, mills and brands. All believe in what she believes in: making the world healthier and more sustainable.
- Ginalisa Monterroso, Medicaid Advisory Group (MAG), helps the elderly and people with special needs —even those with money in the bank and who own a home—get the Medicare and Medicaid benefits that they are supposed to. As the mother of a child with a disability, Monterroso understands just how important those benefits are. Sometimes people are unaware of the benefits that they are entitled to, and in other cases, MAG battles with hospitals and nursing homes on behalf of clients to get these benefits. Monterroso wasn’t looking for an investor, but Hiry West, an angel investor, and his wife, Mary Beth West, JCPenney’s CMO, were impressed with the way MAG advocated on behalf of Mary Beth’s mother. Because they wanted more people to have access to its services, they became investors in the company.
As these entrepreneurs demonstrate, when your vision is bold, your purpose clear and you communicate consistently and clearly, people are likely to join you on your journey and help you reach your destination.