Startup founding made easy: “Always start with WHY!”
I’d like to put forward the hypothesis that hardly anyone likes to stand around in the rain at night. But if it’s done to pick up a dear friend, save toads or to demonstrate for a cause that is close to one’s heart, then things look quite different. When it’s clear what you’re doing something for, the motivation is high. And others immediately understand why you are standing in the rain at night. So the “why” is important!
What is true in private life is even more true on the job. For the author and management consultant Simon Sinek, it is right at the center of the Golden Circle. His method with the same name helps companies to find out why they do what they do. The Why (the shared vision) is the meaningful linchpin for all further work – namely the How (the strategy to realize the vision) and the What (the tasks that need to be implemented to achieve it). In his book “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” Sinek describes this method in detail and also at his Ted Talk.
The Why makes the difference
In my day-to-day work with our teams, I regularly see that having a values-based goal and a clear vision makes all the difference. For internal motivation, the shared vision is enormously important. After all, your Why is the reason you get up every morning, even if the days are tough or you’ve had setbacks. It also helps you find your co-founders. As a team, despite all the diversity, you should be driven by common values and motives. The common why is the foundation of your actions. Therefore, try to proactively address the topic of Why in the first few months and align your common motives.
Defining a clear motive for your actions will also help you to succinctly explain to external parties why you exist and why they should work with you. No matter if customers, partners, investors, applicants or other stakeholders – your Why will help them to find out in a short time whether you are the right fit.
Take the time to formulate your common vision
Unfortunately, early-stage founding teams often lack an understanding of why a clear, shared vision is so important. They want to hit the ground running and don’t want to spend a long time “philosophizing” about why. Also, many teams are not even aware that they have a similar understanding of the common vision, but not an identical one. As a rule, teams naturally exchange information about their goals and short-term expectations. However, the real core, their motives and the Why are hardly ever discussed, let alone reaching a clearly defined understanding. That requires really open conversations and thus a lot of trust. This is a real challenge for teams that have not been working together for very long. But it is worth it!
It takes some time and several attempts to formulate a clear and doubtless description of your Why. But by the time your founding team is complete and you can solve a clear customer need and thus have found the problem solution fit, you should ensure it is done. Even though this takes time, which is super precious to you, you should invest in this somewhat abstract topic. Create a common formulation of your vision and – even if it seems petty – check the meaning of every single word.
How to find your Why
A simple exercise that can help you is the Crazy 8, where each of you writes down a suggestion. The others then change this into their own suggestion and add to it. You do this until you have collected seven more suggestions for each original suggestion. In this way, with three people, you quickly come up with three times eight, or 24 suggestions. Then you should talk about which words are particularly important to you and why. This will quickly reveal what you have in common when it comes to your opinions and views. In addition, the wording and order of the terms shows which priority you give to which topics.
Startup teams that formulate their Why with crystal clarity at the founding stage are building their successful future. They no longer get bogged down in new ideas, but have a yardstick right from the start: Does the new idea fit the vision or not? This is how you lay the foundation for effective idea management. But even later, when you have been on the market for a few months or years, you should never lose sight of your Why (and the Golden Circle). It is advisable to regularly review your own course. You can do this independently as a team or have coaches support you.
My tip for you:
If you have found your Why, then get it out there! It makes you unmistakable and is your USP (unique selling proposition). From now on, your Why should always be the introduction to your story – on your website, pitch deck or job posting. Keep it like Simon Sinek: “Always start with Why”!
Author Tim Lampe
Tim Lampe leads the Format Team at Campus Founders and, together with his team, develops the offerings and teaching formats that holistically accompany startup teams on their entrepreneurial journey. Before joining Campus Founders, he was involved in several startups in consulting, SaaS, education and co-living and spent a year in Silicon Valley.
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