If you are like me, and millions of other professionals around the world, you have probably read Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why”.
Or at least you might have heard of the Golden circle, that every business needs to balance purpose with products.
The Golden circle is structured like a 3 layered onion:
⁃ Clear purpose (why you do things) at the center
⁃ Another layer of values around that (how you do things)
⁃ Finally there are the products and services at the most outer layer (what you do).
On paper this all sounds fantastic, like a simple exercise on a whiteboard and sprinkled with some cold hard execution, boom! you got yourself a fantastic business.
To me as an entrepreneur these layers are not just a matter of cold business execution. They are a matter of personal identity and an exercise in determining where to set boundaries.
So when I sold my company I basically found myself paddling backwards through each of these layers first to re-assess my decisions step by step. One thing is for sure: I didn’t start with WHY.
Step 1: Re-assess What you do
When you build a single project for many years, it becomes easy to start associating yourself with What you do, rather than with How you do it.
Especially as the entrepreneur and face of the company, to others you become the “animation person” or “website person” the “events person” or the “investor person”.
Once people put you in that box, it is extremely convenient to stay there.
The association of you with a certain topic is like a brand that takes many years to build.
You get clear referrals, your clients always remember how to find you and business becomes more effective.
When people with the exact problem that you solve know how to find you, you waste less time on trying to make client fit your products mold.
In the first months after stepping out of my animation business, my first instinct was to immediately push myself away from my previous “What”.
I immediately created a new website with a personal brand (mister awesome) and focussed on a new product (making podcasts).
Step 2: Re-assess How you do things
Over time, other than knowing What you do, people also start understanding what your values are and what you stand for as a professional. (Quality, speed, integrity, creativity etc).
Typically the only people that really understand that deeper layer are intimate customers or fans of your business, that have gotten the chance to know you better.
After the first months of struggling with shedding my previous “what” skin, I started focussing mostly on getting a better understanding what it was that clients and close business relations appreciated about How I worked.
I did this by having many cups of coffee with old clients, old relationships that I always had good memories working with.
Doing this really helped me detach my own values from those that were connected to the collective values of a company.
Step 3: Reassess why you do things
Reassessing Why you do things is to me almost insane to just do as a simple whiteboard exercise without the context of you actually doing or trying something new.
When I started working on Funk-e I didn’t know what my personal Why was as a cool one-liner.
I just knew I really enjoyed the process of working with creative people and finding a way to make it financially possible, so we could keep getting better at it.
It took many animations, building a company, making painful mistakes and growing it beyond a point where I was no longer having fun, to realize that my why is to take ideas from 0 (cool idea, but it will never work) to 1 (huh, wait a second, I guess it was possible, Awesome!).
So I shed my “what” skin in the first 6 months.
I had many cups of coffee in the following 6 months to get a better grasp of my own “How”.
And around September last year (1 year later) I had a new clear activity lined up
With superconnectors I have organized 20 events in the span of 1 year in cities all over the world, set up a team of 5 highly motivated people and secured financing for this.
Working on something new has also really helped me re-discover something else I truly cared about.
I forgot how much fun it was to bring people together and helping create a meaningful connection.
This why really pushes me for Superconnectors and at a deep personal level because I love seeing ideas go from 0 to 1, and that is not just limited to my own.
Life after startup, doesn’t need to start with WHY
Stop freaking yourself out with a whiteboard exercise.
A constant motion forward and good reflection will help you realize that finding purpose is something that you will likely find by going backwards through the layers in practice.