Yesterday I wrote a short post on the bravery of entrepreneurs, highlighted by the oft-repeated phrase entrepreneurs give when asked why they started their business: “I couldn’t not do it“.
This came from a focus on when an action is perceived by others as brave, but does not feel brave or courageous at all by the person taking that action.
In the case of entrepreneurs, the compulsion is normally centred around seeing a gap in the market and opportunity to fill that gap and potential to profit commercially from that.
Now, seeing a gap in the market can indeed be a powerful driver or compulsion to act and maintain strength and momentum to carry through an idea into a thriving entrepreneurial business.
However, to truly build a powerful and lasting business that has a sustainable impact for both the owners and team in the business as well as the broader community and world, a more powerful compulsion to act is always in play. This more powerful compulsion is often expressed on reflecting back to the beginnings of the business as something like: “we had to do it”.
Bravery: We had to do it
So, if entrepreneurs feel compelled to conceive of, launch and develop their business based upon a market opening or gap they see needed to be filled if their major drive is that there are revenues and profits to be made, then this drive and compulsion to act is often sufficient to build and maintain a thriving business.
Again, no matter how much risk is perceived by those outside, it may not feel brave at all to the entrepreneur.
Let’s now look at the next level of bravery where to act may seem even braver to outsiders but again may not feel brave or courageous at all to the person or people who feel compelled to act.
What I’m talking about here is when an individual or group feel compelled to act around a sense of Purpose, this more powerful compulsion is both an even more powerful driver than simply seeing a gap, but also far more likely to both drive high-growth and build and maintain a truly sustainable company.
The purpose of Evernote
When working with businesses and their leaders around the question: “what is the purpose of your organisation?”, I often ask them: “what would be lost of the world if your business no longer existed?”, As well as (as an alternative): “why does your business exist apart from making money?”.
Questions like these feel challenging to some business leaders whereas to others they have absolute and immediate clarity as to the answer.
In writing this my mind goes back to meeting someone who had been one of the very first employees of Evernote. When we met, a colleague and I were spending a week intensively together with this individual and their small team who were starting up a purpose-led business being established to coach tech startup founders in Las Vegas.
We were there to help them create a powerful framework upon which they would build and grow their business. The absolute core foundational piece for this work was and is to establish the Purpose of a business.
In talking about purpose with this team, I asked them for examples from their experience of businesses that had a strong and compelling purpose that provided the type of drive necessary to sustain and build the business. Right away one of them said: “Evernote!“. They shared that the founder of Evernote was passionately and powerfully driven to create Evernote to be “the memory of the world”.
This sense of purpose for Evernote came from the founder who, among other drivers in creating and building Evernote to continue his life’s work around saving memories, ironically developed Parkinson’s disease.
I myself had been an Evernote user for several years prior to hearing this story in summer 2014. However, upon hearing this powerful purpose story, I not only expanded my use of Evernote and allowed it to become my memory more and more (so freeing up my mind for thoughts beyond the recollection of facts), but also became even more of an evangelist for Evernote as a customer.
Evernote now has well over 200 million users, Each using it in different ways but with a fundamental commonality of saving memories.
Over 200 million users.
It is my firm belief that having such a strong sense of purpose has been a powerful driver to build such an enormous ecosystem. I also believe that going back to bravery, it did not feel brave at all to have the idea to be the memory of the world and so building to over 200 million users will have felt like a natural progression.
In other words, purpose creates a level of bravery without it feeling brave that goes beyond entrepreneurialism.
As a closing thought, I wonder why so few businesses with a strong sense of purpose actually take time and attention to share that purpose actively with their customer base? On this site, I have written over and over about purpose-led businesses and so few of them share their sense of purpose with anything like the fervour they display for it internally.
My sense is that to evangelise about their purpose actually does feel a little too brave for many business leaders. Quite likely they feel that a cynical world might look at such communication as being simply a jaded marketing ploy. My wish for such leaders, then, is for them to step into my belief that one can “Say Anything” (to use the title from a favourite 80s movie!) If what you choose to say comes from a pure intent!
Imagine the power of purpose taken out into an impassioned and evangelising customer base. Imagine not, if you will, only the growth in revenues and profits and shareholder value this will create but instead the impact that comes from putting purpose first.
Also published on Medium.