Simon Sinek, in what has become one of the most watched TED talks ever, explains his theory of “Start with Why”. The talk captures the key message of his book by the same name. At the core of Simon’s explanation for motivating people to take action, is the simple understanding that people want to do something that has meaning. They want to be a part of something that they feel is meaningful.
As a founder you are always selling. You are
selling to your customers, obviously. But you are also selling to your corporate
partners and to your investors. You are also selling when you search for top talent
to join your team as you hire them and then motivate them to stay and perform.
We will explore this further in a separate post.
But what are you selling? Especially in the early
days when there is as of yet no product/service to be shared?
You are selling your vision. You are sharing your
personal “why?” and motivating people to support you in pursuing it. It can be
as grand as you like. Actually, it should be almost unbelievable. But only
“almost”. There needs to be a sense that the vision is rooted in reality, no
matter how high the aspirations, so that it can be believable. We follow
visionaries because we want to be a part of the type of world they describe and
which we believe is attainable.
The first step is for you to understand your
“why?” – why do you do what you do? Why did you decide to dedicate yourself to
doing this? And why do it in this way rather than alternative options to achieving
your goals? – Simon says: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it…
Asking these questions should help distill the
core purpose you are trying to achieve along with the core values that drive
you achieve it in the first place. They will also allow you to map out the
general path by which you decide to travel on your journey to make it a reality.
In their important article – Building
Your Company’s Vision (Harvard
Business Review, 2000) – James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras build a two-layer
framework in which to insert these answers as you create your company’s vision.
Collins and Porras define the first layer as your
Core Ideology. This layer is comprised of your Core Values and your Core
Purpose. Your Core Values are the handful of guiding principles by which the
company navigates. They are used to weigh decisions on a moral level. E.g. –
first do no harm. Your Core Purpose is your organization’s most fundamental
reason for being. For example, when we started Sapir Venture Partners we first
needed to answer the question – why does the world need another early stage
venture fund? – This forced us to map out the ecosystem and define where we add
value. From this we crafted our investment thesis against which we evaluate
every investment opportunity we consider.
The second layer is defined as your Envisioned
Future. This layer is comprised of your Monumental Goals and a Vivid
Description of life once these goals are achieved.
The first layer, your Core Ideology is a
fundamental part of your “why”. By layering in the Envisioned Future you are beginning
to craft your story to be shared with the world.
The key word here is story. An audience can
relate to a story. They can connect to it and even try to see themselves as a
part of it. This is what happens when you read a good book. You can see
yourself as the protagonist and experience the adventure first-hand.
Great storytelling is an art. It is a skill we all
learn at an early age. But there is a difference between good storytelling and
great storytelling. The key to great storytelling is connecting to people on an
emotional level. Use your own feelings, dreams, aspirations to generate
reactions from others. This will attract people who feel the same way and
aspire to the same outcome.
Using a personal experience is the most genuine
way to do this. Sharing an experience that made you feel a certain way will
immediately create a “hook” for someone who can relate, either because they
have been through it themselves or because they can empathize. But this can be
a hard thing to do as it requires opening up about things that may not always
be easy to share. For example, if you are driven to cure cancer because someone
you love suffered from the disease or if you were driven to create change
because of a personal failure you experienced in the past. Retelling this story
in an inspiring way will surely be challenging for you emotionally as you
relive the pain each time. It could certainly not be fun to tell this story
hundreds of times before complete strangers while asking them for something in
Another key to great storytelling is iteration.
Practice makes perfect. Each time you tell the story you get better at it. You
learn from how the audience reacts to certain parts whether you are sharing too
much detail (this is always the hardest part for me to overcome) or you rush
the outcome to get to the punchline. Timing, pace and passion will reel your
Another important tip I recommend to all founders
is that you create multiple “hooks” in your story. You usually will not know in
advance which hook will catch any given member of your audience. By creating
multiple hooks you are essentially spreading a wider net (see what I did there?
Mixing fishing metaphors!) to catch more of your audience but also allow an
individual to hone in on the element that is most attractive to them within
your story. An investor is usually looking for a path towards outstanding
financial returns. But they could also be interested in supporting a potential
global change in a field that is dear to their heart or back a breakthrough
cure to a disease that afflicted someone they care about. You never know. So
add hooks to your story and then watch how they respond and listen carefully to
their feedback so you can emphasize the elements that most appeal to that
audience when you continue the conversation.
A founder telling a great story can inspire others
to act – build, invest, buy, sell – so this is a critical skill for a
founder/CEO to master.