Want to start a business? Start with your why.

Many of you will already have concrete ideas as to why you’re starting up: maybe you’re intrigued by the freedom of being self-employed, maybe it’s the ability to uncap your earning potential, or maybe there’s a problem you think you could solve with a new business. There will likely be a number of reasons why you want to move into the entrepreneurial world – these motivations are incredibly important to define: not just because they will elevate you through the good times, but because they will support you through the hard times as well (and there will be plenty of hard times).

Whatever your personal motivations are for starting your own business, you’ll also want to think about your business mission and purpose. The strongest and most resilient businesses are those united around a single common purpose. For example, everyone who works at Escape the City believes that everyone has the right to do work they love. This mission unites our team, regardless of our individual motivations.

This doesn’t mean that you have to save the world – it just means that there should be a wider mission you’re committed to (which will become even more important as your startup grows).

You might wonder how this is relevant or critical at this stage when you’re just trying to get going, but there’s significant evidence showing that purpose-driven (not solely profit-driven) companies are more successful. Consumers want to spend their money on organisations they believe in and whose values mirror their own. For this reason, today’s email is focused on purpose and finding your why in business.


How to identify your purpose

When starting to map out ideas for a new business, you should really start with your why. Often we get so caught up in the building stage that we neglect to think about why we’re building a new business in the first place. What’s the main driving force? Who are we helping? What problem are we solving? Why are we even doing this?

By taking time to reflect on and define your purpose you’ll not only attract the right customers when you launch, but you’ll also have clarity as to what you should be working on in your day today.

When you’re starting a new business you’ll be juggling a lot of competing priorities. By identifying your why you’ll be able to identify what is worth spending your time working on, and what is not.
 
“Your purpose is the wind in your sail. And without a why there is no wind.” – David Hiut, founder of Hiut Denim

We want you to think clearly about the driving force behind your idea and to write down some thoughts as to what that might be. How might you be able to design a business around this purpose? Take a few moments to watch this video from Simon Sinek on why great leaders inspire, and why people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it.

Your homework is to take some time to fill out the Golden Circle canvas that Simon mentions in his TED talk. When using this tool, you should think carefully about how you want to make a difference to the lives of those who matter most to you. Maybe you feel passionately about bettering life for a particular segment of society, or maybe your passion is food waste, sport, or education. Whatever you feel passionate about, try plugging them into the canvas and then look for alignment between “what you are good at” and “that which the world needs” (as per the image above). Test out a few of your ideas in the canvas, see if you can start with the why and if your business ideas fit in with that. If you would like to dive a bit further into the concept and importance of a strong purpose statement, and how to identify your why, check out this article from HBR and Simon’s podcast here.

When crafting a purpose statement, my advice is this: to inspire your employees to do good work for you, and your customers to buy from you, find a way to show the impact your business is having on the lives of customers, clients, partners, patients or students — whomever you’re trying to serve. This will be your greatest asset as time rolls on.


Can I focus on purpose and still make money? 

Here at Escape the City, we feel very strongly about purpose in business, and it turns out we aren’t alone. We’re part of a bigger movement taking place across the globe. We’re a B Corp.

B Lab, a nonprofit organisation accrediting businesses with people, purpose and profit at heart, has over 1,300 registered B Corps across the globe. These range from well known, larger organisations such as Patagonia, Etsy and Ben and Jerry’s, to smaller enterprises like Escape the City. What B Lab stands for is that purpose doesn’t have to come at the detriment of profit. In fact, the evidence demonstrates that a clear and shared purpose actually helps to bolster profits and brand loyalty. In a crowded and increasingly noisy market, your company’s mission may be the best marketing tool your business has and can be key to a business’s longevity.

The days where a company’s purpose could be defined solely through satisfying shareholders’ profits are over, with radical transparency on the agenda it’s no longer viable to have a business devoted to maximising profits above all else. If you’re starting a new business your greatest advantage will be your commitment to your core mission.

Here are some successful businesses who are dedicated to their why:

Ben & Jerry’s is an incredible example of a company that has thrived with a clear and noble purpose. The idea is simple, making the best possible ice cream, in the nicest possible way. Ben & Jerry’s three-part mission aims to create linked prosperity for everyone that’s connected to their business: suppliers, employees, farmers, franchisees, customers, and neighbours alike. Ben & Jerry’s has a profit of over $500 million and is sold in 35 countries, even after their buyout from Unileaver they continue their dedication to their core three-part mission. For more information on their struggles and impressive commitment to their mission as they’ve grown, check out this article.


COOK’s purpose is to create a remarkable food business that’s a force for good in society. This manifests itself in a number of ways:

  • Paying people properly so they don’t need to depend on state handouts to survive and also making sure everyone shares in their success (they’ve also got a profit share scheme for all staff)
  • Offering a 10% discount for new parents
  • 30% off for charity or community group events
  • Profits from their 5p carrier bag charge all go to the food waste charity, Foodcycle

COOK has gone from strength to strength in the UK, pulling in just shy of £50 million in 2015. They also regularly rank as one of the top 100 companies to work from in the UK and were accepted as a B Corp in 2013, demonstrating their ability to keep their purpose and social impact central whilst making significant profits.


Our purpose at Escape is to help unhappy professionals create careers they love because how you spend your days is how you spend your life. This is our big scary goal, and while our products may change, our goal always stays the same. This purpose is what unites us as a team, what brings our customers to us as opposed to our competitors, and what keeps us going through the good times and bad.


These companies have gone through the rigorous application process to become B Corps, but you don’t have to be a B Corp to have a clear mission. Increasingly businesses of all sizes and across all sectors are identifying their mission, and promoting this to their customers, shareholders and investors. It’s not just about social impact, purpose makes business sense. Marketing used to be about talking at your customers, now it’s about talking with them, and the easiest way to connect with your target audience is to connect over shared values by communicating why your business does what it does.

This article was written by Skye Robertson, Co-Head of The Escape School. Check out more Escape School articles, events, and courses here.

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