Note: In celebration of the upcoming Portland Startup Weekend , each day this week we will be sharing experiences from our own startup story on the blog. This piece was originally written for The Why Project by Portland marketing agency eROI. Learn more about the project and read entries from dozens of creative thinkers, leaders, artists, and business leaders at eROI.com/know-why.
The Why should be embodied in everything you do as a company. And, within the Why, being really diligent about being simple and clear about the Substance first, and the Bravado second. Too often, I see companies chase a big trend and focus on the Bravado first—“We are cloud!” We are social!” “We are mobile!” “We’re cool, look at us, we’re the next big thing!” And then when asked about the Substance, it’s a bit of a house of cards. Why are you the next big thing? What are you really doing? What problems are you solving? Why is this important to your customers? Ummm, hmmm, ummm… and the story gets flimsy, with the executives often struggling to explain what I’ll call “the next 10 words”. Everyone can be good at the first 10 words (the Bravado). Get good at the next 10 words (the Substance). I’ve learned that if you flip the norm and focus on Substance first, Bravado second you will have a fighter’s chance against competition and will better understand why you’re different.
This is one of the things that I see as a common thread in the successful start- ups in Portland right now. There’s a focus on the Why, there is Substance to what companies like Jama, Urban Airship, Act- On, Elemental, etc. are doing – there’s a craft to it, a passion behind it and a real focus on business value to customers as it relates to the Why the company exists.
As an example, Jama exists to reinvent product development, our solution helps teams collaborate to get the requirements right. Why does that matter? Product development is one of the most strategic things a company does, yet it’s being managed with Word docs, whiteboards, email and Pixie dust. It’s a messed up process that’s a black box at most big companies and failure is rampant. It’s a hard problem to solve, but it’s a real problem and there’s billions spent on R&D globally every year that’s at risk, so it isn’t trivial.
To be candid, it took a lot of trial and error to get to our Why and it still evolves over time. You will constantly revisit your Why and revise it as your business grows and evolves with the market needs, but keep it active as the chewy chocolate center of your brand and everything else will stem from it.