Start With Who
You were wrong, Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek got famous for three simple words: Start with Why.
That might be a good idea if you're starting an activist group. But if you want to build an enduring, great company, I believe Sinek is wrong.
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I was wrong for a long time too. For years I intuitively believed in "Start with What". Figure out what to do, what the great idea is, then go for it. It seemed to obvious, so logical. Everything else is just support structures for what you want to accomplish, right?
No. I've changed my mind.
Don't start with Why like Simon.
Don't start with What like old me.
Don't start with How like any great engineer will do.
Instead, start with Who.
Why? Because business is a social game, and we are social animals. For most of us, who we work with is more important than what we work on.
Consider for a moment this harsh reality of entrepreneurship: building any business into an enduring, great company takes a long, long, looong time. Five years at least, often 10 or more.
With that in mind, which of these two scenarios would you choose?
A) Spend 10 years working on a mediocre business idea with a wonderful team of interesting people with high trust and integrity, or
B) Spend 10 years working on a fantastic idea with a bunch of random people with whom you have a mediocre connection?
Simple, right? Even I, an introverted, "leave me alone" kind of guy, would choose option A every time.
Now consider the fact that 80+ percent of all new businesses fail within five years, despite the founders' very best intentions and efforts to succed. In other words, your company's most likely outcome is failure, regardless of how great your idea is. It is "default dead", not "default alive" according to statistics.
This lets us consider a simple question: would you rather fail to build a company together with great people you love and trust, or fail together with mediocre people who just happened to believe in the same idea or vision as you?
Obvious again. Failing sucks, but failing with a great team of people you like and respect sucks much less than the alternative.
In fact, a rough startup failure with great people can be kind of fun in a weird way. Trust me on this one – my first startup turned out exactly like this. The business model was terrible, but the people involved were fantastic. The company did not become a raging success, but we all look back on it with fond memories, and the other 2-3 guys are still among my closest friends to this day.
Starting with Who also has a non-obvious bonus feature: you keep more options open. A great team of people who want to work together, can often pivot to better and better ideas or opportunities over time. But a team who is only united by the idea or project they are working on right now, will likely disintegrate if that idea doesn't work out.
The bottom line is this: instead of starting with your clever idea, I recommend you start by figuring out who you want to work with for the next 5 to 10 years of your life.
Looking back, I can see that this is in fact exactly what I did 5 years ago, although I didn't see it so clearly at the time. My company Braver did not start with a fantastic, radical idea. We didn't have a specific huge opportunity in mind, nor some strong vision we would go all in to pursue. The only thing my cofounder and I had were each other (which sounds like a clichéd opening line of a shoddy romance novel, but is quite true). We had worked together on a side project in the past, and enjoyed figuring things out together. That was pretty much it.
We started with Who, and the five years since have been fun, profitable and full of learning. We couldn't ask for more.
..and the Why and the What of our business? We're still trying to figure those out!
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