Course Content

Total learning: 27 lessons / 4 quizzes Time: 6 weeks

What’s Your Why

At the heart of every successful business is a story. A reason why the business idea was created. Whether it a guy in a dorm wanting to build a college network or a tinkerer in the garage looking to invent the next shrink ray, there was a purpose behind their work. This purpose is your story. It is the why you started.

So the question is why. Why do you do what you do? Why did you decided to create a product of service?

Most often, the answer is to solve a problem or pain point. There is a purpose, perhaps not identified, behind your path.

In the late 1800s, George Eastman was planning a trip abroad and urged by colleagues to take many pictures. Back then, taking pictures required a huge camera, tripod, paper, chemicals, a tent to develop film and much more. This equipment would not be allowed on a plane today as it would greatly exceed the baggage limits. George became obsessed.  Carrying so much equipment made the process of photography painful. He wanted to make photography as easy as picking up a pencil. And thus, the Eastman Company was born. Some of you may not even remember a time when cameras required film and viewing pictures consisted of taking the film to be developed at the camera store. Now your pictures appear on the phone in your pocket.

Think of some of the everyday products you use. Why were they created? What did people do before the product was created.

Another way to look at why is by using Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

The circle consists of 3 segments:

The inner circle: WHY

The middle circle: WHAT

The outer circle: HOW

Most companies know WHAT they are doing (selling shoes) and HOW they are doing it (via retail stores or online) but WHY are they doing it? What made the company choose to sell shoes? More importantly, why does the company exist?

In the above example of Eastman Kodak company, George Eastman set out to make taking pictures as easy as picking up a pencil. He was frustrated with the sheer bulk of materials required to take travel photos in the 1800s. This was Eastman’s WHY and the basis behind what eventually became Kodak.

But somewhere along the way Kodak forgot it’s why. They became a company that sold paper and chemicals required to develop pictures. They forgot the true purpose of the original reason for the company creation – to make taking pictures easier.

Had Kodak remembered their WHY, the story of Kodak may be different. In 1975 of Kodak engineer Steve Sasson invented the first digital camera. It only held .01 mp but with exponential growth projected by Moore’s Law it would quickly increase in potential to a viable product for consumers. Instead Kodak shelfed the idea, not wanting to compete with their chemical and paper business. This loss of WHY lead to the demise of Kodak, once the major camera manufacturer and film provider,  who filed bankruptcy in 2012.

Kodak is an excellent example of why you need to clearly define your purpose – your WHY – early on in your company. The how and what you do may pivot as you grow but the WHY behind what you do will remain. Revisit your WHY often to keep your company on track.

Watch Simon Sinek – Start With Why – TED Talk Short Edited