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A Powerful (Mission) Statement

How Brooklyn-based Holstee's mission statement, which it styled into a poster, inspired millions of people.
Motivational Message A poster of Holstee's mission statement has become a top seller. the company also prints the message on greeting cards, made from recycled paper elephant dung.
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Most mission statements contain words like value and service but often fail to explain what the founders truly care about, much less inspire anyone else to care. Holstee's mission statement is an exception. The Brooklyn, New York–based company, which sells eco-friendly clothing and accessories, rose from obscurity last year after its statement, dubbed the Holstee manifesto, went viral. The document has been viewed online more than 50 million times and translated into 12 languages.

When Holstee turned the message into a $25 poster—printed on recycled paper, of course—the item quickly became one of the company's top sellers. Holstee's co-founders, Fabian Pfortmüller (above)and brothers Mike and Dave Radparvar, were as surprised as anyone that their mission statement, once tucked away on the About Us page of Holstee's website, resonated so strongly with so many people. Inc. reporter Issie Lapowsky recently spoke with Pfortmüller about the impact a strong mission statement can have on a company.

How did you come up with your mission statement?
We wrote it a few months after we started Holstee, in 2009. We were talking about how every entrepreneur, including us, wants to build a lifestyle for himself. But even though you're your own boss, sometimes a start-up becomes something you can't control. You build your business, but at the end of the day, you might not even want to work there. So we wanted to define what success means to us in nonmonetary terms.

We also knew that down the road, it would help to have a reminder of why we started Holstee. Dave and Mike quit their jobs in the middle of the recession to start the company. The manifesto was a reminder that we took all these risks for a reason, to live a lifestyle we loved.

How did it get so big?
Two bloggers picked it up. That just kicked off a chain reaction. We saw it all over Tumblr and Twitter. People started making it their Facebook photo. We were so surprised at how people responded to it. I think society is just hungry for genuine values.

Whose idea was it to turn the manifesto into merchandise?
Actually, customers started asking for it. At first, we were hesitant about putting it on a poster. It was really personal to us, and putting anything on a big poster or T-shirt can cheapen it. But we got so many requests that one of our freelancers convinced us to try it. We got amazing feedback. We sold about 11,000 posters last year. They accounted for roughly 50 percent of our revenue in November.

How has the popularity of the posters influenced your brand?
Usually people make a product first, then build a brand around it. In our case, it happened the other way around. That has helped us build trust with customers. People see the manifesto and automatically understand what we stand for. Then again, we're not a manifesto company, whatever that would be. The success of the posters helped us bootstrap, but at the end of the day, we're about products with a unique story that are designed with a conscience.

There are a lot of great lines in there. What's your favorite?
"Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them." I strongly believe that. Here at Holstee, I have the luck of working with my two best friends. We live together. We work together. We really live that.

Do you have any advice for business owners who want to create an inspiring mission statement?
Write it for yourself. Mission statements of large organizations sound meaningless, because they're written to convince an audience. It's going to work only if it's genuine. We had selfish reasons for creating Holstee. We wanted to create great products, but we also wanted to have fun doing it. For us, it was more genuine to write about a lifestyle. If we can do all those things we mention, like travel, eat well, and build strong relationships, we'll be happier and build a better company because of it.




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