Leading a high-growth, venture-backed startup in San Francisco's SOMA district for the past two years is an experience that has rocked my world. It has reminded me of everything I knew to be true about business, yet that I had somehow lost during my tenure in the enterprise world. This second act has taught me something I never expected: love, and its crucial role in building a business.
And by love, for the context of this post, I mean an intense feeling of connection. As entrepreneurs—whether boot-strapped or venture-backed—we juggle countless difficult choices and moving parts on the road to realizing our dreams. But, at the core, love is what drives us all: a feeling of connection to a mission or idea that is so strong that it inspires us to take risks and put ourselves on the line, and gives us the courage to create something from the ground up.
Let me give you an example. I was first introduced to the founders of Get Satisfaction, Thor and Amy Muller and Lane Becker, in 2009. They launched their product—a community engagement platform for companies and customers—just two years earlier with a provocative splash at a time when social businesses were just starting to emerge as fundamental to marketing, selling and servicing businesses. I was smitten! Not just with the founders or the platform, but also with the company's underlying philosophy and the human, open and transparent culture their company fostered. This natural alignment—along with a captivating emerging market—was a truly compelling combination and one that I was willing to throw my head and heart in to. I fell in love.
To succeed as an entrepreneur, though, love needs to course through all the veins of your company—not just its leaders. The same passion that drove you to start must manifest itself first and foremost in your philosophy, your company culture and importantly, in your product.
Put on Your Philosopher's Cap
The origin of the word philosophy means a love of wisdom. Applied to business, philosophy is the theory or attitude that guides behavior for an entire organization. More commonly, it's your mission statement.
Get Satisfaction, for example, was founded on the Company-Customer Pact http://www.ccpact.com/, a set of 10 guidelines that the founders put to paper in the early days. It establishes a standard of mutual respect and aims to improve the relationships between companies and their customers, a mission all three co-founders strongly believed in. They're the same driving principle that guides us today. This driving philosophy is what keeps your employees coming to work everyday (beer, snacks and mascots help too—more on that later.)
Earlier this year, we revisited the pact with the intention of updating it for today; it didn't require a single significant edit. Four years later, the same philosophy holds true and guides us every day. We even have a company mascot, the robot Jargon, who unites all of us in our epic quest against "corporate-speak" in online customer service, and represents our greater mission for every employee.
Think about your business. How is your company philosophy expressed? How does it influence your company culture and your product? And how will it stand the test of time?
Culture is the collection of customs, art, practices, and other manifestations of a group or company. At Get Satisfaction, our culture is built around openness and transparency with our customers—and with each other. This culture is a direct extension of our philosophy and the Company-Customer Pact. We describe our more relaxed, less robotic business approach as "buttoned up, but untucked."
For a textbook example of the ways in which culture can drive business success, look no further than Zappos, one of our first customers. Zappos knew from the start that relationships are strongest when employees talk to in a natural and human tone, like you'd have with a neighbor in a coffee shop. The company's culture of "Delivering Happiness" bonds a unique customer experience with a loyal employee experience. As a result, their culture of happiness has been driving phenomenal business growth.
How does your company culture mirror or differ from your personal philosophy? What about your company's mission? Is it a deliberate extension of your broader mission, or simply an afterthought? What impact is your culture having on the growth of your business?
Walk the Product Talk
The capability of any business is a mash-up of the people, tools, and processes that deliver value to the customer. Because we offer a customer-engagement platform, it's easy to see how the Company-Customer Pact's philosophy was designed into an actual product.
For more examples, look no further than brands like Whole Foods, Peet's Coffee and Nordstrom's. These companies create and deliver products and services that are tightly aligned with their philosophy as a business—and supported by their employee culture. Each brand has a loyal, passionate customer base that feels connected to the business.
How do your products or services align with your philosophy? How are they supported by your culture? And, more importantly, how does that impact your bottom line?
When you plan your new business venture, don't sell your company short. Take the time to define a philosophy that you and your employees can believe in. A well-defined philosophy helps create a culture, energize your employees and create better products with ease. This culture will help foster the connections you need to grow a valuable business; an intense feeling of connection, Love has everything to do with it!