The Internet today is filled with an over-abundance of information, short term opportunistic thinking, features posing as businesses and me too products (fast follows) and services all vying for our attention. Only the strong will survive and the strong will always have a great product that solves a real problem, has a clear value proposition and a soul.
The soul of your product, service or organization is the one thing that is hard to copy. It is the thing that makes you special and differentiated. If you fight to protect it you will build a great brand that is distinctive, memorable and long-lasting. Great brands in turn will find users and revenue in an organic and beautiful way and this is the only kind of business you want to start or work for. The catch is you and your team must absolutely stick to your vision and not be swayed by others. This can be very hard to do especially if you are starting a new company in a new market or trying to re-invent an old one. You will encounter more people that tell you it won’t work than those that tell you it will. If you can ignore the negative and soak in the positive you will stay on track and remain motivated through all the ups and downs. All great things are hard. There is no such thing as an overnight success or free pass to greatness. You need to work at it and be tested constantly. How you react to these challenges will make you who you are as a person, team and company.
Your number one goal needs to be to create and nuture your soul. Know what makes you special and fight like hell to protect it. In order to birth your soul you need to know what components it should be made of. Over the last 17 years I have built a system for developing your product, service and organizational soul. While there was a lot of trial and error over that time period I was able to take what I learned and use it to create a definitive guide to creating soul, something I call the 4P’s of Soul.
The 4 P’s of Marketing
- Product – The thing that you are selling that satisfies the customer need.
- Price – The amount customers pay for the product or service.
- Place (distribution) – Where customers can get this product or service.
- Promotion – How customers find out about the product or service.
The Strategy and the Story
The CEO must set the context that every employee operates within. This context gives meaning to the specific work that people do, aligns interests, enables decision-making and provides motivation. Well-structured goals and objectives contribute to the context, but they do not provide the whole story. More to the point, goals and objectives are not the story. The story of the company goes beyond quarterly or annual goals and gets to the hardcore question of why? Why should I join this company? Why should I be excited to work here? Why should I buy your product? Why should I invest in the company? Why is the world better off as a result of this company’s existence?
When a company clearly articulates its story, the context for everyone—employees, partners, customers, investors, and the press—becomes clear: When a company fails to tell its story, you hear phrases like:
- “These reporters don’t get it.”
- “Who is responsible for the strategy in this company?”
- “We have great technology, but need marketing help.”
The CEO doesn’t have to be the creator of the vision. Nor does she have to be the creator of the story. But she must be the keeper of the vision and the story. As such, the CEO ensures that the company story is clear and compelling.
The story is not the mission statement; the story does not have to be succinct. It is the story. Companies can take as long as they need to tell it, but they must tell it and it must be compelling. A company without a story is a usually a company without a strategy.
Want to see a great company story? Read Jeff Bezos’ 3-page letter he wrote to shareholders in 1997. In telling Amazon’s story in this extended from—not as mission statement, not as a tagline—Jeff got all the people who mattered on the same page about what Amazon was about.
- Google – “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”
- Southwest Airlines – “Dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service deliver with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and Company Spirit”
- Zappos – “Provide the best customer service possible. Internally we call this our WOW philosophy”
- Twitter (new mission as of 2011) – “To instantly connect people everywhere to what’s important to them”
- Facebook – “To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”
Passion – Drive, Energy, Best At. The next question to ask and answer is what are you passionate about. What do you obsess over and constantly think about? What do you feel you and your team were put on this earth to do? What vault of experience do you have (10,000-hour rule) to draw from that creates an unfair competitive advantage for you? What are you the best in the world at? This is a tough question for all organizations especially ones just starting out. My advice is to build on top of your newly created purpose foundation. Your passion should be closely aligned with your purpose. You should get a vision of the future by looking to your past. Do forensics on your resume and the resume of the team. Look at everyones individual journeys over the years. What got you all here and ask the question why do you think you are all now together. The answer will feel like it is presenting itself to you as you go through this process.
Personality – Identity, Voice, Style and Taste. Most magazines, talk shows, movies use the same format or structure. Even though the form may be the same the personality can be totally unique and different. This is what people will remember. How will you communicate your purpose and passion? How will things resonate with an audience of like minded people? How will you speak to them? You must think of your organization as a person. Would this person be serious or funny, dad-like or nurturing? Would they lead by action, inspire and comfort or will they get results more through hard driving, analytical, school of hard knocks means. There is no one way that is right or wrong there is only what is right for you as an individual and your team as a group. In order for you to be happy and fulfilled you must be in agreement with who you are both inside and outside. Your personality is the merchandising and packing of your inside so make sure it is 1) accurate, 2) hand crafted and 3) differentiated.
People – “Create Rabid Evangelists”, Guy Kawasaki. The greatest power of soul is a positive by product of doing all of the above correctly. If you create a great product or organization with a meaningful purpose, passion and strong personality you will create an army of evangelists. They will sell for you, market for you and defend you day in and day out as long as you continue to delight them. No business or organization today can survive without the power of the people in this global, social, real-time, always connected, computer everywhere world. This is truly the greatest reward of the entire soul creation process. When you see millions of people absolutely in love with your product, service or company culture you know that you have done something that will change the world in your own little or big way.
Start your soul creation process today, the sooner you do the sooner you may enrich someone else’s.
One of my big goals for 2012 is to give back. I have learned so much over the last 17 years launching and running tech startups that I now just want to share as much of what I have learned with as many people as possible. I have signed up to help many of the local LA startup accelerators, spoken individually and on panels and mentored founders 1-1. It has been a very busy last few weeks but also rewarding. In Oprah Winfrey’s 2008 Stanford Commencement Speech she said that “in order to be truly happy you must give back.” She was right. It feels great.
I have been focused on teaching the fundamentals that we sometimes forget when starting companies. It should not be about valuations, pivots and exits as much as building something of lasting value that will leave a great legacy. I had the pleasure of speaking to the current MuckerLab class and left them with these 3 Great Things that I consider to be the core building blocks of a great product, service or organization.
3 Great Things
1) Find your purpose
You have to work toward some greater purpose in life in order to be truly happy. No amount of money, stature, fame or material possessions will get you there. Unfortunately it takes a while for people to realize this and they chase the wrong things for a good portion of their life. How do you find your purpose? You have to look to your past. What have you done? What skills have you learned? What experience do you have? Use that as a starting point. Your past has made you who you are today and will help define who you will be in the future. You will find that you are already close to finding your purpose by simply looking back and taking stock. Your individual purpose will be critical when defining for your organizations purpose. They must match. You must know your own purpose before your create one for your company.
2) Do what you love with who you love
Make solving for what you love your number one priority. Focus only on the things you truly love and are passionate about. Achieving greatness is hard work and there will be many challenges along the way. Startups are about survivorship. You want to be in love with your work so you can weather any storm and rise above any challenge. Work with the people you love. Your day to day happiness and success is dependent on them. The journey IS the reward and everyday is a gift. What better way to enjoy the journey than with people you love to work with.
3) Self Test
Don’t worry or Alpha’s or Beta’s until you have done the Self Test. The best products, services and organizations were built to solve a need. That need is usually identified by someone and that someone should be you. You do not need 10, 50 or even 100 people to tell you if a feature is good or bad, you just need you.
If you want to create a new startup, improve the one you are working on or just be better at your current job find a way to use these three great things. Let me know how it goes.
Attitude is everything. Everyday is a gift.
I realized a long time ago that you can do a great deal to change your situation by having a positive attitude and approach to each day. Sounds pretty simple but it makes all the difference in the world. What made it real for me was thinking of each day as if it were my last. It is almost a binary change. You wake up one morning and see the world in a whole new way. You are appreciative, thankful and take absolutely nothing for granted. Everyday is a gift and when given one more chance (another 24 hours) to make a difference you live life to the fullest. You analyze everything you are doing, how you react to the world around you, where you spend your time, who you spend it with, how much you save for yourself. Time becomes more important than anything else because you cannot get it back once you spend it.
Another amazing positive by product of this new thinking is that you start to worry less about things you cannot control. You don’t mind so much when bad luck strikes, you look at it differently, it is just life and not luck. You don’t mind the jerks of the earth you encounter (something just like this happened to me with an overzealous TSA at SFO), instead you feel bad for them because they do not see things the way you do. With only 24 hours to live you simply say to yourself I do not have time to get upset about any of that and you focus on only the important things, family, friends, learning, expressing your creativity or skills in work that you love. You live life.
Since I am far from a prophet, spiritual leader or even a good writer I like to support my points with great quotes from great people. One of my favorites comes from the Yoda of our time the Dalai Lama. When speaking about man he says “he lives as if he is never going to die”.
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
This is AMAZING. How can someone say it so well? I guess that is why he is the Lama.
The lesson here is to realize how important this commitment is to your soul searching journey. This is one of the critical first steps in the process and it will help to build a incredibly strong foundation for finding your life purpose.
Take the first step and remember that everyday is a gift.
Can a thing have a soul? I believe the answer is yes. The greatest products, services and organizations all have a soul, one that is representative of the people that create them. In a world of great competition, me-too products and similar service offerings your soul is the only thing that truly differentiates you. It determines why someone picks Nike over Adidas or Coke over Pepsi. Why they watch Leno instead of Letterman or Fallon instead of Kimmel. It creates the special emotional connection with the audience, customer or employee. Some people call this brand essence, personality or voice (Fred Wilson has a great post on Minimum Viable Personality). I prefer to call it soul since I think it is a combination of these things that makes something special.
Soul is defined as 1) the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life, 2) the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe, 3) a person’s total self, 4) the moral and emotional nature of human beings.
While these definitions focus on soul being tied to a person with the use of words like, “individual life” or “rational beings” I think you can argue that things can inherit the soul of their creators. Below are some of my favorite examples of this.
Soul in Product – iPhone 4S: This phone clearly has a soul. It is a symphony of wonderful features, technology, services, design and utility. The brand clearly stands for something and it attracts a certain person.
Soul in Service – Southwest Airlines: Every aspect of this service screams soul. They have a deep love for their customers and it shows in their overall brand personality. On-time flights, bags fly free, bags rarely get lost, cheerful crews.
Soul in Organization – Zappos: Delivering Happiness. A poster child for great culture. CEO, Tony Hsieh outlines his process for finding happiness. What are you passionate about and what is your purpose? If you answer these questions the profits will come naturally.
What are some of your favorite examples of soul in products, services and organizations?
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. ~Steve Jobs
As I embark on this new phase of my life I am taking the time to do some deep soul searching. I am asking myself those very familiar and tough questions. What do I really LOVE to do? What am I great at? What kind of work makes me happy? As I think through my answers I also ask the question what if I could make this my job? Would it really feel like a job? Probably not, it would feel more like I was doing what I was made to do. It would feel like I had found my purpose in life. I have been to this magical place a couple of times before and they were the most creative and productive periods of my work life. Everything seemed to just flow, ideas organically turned into features, features evolved into products and a symphony of perfectly timed products became a business. Another wonderful by-product of this process was the discovery that the journey truly was the reward. The day to day triumphs, happy customers and great moments working with people you like and respect was all you really needed as compensation for your hard work. Anything after that would just be gravy on top.
A Perfect Storm – Finding Purpose & Meaning
Finding your purpose can happen very early in life (rare few people) or it can take a really long time, years or maybe decades. It took many years and a perfect storm of events (Dot Com Bust, September 11th, a new job and reading The Power of Focus) for me to find my purpose but it was well worth the wait. So in 2001 I made my purpose to “help others help themselves”. I wanted it to be broad enough yet specific enough to impact as many people as humanly possible. I am able to touch millions by leveraging technology, the Web, online communities, video (the power of story) and apps for all platforms. It has stood the test of time and to this day it serves as the compass for what I do and where I spend my time. It defines the soul of my working life.
I have always wondered how I could share all of the lessons, stories and feelings of this journey and thought I would write a book about it someday. Instead of waiting to write a book I am going to just start chipping away at it through this blog. Over the years I have learned that every product, service and organization that I truly love and obsess over has one thing in common, a Soul. In an era of low barriers to entry, commoditized features, super competition and incredible abundance it is hard to stand out. The only thing you can call your own is who you are and what you stand for. Your distinctive personality as a brand, the unique combination and symphony of your features and that special essence that makes you, you. I call this your soul.
Can something like a product, service or organization have a soul? The answer is yes, by inheriting the values and ideals of the people that create them.
Soul*spotting was created to find those great stories of soul. Stories that will teach, inspire and motivate us all to make what we love what we do.