The Why Question

Nov 13, 2012

There is a company presenting their idea to an audience.  They open the panel for questions, and someone in the audience says: “why?”.  The entrepreneur looks confused, and says “what do you mean, why?”

“Why, as in why are you starting this company”, he responds.

The entrepreneur goes on to say “because the economy is in bad condition.  Competitor A doesn’t offer this {irrelevant feature}, and Competitor B is priced too high {really only by a few dollars}”.  They then go on pointing out the market trends a research associate put together for them.  And then the technical partner is just sitting in the back thinking to himself “hey, I just wanted to build something…”

The guy gets up, and walks out.

Rude?  Perhaps.  But that is the exact problem being experienced lately with so many new companies & startups being born out of this boom.  There is no answer to “why”, why are you starting this company?  We hear about the Why Question, and everyone thinks in terms of competitors, features, benefits, etc.

It’s almost like people are starting a startup just to say they have the next big thing or be the next Facebook.  Which I find disappointing.  Why is it disappointing, and why the Why Question?

Because you can’t tell me that the fact you want to be the next Facebook, or you just want to build something, or that market trends is what will keep you motivated.  Will these things keep you motivated through the years to lead your company?  Keep a company moving forward when the odds are stacked up against you, and your bank account is drained to nothing?  What will keep you motivated?

WHY you are starting that company, and what it means to YOU is what keeps you motivated.  Which is exactly why investors ask this question.  Anyone who has started a company will tell you this.  Because if you’re not motivated without money, you’re still not going to be very motivated with money.

And as a founder, you’ll start to ask yourself the why question on your own.  At first the answer to the why question is bleak.  You just feel the urge to go do something with your life.  Slowly overtime, you start to get drawn closer to the answer to your Why Question.  I think sometimes this is why entrepreneurs “attempt” to start/grow a company, then go start a different one.  It’s not that it was a bad opportunity, but that the why wasn’t there.  Or wasn’t strong enough.  The Why is smacking us all in the face.

And I honestly believe, the Why can come in different ways, at different times, for different entrepreneurs.  Some entrepreneurs start small businesses or self-employment long before they get their Why question answered (I am one of those, I’ve always been an entrepreneur, and it’s not until recently that I actually feel the desire to grow something).

Because as you grow, the Why Question will guide you through many tough decisions involved in growing a company: Hiring.  Culture building.  Product Development.  Partnerships.  Marketing.  Customers.  It’s almost like, without having that “why question” answered, you just can’t make the right decisions when trying to move forward.

That’s my thoughts for the day anyway…