Over the last several years, I’ve watched a lot of smart entrepreneurs allow themselves, and their businesses, to become pinballs.
They take the “fail fast” mantra of iterative development and pervert it into a goal to be achieved. They “pivot” wildly, randomly and often. From a 3rd party point of view, it is clear they have no clue what direction they really want to head.
The problem with having no core is that you have nothing to check your decisions and opportunities against. No filter. All distractions. Everything seems reasonable and possible. Before long, you’re doing everything poorly and constantly looking for a new direction.
But when you have a core — that’s magic time. Everything runs through that filter. What would be “opportunities” are correctly categorized as “distractions.”
So what is your core?
Defining your core is extremely important. The result is simple, but the process can be very hard. Sticking to it is even harder.
Your core should boil down to one sentence that defines WHO your client is and what BENEFIT you will bring to them.
It absolutely should contain no technical terms, no buzzwords.
This is the sentence that you can etch into marble today with the intention of it being placed above the entrance to your corporate HQ skyscraper 50 years from now.
NO: ”We are a cloud-based photo-sharing site for people who love dogs and cats.”
YES: ”We help pet-owners share their memories.”
Figure out what drives you. What you’re great at. What you think you will always want to do for people (or companies). THAT is your core. Define it.
Your core is the filter for everything.
Once you’ve defined your core, you’ll start to see the noise go away and the signal become clearer.
Everything passes through the core. Every opportunity. Every pivot. Every new product. Every price change. Every investor. Everything.
The VP of sales walks in and says “I have a connection to Purina… I think we could sell a lot of dog-food to our clients if we partner with them.” You say “how does that make us better at helping pet-owners share their memories?”
Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. Most of the time, it will be clear right away. Other times, you’ve got to figure out how to squeeze a big opportunity down into something that fits your core.
“Think small and act small, and we’ll get bigger. Think big and act big, and we’ll get smaller.”
Herb Kelleher (b. 1931) U.S. co-founder of Southwest Airlines
Long-term benefits of sticking to a well-defined core
Manageable growth: Expanding out from a solid-core is stable growth. It’s sustainable and it’s not going to ruin your company like I’ve seen so many others get destroyed by their own temporary, false success.
Happy clients: Knowing WHO your client is and what they expect of you is absolutely critical. A solid core makes it impossible for you to screw-over the very people you’re counting on.
Aligned investors: When investors know your core, they’re far less likely to nudge you in the wrong direction, and far more likely to be forgiving of mistakes that are in tune with your mission.
Enthusiastic employees: When people know that they are working for a core principle that makes sense and that they can count on, they’re excited to come to work. They’re better at dealing with clients. In rough patches, they’re more accepting of the pivots that management has to make…because they know it’s based on a solid foundation.
There are probably thousands of other benefits to having a core. And yes, as with any strong filter, there will be missed opportunities and some very tempting offers to stray.
But you’re not here to build a house of cards. You’re not here to grow beyond your foundation. You’re here to stay, and you know where you’re going.