People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it — That’s particularly true of veteran businesses.
Launching a startup and building a business continues to get more capital efficient. However, markets are increasingly saturated with competition. How can veterans stand out from the pack? As founders position their startups to find a repeatable and scalable business model, products may evolve, and methods will change, but your “WHY” should never deviate.
In a 2010 TED Talk, Simon Sinek, described as “a visionary thinker,” spoke about the “Golden Circle.” The Golden Circle defines your business model’s different layers or stages and how your audience relates to your vision or message. The Golden Circle is comprised of three layers starting in the center with WHY, HOW, then WHAT. Sinek argues that the WHY is what should be determining WHAT you’re building and, in turn, your HOW.
Why = The Purpose
What is your cause? What do you believe?
How = The Process
Specific actions are taken to realize the WHY.
What = The Result
What do you do? The result of WHY. Proof.
When launching your startup, you should always start with WHY instead of WHAT. The WHY can set your brand apart from competing products or brands and ultimately drives the narrative. Sinek explains how Apple has achieved such exceptional success, while others with the same resources have failed:
“If Apple was like everyone else, a marketing message might be: We make great computers. They’re user friendly. Want to buy one?
Here’s how Apple actually communicates: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo; we believe in thinking differently. We challenge the status quo by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”— Simon Sinek
Regardless, if your idea isn’t already in market, then you have to assume many others are trying to solve the same problem that you are. Sometimes, to get ahead regardless of your size and industry, your startup must think from the inside out. ID.me is an example of a veteran-led company that has successfully scaled its business with a clearly articulated WHY.
ID.me is an online identity network that enables consumers to prove their identity and attributes of their identity (like veteran status) through a simple login in exchange for discounts from brands and access to personal information from the government. The company, founded in 2010 as TroopSwap, focused on the American military community.
Blake Hall, Co-Founder and CEO, is an Army Ranger and a recipient of two Bronze Star medals. At Harvard Business School, Hall noticed companies offering benefits to veterans had a tedious verification process. Hall told MilitaryTimes:
“Microsoft was doing e-learning vouchers for veterans, but they asked veterans to bring in identification paperwork.”
The last thing anyone wants to do is spend a considerable amount of time trying to verify who you are for a discount on a purchase. Hall saw a huge market opportunity stemming from a problem that he understood well as an Iraq Combat veteran. Leading a talented team helping consumers control their information and prove their credentials across all channels is his vision. Yet, what might be most impressive is the WHY that’s driven the company’s narrative to this day. ID.me’s purpose, process, and result consist of:
Increasing trust in digital transactions.
Making elaborate processes easy to use.
A single login.
Since its founding, ID.me has iterated several times but has never deviated from its WHY. ID.me came from an idea in business school. Today, ID.me provides a ubiquitous secure identity verification network beyond its initial target market of military veterans and first responders. ID.me has raised $55 million, employs up to 250 employees, and is used by millions of individuals. Partners include retailers, federal agencies, health care providers, and nonprofits. ID.me’s success, its ability to stand out and capture a significant market share from competitors, is mostly due to its commitment to its WHY.
According to Sinek, “All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year.” People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it. Starting with WHY attracts customers who share your beliefs, often leading to life long loyalty.
Want to learn more about becoming a military entrepreneur? Try these other great articles from Harry Alford:
- BRAINSTORMING IN THE BARRACKS: HOW TO MAKE YOUR IDEA INTO A SUCCESSFUL STARTUP
- WHY VETERANS ARE UNIQUELY EQUIPPED TO BE GREAT ENTREPRENEURS
- MILITARY ENTREPRENEURSHIP 101: SUCCESSES AND FAILURES
- IS BUSINESS SCHOOL THE BEST PLACE TO PREPARE VETERANS FOR STARTUPS?