Blake Mycoskie is the founder of TOMS shoes, you’ve probably heard of the company. They make a fly version of the alpargata. They also offer the One for One: for every pair of shoes sold, they donate another to those less fortunate. It was the principal idea behind why its founder created the company.
Do you know your ‘why’ as a creator? It’s an important distinction because people don’t buy what you do or how you do it, but why you do it.
Like Blake, maybe you have an idea that you want to see take off. Eventually you will have to sell that idea, and if you can’t answer the why behind it, you need to rethink.
Why: It Matters
Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS after a visit to Buenos Aires for a little R&R. While there he assisted a volunteer who worked for a nonprofit organization, and during one of their trips, he met a pair of brothers forced to share a pair of shoes in order to attend school. When he delivered a new pair to their mother, she broke into tears. Her reaction changed him, or spurred something inside him. It was the moment when he decided to make a difference. It was why he created TOMS: to help those in need.
Why gives the purpose for and the will to do. It also has the added benefit of inspiring others to participate with either their time or their money.
When Blake told some of his friends back home about the idea––they loved it. He went to American Rag, a retail shop in LA, told the shoe buyer about the purpose for the shoes––and they loved it. The LA Times must have felt something similar upon giving his business, a nobody startup, the front page of the Calendar section.
Because people buy why; not the what, not the how.
The reason for why Steve Jobs put an emphasis on design was because he adored his childhood home. He loved the simplicity of it, its economic plan and quality build. That passion for design carried over to his company’s products. As he said himself: “It was the original vision for Apple. That’s what we tried to do with the first Mac. That’s what we did with the iPod.”
The reason for why Elon Musk invested in (he did not found) Tesla Motors was because he shared the same vision for electric cars as its founders: a top-shelf vehicle that would redefine what an electric vehicle was; one that could appeal to a sizeable audience and supersede the standard of car manufacturing.
When you’re an entrepreneur, the first person after yourself that you have to convince of your product/idea is an investor. If you leave out the why, how many investors––if any––do you expect to convince?
Say you’re an author like me, what’s your why: ‘why’ do you write? Is it to provide help or to inspire? To speak up about a message that’s important to you? To entertain others?
If you’re in it for fame or money, then you’re deceiving yourself. There aren’t many authors out there, other than JK Rowling and Stephen King, who’ve attained that level of recognition and wealth. They’re the exception. Although…
Always know your why. It might seem obvious, yet oftentimes the obvious is overlooked. Again, in this congested and oversaturated market of things, it’s not what you do or how you do it, but why. It’s an alluring point.
Let’s say you’re on a boat, and while on that boat someone approaches you, and asks you: “What do you do?”
Say you answer: “I’m an author.”
“What do you write?” they respond.
“How do you write?”
“Oh, I write first-person omniscient that puts the focal point on the characters with a style that’s not too flamboyant. I make good use of strong adjectives that really help build the characters actions and their personalities, but where needed I let the scenery shine with alluring images.”
Okay, so far so good, but the what and the how don’t sell the book. If that person also were to ask you what your book is about, that could be compelling, especially if you compared it to books they knew or had read, but that still might not be enough.
Take it one step farther. What if that charming person asked you, “Why do you write?” In other words, it’s just like asking, why do you do what you do?
Can you answer? And can you answer on the spot––without having to first think it over in your head.
There’s no greater example of the power of ‘why’ over ‘what’ and ‘how’ than the 2016 Presidential Elections in the U.S.. Yes, many of us would rather forget, but for the sake of the argument, let’s revisit (briefly).
Hillary Clinton told the American public in explicit terms what she would do and how she would do it during the campaign trail: the policies she would implement and how they would theoretically benefit the country. Donald Trump did not, and yet he won.
Ask a Trump supporter, “Why did you vote for him?” and they’ll give you their reasons. Ultimately though, for many of them, it came down to relatability. They could relate to Trump, but not to Clinton. And that right there is the fundamental truth behind the why. People relate to why.
Look at Mycoskie, Jobs and Musk. People bought in to the One for One; they bought in to Apple’s clean, fashionable product design; Musk bought in to the possibility of a sophisticated and esteemed electric car––as have others now that they’re available (and maybe one day they’ll be affordable). This is why ‘why’ matters. That is why it sells.
Think of all the times you’ve related to a product or idea and why you bought in. What message did it sell you on? When you relate to something, you can’t ignore it.
Is it not true that what is relatable to one will be relatable to others? Of course! So that product/idea you’re passionate about, find a way to communicate that why––why you’re passionate about it; why it even exists––to your potential audience.
If you can connect your product/idea to your audience’s sense of self––their individuality––you make it relatable. A relatable product is always easier to sell: it sells itself. You want that, don’t you?
Bottom line: know your why.