Why Start With Why?

by HSG on Aug 09, 2013 in Brain Candy

The name placard in your cube might not say anything about sales, but the truth is that everyone, employed as such or not, is a salesperson at some point every single day. In the traditional sense, this could mean something like pitching your company’s solutions to a client. In the less-traditional sense, it could mean convincing your child to eat their vegetables. Yet for those two drastically different examples and everything in between, there is a constant for successful sellers: unveiling the “Why.”

Spending time and energy making prospects understand why you do what you do instead of exactly what it is you do or how you do it is not a new concept. But I’m a firm believer that proven concepts, no matter how old and frequently referenced they are, can’t be repeated enough. This idea has recently and fervently been popularized by marketer, author, and thinker extraordinaire Simon Sinek via his 2009 book, Start With Why. You can learn about him here on Wikipedia or here on his site. To begin, let me suggest that you watch Sinek’s TED talk on Starting With Why here on YouTube before reading any further. I’ll let him take care of the bulk of explaining the basics, and then will offer some ideas of my own to back this up in the real world and explore the best ways to start thinking this way and apply it to your business.

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First, a little on me. After all, if I were to practice what Sinek preaches, it would follow that I explain why it is I’m writing this piece so that you, the reader, not only have a good reason to pay attention but also understand what drives me on a deeper level. So, who am I? I’m an entrepreneur in the music space. I do freelance work in the realms of copywriting, business development, and marketing for artists and industry / music-tech folks, but my main project is doing all of the above for a project I’ve been on the team for since day one called Presskit.to. In short, Presskit.to builds digital portfolios that artists of all kinds can use to represent themselves professionally when pitching their projects to gatekeepers like label reps, casting directors, managers, the press, etc. This core technology is also applicable to larger entertainment industry businesses and fine arts education institutions in enterprise formats, and solves a variety of the problems they’re facing.

Not interesting? I don’t blame you for thinking so, if you did. That’s because I just gave you a bland overview of what we do, instead of why we do it. What if, instead, I told you that myself and everyone I work with is an artist of some sort and believes that the most important thing you can do in life is create; that our technology exists to make creators’ careers more easily sustainable. Or, another approach, that we think the world is a better place when artists can make more art, and that because our technology was built to help artists win more business, we’re trying our best to do our part. Only you can be the judge, but I think that sort of pitch is more compelling. It touches on the emotions responsible for decision making that Sinek outlines in his Ted Talk, rather than the practical language-based reasons like pricing, technicalities, how everything works to accomplish given goals, etc. These things are on the outside of the golden circle Sinek shows us for a reason – they only really matter if you’ve aligned your beliefs with a client’s first. Otherwise these kind of tidbits are gobbledygook, and mind-numbingly boring gobbledygook at that.

Another real world example can be found here from Andy Simmons of iGoDigital. I like Andy’s post not only because he nicely paraphrases Sinek’s message, but also lays out the two different approaches to unveiling “why” – direct and anecdotal. The direct method consists of doing what I did above – expressing what your company believes and, furthermore, that you’re striving to make whatever you and your customers believe a reality. In the anecdotal approach, the Why is still unveiled, though it’s done so though storytelling. Some might argue this is the better of the two approaches, because it enables you to engage your prospect with questions that allow them to personally relate to your story and your reason “why” throughout.

             If you’re an entrepreneur, identifying the reason why you do what you do shouldn’t be hard. Entrepreneurs exist in the first place because at one point they wanted to do what they wanted to do, not what someone else wanted them to do. And, if you’re an entrepreneur, chances are you’ve already spent an immense amount of time identifying your target customer. If you did it right, your beliefs probably align well with theirs, and whatever you intend to sell them speaks to those beliefs as well. The trickiest part of this incredibly simple practice is figuring out how to articulate the “why” in a way that excites both of you. I think this soft rule is most transparent and successful in the industries where there is no explicitly stated reason why and where consumers rarely spend money specifically for tangible goods, principally the entertainment industry.

            Think about it. The vast majority of Rolling Stones fans don’t go to a Stones concert or buy a their record because they care about how Mick & co. are making the sounds they make – the chord progressions, the types of instruments, the botox, etc. They indulge in the Stone’s rock and roll because they can identify with the reason why the young-at-heart group of septuagenarians is making it: In the name of rock and roll, and in the name of their long passed hedonistic youth. Sure, baby boomers in 2013 for the most part no longer live the lifestyle portrayed in Mick’s lyrics and more abstractly in Keith’s riffs, but that doesn’t change the fact that they did once upon a time. The epic indulgence that the Stones have always stood for is something their fans will always identify with, whether or not it’s been 30 years since it was actually experienced by fan or band, for that matter. The argument that fans of more technical music genres like jazz are more interested in how the music that is made is somewhat valid, but I would argue that the “how” here is still far from primary – it’s the overall sound of the music and what it stands for that makes you happy nostalgic, motivated, or any other feeling that serves an emotional craving in your limbic system. This is the power of music.

            In sports, the overarching reason for people rooting for a team is not logical in the least. People associate with the place they grew up, and often root for the nearest team because they like to believe that team stands for the same things they do. The Denver Broncos are a classic example of this. Though modern Denver residents might not corral bucking broncos, survive off the land, or live a life that even remotely resembles those of the pioneers that founded the state, they still associate with that way of life because it’s part of Colorado lore. I know because I am one of them. Even without any background emotional relation, the simpler identification factor of you living in the same city or state as a sports team and feeling connected to them because of this is also strong. The power of local is amazing. Similarly to the Stones example, rarely do sports fans root for one team because they have better technique or run better plays. You buy into a team because you associate with what they stand for, not because of the building block details that make them good or bad.

            All of this to say that if you as a small business owner can create customer devotion and loyalty to the same extent that entertainment is able to both through artists and athletes, then your business is that much more likely to succeed. Is that a ridiculous fantasy? I think not. Apple has customers lining up around the block when they release a new gadget, much like the way people used to camp out for concert tickets before sales moved online. Tesla Motors, though it took 10 years to post its first profit, has a cult following that rivals many of the most die-hard sports fanbases.

What do Apple and Tesla have in common? Yes, they’re both well-funded silicon valley based companies led by two of the most idolized men of the past century, but more than anything, they have an inspiring raison d’êtreand they make it well known. Apple was founded on the belief that the computer could empower the underdog individual citizen against the corporation, to level the playing field in a sense. In the words of Inc.com’s Tom Searcy, Apple “sells a challenge to the status quo. They take complicated software and make it pretty and so intuitive that your grandmother can use it with ease, comfort and (gasp) enjoyment.”Tesla believes that electric cars can still be sexy and powerful, and will probably turn the established auto-industry upside down when oil starts running short or sooner. Both of them were once underdogs, and both are enormous disrupters. Most of the time, it feels flat out good to root for Apple and Tesla, and this is what converts hoards of customers. 

Sure, your idea might not be as revolutionary or world changing as the computer or the electric car. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth selling the Why. Whatever idea your business was built on must have a justifiable reason to be and be of great interest and/or usefulness to a group of people, otherwise you wouldn’t have stepped foot on the trying path that is entrepreneurialism in the first place. Hear Simon Sinek out, read his book, and study the cases he mentions. My guess is that, before long, you’ll be inspiring those in your own universe as a leader that inspires action.  















In that video, Simon Senek argues that people are more likely to convert to a certain action if their beliefs fall in line with those of why the product/event/service exists in the first place.




250,000 showed up to MLK’s “I have a dream” speech because they too had a dream. It wasn’t called the “I have a plan speech” for a reason.


Tivo failed not because market conditions were poor or because they weren’t well funded, or because they didn’t have the right brainpower in leadership positions. They failed because they sold it wrong.


Had they instead approached people who wanted total control of their TV viewing experience with a slogan like “If you like having total control of your entertainment experience, have we got a product for you.” Instead they spent their valuable marketing time and money explaining how it worked, not why they made it work that way.




This idea rings most true and is most easily accessed when applied to services that consumers get no tangible result or benefit from: the entertainment industry.


In music, most people will go to a rolling stones show because they believe in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll ethos that the stones emit. Even if they no longer believe in those attitudes as strongly when aging baby boomers is besides the point – at one point in their lives they lived the same lifestyle the stones emit. They believe in the lyrics coming out of Mick’s mouth as much as they believe in the raw power and sexual ambience surrounding Keith’s riffs. Unless they’re geeky musicians, very few people attend Stones’ concerts or buy their albums because they’re interested in how they play certain riffs or piece certain chord progressions together. That stuff is secondary, if not tertiary.


One can make the argument that the technicalities of the music are more relevant in certain genres of music, like jazz, where it’s so impressive the way they make music. But I would argue it is still far from primary – the sound of music that makes you happy, sad, interested, that serves an emotional need in your limbic service, will always be the driving force. This is what we call the power of music.



In sports, the overarching reason for people rooting for a team is not logical in the least. People associate themselves with the place they grew up, and often root for that team because they like to believe that team stands for the same things they do. The Denver Broncos are a classic example of this. Though modern Denver residents might not corral bucking broncos, live off the land, or live a life that even remotely resembles those of the pioneers that founded the state and that the Broncos’ mascot was undoubtedly based off, they still associate with that way of life because it’s part of Colorado lore. I know because I am one of them.


Aside from background emotional relation like that, the simpler identification factor has to do with you living in the same city or state as a sport’s team and feeling connected to them because of this.


Similarly to the musicians example, rarely to sports fans root for one team because they better blocking or tackling technique. You buy into a team because you associate with what they stand for, not because of the building block details that make them good or bad.


Now let’s remove this idea from the realm of entertainment and apply it to small business, where one could argue it is most vital.  




Real world example:






Sinek explaining the Why in writing:






Well written external explanation:






Golden Circle Image:



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