Start With Why

By Matt Oatley

In Business / Culture / Humanity


If you’ve never watched Simon Sinek’s 2010 TEDx Talk “Start With Why,” you should probably stop reading this post and look into it. It’s not by accident that it has 16 million+ views on YouTube! Simon Sinek lives and breathes this topic and we’re still growing in our ability to understand and apply it.

But hey, we also know you’re busy. You may not have 20 minutes to spare right now. That’s fine. But do watch it sometime soon! It is totally worth every minute you invest in it.

Here’s the five-minute blog version of Sinek’s incredible insight. It starts by simply posing the most important question any marketer will ever ask you:

Why do you do what you do?

The right and wrong way to answer this question

For most of you, that question leads to an obvious answer: “Well, duh, to make money.” Because we all have to work—if for no other reason—to survive and enjoy life.

But if that was your answer, or even if you said something more mission-sounding like, “we want to serve our customers and be a trustworthy insurance provider,” you’ve still failed the exercise. Why? EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOUR COMPETITORS DOES THIS! You’re not separating yourself at all.

If you market yourself by saying, “Buy from us because we’re knowledgable,” well, every insurance agency claims to be knowledgable! If you say, “We’re trustworthy!” keep in mind that no agency is going to say, “We’re bloody liars!” so you haven’t gained anything. If you promise to get your customers the lowest quotes, you’re merely putting your ante into the pot. What else have you got?

Sinek’s video hasn’t been watched over 12 million times because his question has a surface answer, which means we’re challenged to go deeper.

Why do you do what you do? Beyond money. Beyond survival. Beyond paying bills. Beyond the noble, but industry-wide, services your agency offers?

Dig deep. It would be well worth the time to spend an afternoon reflecting upon your answer in a quiet, beautiful place.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

– Simon Sinek

The best WHY ever?

I spend a lot of time consulting startups, entrepreneurs, and older business owners who can’t seem to keep pace with their modern competitors. One of the best moments I’ve ever experienced occurred while consulting a friend who was starting a mobile car wash and detail company. It’s not uncommon for me to start with Sinek’s question, “Why do you do what you do?” So I asked my friend why he wanted to start a mobile car wash.

At first, he didn’t go deep enough: “To make money.” Then he went a little deeper: “To take care of my family.” Then he took the focus off himself and put it on someone else: “To take something off my customer’s plate.” Getting there. He made more progress. “To free up their time for more important things.”

I encouraged him a bit, but then really pushed him: “Look, we’re friends, and I know you believe in God. Start from there and work your way up. Why do you want to start a car wash and detailing business?!”

Frustrated, he snapped back at me, “BECAUSE FILTH IS BAD!!!?”

I said, “There it is! You believe filth is bad. Therefore, your customers will be people who agree with you.”

Filth is bad. To this day, it’s the best answer anyone has ever given me.

If You Can’t Find Your “Why?”

If finding your “Why?” was easy, we would witness more fulfilled, energized people around us. My friend only identified his “Why?” under duress. So if you get stuck, don’t give up. Take your time. Dialogue with friends about it (you may ignite them to ponder their “Why?”)

But what if it just doesn’t materialize?

You may discover that your “Why?” has little to do with your actual day job. For example, you may strive to be an outstanding insurance agency owner because doing so allows you to contribute to your community through volunteering. You may love writing novels on the side—something you would never undertake as a full-time career.

Take a holistic approach to this important question. Don’t box yourself into your profession; let your whole life speak.

New Tricks Can Be Tricky

Most of the time when consulting with clients, I end up figuring out their “why” before they’ve articulated it themselves. Then I slap it all over the website I build them. We feel good. They should be infused with a whole new sense of purpose derived from uncovering their inner YES!

But on that next Monday morning, they go right back to operating from the outside in—talking about features, comparing pricing, and touting their excellent customer service… none of it inspiring anyone.

You need to be careful to not fall into this trap! You can own an agency, have a clever name, hire someone like me to build you a gorgeous website, and advertise on social media or Google, but your first clients will only be early adopters. They love shiny new things, In short, they’re the type of people ANY agency can convert. If you can’t inspire people with why you do what you do, early adopters will be the only clients you ever bring on board.

Anyone can accidentally pick up 10% of the market. Your message HAS to penetrate and inspire the majority. You have to find those who believe what you believe; only then will you get to make believers out of others.

Keep this in mind: half of the population will buy something only if someone else has already bought it. You must make loyal fans of your brand by giving them something that they can champion. That’s your “Why?” That’s whatever your version of “Filth is bad!” is.

Your First Step in any Endeavor

Start with “Why?” before doing anything! Expect to hear this word A LOT in future posts. We will constantly ask you why you do what you do. Everything else you do will need to somehow tie back to your “Why?”

That's something I discuss in the next post: Match Your Why