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Module 3 of 9
In Progress

Building On Purpose

Everyone has seasons that define them, this is mine. After it was all over, I was sitting in the conference room of our newly renovated office staring out the window as it rained outside. Despite all that happened that week, that day, sitting in the conference room was the day I became a business owner and not an entrepreneur. 

The company that I had built offered a SAAS software that integrated 4 major tools needed to run a nonprofit. We built a system allowing nonprofits to accept donations, build an app, design a website, and keep track of their constituents all in the same dashboard without the need for a 3rd party API to connect the information into other systems. 

I didn’t start there though, that product was the result of tens of thousands of hours over 8 years of building Websites, CRMs, and Apps for nonprofits. I spent years marketing for nonprofits, building their software infrastructure, and even sitting on their boards. I realized my purpose, at the time, was to drag nonprofits out of the stone age using innovative products.

My team had built apps that connected missionaries around the world with millions of people searching for religious answers. We built CRMs that held hundreds of thousands of written pieces of content that had never been digitized. We built apps that detected when someone got in a bad wreck to alert authorities and apps that answered any philosophical question you could imagine. We built things we believed in and felt connected to because of the common value between us and our customers. 

After 8 years of working exclusively for nonprofits, I decided to build everything I learned about the industry into a single product; all the problems I had solved individually for organizations around the world into one single solution. This was the pinnacle of my expertise, and as a 29-year old, I couldn’t have been more proud. 

It wasn’t an easy process though, I failed and failed again until it worked. Well, on this particular day “worked” was an overstatement. I poured my heart and soul into building the company because I believed what I was doing mattered. Every day I walked into the office I knew what I was doing was what I was called to do. Despite the frustration, loneliness, and soon, the betrayal.

Even just walking in the office made me proud. A year earlier we had found this space, an old medical office – most likely dental – with Venetian yellow walls that were not painted, more of a cold plastic look than anything else. The entryway was what sold me though, a huge stone archway around two large glass doors. Epic. 

After knocking down the walls, changing the carpet, and painting everything, we finally moved in. The finishing touch was a big plexiglass sign with the company’s name and logo across it as soon as you walked in. This was my first company to have a real office. But as you’ll come to find out, this was a short-lived glory. 

One day, after a pretty exhausting week of trial and error fixing sales processes, I walked into the office for what to this day proves to be the start of one of the hardest seasons of my life. 

All week long employees knocked on my door, came in and sat down, and quit. Without any prior understanding of why or what was happening behind closed doors, I accepted tearful resignation after resignation. No one was really being clear as to why they were leaving, just that their time was up at the company and they were moving on. 

Later in the week, we had an executive meeting slotted for the afternoon and I was in for an even tougher slap in the face; my business partners. You guessed it, one by one they voted to shut the company down. Sales were pretty rough, morale was crushed – no doubt due to the dwindling presence of other employees in the office – and to put the icing on the cake, we had $250,000 in debt that they didn’t want any part of. 

I later found out that one of my employees overheard a conversation I had and told as many employees as they could get in their office that the company was shutting down. I had overlooked this issue for months, but we’ll get to that in a future module. 

But that moment, sitting in the conference room after the executive meeting, watching the rain, is cemented in my memory. I had just told my business partners they could all leave and I would take over the company and assume the debt. The day doesn’t stand out because it was a horrible day, there were plenty of those, but because despite all that happened that week, that day was the day I became a business owner and not an entrepreneur. It’s the day I realized what separated an entrepreneur from a leader. It’s the day I chose to believe in a purpose instead of a circumstance. 

Most business people call this the J curve, that moment of failure right before massive and exponential success. This is where the life of an entrepreneur ends and the life of a business owner begins. It’s the moment that over 50% of new businesses fail. Due to sheer determination, we would not become part of that statistic, far from it actually. 

3 years after starting to build the product, 2 days to the day actually, we sold the company in a multi-million dollar exit. An exit would have never happened without years of experience in the industry and hundreds if not thousands of lessons learned through failures backing the technology.

 

What is Purpose?

Purpose is the common thread that ties all the successes together. It’s the crossroads between what you love and what you’re the best at. Sure, purpose presents itself as “what you do” but more so it’s the belief as you’re doing it; you can be a politician but if you don’t actually believe it’s benefiting the world, it’s not your purpose. 

You are most successful doing what you love because usually, you become better the more you do something and you do what you love more. Broken down, purpose is what fulfills you in life. It’s what makes you happy and you feel a sense of deep and meaningful satisfaction. 

Yeah, sure this is an arbitrary definition but when was the last time you tried defining air?! 

 

Purpose equals quality.

Business isn’t just about making money. In fact, making money should merely be a byproduct of helping people. Helping people should be the result of doing what we love. 

When you’re focused on doing what you love and what you’re good at, you succeed and succeed consistently. When you’re building something just because you CAN build it, it can pull you away from what you’re supposed to be doing, costing precious mental capacity. 

Not only can it damage your focus and ability to build other things, but when you build something that doesn’t matter to you, customers feel it. Business isn’t just about providing a product or service, it’s about connection, values, and understanding. When a customer’s experience reflects that what you’re doing doesn’t really matter to you, they have absolutely no ongoing loyalty or attachment to your brand.

Think about it, would you buy a painting from someone that didn’t enjoy painting? Probably not and the most likely culprit would be the quality of the painting. Quality always suffers when what we’re working on doesn’t matter.

I love the scene in Jon Favreau’s 2014 classic Chef, where Carl, Favreau’s character, pulls his son aside after his son makes a burnt sandwich for a group of workers that helped them move a stove into the new food truck and instead of throwing it out the boy says to his father “why does it matter, it’s not like they’re paying for it.” 

Carl asks his son, “is this boring to you?” to which his son says blankly, “no I like it.” Carl’s response moves me. He says “yeah, well, I love it. And everything good that’s happened to me in my life was because of that.” 

Without even bringing up quality, Carl cut to the heart of the issue; love. In simplest terms; just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Do things because you love them and the quality will speak for itself. 

 

Purpose under pressure creates passion.

That day at the office when all my employees quit and my partners bailed became a defining hour in my life. Was I going to accept defeat despite my belief about what I was creating or was I going to suck it up and push forward somehow, even though it looked hopeless?

I wish it was that epic of a decision process. In reality, it looked like a whole lot of anxiety, whiskey, coffee, and brainstorming over a few weeks. But I do remember the moment when a good business friend of mine and I were talking on the phone and decided we could do it. We could rebuild because the mission was worth it. He would become my new business partner in the business.

I personally assumed the $250k in debt in exchange for the other partner’s collective exits from the business and started rebuilding the business within weeks. I had a new fire lit in me, an overwhelming desire to prove all the people that I felt betrayed by wrong and perhaps even more so to prove to myself that through perseverance and consistent failure I can produce incredible success.

8 months later, my new business partner and I sold the company for a multi-million dollar exit. 

This process of failure and incredible odds put my purpose, to help nonprofits using innovative products, under excruciating pressure. But that process lit a fire inside me and gave me a passion that I hadn’t had in years. A passion to get the product in the hands of more nonprofits and prove all my employee’s hard work and belief meant something. 

Often we find that what most people see as our greatest moment of failure is truly just the most stable foundation for growth.

 

Operating outside of purpose. 

For a period of time, my company was renting a 2 bedroom apartment instead of an office due to insanely high office prices in the area and it worked pretty well actually. One room was turned into a conference room, one into a salesroom, and the living/dining area into a common desk area. We saved about 50% on rent doing that, but that’s not the moral of the story. 

After the apartment, we expanded and opened a much larger, real office space to accommodate new employees the apartment was left empty with a year on the lease. Naturally, as an entrepreneur, I tried to find ways to justify the cost on the lease and break even or even make a little off the apartment when I had it. Listing it as an Airbnb sounded like a genius idea and there were already a few in the building. 

As a tech guy though, I knew very little about hospitality but I thought, it can’t be that hard right? 

And I was right, it wasn’t that hard. But it would end up stealing so much time, energy, and mental capacity from my other company despite hiring someone to operate and manage the 4 more units that I would eventually open. The first unit did so well I thought it’d be a great way to make money if I open a bunch more by leasing other apartment units and listing them as AirBnB’s as well. 

We didn’t just open an apartment with a bed and couch and list it to be rented through, we went all out, buying luxury furniture, offering alcohol packages, and even offering a free luxury car with your stay. 

Over time, despite being managed, the issues started piling up. I ignored them at first because it just wasn’t my focus. But eventually, they caught up to me and I was left holding the bag on 4 apartments and not building my company. I chose to shut all the units down after consistently needing to pull focus from my company to go fix a problem with the Airbnb. 

I lost about $50,000 chasing something I wasn’t going to give my energy to because I didn’t really care about it, I just wanted to make a dime. But trust me, $50,000 is nothing to pay for a lesson you won’t ever forget and could save you from making $100,000 mistakes in the future. 

The truth is there’s a lot of things for entrepreneurs to dabble in, especially after you’ve made some money. But one of the biggest traps you can find yourself in is doing things because you just can and not because they align with your purpose. 

There’s nothing wrong with trying new businesses, or dabbling in something fresh, or even failing while you’re doing it. In fact, that’s literally part of the process. But when you make a commitment to pursue only things that have to do with your purpose and not money, you create wealth that lasts and an impact that outlives you. 

People operate outside of their purpose all the time. But when they do an audit of their life, they’re left asking “why am I doing this?” and without a good answer, they move on to the next thing until they can’t anymore and live in regret never having pursued what fulfilled them and what they could find true success doing. 

 

I might as well have called this module “focus.” 

The reason I titled it purpose though is because when you’re doing something you love and are actually good at, it’s so much easier to stay consistent and have longevity in your business. Purpose keeps you going, when the going gets tough, which it is guaranteed to get tough.

The success of the SAAS product was the result of spending years focusing on solving the same type of problems over and over again. Much like the previous module, how we talked about the same type of work taking up less mental capacity over time, getting reps doing similar things over and over again can propel you into a place of expertise and excellence that most entrepreneurs can’t reach because they can’t consistently focus on what they’re called to do. 

My business mentor puts it like this; your focus should be discovering what you can be the best in the world at, not what you can do half-assed or make a buck doing. What can you do that only you can do for the people only you understand? (we’ll get to people you understand most in a future module.)

 

Different applications, same purpose. 

When I lived in my car all I really wanted to do was one day help people be the best versions of themselves by overcoming things like, well, living in your car or starting with nothing. 

In college I realized I really wanted to help people get from point A to point C, using B. B symbolizing the thing they loved to do. 

When I started my website and marketing company, my mission statement was to help organizations get from where they’re at to where they want to be using better marketing strategies. 

When I built the SAAS platform for nonprofits, our mission statement was “Helping you reach more people through an all-in-one platform.” 

Do you see the trend? My purpose is to help people get from where they are to where they want to be; A to C using B. But that looks different in every season and often in every product. Even at husl academy for example, the heart is to help entrepreneurs go from working in a coffee shop (A) to running a company (C) using the lessons I learned and paid for (B). 

There’s no way to align AirBnb’s with this purpose without reaching pretty far out. This is why I had consistent and growing issues that I felt less and less passionate about solving. 

Your purpose is what you’re good at and see results in consistently, and that can apply to so many amazing things in this life. But it starts with consistently pursuing what you’d do for free, your purpose, for the reasons that matter to you, your passion. If all we chased was money as entrepreneurs, we’d get bored really fast and always jump to the next big thing.

I like to ask myself, “why am I doing this if I could make more money over there doing that.” If my answer was anything other than “because I’m blessed in this area, seeing results and I love it” then I know I’m not in the right place. 

 

Purpose vs passion.

Simply, purpose is what you do, passion is why you do it. 

Purpose is when you find something you’re really good at, something you’ve seen results in, and that you love. 

Passion is a reason to do something, it’s what you care most about in the world and often what you understand most. 

Purpose equals quality and passion equal consistency.

 

My rule of thumb: build what aligns with your purpose, invest in what you’re passionate about, build and invest in what you want to succeed most.

 

Passion

Passion is the fuel that will keep you going and propels your company into a place of meaning and fulfillment for you and your staff. Passion can be boiled down to your why. 

For example, you can love web design, and be really really good at it. But you can drive your web design career by doing it for an audience or reason that you’re passionate about, such as helping companies you care about grow, or contributing to the philanthropic endeavours that move you and your customers (if you chose an audience that you understand deeply and care for what they care for.) 

If I can borrow from the scene from Chef again; Carl expresses that he loves to cook because he gets to touch people’s lives with his food. Why you do something is so much more important than what it is you’re doing. Anything in the entire world can be successful, if chased for the right reasons. 

When I created the app company for non profits, I felt my purpose was building great products, particularly software. It’s what I did, it’s what I was good at, and what I felt fulfilled by and often angry about when I saw people doing it poorly. My passion was to give nonprofits a better option after having been part of many nonprofits who were using terrible solutions and being less efficient.

In the office we had a TV that showed a giant number that was always ticking up with a live number count and under read “people reached.” This was the simplest KPI I could find that communicated the amount of people our platform touched, the impact we had in the nonprofit world. That mattered to us because the more people that used our system, the more donations went into the non profits we cared about, and thus our passion was being fulfilled by our product. 

We chose a KPI that resonated with our customers’ beliefs, affirming their value of reaching more people with their vision, and used language they use and recognize. All in one simple phrase. We proudly placed the number of people reached on our website, which aided in crushing conversion. 

When you sell a why, and not a what, you’re able to expand to multiple product categories as all of them contribute to the same vision. People buy why, not what. Your why should drive your marketing and campaign messaging. 

Apple is the best possible example of this. Apple’s branding is consistently about breaking the status quo and thinking differently. They’re resonating values to their customers, rarely ever features or pricing. People don’t buy an iPhone for the price, they buy an iPhone as a status symbol that shouts of being unique. The irony here is that 45% of America owns an iPhone. But that tells me their marketing is genius, despite not being rooted in reality, it’s more about the idea with which they’re trying to connect with and the idea that their customers resonate strongly with.

This principle just as much applies to your customers as it applies to your employees. Apple’s employees are obsessive because they believe they are changing the world by giving everyone a unique voice and being part of a revolution of thinking. That message is ingrained in everything they do as a company.

One of the ways we consistently reminded our customers and our employees of why our product mattered is we put giving, something that matters a great deal to nonprofits, front and center in our marketing and culture at the company. We did big giving campaigns, using the amount of money a nonprofit saved using our product to feed the homeless, make care packs, pay people’s rent, and so much more. 

Working at the company didn’t just mean having a job, it meant contributing to the world, it meant that you were a giving person, a person that helped others when they were down. Reaching more people meant something. Buying the product said those very same things about the purchaser.