"Who are we?"

It's a question all start ups ask at some point. Your project starts as a clever idea. Things are exciting - a flurry of creative energy. Things start moving from idea to product. You need more resources - people, money, spaces to make things happen.

Suddenly you are a business. People rely on you. You have users, customers, clients. A team. Investors. All looking at you wondering where you're taking them next.

I remember the day I met Tom Cox. His start up - 15gifts - is based in Brighton, home to many of the UK's innovative tech teams (and to my favourite coffee joint, Small Batch). Tom was late; my cappuccino was almost dry by the time he sat down next to me and introduced himself. He started to tell me the story of 15gifts, which was growing fast. I was fascinated by his remarkable idea, and intrigued to hear what he was looking for.

What I heard was something familiar for businesses at his stage of the journey. What is this thing I've created? How do I keep it from becoming "corporate" - the kind of place I'd never want to work? How do I grow and keep the talented people who make us great? 

I like these kinds of questions. They mean so much more than "how do I get Series B so I can "pivot"?" or "when do I get to sell?". And they tell me that a leader understands that culture is more than just having free food and dogs in the office.

There's a point when you are no longer a start up. It's somewhere around the 2 year mark, though the time is less important than what is happening inside the business. It's a defining moment where the entrepreneur has a choice - was this a project I want to end and sell, or do I want to lead a business?

For those who choose to lead, it means learning how to shape a culture and move people to a vision of growth. They must be able to go beyond what their product is today and take others on a journey, guided by the purpose of why they started the company in the first place.

Tom is passionate about what his idea can do - technology that helps people make confident choices in an increasingly complex world. We supported him in articulating that purpose, and in creating a set of values to help him lead the team as they grow. Our process invited the entire business to participate in defining the purpose and values, in order to build belief in their identity as a business and as an aligned team.

We turned their Purpose Framework of purpose, values and their offer to the world into a new story to tell. This story needed to clearly communicate who they were, to not only set them apart from others moving into their space, but crucially to attract the right relationships towards their brand. This included finding the right language to communicate the complexity of their product in a simple but compelling way. This has allowed 15gifts to speed up their conversion rate and attract a broader set of clients.

15gifts invested their energy and creativity to define their culture at a time when most start ups believe they are too busy to pause. Our process creates space for leaders to bring their teams together, to rise out of the day to day busy-ness and see the big picture. This creates focus and momentum - and if practiced, builds the habit of continuously aligning your team.

It takes more than just a great idea to have an impact. It takes people to make great ideas happen and scale. The secret formula to leveraging your greatest asset is the culture of your business. Only when your people are aligned, energised by the passion of your purpose and guided by shared values, can the true potential of your business be realised.

Written by Jeff Melnyk on Sep 01, 2016