Startups: The Six Best Friends You'll Ever Have

Steve Carey

One of my colleagues here in the Network of Consulting Professionals, Gordon Smith, has a favourite quote I’d like to share with you, whether you are at some stage of your journey as a startup or are working with startup clients:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
- Rudyard Kipling -

In my role as a business advisor, consultant and mentor, I’ve worked with many startups in various stages of development. While every business is unique, of course, and has its own particular combination of product, people and culture, I’m struck by the fact that many of the challenges they face keep coming up again and again. I’d like to share them with you, using Kipling’s Six Honest Serving Men, though in a slightly different order…Let’s begin with the big one: WHY are you here?Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle is a tool I use with just about every client, and it’s particularly beneficial with startups – and the earlier they become familiar with it, the great the benefit. Here’s the diagram that Sinek applies to Apple, a one-time startup you may have heard of…

The Golden Circle applied to Apple by Simon Sinek

(If you’re not familiar with Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle I’d very strongly encourage you right now to go and watch at least this six minute short clip: Simon Sinek - Start With Why - TED Talk Short Edited. Even better, invest 18 minutes in the TED talk Simon SInek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action from which that short clip is taken – it’s about the best 18 minutes you’ll invest in your business this year, guaranteed!)

Why Is This So Important, Particularly With Startups?

Because it helps frame just about everything your business is about, and therefore its whole future. By understanding the ‘WHY’ other questions become much easier such as:

  • WHO you hire (and WHY you hire them);
  • WHO you partner with (and WHY);
  • WHERE your business should located;
  • WHAT marketing you do, and (just as importantly) what marketing you don’t touch with a bargepole;
  • WHAT your company structure is, and (again, just as importantly) what it’s not;
  • HOW you are different from, or HOW you are the same as, your competitors;
  • WHAT your Unique Sales Proposition (USP) is. Note: this term has rather fallen out of fashion in recent years, though for the life of me I don’t know why. If you don’t know what your USP is, you jolly well need to get onto it right away! And the best place to start your USP is to figure out WHY you’re doing what you do;
  • WHO cares about your product of service?
  • WHERE is your target market?
  • WHAT am I going to do about it?
  • WHERE should I be focus my attention – priorities: WHAT is going to drive the biggest early success?

Are You Doing It The Hard Way?

Our experience in the Network of Consulting Professionals is that startups often overlook some, most or even all these questions. They focus on their product or service almost to the exclusion of everything else. Recently I attended the Connect Expo ( and spent some time in the startup and medical startup stands. I asked each startup to tell me about themselves almost invariably they told me, quick as a flash (or sometimes really slowly), explaining WHAT they do, WHAT’s so great about it, WHAT it can do. The clever ones even told me WHAT their product / service would do for me. Ask that same startup WHY they’re in business and typically… nothing. Nada. Not a peep.The take-away from this? Simple: early analysis, using Kipling’s Six Honest Serving Men, and particularly that chap WHY, accompanied by regular review, is essential. Will it guarantee success? Nope. Of course not! And I suppose it’s even possible to succeed without doing this. But I’ll tell you this for nothing: if you succeed without this process, you’re doing it the hard way!

William Heine, Steve Carey

You will find a growing number of tips on building a profitable business in our website. Check the posts filed under Strengthen, Support and Succeed. Come back often as we add new posts written by our members on a regular basis.

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