Build Your Startup from the Heart

Hacker News LinkedIn Google+ Facebook Twitter by Abby Fichtner

Mr Roboto Locket (by Mommysaurus)The world, it seems, is changing. If you ask Daniel Pink, he’ll say that our "left-brained" aptitudes — logical, analytical skills, the types of things schools reward us for — are no longer sufficient if we want to remain competitive. These are, after all, the very things being automated by computers and outsourced at rates we can’t compete with if we want to pay our mortgages, or, say, eat.

If we truly want to succeed, we need to pull in those right-brained skills that our schools & employers have tried so hard to beat out of us — artistry, empathy, play, and story telling. I love what Seth Godin says in Linchpin,

"Stop settling for what’s good enough and start creating art that matters. Stop asking what’s in it for you and start giving gifts that change people. Then, and only then, will you have achieved your potential."

I don’t know if Bill Warner was thinking of either of these people when he presented How to Build Your Startup from the Heart at MassChallenge last week, but it seems he’s found the formula and is sharing it with the startup world in the hopes it will shape our next generation of companies.

Bill says following your heart isn’t always the most profitable, but if you do it, you’ll build something that you love, something you’re proud of, and it’ll raise your business up to an entirely new level.

The thing is, we’re taught that if we want to be successful, we must have these logical, objective, concrete things that we can tell people about. And so we get all caught up around a specific idea or invention that we can point to "look, shiny!" And we use fancy sounding terms like "glocal", "social graphs", and "continual contingency virtualization" because we think they resonate with others as "important things to have or do."

But the truth is our brains aren’t programmed to care about buzzwords. These legacy brains of ours care about things that move us, that are (gasp) emotional - things like stories and connections to other people. Things, in other words, that come from our hearts, not from inventions. Things that Bill Warner calls "timeless intentions."

And so when we hear a fancy, important sounding pitch, we tend to promptly forget it. Because our brains don’t think it’s important! And if our brains don’t think it’s important, then is it worth creating? 

If we want to create something meaningful, something memorable, something we’ll be proud of, we need to build our startups from our heart. And this requires forgetting about any specific invention or technology or buzzword. It requires digging deeper and thinking about what our intent is and who our people are that we intend to help.

Let’s take a couple of examples.

First is Joe. Joe has an Enterprise Web 2.0 tool that will maximize productivity and collaboration in your organization, allowing you to communicate glocally by providing seamless integration into your company’s knowledge base.

Okay, that was painful to write. Do you have any idea what I just said? Do you care?

Now let’s take a real person I met, Veronica Nicole Chapman, Veronica with one of her peopleFounder and President of Boxxout Enterprises. Her people are youth in urban, low-income communities. Her intent is to engage them and get them excited about life. If you ask, she can even tell you a story about one of her people and how she’s helping him.

Even if that’s totally not your thing, that’s pretty inspiring, right? Can you still remember it even now as the blogosphere vies for your attention? Even more so, do you maybe, even just a little, wonder if there might be a way you could help her with it?

What’s more – think about which of those 2 businesses is going to be more flexible, have more options and more potential. The one that starts from a specific invention? That’s one thing they can build. If people don’t like it, oh well, on to the next startup. Or the one that’s started from an intent to help a specific set of people? Even if Veronica starts with a specific technology, she knows it’s only a means to an ends – and only one possible means. She can move away from it, she can stick with it and tweak it to better fit her people, all without feeling that she’s sold out because she knows she’s staying true to her intent.

Bill calls these timeless intentions. Things like "helping people" or, as one startup founder said, "I want to help people become their own boss" – yeah! I can grok that and remember it.

Even if you don’t have your own startup, I think these are questions worth asking yourself.

What’s your intent? Who are your people? And what are you doing to help them?

Photo Credits: Mr Roboto Locket: Mommysaurus, Boxxout Event: Boxxout