Every Great Startup Needs a Simple Mantra

by: Adam Lupu

Last week, I committed to starting a company. Now I find myself trying to decide what my company will be committed to. After doing a little homework, I found an interesting chapter in Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start. In this chapter, he describes the value of a company’s mantra, saying that “the key to entrepreneurial success is not making money, but making meaning.” A company’s mantra, he claims, is the way to maintain that focus on your business’ meaning rather than it’s market share, on the purpose of your troops rather than the paychecks of your stakeholders.

This is week two, and this week is all about the mantra. It’s a harder task than it seems: come up with a few words that quickly, powerfully, and passionately drive home the purpose of your company. For someone like me, who fancies himself a wordsmith, I find myself more often getting stuck on pith and phrasing rather than simplicity and impact. But thankfully, I’m not alone. I have a great co-founder who’s perspective offers just the right amount of diversity from my own. I’m sure in the weeks to come you will learn more about him, as I continue to share this journey. For now, the following vignette should provide some insight into how the two of us decided on a two-word description of the meaning we want to make.

In The Art of the Start, Guy says mantras are not the long, drawn out mission statements that all sound the same. He says that mantras are distinct and brief. They can be used internally (to rally and focus your teammates), externally (to inspire curiosity and awe in your customers and competitors), or both. Guy offers a few examples of good mantras, some real, some fictitious, including IBM’s “Think.”, Apple’s “Think different.” For March of Dimes: “Save babies.”, and for Coca-Cola: “Refresh the world.” With these mantras as our starting points of reference, my co-founder and I had the following conversation. Since text messaging turned out to be a curiously effective medium for brainstorming our company’s mantra, I give to you the texts that got us there.

Him: 
I’m still thinking about what we stand for…
Making people better?
Empowering them?

Me:
Power up!
Powerful play
Empowerment through play

Him: 
The last one
Go with that for now for sure
…or what about “learn through play”

Me: Play to learn.

Him: Yes. Best so far

Me: Push start to get smart!

Him: Hahahhhaha

Me: :)

Him:
Aren’t we more about the learning process than the gaming process?
What about: Learn better

Me:
Yeah
I like learn better

Him: If only “learn best” was stronger

Me: Cultivate you.

Him:
No. Too heady.
Gotta be super simple
Words that mean more than what we even mean

We tried to come up with several more mantras. But we kept circling back to these two points: that simplicity mattered more than creativity, and that a mantra’s meaning should come from everyone who hears it, not just from the founders who conceived of it. So after putting our attention elsewhere for a couple days, we each reviewed our text conversation, and independently came to the same conclusion as to which was the best mantra. We still need to make the actual meaning these words stand for (i.e. build our company). But for now, these two words express, to ourselves and others, our company’s simple passion and big purpose.

Our mantra is “Learn smarter.”

Help us make these words mean even more – tell us what they mean to you in the comments below.

Adam’s new column, Mission Control, is about launching a startup and tracking its rise. From overcoming setbacks to ultimately (fingers crossed) fulfilling his mission, Adam Lupu offers his inner thoughts and outer workings while building a company. Read more of Adam’s “Mission Control” column here. *

About the author Adam Lupu @HowWeLearn
Adam Lupu is a Learning Architect designing and building new structures in education and technology. He is currently founding The Delta Program, a technology training and immersive learning environment specializing in Android Development. Lupu also works with international non-profit Global Playground to unite children across the world in learning and play. A former math and physics teacher, Adam has a Masters in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University and can be found tweeting @HowWeLearn, proudly shouting "Maybe next year!" outside Wrigley Field, or enjoying a Freebirds burrito in Austin, TX.

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