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Ikigai For Startups

The Strategic Value in Building a Purposeful Business

There is a massive shift occurring in business, in which we no longer face a trade off between profit and purpose. In which it actually makes strategic sense to build an organization that targets the societal and planetary grand challenges we contend with. Because a new generation of consumers and employees is demanding that companies achieve both. We see this in the products they buy, the brands they are loyal to, and the companies they seek to work for….if they seek to work for companies at all. I include that caveat because upwards of 70% of the youth in this rising generation don’t wanna work for someone else. They want to start their own — socially impactful- thing. And they are doing so. Because there has never been a better (or easier) time for entrepreneurs to start businesses whose very DNA is designed to benefit people and the planet.

But given that we have decades of frameworks, books, and methodologies on optimizing for profit alone, how do you go about launching and operating a startup that measures for meaning as much as it does for money? For those of you picking up what I’m throwing down — who know you want to found a purposeful organization, but aren’t sure where to begin — what can you do to set things into motion? How can you decide which niche to target? Which industry to enter? What vision to pursue? And where are the resources to guide a wannabe social entrepreneur along her path?

My response may surprise you, especially given the two years and vast fortune I dedicated to adding three letters to the back of my name (M.B.A.). But like the diminishing choice between money and meaning, the barrier between something that makes good business sense and something that feels worthwhile is disappearing. And so my very professional advice is to get personal.

What are you good at? What do you love? What does the world need? What can you be paid for? With the emergence of this very meme-able quartet of concentric circles, Westerners have taken notice of, and a stab at exploring, Ikigai — the centuries old Japanese approach to building a purposeful life. They’ve used it in designing a path in line with their reason for being. And now I’m going to save you a few grand and help you start to marry this incredibly powerful, esoteric, personal framework with the practicalities of a B school strategy course. Because it makes strategic sense to build a company in line with your personal Ikigai.

What are you good at?

  • What are your/teams core competencies? What can you do really well?
  • What is your competitive advantage? What can you do better than others? What do you know or have that they don’t?
  • How is your business different from competitors? How are you unique? (differentiation)

What do you love?

  • What are you passionate about — good or bad? What do you care about supporting or fighting?
  • What are your values? What matters to you?
  • What will you keep fighting for, even when the deck seems stacked against you (as it inevitably will in entrepreneurship)?

What does the world need?

  • What problem do you want to solve?
  • What is your purpose? What is the higher aim that drives you?
  • What is your vision? What is the future you want to create?
  • What is your mission? How will you go about achieving that vision?

What can you be paid for?

  • What can you offer? (product or service)
  • Who is willing to pay for your product/service? (customer)
  • How much is your solution worth to them? (pricing)
  • Why would they pay you for it, rather than someone else? (competition)
  • How are you going to capture their attention? (promotion, placement)

After exploring the answers to these questions, you can start to put the pieces together. Where is there overlap in the answers? Which ideas and concepts can you eliminate as contenders? How can your findings create the foundation of an organization that is strategically designed to provide both profit and purpose?

Check out my site at www.kacyqua.com, where you can learn more about my facilitation, speaking, and startup advisory work.

*I have had difficulty finding the original source for the image, but am happy to credit it if you know it.


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