As a first-time entrepreneur, I am guilty of taking many of the shortcuts that nearly every book ever written about entrepreneurship tells you to avoid — no business plan, no codified core values, and no well-defined mission.
As the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program impressed upon me the importance of these steps in nurturing a business, I began to interrogate each aspect of my own company to discover the driving force behind it.
As a manufacturer of bicycles and bicycle accessories, the immediate aim that came to mind was to protect our planet: more bikes equal less CO2, and — voilà! — the world will be a better place. But the challenge with this sentiment was twofold.
First and foremost, it honest-to-goodness wasn’t the reason I started the business. I do, of course, care about the environment and about leaving the world a better place than it was when I first set foot on it, but that was not my primary concern when launching the business 3 years ago.
Second — and this should come as no surprise — working toward a greener society is the default mission for nearly every bicycle brand out there, as the very nature of our product lends itself to that initiative. I couldn’t settle for a mission my product had led me to; I needed to find the mission that had led me to my product.
So along sailed the ship for nearly two-and-a-half years with no defined mission. I say “defined mission” because nearly every business possesses a mission — it’s just a matter of digging deep and massaging it out of your subconscious — and over the years, I made many failed attempts at crafting our mission, each ending more quickly than the previous.
Then one day it happened. A fellow entrepreneur asked why I had started a business. My answer: I had become disenchanted with my previous sales job.
“Not good enough,” he pressed. “You said you moved to Brooklyn and you wanted a bicycle — WHY did you want a bicycle?” And as I racked my brain to answer his question, the entire mission came into focus.
I was beyond excited, even going so far as to call my former 10,000 Small Businesses advisor to share that nearly four months AFTER completing the program, I had finally had my “Aha!” moment.
Areas of the business we had struggled with for ages — and I say “we” because by now I had begun hiring — began to fall into place, and many of our lingering brand ambiguities cleared right up.
Guided by this new doctrine, marketing programs took form and dealer engagement strategies presented themselves. So many areas of the business that needed to be more well-defined suddenly had obvious direction.
Since you’re likely wondering by now, I’ll share our brand’s mission with you: We reconnect people with their communities. Bicycles are of course how we go about it — and that’s because bicycles facilitate a level of community engagement that few other things offer. Consider a car — you hop in, turn on the radio, and focus on your destination, all the while moving obliviously past block after block of your community.
What about walking? While walking certainly gives us the opportunity to interact with our surroundings, because of the associated time constraints and exertion, it does so to only a limited extent. Bicycles, on the other hand, offer a unique opportunity to expand your reach into your neighbourhood, affording you varied routes to your destinations and the diverse sights, sounds, smells, and sensations that each new course yields up.
Though it took some time, when we did finally realise our mission, it was a defining moment for our brand. If you’re struggling to determine your mission, take a moment to ask yourself why you chose the product you did to start your business, and don’t let yourself off the hook until your answer rings true. Things will sort themselves out from there.
Ryan Zagata is the founder of Brooklyn Bicyle Co. and a member of the EO (Entrepreneurs Organisation) Brooklyn.
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