Most of the time, businesses tend to focus on the “how–” and, too often, the “how much.” But what about the “why?” Whether you call it a mission, a purpose, or a cause, traditionally, it’s been the territory of nonprofits, not for-profits. But Ari Kalfayan, founder of the Startup & Tech Mixer, believes that a purpose-driven business doesn’t have to be about changing the world. Instead, it’s simply about finding a need in society and filling it.
And it’s working. According to Deloitte, 90 percent of people who worked for a company with a “culture of purpose” reported strong financials, along with high employee and customer satisfaction. That contrasts with just 65 percent of respondents who reported strong financials at a company who lacked a sense of purpose.
It’s why Andrew Hewitt compiled Game Changers 500, a list of companies that embody a concept he calls “for-benefit.” These are for-profit companies who’ve identified a clear purpose beyond making money–whether that be lifting up other entrepreneurs, helping developing economies, or ensuring the sustainability of their own industry. In other words, a “why.” Inspired, by him, we found 9 brands who have nailed their “why”:
The grandaddy of the Internet gets more than its share of attention for the wild perks it offers its employees, like slides between floors and on-site bars and hair salons. But Google has a “why” too–and it’s all about information. Whether you’re storing your important documents in the cloud or poring over obscure tomes in Google Books, you’re benefiting from Google’s mission to make useful information available at your fingertips. “Just Google it” isn’t just a buzzword. It’s a purpose.
As a certified benefit corporation or B-corp (one that has impact on the community beyond its stated purpose), online handmade goods retailer Etsy is teaming up with city governments in Rockland, Illinois and New York to offer free courses in entrepreneurship for low-income residents, some of whom have set up stores on the Etsy platform. It’s win-win: Etsy expands its reach by adding more sellers, while would-be entrepreneurs get a leg up.
In 2012, the international giant whose products include food, beverages, and personal care products, introduced a brand-new “why.” It redirected focus on “sustainable living brands,” which aim to double the business while reducing its carbon footprint and boosting social impact. They include Dove, whose Real Beauty campaign made a splash. These brands grew twice as fast as Unilever’s other brands in 2015 and contributed to half of the company’s overall growth.
Thinking of companies with a “why,” a consultancy might not be the first that comes to mind–but why not? Deloitte CEO Punit Renjen believes his “why” starts with mentoring the best talent so they, in turn, can have a greater impact on the public and the community at large, and have absolute trust in their financial statements they receive.
- Uncharted Play
At startup Uncharted Play, the “why” is about one word: energy. Founder Jessica O. Matthews realized that recreation time was an underutilized tool to providing off-grid power in rural areas around the globe. She created Soccket, an energy-harnessing soccer ball that has the power to get kids out of the dark and into the light of better education, improved air quality and more opportunities to succeed.
True to the manifesto of its CEO Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ purpose is to “deliver happiness.” Literally. It even says it right on the box. So far, Zappos has attracted millions of customers (and achieved $1 billion in sales) by making bold moves, like surprising 80 percent of customers with free overnight shipping. And consumers know that they can order as many shoes as they like and return the ones they don’t want for free–an idea that other online retailers have been quick to adapt.
The rugged apparel maker has, from the time it started selling climbing gear in 1957, aimed to sustainably build the best product it can while inspiring people to get outdoors. Now, with its Worn Wear Mobile Tour, the certified B-company sewed its way across 18 states, replacing Patagonia gear free of charge and helping people repair what they already own, discovering a new kind of DIY.
Not only are Warby Parker’s eyeglasses affordable, they also come in chic, eye-popping styles that Millennials clamor for. But their “why” goes beyond fashion. To date, they’ve donated over 2 million pairs of eyeglasses to nonprofits like VisionSpring, while at the same time achieving their long-term “why” of building a market for affordable glasses all over the world.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson is lifting up other entrepreneurs with the Branson Centres for Entrepreneurship in the Caribbean and South Africa, which aims to revitalize economies and encourage locals to open eco-conscious businesses. Virgin Unite’s aim is to develop the tourism each country where it does business so it’ll be around for generations.
From the startup space to big business, companies who are nailing their “why” are outperforming their peers by connecting with their audience on a deeper level. And as Millennials, whom studies have shown favor purpose over profit, come to dominate the workforce, the need for a mission will only grow.
What’s your “why?”