We’ve written previously about our mistakes at MightyBrand and how we spent six months heading down the wrong road, chasing a market we didn’t believe in and half-assing the customer development process. As a result, we came very close to destroying any hope of ever building a company that we’re really proud of. We’ve also written about how we decided to bootstrap the company, and why. At first glance, it might not seem apparent that these two things are related, but the interplay between bootstrapping and the dangers of destroying your long-term future cannot be overstated.
When you bootstrap a company, you’re going to be short on cash. Very short on cash. Every day is a struggle, especially in the beginning. In the long run, this is probably more benefit than burden, provided you can survive it, because it forces you to be frugal and be very focused on getting to profitability. (On the other hand, when you’re spending someone else’s money, the temptation to throw cash at problems and spend indiscriminately is overwhelming. The people in your organization sense the difference immediately and that attitude becomes part of your culture.)
Because you’re so short on cash, you’ll be very tempted to chase opportunities that offer short-term cashflow. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, except that most of those opportunities will be things that are either orthogonal to your core mission or in direct violation of it. If you don’t have a very clear sense of who you are as a company, what you believe in, what you’re here for, then you’ll end up chasing those opportunities and destroying your brand.
It’s very clear to us now that if we had spent more time at the beginning defining what our mission was and why we were starting this company, what our ethos was, we never would have gone down the road of selling to agencies, no matter how lucrative it is in the short-term. We just don’t believe in what they’re doing.
When Ben and I were talking about this issue and hashing it out, the moment that it became clear to both of us was when we realized that building MightyBrand into a great company is going to be difficult no matter which direction we go, just because of the general space we’re in. There’s easier money out there, so if this company is just about the money, then we’re in the wrong business.
Because here’s the dirty truth: if you want to build a business just for the money, don’t half-ass it with something you sort of enjoy or kind of believe in. Just sell porn or go work in the financial sector or sell terrible enterprise software. There’s great money in those things, and if that’s all you’re after, why bother pretending that you care about it?
Now, does this mean that if you build something that you love and that you care about, it’ll be a success? Absolutely not. We still firmly believe in customer development, great marketing, and busting your ass to deliver a great product or service to a market that wants it badly. But if you want it to be a great brand, it has to be something that you care about. And in order to evaluate opportunities to see if they fit what you believe in, it’s important that you *know* what you believe in.
So write down your mission. Figure out what your values are, what’s important to you. What does your company look like in twenty years? What does your brand stand for over the next century? Arrogant? Sure, a little. But entrepreneurship requires some chutzpah. If you don’t believe in your mission and what you’re doing, why should anyone else?