Why Did You Start Your Business? Know Your Purpose

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Unfair Advantage" by Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why did you start your business? Are you clear on your purpose?

Business startups already have a ton of unknowns. Your business’s purpose shouldn’t be one of them. When you’re clear about the reason you started your business, you’ll be more fulfilled and motivated to stick with it—and your chances of success will go up.

Keep reading to learn more about getting clarity on your business’s purpose.

Your Business’s Purpose

Why did you start your business? An essential element of a successful mindset involves knowing your purpose. As entrepreneurs Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba explain, the startup journey is treacherous and filled with unknowns. If you don’t have a clear and compelling purpose for starting your business, you won’t be motivated to stay the course. Therefore, think carefully about why you’ve chosen to take this route.

(Shortform note: Ali and Kubba assert that it’s important to have a strong, compelling “why” motivating you, but they don’t offer any actionable ways to make this mindset shift. In Goals!, Brian Tracy recommends that you list all the reasons you have for pursuing each of your goals, as the more reasons you have, the more determined you’ll be to push through obstacles. For example, if your goal is to make a six-figure income, your reasons might include providing a comfortable life for your family, being able to save for retirement, and having money to care for your aging parents.)

To motivate yourself, Ali and Kubba recommend setting both self-serving external goals (like earning a certain income or becoming famous) and other-serving internal goals (like trying your best to improve elderly people’s quality of life or to connect college graduates to career opportunities). Self-serving external goals often make you feel good in the short term, and there’s nothing wrong with using them to motivate yourself. However, Ali and Kubba state that you need other-serving internal goals because they give a greater sense of fulfillment that isn’t dependent on external circumstances. In other words, if you’re internally motivated, you’ll feel like a success even if you don’t achieve the outcome you want because you know you’re trying to do the right thing.

(Shortform note: While Ali and Kubba claim that you need other-serving internal goals to motivate yourself and find fulfillment, the Dalai Lama asserts in The Art of Happiness that the only goal you need is the goal to make yourself happy. Like Ali and Kubba, the Dalai Lama acknowledges that external goals only bring fleeting pleasure. However, he claims that our focus should be on finding fulfillment inward, not outward in a grand mission to help others. Although working primarily toward your own happiness may seem selfish, the Dalai Lama points out that training yourself to be happy makes it easier for you to show kindness and generosity to others, adding goodness to the world.)

Ali and Kubba warn against being overly ambitious even when you define your other-serving, inspirational purpose. For example, don’t say you’re going to solve global warming, eliminate the gender wage gap, or become the first trillionaire, as those are completely unrealistic. Instead, identify a purpose that’s ambitious, inspiring, and realistically matches your circumstances.

Are Ambitious Goals Bad?

Ali and Kubba recommend that you avoid setting overly ambitious goals. However, others disagree. For example, in The 10X Rule, Grant Cardone asserts that you need to set lofty, unrealistic “10X” goals because they’ll keep you inspired and motivated to exceed expectations. He says that if you set realistic goals with an average payoff, you’ll likely devote only halfhearted effort because your goals aren’t big enough to inspire you. In Cardone’s view, the more ambitious your goals, the more motivated you’ll be to devote the effort needed to overcome obstacles and succeed.

Similarly, in The Obstacle Is the Way, Ryan Holiday asserts that you must boldly set unreasonably aggressive goals because they’ll energize and inspire you to produce your highest-quality work. Moderate, realistic goals, he says, are based on a fear of failure —people lower their expectations because they assume they’re less capable than they actually are. In effect, goals become self-fulfilling prophecies, so Holiday recommends stretching your vision beyond what feels comfortable. 

Ultimately, everyone is different and will be motivated by different types of goals. Therefore, it might be best to experiment with goals of different levels of ambition to see what works for you. 
Why Did You Start Your Business? Know Your Purpose

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Unfair Advantage summary:

  • The guidebook you need if you're planning to start a business
  • How to find and use your unfair advantages (everybody has some)
  • The steps you must take to achieve startup success

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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