Keeping a startup ship afloat in Southeast Asia is no easy feat. The rules of the game are only just being written, by a handful of people who are still too weary to drift away to sea. However, the companies that figure it out have one thing in common: the pursuit of purpose, rather than simply the pursuit of profit.
I have habitually said that ours (ServisHero) is a data and purpose driven company. While the former is received with a reassuring nod, I am often greeted with thwarted expressions with the latter. This is because startup businesses not directly adopting the non-profit status are often painted a one-dimensional picture, typically with the notion of scaling and selling as quickly as possible. But focusing on ideals beyond pure profit is the new trend to hit the capitalist streets. A purpose mobilises people in a way that pursuing profits alone never will. And for a company to thrive, it needs to infuse its purpose in all that it does.
But if you were to build a purpose driven company, is there a model to follow? How do you measure success and failure? And more importantly, how do you differentiate the performers from the pretenders?
Build an authentic product
I’m not talking about purpose that has worldwide influence – most companies are a few degrees off from ridding the world of diseases or solving the energy crisis. But that doesn’t mean a neighbourhood mom and pop shop shouldn’t define its company mission and vision. After all, it helps you think about why you are in the business you’re in. What drives you? If your business succeeds, what would your ideal world look like? When a company strives towards an authentic purpose, it is easier to build an authentic product or cater an authentic service because you start asking the right questions. For instance for ServisHero, Our vision of creating a world where jobs are easily discovered and delivered can be achieved by keeping our mission of using data and technology as a solution close to our purpose of empowering small business owners. Once we have defined this, we can understand more clearly the feedback we get from our customers and service providers, and build a product that most efficiently solves their most pressing issues.
I doubt a lot of my colleagues at ServisHero grew up dreaming of one day working with cleaners, plumbers and handymen, but every single one of us was probably in search of a purpose that plugs our potential into powering a better world. The services sector is seemingly unexciting but the solutions we offer are imbued with a higher purpose: to empower small services businesses using technology and data driven insights. And that makes for a very exciting mission to accomplish.
Hire authentic players
I am proud to say that so far we have built a rare value-based culture that focuses on genuine relationships, trusts and our belief in a common mission. What makes our team strong is that each individual is driven by more than personal advancement. They are driven by a genuine desire to have business camaraderie triumph outdated ‘command and control’ management. You can’t force employees to share your purpose. If they don’t believe in your vision, customers will know. It’s better to hire people with a shared sense of purpose. That gives everyone in the organisation a common starting point. And that common resolution is instinctively embedded in everything you do.
Spend some time thinking about the range of values and purposes that fit into your company, and create a process that allows you to gather that data before making a hiring decision. When employees perform tasks that are aligned with their personal values and strengths, those endeavours actually generate more energy and creativity.
Follow an authentic process
Economic value and social value are not mutually exclusive. Sophisticated businesses ought to recognise the concept of shared value: creating economic value while addressing social needs and challenges. One of the ways ServisHero is incorporating shared value into the core of the business is by working closely with other organisations that help uplift small business owners. Our recent partnership with GiatMara (one of Malaysia’s largest vocational training institutes) enables us to provide training to young service professionals not only on how to use our platform to source more leads, but also on industry best practices and proper business conduct. From this we realise that we are just another entity hoping to solve a gigantic task – once we identify key players with whom we can share our learnings, the mission does not seem so monumental. In order to define the process, we need to visit the core of the problem and understand as many pain points faced by our key stakeholders.
Once it was clear that the objective wasn’t to maximise profit but rather to maximise benefit to people and the planet – the process of addressing our own business practices got a lot clearer. And maybe this is what everyone of us needs, a sense that we are in it to serve a purpose that is larger than any one individual. And I hope everyone at ServisHero realises that the little things they do on a daily basis have the capacity to create regional and global impact.
In these unsteady startup waters, I am constantly questioning my every move and preserving my somewhat depleting self-belief. While it goes without saying that businesses must make money to survive, in today’s competitive marketplace for users, customers and talent, a well-defined purpose is a key ingredient that enables a company to thrive.
As seen by me:
Company Name: ServisHero
Location: Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand (for now)
Mission: Use data and technology as a force that helps small service businesses grow
Vision: A seamless world where jobs are easily discovered and delivered
Purpose: Empower small businesses in Southeast Asia (and beyond)
Picture credit: poorlydrawnlines