April 24, 2020

True North: The Secret to a Successful and Aligned Tech Startup

Michel Gagnon
Michel Gagnon
CEO of Stun&Awe

In the middle of firefights and as you tirelessly work to bring your company forward, it’s often easy to get lost. A few months ago, someone on the team said:

“Why are we doing all this for? It’s no longer clear to me where we’re going.”

That’s OK. That’s normal. Every now and then, you or people on your team will lose sight of what we call at Stun and Awe, your True North. It’s the destination or ultimate end state that you want for your business.

That’s why it’s crucial to:

  • Have a clear True North defined in the first place
  • Communicate it constantly

In times of crisis, I wanted to share part of our very own True North to help you stay on track as you progress on your journey.

Why the Heck Are We Doing this

Our True North plan is a simple two-pager. It starts with our purpose or what Simon Sinek calls our why. Our key reason for getting up in the morning (apart from having to feed the kids:)) is to transform businesses into designers of positive change.

We want to help tech startups build effective businesses that are profitable and sustainable and that ultimately create a positive impact in the world.

It’s not meant to be a nice statement that you hang on a wall. That simple statement implies that there’s a lot of companies we will not work with. No let’s-make-loads-of-money-and-screw-the-rest type of businesses. No gimmicks. No startups selling dumb apps and trying to monetize them.

How We Behave Along the Way

Once we know our why, we need to know how we will behave along the way. How are we going to face a crisis, like the one we’re going through right now? How are we going to work together and treat each other? This is where your values come into play.

A crisis gives you the opportunity to discover the true nature of individuals and organizations. When shit hits the fan, you realize who your true friends are. Make sure that your values are aligned with who you really are so that you can stick to them in tough times.

Showing off values that you can’t uphold is what phonies do.

At Stun and Awe, there’re a few things we live by and believe in:

  • Aiming high and challenging the status quo are the only way to build something meaningful
  • Collaboration & diversity create better solutions and help solve big problems
  • Being authentic is the first step to building true relationships
  • Life is too short not to let our creativity go free
  • Since the world constantly change, we must constantly learn

What are your values?

Committing to Something Bigger

We love the operational part of running a business. Reviewing our company scorecard, optimizing conversions, strategizing on a new product. But we also believe tech startups should be agents of change.

Our True North two-pager also includes the causes that we want to contribute to. In our case, we decided to align them to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The SDGs cover a series of challenges that, if properly addressed, will help “achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”

Based on our individual beliefs and on Stun and Awe’s expertise, we chose to focus on three key goals:

  • GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality
  • GOAL 13: Climate Action
  • GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal

Once you know where you want to make a difference, there are plenty of ways to act. You can donate a portion of your revenues, offer pro bono expertise to NGOs, make your operations more sustainable or partner with other organizations.

Getting Crystal Clear on Who You Serve

Our True North is not just about purpose, values, and contributions. Like Rocky would say: “the world ain't all sunshine and rainbows”. It’s also about building an effective business. To do that, you need to get crystal clear on who you want to serve.

The second part of our two-pager focuses on your target market, offer, and brand promise. Many startups make the mistake of targeting a very broad range of potential customers. It’s the constant fear of missing out. But too much is like not enough. Trying to be everything to everybody is a sure way to fail, both in life and in business. I’m sure someone said that somewhere.

Of course, it’s OK to pivot and adapt based on the feedback and traction you get from the market. Focusing on a well defined niche or personas will still get you better results.

At Stun and Awe, we target :

  • Tech startups with 15-200 employees who face challenges with their performance and impact
  • They are looking for different ways to lead and run their business
  • They are open minded, coachable, and forward-looking

We target tech companies because that’s what we know best. And we want to help people who want to get helped and who are open to new ideas. We’ve learned the hard way that trying to win the wrong client never pays off both financially and spiritually. Amen.

What’s in it for Them

Once you know who you are targeting and what their problems are, it’s time to define your offer and brand promise. We help startup leaders build effective, human-centered, and sustainable companies by offering a few products and services, such as:

  • Learning experience with online courses and coaching
  • Design thinking consulting
  • Business management and problem-solving tools

If you’re not familiar with the concept of brand promise, it’s not meant to be another fancy business buzzword. A nice way to think about it is simply to see it as the experience your customer should expect to have every time they interact with you.

Apple’s brand promise is “Think Different”. You may like or dislike the company, but it has been quite consistent with this brand promise across its products, services, and stores. Everything they have introduced was different. Their beautifully designed products. The simplicity of its UX. The revolution they brought to the retail experience.

At Stun and Awe, our brand promise is a bit longer, but still straightforward: Unconventional thinking. Creative solutions. Impactful actions.

Transform your ambitions into reality

Having grand aspirations is a good starting point. Achieving them is a lot more fulfilling. As Anthony Robbins once wrote: “If you talk about it, it's a dream, if you envision it, it's possible, but if you schedule it, it's real.

I’ve seen many strategies that were so far away from the teams’ day-to-day tasks. You need something in between the two.

On the second page of our True North, we define top three-year and one-year goals and how we intend to achieve them. This is where aspirations turn into action. That’s where you decide the top initiatives you need to launch to get to where you want to go.

The final step is to communicate relentlessly. We all get caught up in our daily hustles once in a while and forget about our True North.

The beauty of our True North is it’s simplicity. Easy to understand. Easy to communicate.

If you want to build an effective, human-centered, and sustainable company, make sure you and your team don’t lose sight of the destination.

Speed Up your Progress

If you’ve been struggling with defining your True North and keeping your team aligned, our Growth Leap online courses may be the help you’re looking for. Our Module on Strategy guides you in developing your own True North and shows you the actionable tools we’ve developed to run a high-performing startup aligned with your values.