Whether you're a CEO or a new hire, sometimes we all spend too much time focused on (A) the products and services we offer rather than (b) 'why' our business actually exists. More than six years after co-launching Nine Lives Media (now owned by Penton) and MSPmentor, I've spent recent weeks thinking about our team's 'why.' If you embark on a similar journey, I suspect you'll create a laser-like focus that leads your business and team to success -- or at least provides clarity as you work through a new business challenge or opportunity. Here's why (pun intended).

The book Start With Why, by Simon Sinek, sparked this blog entry. Sinek was IT Nation 2013's keynote speaker, focusing most of his stage time on 'trust': If you trust your co-worker and your employer, you're more likely to do great work and to remain upbeat even during challenging times.

Focus on "Why" Before "What" and "How"

Sinek also touched on the 'Why' theme, which goes something like this:

  • When seeking focus and success, most businesses start with (A) what they produce or (B) how they produce it.
  • Sinek argues that the smarter approach is to Determine 'Why' Your Business Even Exists in the first place.

A prime example: ConnectWise produces business management software for IT service providers, both on premises and in the cloud. The company also runs the IT Nation conference and regional user groups. But that's not 'Why' ConnectWise exists. According to CEO Arnie Bellini:

"Our 'Why' is partner success. Period. That's what we do. We're obsessed with it."

Everything else ConnectWise does -- education, applications, new features, consulting and more -- reinforces the Why. "If you make 'Revenue Growth' your 'Why,' you'll be doomed because you'll be heartless and have no culture," Bellini asserts.

Why Microsoft, Apple and Disney Got Started

Some other examples of 'Why' companies -- some of which lost their way:

  • Microsoft's original Why, under Bill Gates: To make technology accessible to everyone. But under current CEO Steve Ballmer, Microsoft was more obsessed with protecting its installed base rather than expanding its technology through iOS, Android, Linux and other standards...
  • Apple's original Why, under Steve Jobs: Challenge the status quo and offer individuals simpler alternatives. But so far under CEO Tim Cook, Apple has been protecting its status-quo platforms like iOS and iTunes.
  • Disney's Why: To promote good, clean family fun. This remains true even today -- though brands like Buena Vista and Marvel have pushed the company a bit into the PG-13 and R territory...

So What Is Our Why?

When Amy Katz and I co-founded Nine Lives Media in 2008, we spoke often about a simple mission: Disrupt traditional IT media and define emerging IT media. That's it... but now that I really think about it, disrupt and define was our 'What.' It's what we did.

Our 'Why' -- the reason we exist -- is far more simplistic: We empower and network early adopters. Perhaps the reason is because we're early adopters as well -- jumping on WordPress, blogs, video, subscription-based online advertising and marketing, and more before major IT media companies woke up to the disruption.

We used our media brands (The VAR Guy, Talkin' Cloud and MSPmentor) to stir conversations about open source, unified communications, PSA, RMM, BDR, IaaS, recurring revenue models and more. And as each new technology or business wave came along, we kept empowering the early adopters with business and technology guidance, discussions, opinions -- and reader-to-reader introductions.

Now, An Even Bigger "Why"

In mid-2011, Penton acquired our company. We've continued to grow under Amy's leadership while expanding our content and sales teams (special thanks to Charlene O'Hanlon, Jessica Davis, CJ Arlotta, Kelly Danziger and Debbie Kane).

If you look at our sister brands here at Penton (communities like Windows IT Pro, Windows SuperSite and myITforum, among others), you'll find the same 'Why' in action -- We empower and network early adopters. The 'Why' dates back to when Windows IT Pro was actually Windows NT Magazine, which launched in 1995 before Microsoft's server and workstation OS went mainstream.

Check those Penton brands today, and you'll see the content teams empowering readers -- developers and IT professionals -- for Windows Azure, Office 365, and a range of emerging mobile, cloud and IT management platforms.

What's Your Why?

As an MSP, what's your why? Find it and stick with it -- especially if you're about to undergoe a CEO, leadership or ownership change.

Apple and Microsoft lost track of their 'Why' focus during leadership transitions, Sinek alleges. I tend to agree with him. Consider yourself warned -- or empowered -- and go find your company's Why.