You know that tingling sensation as an entrepreneur when your customer absolutely loves your product? Love needs to run through all your veins of your startup, from you as the leader & founder of this incredible company, your team, your carefully designed and commercialized solution to a customer pain point, your startup culture, and of course, your passion towards impact. Love is a core business strategy for success and scale. The more you love your startup as a leader, the more your team will love working for you & your company, and customers will rave, or love your solution. Love looks like value, it's a chain of reciprocal passion for valuing what is important to a startup. This passion is the catalyst for ongoing positive creativity where innovation emerges and where impact flourishes.
“Love is far greater and far more powerful than just another thing that is one part of a good business – it is the thing that makes all the other things either possible or more powerful.”– Steve Farber.
Love should be a core component of your startup business, as internal strength and as an external factor for tracking success. Let's dive deeper into LOVE. In ancient Greece, there are four (4) different forms of the word, LOVE, and all four have a connectedness to love as a business over the years: (1) eros (“romantic”), (2) storge (“affection”), (3) philia (“friendship”) and (4) agape (“charity”). Philia and Agape are powerful, the heartbeat of a founder's leadership to formulate and lead teams with a servant's heart. Eros is what you feel with your significant other, Storge is the feeling you have for that favorite teddy bear (or for me, that stuffed bunny) that your father, boyfriend, girlfriend, flame, gave you on a special day that you have kept for years. C. S. Lewis wrote about these four forms in 1960 in his book, The Four Loves. Admiringly, for Martin Luther King, the concept of agape was at the core of his assertion that love and nonviolence were essential to remedying America’s race problems.
Don't take it just from me, from the third richest person in the world and nearing 90 years of age, Warren Buffett, the ultimate guru of financial return and true Return on Investment, actually says that his number 1 measure of success is LOVE.
Warren Buffett's measure for success in one word: love
I. Love Creates a Timeless Competitive Advantage
Who wants a sustainable, timeless competitive landscape in a growing global marketplace that is always shifting? At the core of this strategy is LOVE. There are so many facets of sustaining a competitive advantage, so in business terms, love can show up as:
- Creative problem solving because love breads trust
- Employee retention because they love their job
- Collaboration with each other in the startup & others in the network
- A values-aligned corporate culture of reciprocal positivity & recognition of everyone's value
- NPS (Net Promoter Score)
- Passion-filled new business partnerships
- Larger than life feeling towards impact
- Innovation for the greater good
II. A Strong Corporate Culture is a Wide-Spread Love of the Good Work
I absolutely loved the equation given by Steve Farber in his book (I specifically read for this newsletter article) for building a culture of trust and love within a business that is not filled with “kumbaya” moments, but with intentionality and reciprocity. Steve says that “real love includes accountability and sets an expectation of excellence”. He goes on throughout the book to relate the love someone has for their husband and marriage to the type of love that allows for businesses to thrive. That type of love that endures through the heard ships. I also parallel this kind of love to how we raise our children. We love them wholeheartedly, but to create GOOD humans, we need to hold them accountable to the values we have as a family doing GOOD in the world, loving our neighbors, doing honorable work, and contributing to society. There is accountability and reciprocity of trust to sustain a GOOD family. The equation for a successful company, then, stems from all of those principles:
(kindness + high standards = love at work)*values
I just added an exponential of values to create a corporate culture that honors the love the team & leadership have for each other and the customers they serve.
III. Do What you Love in Service of Others
Love should have a chair at the board room table and standing room around the water cooler and be amongst customers at a farmers market.
“The best use of your hands is always love. The best way to see your love is always time. The best time to love is always now.”– Ann Voskamp
IV. Love in Leadership
Love in Leadership is defined as the essence or aroma of a good servant leader. Therefore, first of all, a servant leader must abundantly love. How, you ask, do you do this in a business setting and much less in the startup world? There are so many ways to bring love into the business and startup worlds, though it might be a slightly new angle to think about love than we often do. Foremost, you can have love of different points of view! This is the baseline for developing a diverse and inclusive startup workplace and is the puzzle piece that builds into the larger startup ecosystem. A diverse startup community is a strong and thriving startup community. A love of the uniqueness of humankind must also be embraced. These first two aspects of love are irrespective of a business lens or a personal lens. Then, jumping into the professional setting, loving your work, loving interacting with people on your team and your customers, loving connecting with the greater good of your community, and loving collaborating with others on projects and ideas. There are many ways Love can lead your everyday actions and be a source of servant leadership. Love needs to be louder than anything else. All the other characteristics must spring forth from a heart filled with love.
What love in leadership is not:
- Not easy to microwave, perfectly popped popcorn.
- Not stagnant.
- Not something you can fake
What love in leadership is:
- Love is energetic
- Love is deep, restorative & reflective
- Love is long-term & endearing
- Love is intensional
- Love is a call to self-discovery as a leader of greats.
- Love is trust
V. Do what you love in service of others
Customers want to feel valued, they want to feel loved. When you serve others in that capacity, with an agape love core, your customers will love you back. What is amazing about love is that it multiplies throughout the company so that customer is not only loving you back personally but organizationally. Customers will love what they experience with you or a team member, will see those same values in the intentionality of your products, then they will love you more. This ultimately results in raving customers, who have high customer loyalty and can be promoters of you, helping to gain repeat business with the emerging culture of happiness, love, and values-alignment, which will eventually translate to low employee turnover and high engagement in meetings & other commitments. A prime example of winning customers over with service is Zappos which did this with their free returns policy and other perks focused on an exceptional experience for their customers. “In fact, 81% of companies who provide great customer experiences and customer satisfaction do much better than their competitors, according to the 2009 “Customer Experience Maturity Monitor” report from the Peppers & Rogers Group.” Did you know that on average, it costs 7x more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one? Keep your customers in LOVE with your products and services, make their lives so much better that they depend on what you give them.
Now let's make this lovey-dovey stuff more practical.
How can you increase love in your startup? Today, in honor of Valentine's Day, is a perfect opportunity to give your startup a little TLC, a virtual box of chocolates, some love, and help your business scale from taking the passion you used to launch and leverage strengths within the startup to plan & execute in the next year. This can look like thanking the team by buying a round of coffees or expressing appreciation to the customers who use your products with a love coupon code. Here are the top 10 ways to do just that, from easy small daily steps to longer systemic change within your startup:
- Create a powerful love flow. This is taken from my new favorite book, Love is just Damn Good Business by Steve Farber. The flow can go like this: you love your startup, you lead with agape love (in service to others), you build products your customers love, your team loves each other because of alignment of good values and the customers they serve, and customers will engage and talk the love language of making their lives better because of the product that others start loving the startup and all that it represents.
“Do ordinary things with extraordinary love”– Mother Theresa
- Listen to your customer even more. Are you talking to your customers consistently and listening to them in their own way and asking for feedback in a digestible way for your to make pivots & decisions that are customer-centric? This all returns on impact. If your customer loves your product, but when you ask them, you find out they don’t like that the packaging is not recyclable, you can do something about that to make every step match the values of your business and your clients and community.
- Take time in polishing your strengths as a leader, your teams and your startup. Take a look around and polish strengths instead of finding gaps. Identify and communicate the strengths everyone brings naturally. An easy way is to have everyone take a Gallup's strengthsfinders analysis. I have found that even if they had already done strengths finders or other tests, they appreciate the exercise to know what they are feeling at the moment. Then, connect the entire experience by making a grid of strengths for the team, showcasing those who are stronger in relationship-building and those that are more operational. Then, when they are working together, they can lean on each other's strengths continually. It becomes a habit if you can refer back to the grid to see who can help you in a particular instance.
- Be a bit more pro-happiness. Embracing a happy mentality sends messages to your brain to love what you do and to find joy and contentment even if you hate your job. You will undoubtedly get to a state of happiness, then find what you love to do. This type of thought process has been dinged to be more “surfacey” instead of deep and sustainable, but in general, individuals and teams would opt to be happy than unhappy. I was transformed when I read the book, The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. About giving positive reviews of a restaurant or a circumstance, she says, “Giving positive reviews requires humility. I have to admit, I missed the feelings of superiority that I got from using puncturing humor, sarcasm, ironic asides, cynical comments, and cutting remarks. A willingness to be pleased requires modesty and even innocence — easy to deride as mawkish and sentimental.” Brilliant. This is a micro event you can change on a daily basis to embrace happiness just a bit more to find true love in the work you and others do.
- Find more balance in your everyday. Recite your gratitude list every day, walk outside, draw something, find a couple of more minutes of exercise, or stay more hydrated. This balance is hard to come by in a world where hustle and bustle, over-scheduling, and 12-hr days are somehow applauded. Find a way to be grateful for the little things, for just being, for your team mats for activities and events you have planned that bring you JOY. This simple reflective practice of gratitude will change your minds, your heart and your actions.
- Show employees that they are valued. From an email letting them know how proud you are of their accomplishments to setting up a bonus incentive plan or carving out a couple of more dollars for professional development, expressive your gratitude for your employees’ value to the company and culture makes all the difference. Other people matter. Indicate safety and connectivity with others by reaching out and letting them know they matter. This may be a hand-written note to showcase not only the eloquent words you write but the TIME you spent writing it out. Touch is a magical thing as well, warmth and universal connection. Sense of commonality can be even shared through a simple smile – and that can be done through zoom or a meeting. Quickly energize the social space around us. This can also communicate acceptance, a sense of belonging. I absolutely LOVE this video of Dr. Angel Fredrickson talking about positive love and connection through micro-moments for human health.
- Continue to learn & stay curious. Listen to podcasts, read articles, attend a virtual seminar, carve out the time. As an entrepreneur, it’s important that you never stop learning. Having a thirst for knowledge and innovation will allow for you to truly continue doing what you love which will lead to a lifelong commitment to creativity and joy.
- Grow your emotional bank accounts by making more deposits than withdrawals. Just like a real bank account, you need to deposit more than you withdraw to stay healthy. Marriage expert John Gottman asserts that when we appreciate and authentically connect with our team and clients, we’re making deposits. When we turn away, we’re making a withdrawal. Barbara Frederickson, professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, suggests aiming for a 3:1 ratio of deposits to withdrawals. Positive psychology researchers and insights have all come from the genesis of the field with Christoper Peterson (1950 – 2012). Dr. Frederickson states that 80% of Americans fall short of the 3-to-1 positivity ratio that predicts flourishing. We have some work to do and it takes only one person at a time exemplifying the deposits to have a catalyst effect.
- Make positive requests. For startups, especially, being aware of positivity within a board room (or zoom room ) with a potential investor or dealing with the growing pains of a scaling business, staying positive goes a long way in sharing love. This also goes back to promotion-focused questions that should be based of founders from investors instead of prevention-focused (see one of my former newsletters), so that better discussions are had and more investments get into the hands of deserving founders. The research of Dr. Frederickson continues in the theories of positivity, in her book, Positivity. The brain is a powerful thing. As she mentions, “experiencing positive emotions broadens people's minds and builds their resourcefulness …. thus creating a healthier, more vibrant, and flourishing life.” Dr. Frederickson even has a Positivity Ratio calculator on her website, “your score provides a snapshot of how your emotions of the past day combine to create your positivity ratio.”
- Acknowledge emotions & understand needs. Humans being emotions into everything we do, and esp in the startup world where our companies are an extension of our passions and deep desire to solve a problem, emotions are here. But we also need to understand the needs of our own wants and desires as well as our teams. Here is a needs inventory that can help gain insight: Needs Inventory | Center for Nonviolent Communication
Often, when it comes to startup scale & leadership success, all you need is love. As Steve Farber drives home in his book, Love is Just Damn Good Business, “Do what you love in service of people who love what they do”. Agape love shines in ways you have no idea it does because when you serve others, magic occurs. As a startup founder, you inspire others to e the best they can be, as a team, you develop incredible products that serve a need for your customers and your market, and as a community, we can serve others in time of need. Take the love challenge, today and every day.
My Favorite References:
Steve Farber & the book Love is Just Damn Good Business. https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/45421250-love-is-just-damn-good-business
Gretchen Rubin & The Happiness Project. https://gretchenrubin.com/books/the-happiness-project/about-the-book/