How entrepreneurs can build a mission-driven business

Imagine a young student from a small town, bursting with potential but faced with the reality of living in a low-opportunity area. This student, despite his ambition, finds the path to top universities and careers littered with barriers. This was my story, and it’s the driving force behind my company, Zero Gravity.

Welcome to the era of mission-driven brands. The startup world is constantly evolving, but a significant shift is placing purpose at the heart of every proposition. And this isn't just a fleeting trend. Building a company now goes beyond crafting innovative products or services. It's about the 'why' – how your business embodies a social purpose and makes a real impact beyond generating returns for investors.

When I started Zero Gravity at 21, I had £200 left from my student loan and my childhood bedroom as my office. My resources were bare but my mission was clear: talent is spread evenly, but opportunity is not. There's immense untapped potential in students from low-opportunity backgrounds – and I founded Zero Gravity to change that. Since then, we’ve powered over 8,000 students from low-opportunity backgrounds into top universities, raised £6 million from social impact investors, and won over 30 awards for our startup growth.

Embedding purpose into your business strategy isn't just about driving change or being altruistic. It's a smart commercial move that ensures your startup stands out. Today's consumers crave brands with authentic missions, not just functional products. So taking a stand transforms your business into a trailblazing brand that people want to be part of.

But how do you actually go about building a mission-driven brand? Here are my top tips for entrepreneurs to focus on purpose, not just product, from day one.

Your brand is more than your visuals

When launching a startup, many founders instinctively focus on creating a visual identity, zeroing in on logos, colours, fonts, and imagery. They often equate their brand with these visual elements. However, a brand is much more than its visual assets; it's fundamentally about the emotional connection people have with it.

Before diving into the aesthetics, start by crafting your brand story. Imagine your brand as a person – not by their appearance, but by their character. Consider their belief system, what they stand for, what drives them, and how they communicate. This perspective helps you develop your brand’s values, mission, core beliefs, tone of voice, and attitude.

Decide what you believe and what you value

Like an individual, a brand embodies a distinct set of core beliefs and values that shape its worldview. Identify and refine these beliefs, and decide which behaviours to champion, as this differentiation is crucial for setting your brand apart.

Avoid generic values like 'compassion,' 'collaboration,' or 'integrity.' Instead, choose values that authentically reflect your unique identity. If your values appeal to everyone, you haven't pinpointed what truly differentiates you.

This principle also applies to your core beliefs. They should illuminate why your perspective on the world is unique compared to your competitors. What do you know that they don’t?

Ladder everything back to your mission

A key step to ensuring purpose is at the core of your startup is to draft a compelling mission statement. This should capture the driving force behind your brand and the reason that ignites your passion each morning.

Make sure your mission statement is clear, concise, jargon-free, and emotionally resonant. It should get to the heart of why your company exists and why it matters to the world. Apply the "pub test": if you can explain your mission simply and compellingly to someone in a pub, you're on the right track.

If you’re struggling, use the "why-how-what" framework. Why do you do what you do? How do you do it? And what does that look like in action? This approach helps articulate a mission that truly resonates.

Shout about your brand story

Once you've developed your brand story and mission, it's time to bring that story to life visually with a memorable logo. But remember, this is just the beginning of communicating your brand’s purpose.

As a small startup, you and your team are the face of the brand. Tell the story of your brand through your own voice and experiences. This creates an authentic connection that people can relate to. By doing this, you make sure your brand isn't just built but also remembered and loved by your audience. Through real and personal storytelling, you create an emotional bond that sets your brand apart and drives its mission forward.

Hire advocates for your mission

Starting a startup often begins as a solo endeavour. However, as you grow, building a strong team becomes essential.

Embracing a clear purpose not only makes your brand compelling but also attracts exceptional talent. When people understand the deeper meaning behind their work, they are more likely to join you on a journey that transcends employment and is anchored in a compelling mission.

When hiring, go beyond assessing if a candidate can fulfil the job requirements. Look for individuals who can champion and embody your brand’s mission. At Zero Gravity, our team’s unwavering commitment to our mission and values has been the cornerstone of our success.

A mission-driven brand isn’t just a label; it’s a powerful force. By having a clear purpose, startups can cut through the noise and form lasting connections with consumers who seek genuine meaning. A compelling mission can be your competitive edge, driving your startup forward and leaving an indelible mark on the world.