Your business as an expression of who you are

What’s been driving me for the past three years is a fascination with people like

  • Steve Jobs
  • Richard Branson
  • Jon Stewart
  • David Heinemeier Hansson
  • Gary Vaynerchuk
  • Tony Hsieh
  • Evan Williams

To me, these are entrepreneurs of a different kind. They’re not copy-cats, they do things differently. They do things their way. There’s a clarity to them. A sense of purpose. A sense of who they are.

And I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and understanding what that thing is.

And I think an important piece is what Steven Pressfield (Legend of Bagger Vance, War of Art) talks about here:

The ancient Greeks believed that souls before their birth–or returning to life after their round beneath the earth–were required to drink from the stream of Lethe. That draught (like the light-flasher in Men in Black) erased all memory of prior existences.

I have a theory that charisma arises from authenticity. When a writer has found his voice, when a singer has discovered her style, they have power. We feel it. It draws us to them. Why? Because we want it too. We want to be ourselves they way they are themselves. One of the reasons animals in the wild are so compelling is that they are entirely themselves. They can’t be otherwise.

There’s something about people who’ve found themselves, that’s so magnetic, attractive, charismatic, compelling.

It’s something you can’t fake. We can tell a fake from a mile away.

It’s not something you can just make up. It has to be real. It has to be who you really are.

And to me, the people on the list above, have built their businesses from that place.

Their businesses are a direct extension of who they are.

Let me give you an example.

Last year I met Tony Hsieh at SXSW in Austin, and I got to spend many hours around him, on his book promo party bus, and later in the night, at his Hilton hotel room. All the while he stayed in the background, just making sure people had the food and the drinks they needed. At the hotel room he’d just lie on the bed with a friend looking at people, apparantly getting joy from watching them have fun.

So take a look at the pattern here:

  • When he sold his first company, LinkExchange, and made $34M, he only spent very little on himself (a flat and a TV and maybe a car), but he did buy a huge apartment where he could throw rave parties for people to have fun and be themselves
  • At Zappos, he succeeded by creating a place where it was safe and encouraged for people to have fun and be themselves
  • At SXSW he hired a bus for people to have fun and be themselves
  • At the hotel room he’d just enjoy watching people have fun and be themselves

Do you see a pattern?

I think creating this place for people to have fun and be themselves is really central to Tony Hsieh. It’s who he is. It’s what he does, because he can’t help it.

And he created his business from that place, being that person, doing his thing.

And it worked.

And it worked, because it wasn’t a strategy. It wasn’t something he’d read in a book or in the Harvard Business Review (zzzz).

He did it because it’s him.

You can’t fake it. It won’t work.

I think all of the people on the list above represents that kind of charisma, that kind of being true to themselves.

Steve Jobs at Apple. Richard Branson with Virgin. Jon Stewart at The Daily Show. David Heinemeier at 37signals. Gary Vaynerchuk at whatever he does now. Tony Hiseh at Zappos. Evan Williams at Twitter.

They are themselves, and their businesses are extensions of who they are.

They do it, not because they think it’s a great strategy, but because their lives are about this. Not necessarily the content. I don’t think Tony Hsieh’s life is about shoes. But his life is about creating that place. It’s in the way they go about their businesses.

It’s not about being opportunistic. Perhaps it started that way. But it’s evolved into something much deeper than that.


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