“We are defined not by what we do but by why we do it. … Businesses need soul, and the why is the soul.” — David Hieatt, co-founder, Hiut Denim
Do you do this one thing well?
Maybe you’ve heard the story of AJ Leon. I hadn’t until I was introduced to him three years ago at a very cold and rainy SXSW event.
AJ described himself as “an unremarkably average financial executive in Manhattan.” It was there he made a six figure income with an “outrageous bonus and a corner office.” But he said there was a little problem. He despised his job. He said he was passionless about his work. And he said, “I hated myself for trading the hours of my life away for more money at every turn.”
Then on December 31, 2007, AJ left his six figure salary, his outrageous bonus, and his Manhattan corner office job. The change wasn’t a vertical move to another company or to have a change of scenery. He said, “it was to stop, once and for all, living some other dude’s life. That day I realized two things. There was more to life than working a job you hate, and more importantly, there was more to me than could ever be expressed in a place with so many rules.”
AJ decided he wanted to travel the world and work on projects that really matter to him. Since leaving his lucrative financial executive job, he his lovely wife Melissa have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles to over 50 countries. They have spent the majority of their time launching projects that truly matter and bringing along “misfits” like myself to be a part of launching humanitarian projects. These projects have raised millions of dollars to help bring real change to people’s lives in places such as Kenya, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Malawi.
We’ve now made it an annual event to get together for a few hours each year at SXSW. It doesn’t take but a split second with AJ and you feel his love and genuineness. He lives his story 24/7 and communicates it very effectively. Watch the following video and you can get a real sense of what I mean.
What are you really selling?
The key to AJ’s success isn’t the book he is selling or the humanitarian projects he promotes. The key is his story. His story is personal and weaved through everything he does. His story draws you in because you feel it, it’s simple, unexpected, it’s concrete, and it has emotion to it that you remember.
Following are some thoughts to ponder:
- Do you matter to your customers and subscribers? Your job isn’t to get people to buy your product or service; your #1 job is to matter to them. One of the ways to do this is to communicate effectively with your customers. The culture AJ has built at Misfits, Inc. permeates that they care and want to make a difference. How do you matter to your customers?
- You need customers to believe in what you do. They need “buy into” what you’re about. Allow your business to help customers express themselves. The reason I feel uplifted when I meet with AJ and Melissa is because they really want to know you.
- How does doing business with you make your customers feel? Are they proud to be doing business with you? Are they inspired by you? Do they “feel” you enable them to fulfill what they were looking for with what you offer?
- Why are we doing this? Focusing on the reason you exist should infuse everything your company does and should drive the design of your business model. Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of The Lego Group said, “A company needs a unique reason to exist to get its strategy right.”
Do you tell your story well?
If your story is memorable the content will follow. Your content though, will never surpass your story. So are you telling a story that will be remembered?
Resources and Acknowledgements
Kickstarter, The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ajleon/the-life-and-times-of-a-remarkable-misfit
Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made to Stick – Random House, 2007
Bernadette Jiwa, The Fortune Cookie Principle: The 20 Keys To A Great Brand Story – The Story Of Telling Press (2013)
Bernadette Jiwa, Difference: The one-page method for reimagining your business and reinventing your marketing – The Story of Telling Press, 2014
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