We help you turn your startup idea into a happy, thriving business

10 steps to happiness in business

We’re at the start of our journey to change the way that startups are built, for the better. We want to give business a better name by creating more purpose-driven companies that measure success in happiness, as well as profits. Our vision is a world with thriving, more sustainable businesses, happier employees and delighted customers.

We strongly believe that if you place happiness at the heart of your business, it will be more successful. Zappos (a $1bn company) and many others have done it and you can too. Follow this path and you’ll have a stronger company culture, a more resilient brand and customers that love you so much they’ll tell their friends. However putting happiness first doesn’t mean that profit isn’t important. In fact it’s the fuel for your mission, the validation of your purpose. A 21st century business is all about passion, purpose, people and profit – what we call the four pillars of a happy startup.

Here we highlight 10 steps you can take to ensure that your startup journey is a happy one, allowing you to align your personal and career goals, meaning both you and your business should flourish.


1. Do what you love, love what you do

Following your true passion and calling will help to give your life real meaning and your business its mojo. We spend most of our waking lives at work so if you’re doing something you don’t enjoy or aren’t passionate about, then it’s time you changed that.

Research points to the fact that happiness leads to success, not the other way round as you may think. Also, study after study tells us once our basic needs are met, money has little impact on our happiness levels. So if you’re holding out for that pay rise or promotion to make you happier, chances are you’ll be disappointed.

The main things that make us happy at work are results and relationships ie. doing great things with people we like, making a difference and having an impact. Doing something you’re passionate about with people you care about, now that’s a life worth living. Even highly successful entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Julie Meyer share the belief that if you follow your true passion, eventually the money will follow. Chase money, and happiness may well elude you.

2. Define your higher purpose

Businesses with a purpose have a real resilience to them, a reason for being. Your purpose is the wind in your sail, it’s why you do what you do, not what you do.

If your purpose in life is solely to make money then it will be a hollow existence – the same applies to business. If a company’s sole purpose is to satisfy shareholders and investors then where’s the fulfilment? What change have you brought to the world other than lining your own pockets? The financial crisis has highlighted what can happen when chasing money is the name of the game.

Progressive leaders now realise that in order to make an impact in the world, businesses should have a higher purpose (also referred to as a ‘purpose of significance’ by our friend and voice on 21st century business, Will McInnes). Your purpose should be driven by a desire to make a difference and change things for the better, however small. Giving your business a clear purpose will add real meaning to your work and help people to rally around your cause.

At the Happy Startup School we live and breath our purpose – namely to help budding entrepreneurs turn their passion into profits. By doing this we firmly believe that we can make a difference and improve happiness for new business owners, their employees and customers alike.


3. Define your core values (and live them!)

Umair Haque, the renowned writer and behavioural economist recently wrote that “we’re on the cusp of a values-driven revolution.” He highlighted that consumers now are much more careful about who they buy from and whether they represent similar values to them. When starting any business it’s vitally important to communicate what your core values are and what you stand for. Think of your core values as those that, when the chips are down, you believe in so much that if you took them away your company would cease to exist. However, don’t just brainstorm some values only to then forget about them – you need to live and abide by them everyday. You values are how you behave not how you would like to.

In order to get people to emotionally attach to your brand, you need to reach them at a deeper level than just features and benefits. As Simon Sinek mentions in his infamous TED talk, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” He highlights the examples of Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King and others to illustrate how the best leaders inspire action by communicating what they believe in and what they stand for. Do this and you’ll create strong bonds with both your customers and colleagues that are hard to break.

4. Make your company feel like a family

If you want to build a business that can survive even in the toughest times, then you should place real importance on creating a strong company culture. Products and services can often be copied but cultures can’t. Your culture is about your people and the environment you create. Create a happy workplace with a focus on shared goals, shared knowledge and mutual respect, and you’ll be on your way to a healthier, more sustainable company.

Companies such as Zappos and Southwest Airlines have created strong cultures by placing a real focus on teamwork and a family spirit. One of the ways they do this is by encouraging people to be themselves at work, blurring the lines between work and family life, which results in happier, more engaged employees. Don’t make your people save the real them for the margins of life, embrace their uniqueness and you’ll have a more human side to your company. Research tells us that people who are happy at work tend to be more productive, better at their job, have better attendance, less absence, stay longer, are more loyal and make customers happier. Invest in your culture and it will pay dividends in the long run and give you some protection should times get tough.


 5. Lead from the ♥

Smart business leaders realise that to get the best out of people you need to treat them like adults. The best leaders inspire the people around them by leading with a credibility gained through a real understanding of the work entailed at all levels. Also conscious business leaders such as Tony Hsieh of Zappos and Ricardo Semler of Semco have a genuine empathy for their employees and care about their welfare. If you are able to listen to any concerns or troubles that any of your team may have (whether business or personal) and strive to help them out in whatever way you can, then they’ll reward you by going the extra mile. It pays to show you care.

6. Hire for attitude, train for skills

A good company culture starts with successful hires. Too many companies make the mistake of hiring people based on their skills and experience, rather than attitude or personality traits. Whilst the former are clearly important in any role, successful cultures are created by getting the balance right, and finding people that are team players and want to help each other (and customers), whatever their position. Even a company as renowned as Pixar, Disney’s animation powerhouse, believes that attitude, not skills, are key to what makes a great Pixar employee.

7. Know and love your customers (and they’ll love you)

Before you launch your business it’s important to really get to know your customers and their world. Ideally you’ll work within a market you know well, but if you don’t, do your research or work with someone that does. The better you understand your customers’ problems and what makes them tick, the better positioned you’ll be to help them (whilst also speaking their language). By knowing how your product or service fits within the context of their daily lives, you’ll be able to create an experience that really resonates with them.

As well as knowing your customers inside out, you really need to care about them too. Ideally you’ll be creating something you’re passionate about for an audience you love doing it for. Companies that are providing great service clearly see the value in looking after their customers, but more often than not actually have a genuine bond with them. Examples include John Lewis, Zappos, Innocent Drinks, moo.com and many more. It’s no surprise to learn that recent studies show that customers receiving an excellent customer experience spend more, more often and bring their friends. This isn’t fluffy, it makes hard business sense.

8. Start with trust

Amazon is a great example of a company that trusts its customers. It knows the potential lifetime value of a customer so it’s not going to risk losing you by refusing to refund an item just because you don’t want it anymore. Zappos has a year-long return period where you can return any item you bought within that period without any questions asked. These companies know that their customers are people, so if you treat them as such, and start with a position of trust, more often than not it will pay dividends over the long run. Trust is key in any successful relationship, so if you trust your customers and they reciprocate this, you’ll have a more sustainable businesses and a loyal customer base.


 9. Happiness first, profits second

Too many companies and small business owners make decisions purely based on what’s best for the balance sheet in the short term. Obviously every business needs to be profitable to succeed, but satisfying the bottom line shouldn’t be your sole focus. If a potential business deal pays well but doesn’t sit well with your values or help fuel your purpose, then have the guts to walk away. Part of the reason for defining your purpose and core values is so that they help you know what’s right and wrong for you and your company. Adding some constraints means you should be able to make decisions more easily. It takes real strength, but if you can sometimes say no even though your finance head says yes, then you’ll feel empowered. Being true to your values results in stronger ties with your team and customers. You’ve been true to your word and this is all too rare in business. But take it from me, sometimes it feels good to say no.

10. Be open, honest and authentic

The new breed of business leader realises that openness and transparency are key to creating brands that fully engage their employees and customers. Social media has changed the landscape for business and meant that leaders have had to learn how to cope with this new era of connectivity and real time information at our fingertips. Communicating honestly with your audience creates a bond that gives your brand authenticity. Even if you have bad news, it’s best to tell it how it is, rather than brush things under the carpet in the hope that it will go away.

Forward-thinking companies such as Semco in Brazil and Nixon McInnes in the UK are leading a wave of democratic workplaces that have openness at the heart of their businesses. They even go as far as open book accounting where everyone knows each other’s salaries and has a say in how the company finances are spent. In fact the organisation WorldBlu is on a mission to have a billion people working in democratic companies, a noble and ambitious purpose if ever there was one.

Hopefully these 10 points have helped you to see how you can work to create a happy company that also fulfils you personally. If you have anything to add, feel free to share this in the comments below!

Starting up is hard.
If you’re looking to start a business at some point this year, keep an eye on our upcoming affordable workshops in Central London, where we’ll be helping corporate escapees stop dreaming and start doing. Drop us a tweet or come for a drink with us to share ideas.

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