As I sit down to write this, Gauge is approaching our tenth anniversary. Nearly a decade ago, my co-founder and I set up a desk in his dining room and plunged into this big idea we called Gauge. Since that day, we’ve worked hard to pinpoint and communicate our ultimate end goal. What is Gauge’s product, and what is our purpose? What do we actually provide to our clients? Why does Gauge exist?
Leaders like Jim Collins and Patrick Lencioni call the answer to these questions a “core purpose.” A core purpose is an organization’s philosophical heartbeat. From it flows the lifeblood of the organization; it drives, nourishes, and animates every aspect of the business. It’s not a mission statement, which states how the core purpose will be fulfilled, or a vision, which communicates what the company will look like years down the road. A core purpose is an ideal that doesn’t change over time. It’s the organization’s fundamental reason for existing.
Defining Our Purpose
Any business owner can tell you that uncovering your why takes self-discovery and deep reflection. This process can take years, especially in a service-based business like ours. We don’t manufacture products or sell software; most of what we do is intangible, subjective and ethereal. So articulating Gauge’s why in a succinct, powerful phrase has required many iterations and refinements.
We’ve learned a lot through this refining process. A core purpose must be real and authentic, vividly present from Day One to today. As a business owner or founder, your organization’s core purpose must also be a part of who you are. Uncovering these fundamentals requires an interesting exploration of both yourself and your industry. It’s both deeply personal and commercially valuable. In fact, that’s what gives it so much power.
We’ve distilled our reason for existence down to a short phrase:
“We exist to build trust and transformation”
So what does that mean?
Let’s start with the personal implications
To answer Gauge’s why, us and our team spent a lot of time brainstorming, researching, and having many honest, frank discussions with each other. We realized we needed to go back to the beginning—back to Day One. Why did we start the company? What was the real reason, in its most basic terms?
Of course, the surface motivations came to mind first. We had bills to pay, and we share a passion for elegant functionality, beautiful design and we love working in the ever-changing environment of eCommerce. But to define our core purpose we had to go beyond the surface, to identify what actually creates a sense of deep personal fulfillment. What makes us happy? Over the past ten years, what has thrilled us and taken us to great heights? What patterns show up in our darkest lows?
Refining Our Purpose
In the past, we’ve said “We exist to do great work.” But we’ve recently realized that great work is only half of the equation. We could create dozens of brilliant, award-winning sites, but if we don’t have great clients using those sites in meaningful ways, the work means nothing.
Likewise, doing great work in pursuit of the wrong goals can leave us feeling pretty crappy. You can customize the sleekest, sexiest convertible in the world with all the luxury options, but if you need to haul a trailer or bring your newborn home from the hospital, that convertible will be useless. In other words, we realized there’s no right way to do the wrong thing.
What truly drives our personal fulfillment is building trusting relationships.
The Root: Building Trust
Effective, high-quality work is certainly a major prerequisite for accomplishing that purpose. When we use our skills and expertise to identify and then deliver what the client needs, we lay the foundation for mutual trust and meaningful connections.
As humans, we are deeply driven by our desire for meaningful connections. That’s why we bristle when we hear people refer to Gauge as a vendor. Healthy, successful business requires far more than dropping coins in until the product falls out. Our partnerships aren’t simple transactions—there is so much more to a successful business relationship.
This is especially true in our modern age of interconnection. We’re sharing information at an unprecedented rate. What used to take years to discover—the history of that little diner on the corner; a new colleague’s interests or skills; your favorite author’s favorite authors—is now accessible immediately. Why? Because humans are driven by a need to connect.
The Result: Transformation
At Gauge, we start by focusing on that personal connection. When we encounter a prospective client, our first goal is to build a trusting personal and business relationship. Through these connections, we elevate the dynamic from a client/vendor transaction to a partner/partner relationship.
As we work with our client partners, we build on this foundation of trust through empathy, understanding, effective execution, long-term vision, and careful planning. The result is an amazing business transformation.
When our team reflects on past projects and relationships, it’s easy to see the power of this trust. Our favorite experiences and projects—the ones that are the most fun and leave the biggest impact on us—are the ones where we had a positive and collaborative client-partner relationship, hit the nail on the head, addressed the right issues with the right solutions, and engineered an amazing return for our partner.
Because we personally connected to our client partners and built on a foundation of mutual trust, we provided a radical transformation.
A Perpetual Cycle
Everybody loves a tale of radical transformation. We can see this at play in the media we enjoy on a daily basis. So many storylines revolve around some sort of transformation: The classic rags-to-riches story. The dynamic fitness and weight loss journey. The couple working through everything life throws at them to find and sustain love over decades.
Transformation narratives touch something deep and compelling inside us. When we walk the road to transformation with our partners, we become even more connected. The trust roots sink deeper, and they feed even more transformation. And we feel a sense of great personal fulfillment.
Now the commercial motivations.
Over the years, we’ve learned that no great business can be built on robotic transactions. That doesn’t work for eCommerce businesses, and it doesn’t work for service organizations. Heart must be involved.
Our potential clients want much more than a new eCommerce store or a migration to a new shopping cart. They aren’t shopping for lines of code. What they want is a specific result—trust and transformation. When choosing an agency, our potential clients may assess many factors, but underlying each is the big question: Can this organization effectively provide trust and transformation?
So although we offer many services and take on a wide variety of projects, at the end of the day, trust and transformation must be our core products. If those are what our clients truly value and want to purchase, everything about Gauge must be engineered to provide them.
The fact that we also desire the same thing makes this an epically impactful combination. It hits a very powerful sweet spot. We’ve realized that when we challenge ourselves to dominate the industry by providing trust and transformation, it has a compelling positive effect on our bottom line. In other words, that dog will hunt!
It’s just good business.
How are we putting these ideas into action?
Although we’ve only recently articulated this statement, the principle has existed at Gauge since Day One. This idea has formed a powerful foundation that has influenced every business decision we make. Here are just a few examples of how we’ve put trust and transformation into action.
Not long ago a friend of mine (thanks Erik!) introduced me to a book called Implementing Value Pricing: A Radical Business Model For Professional Firms. As the title suggests, it’s a juggernaut of a book, but the ideas, philosophies, and practices it contains haves reframed how we see our business. It’s changed our entire business model.
Unlike the industry-standard hourly billing model, value pricing is centered on the client-partner and what they value most. Every client values something subjective and unique. In order to create true trust and transformation, we must uncover what that is for each client and work hard to achieve it. Doing this effectively creates a transformation that would not be possible in an hourly billing transaction.
This intense focus on what the client-partner values and the final results they need, made perfect sense to us. It aligns with our mission and vision, so we grabbed the idea and ran with it. We made the shift from hourly billing to value pricing, and we’ll never go back.
Another big idea at Gauge is being a “leader leader.” This is a powerful idea championed by L. David Marquette in his book Turn The Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders. In it, this retired Navy submarine captain describes his leadership journey and outlines his philosophy of being a leader of leaders. He wanted to train each sailor under his charge to be a leader, so he built a system that empowered even the lowest ranking sailor on his ship to make leadership decisions and drive innovation within their area of expertise. Thus, he became a “leader leader.”
This type of relationship is the perfect example of trust leading to powerful transformation. We share Marquette’s vision of helping each team member become a leader. That can only happen by trusting each member of our team to make leadership decisions within their role. Whether those decisions lead to success or failure, they always produce personal growth and long-term transformation.
Turn The Ship Around! is required reading for each new team member at Gauge. It’s a principle we’ve intentionally built into our culture, and we see its fruit in every one of our team members.
These are just two examples of how our core purpose plays out in practical ways. We work hard to align ourselves with the goal of providing trust and transformation for our clients, our team and ourselves each day. We can easily see this thread running through almost everything we do.
As we look forward as a company, I’m excited at some of our innovative ideas for the future. We are striving to create products and services which multiply trust and transformation in new and powerful ways, and I can’t wait to see how it all comes together. Day by day, we are building our company on a very strong foundation.
What are some powerful examples of trust and transformation in your life and business? Are there any areas of your eCommerce operation that could really benefit from trust and transformation? We would love to have you become a part of this story.