A cult brand has customers with an almost religious devotion to a philosophy and set of values. Cult brands earn irrationally high prices and margins, keep their clients for long periods of time and have an eager audience ready to consume whatever it offers with a high tolerance of error. Every cult brand has a unique promise and premise at its core, resistant to duplication, hewn from the lives of its creators and perpetuated by its community. Everyone has an interesting origin story. What's yours?
I started my coaching business over 23 years ago–in a Starbucks over $5 lattes. I needed to meet my first prospective coaching client somewhere, and without an office or even a business card, I instinctively chose to meet him at the coffee shop across the road from where I went to high school.
My guidance counsellor could not have known that coaching was a good career choice for me: it didn't exist as a profession when I selected my path. Instead I became and industrial designer. I discovered the coaching quite by accident after a very bad decision by my very large and only client triggered a personal bankruptcy and divorce. I was looking for a deeper purpose and a way to make sense of my life. And I found it.
It's what you don't know about yourself that tends to hold you back and what you think is true that isn't.
I signed up for a personal growth course after learning that the founder of the company, Randy Revell, had started out in venture capital in the Valley in the 70s. By doing due diligence on hundreds of deals, he came to the conclusion that the most successful entrepreneurs were the ones who knew themselves the best. It was from Randy and his brother-in-law and my future coach Phil that I would get exposure to a self-awareness and consciousness technology that I could use to help entrepreneurs make better decisions and behave as better leaders.I paid a heavy price for my blindspots. Coaching seemed like a great way to make a difference and save people from their struggles and suffering.
When I met someone in that Starbucks, which I did a lot in the first few years, I always went to the Bank of Montreal first to withdraw cash to pay for the lattes. The energy in the bank always sucked and the tellers always looked half-dead and uninspired. In time, I noticed a stark difference between how the bank felt and how the Starbucks felt with its bright and lively energy and attentive barristas serving super expensive beverages we were all happy to pay a premium for. The space was perfect for connecting with new and not-so-new prospects, clients and colleagues.
Cult brands are founded with a unique philosophy, enduring values and a compelling origin story.
While writing my first book, Higher Purpose Higher Profit, I read the memoir by Howard Schultz, Pour Your heart Into It, detailing his rise and the founding of Starbucks. Growing up, Howard never really fit in or had a place he could go where felt like he belonged. Regardless of what you might think of the coffee itself, he clearly created a place (a great many of them) where people would go to connect. I think it was the sense of belonging and community that really justified a premium price, just as people were yearning for a third place to go other than home and work.
Randy Revell said that, "the calling springs forth from the wound". This is the great irony of life. He inspired my life's work without fulfilling his. I started my coaching business to help people make better decisions after a single bad decision cost me everything. I built my coaching community in a space provided by another man who never really felt like he was a part of one. We add value in the very places in the world where we've experienced the greatest destruction of value. The very personal suffering and struggles of the entrepreneurs are the very things that lead to premium value for customers.
Passion drives a cult following and passion originates in suffering and struggle.