Have you ever heard of Simon Sinek’s golden circle?
Starting from the why implies that you originally have a larger vision or calling (e.g. to challenge the status quo), and aim to package that vision into your products (the what). The products are manipulated to fit the why.
Example: Bob, a businessman, had a rough childhood living in poverty, and never had the chance to receive a good education.
He believes that every student deserves the opportunity at a good education, or on a larger scale, that everyone deserves an equal opportunity regardless of background.
Bob lives and breathes this vision feverishly and decides to package this idea into a new, low-cost online schooling business (his product).
Starting from the what is the exact opposite. It implies that you have a product that you want to sell but don’t really have a stable larger vision, so the why is manipulated to fit the what.
Example: Joe, a businessman, is watching the television one day on his couch and his back starts to itch.
With no backscratcher in sight, he experiences extreme discomfort. Joe realizes that this could be a great business opportunity and needs money, so he starts a business selling couch-attachable automatic backscratchers (his product).
After three months, someone comes along and asks Joe why he is doing this. Joe, caught off guard, thinks for awhile, and says that he wants to rid the world of couch dwelling, back-itching discomfort (the why is derived from the what).Apple starts from the why.
Steve Jobs adamantly wanted to challenge the status quo, and packaged that passion into technology products.
His way of challenging the status quo was to sell the idea that computers indeed could be user-friendly in a time when computers were intimidating, ugly hunks of metal.
When starting from the why is done right, it is extremely powerful. Fans, customers, or whatever you want to call your supporters will feel like they are part of a movement, and will stay with you for life.
They will live your brand, breathe your brand, and fight for your brand at all costs because of the vision your brand represents.
People naturally gravitate towards polarizing visions when conveyed with conviction. It makes people feel a certain, unforgettable way.