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Have you ever heard the phrase, “What comes first, the chicken or the egg?”

It’s a silly question based on the idea that a chicken has to lay an egg in order for there to be an egg, but the chicken has to come from an egg at some point.

We often do the same thing when trying to figure out what we want our businesses to be.

Some people start with who they want to help and figure out how to do that later, while others start with what they want to do and then figure out who they can help with that.

In today’s episode we’ll look at both paths and how to go about pursuing one if you start with the other.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • If you change your “who” or your “what”, add the change to your story.
  • Combining your “what” and your “who” results in an impactful legacy.
  • Find a place for your “who” and your “what” to converge—that’s where your brand finds harmony and clarity.
  • You can be passionate about multiple types of people, things, skills, or talents.
  • Curation is not a limit—it gets you in the right position to understand where your “who” and what cross paths.
  • There are hardly any limits on how you can help people once you know who you want to help.
  • You’ll find success when you collide your “what” with a love for people.
  • If there’s something you’re interested in doing and you don’t know who it’s for yet, explore that.
Show Notes
  • 04:58 Cory: You’ve heard of this term, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
  • 05:16 Kyle: The chicken.
  • 05:18 Cory: Well, where did the chicken come from?
  • 05:20 Kyle: The chicken was created.
  • 05:22 Cory: From the egg.
  • 05:23 Kyle: We’re getting into a deep discussion here, Cory.
  • 05:25 Cory: That’s a deep discussion. I want to get to the term, though—the idea of what comes first. In the scale of time, what enters the scene first? In this case, for today’s show, we’re talking about the who or the what. As an explanation of what those mean, the who is who you’re doing what you do for and the what is what you do.
  • 06:03 For example, if you’re a film maker, your “what” is that you make films, you create music videos, or you do wedding videography. The who would be your target audience, target market, target customer, or a group of people or a specific person you want to help. It’s someone you want to see have a better life or solve a problem for. That would be the who.
  • 06:38 The question we want to dive into today is, which do you sort out first? Do you focus on developing the what first, focusing on what you want to do—what are your skills, what are your talents, what are the things you’re passionate about? Do you start there, or do you start with someone in mind? Do you pinpoint a kind of person you want to help, that you want to see have a better life, that has a problem that you can solve? Do you start there?

Who & What

  • 07:24 Kyle: This is an interesting topic, because ever since you brought it up, Cory, I’ve been thinking about both directions, someone who starts with what or someone who starts with who. You have an example of this, right?
  • 07:38 Cory: I do. Let’s be real here. If you’ve listened to the show at any length, you know that I’m not very good at math. Any time I start saying, “Let’s do the math here,” people start saying, “No, don’t do that, stop, that’s a problem.” We just don’t go there. The other thing in school that I’m not that amazing at is history, but I love history. I love reading about it and studying it.
  • 08:18 I love seeing how the world has come to be through the actions of people. One of my favorite historical figures is a guy named Arthur Guinness. As a little bit of historical background, Arthur Guinness was born in the early 1700s, but no one knows his exact date of birth. It was about 1725. He was an Irishman here in Ireland, and he was hired as a manager to another guy, named Arthur Price, who was the archbishop of Cashel.
  • 08:57 In Arthur Guinness’ off time, his side hustle, he brewed ale. The guy he worked for, Price, had a bunch of equipment he used to brew ale. When Arthur Price died, he left Arthur Guinness and his son 100 pounds, which, at the time, was quite a lot of money. With that money, they leased a brewery in Leixlip, which is another village here in Dublin. Arthur Guinness had this interest in brewing beer. He had this craft, he was doing this side hustle, and as I was studying about Arthur a couple of years ago, I found out that he believed that low quality liquor, especially gin at that time that was circulating, was destroying the health of the lower classes of Ireland.
  • 10:05 This was in the early to mid 1700s, when he lived. They couldn’t afford to get anything higher quality than this gross stuff. He wanted to create a beer, an alcohol, that was high quality and actually had nutritional value to it. He wanted to bring around a healthier form of alcohol to anybody, not just to those who could afford to pay in the higher brackets. He has an incredible legacy that I don’t have time to go into completely.
  • 10:48 His employees were paid higher wages, among some of the highest of the time. They had pensions, they had health insurance. His legacy is incredible. Guinness is brewed and shipped around the world. Currently, 2016 and still to date, the Guinness Storehouse here in Dublin at St. James’s Gate is the leading tourist attraction in Europe. When I look at Arthur Guinness and I study what he’s done, I ask that question—which came first?
  • 11:24 Brewing beer and developing that, or who he was doing it for? No one really knows, but I think it came from a culmination of both. It came from an interest in brewing, which was a hobby he enjoyed doing, and his care for his people. Each one fed the other and resulted in an impactful legacy and a really delicious beer, in my personal opinion. That’s an interesting story that I want to use to highlight an aspect of this whole conversation. There isn’t necessarily one answer to this question about which comes first, the who or the what.
  • 12:15 I don’t think it works the exact same way for every single person. However, if you want to find the best route, it’s finding a culmination of those two things. If you only focus on what you do and you just throw it out there—you grab a handful of spaghetti and you throw it at the wall to see what sticks—that’s not going to do a lot. But if you only focus on the who and you don’t have the skill, talent, or ability to help them, or if you don’t have any level of passion for what you’re doing and you say, “I want to help those people, but I don’t really know what I’m doing and I’m not really passionate about it,” you’re not actually going to have the greatest amount of impact. If you combine the two, there’s a culmination of being passionate about the people you want to help and being passionate about what you do—your skill, talents, interest, and passion.

When you combine your “what” and your “who”, that results in an impactful legacy.

  • 13:21 Kyle: It’s really interesting to look at who vs. what. Like you said, Cory, there’s this combination of the two that works really, really well. Often, that’s what we’re missing. If things aren’t going the direction you want them to with your brand or in life in general, there’s a piece missing. To give you an example from my own background, I started making things because I enjoyed making them.
  • 14:00 I started working with CGI animation work, and eventually that progressed into logos, and then it progressed into other things. At the heart of it, I just wanted to create. That was the what. I started with the what. I knew that I liked to do this thing and I knew that I enjoyed it. It wasn’t until much later that I figured out that I’m creating these things and maybe I’m at a certain skill level, but I don’t know who I’m making these things for.
  • 14:33 I don’t have someone I’m trying to help, even though in my mind, especially when I started working on icons and got into the user interface world, I realized that there was a gap there. I was trying to learn about icons and I couldn’t find any good resources for that. I was searching everywhere and I knew there was a gap there, so I sort of began to understand who I wanted to help and who I wanted to attract to the services I have.
  • 15:06 All of the things fell into place once I started to understand who. For some people, it can go the opposite direction. They want to help someone in Africa get water to their village, because they go there, they visit, they notice that they don’t have water, so they go on this mission to figure out how to get water to this village. Then it becomes, what do we need to do from there?
  • 15:41 I think that can definitely go either direction, as far as how you start. What and who are kind of similar—they’re both the thing you start with, the idea with which you begin. That idea could either be, “I really enjoy wood working,” so you start making tables for a specific type of audience. Or it could start with, “I know people who need tables,” so you then begin learning to make tables.

Changing Your “What” or Your “Who”

  • 16:15 Cory: Do you think either of those things, the who and the what, can change? If so, how do you deal with that change going forward? Let’s say I know what I want to do and I have a group of people that I think I want to help, but as you go down the road, you realize, “Actually, I’m not passionate about this type of person. I’m passionate about this other type of person.” How do you combine that together and say, “Now I have this new perspective and I think I want to shift my brand in this direction”?
  • 16:55 Kyle: That’s tough. That’s getting into major brand transitions. Let’s say that my who has changed, for the sake of an example. Let’s say that the person I want to do things for, like you mentioned, is a different person, a different audience altogether. One of the best ways to do that is to start explaining what happened. Continue the story. Think of the stories you heard as a child. Those are the most simple stories.
  • 17:37 Maybe there was a little kid who hung out with a certain group of kids and eventually changed to a different group of kids, but it doesn’t just say, “He hung out with this group of kids, and then the next day, he started hanging out with this group of kids.” There’s a transition period. There’s a story there. He realized something. He noticed something better in this other group, and he began to work towards getting to this other group.
  • Add the change of your “who” or your “what” to your story, and maybe you’ll bring some people with you.

  • 18:10 If those people are in your audience, they might think, “Oh, man, it does make more sense for you to go this direction.” It’s all about explaining and continuing that story between the gaps.

Different Starting Points

  • 18:23 Cory: Yeah, I like that. It’s tough. If you have a good understanding of one, the other can pivot slightly. One of the reasons why I really wanted to bring up this topic for this show is because you and I, Kyle, kind of did this differently. I went more on the who side to where I am right now, and you are more on the what. You developed, “I’m really interested in this. I really like design, I like UI, UX, I think icons are important in what they have to do in the world,” but for me, I didn’t really have a what.
  • 19:09 I had a bunch of things that I could do, but I didn’t know where they were supposed to be applied. Specifically, as it relates to the show and my interest in branding, my study there, and my trying to help and teach people, that started because a bunch of people said, “Hey Cory, what do you think about this?” They started asking my opinion about things, based on things I knew.
  • 19:42 I realized that because I cared about those people and I wanted to help them, I started pursuing more education in that realm. I started reading a lot, listening to podcasts, watching videos, reading textbooks, and renting and buying books—all of this stuff about branding, having your own brand, nonprofits, and all of this stuff. I started reading, not because I was so passionate about brand stuff. It wasn’t that. For me, I really wanted to help the people who were asking me these questions, so I then moved into the what.
  • 20:24 I said, “You know what? I’m going to start a podcast. I’m going to make a course. I’m going to do some live workshops and talk with people about these things.” That is interesting, as we look at this subject, the difference between where you’re at with your business, Kyle, and where I’m at with the things that I’m teaching. We came at it in different ways, but the best thing for both of us, when we got there, was when the who and the what met together in a way that was really cohesive.
  • 21:12 We knew what we were doing and who we were doing it for. It makes it easier, because then you’re not struggling, thinking, “I want to help these people, but I don’t really know what to do,” or, “How do I fit web design into helping this nonprofit in Detroit? How does that work? They don’t need a website, but I’m passionate about development. How do I help?”
  • When you find a place for your “who” and your “what” to converge, that’s where your brand finds harmony and clarity.

  • 22:03 Kyle: Also, the what and the who can work in conjunction after you get to that point. After you’re to the point where they converge and you understand how these things can work together, they start to affect each other. For example, I started with what. I had this thing and I finally found my audience, who I’m trying to target here. Because I started listening to that and understanding that, some of what I do changed.
  • 22:41 The who affected the what, because there are certain things they need or want that I can’t predict ahead of time. I have to learn that through talking with them and understanding who my audience is, and then I begin to do different whats. It may not be completely different. I haven’t left design or icons behind, but I’ve done different things than I expected to do in the beginning, or that I may have been doing in the beginning, because I understand that my who needs those things. It’s not just about what I want.
  • 23:12 It can also go the other way. I know a guy that does wood working, like I mentioned earlier, and he’s constantly building his skills. One of the things he got recently was a lathe, where you put a board on both ends and you spin it. You can carve things in a circular fashion. It rotates wood. He’s learning that. It’s a new skill he’s learning, because he understands that who he’s targeting would probably be interested in what that skill could bring to what he’s doing.
  • 23:55 They’re not necessarily asking for that, but he’s adding a what because he knows the who that he’s working for is going to be interested in that, and it’s a new thing for his brand.

If You Have Multiple Whos & Whats

  • 24:09 Cory: Sometimes, you can be really good at something or add a skill, or you’re really passionate about something, and you find people who can benefit from what you do. It doesn’t have to be this binary thing.
  • In your life, you can be passionate about multiple types of people, things, skills, or talents.

  • 24:45 For example, I have the business and branding world, the entrepreneur world of the seanwes Community that I’m really passionate about. I’m really passionate about the people, and my what there is contributing through what I know, my education in branding and my experience in psychology and all of that, to help bridge the gap between the business and the customer or consumer.
  • 25:20 That’s one of my whos and one of my whats. On the other hand, the main reason why Kristiana and I are in Europe is because we work with TCKs, third culture kids, here in Europe. These are teenagers who’s parents are in one culture, but they’re living their developmental teenage years in a culture that’s not their parents’ culture. We specialize in that, and we’re really passionate about those kids. That what can look very different. That might be home visits, where we go to their host country and we meet with them, talk with them, find out what’s going on with them, how their family is, and holistically how they’re doing.
  • 26:01 It could be Skype calls, text messages, putting on conferences or camps for them, anything like that. Those things might look totally different. Those are two aspects of my life that I’m deeply passionate about that don’t necessarily connect with each other, and that’s totally okay.
  • The more whos and whats you have, the more split your focus is going to be.

  • 26:30 It’s not impossible, but it makes it kind of tough. If you have a passion to make shoes and give them to needy families in Los Angeles and you also have a passion to be a full time actor in big budget, blockbuster Hollywood films and you’re across the world 300 days of the year, it might be tough to have those things not stretch and pull at each other. It’s not impossible, but I wanted to throw that out there for people who are like, “But I don’t know that I have just this one thing.”
  • 27:06 The difference is, how much focus in your life do you have on those things or on the one thing that’s more important or more of a priority right now? Do you know what I mean, Kyle?
  • 27:19 Kyle: Yeah. One of the misconceptions in all of this is that once you find a what or a who, that can never expand. Many people I’ve talked with think that it’s like you’re putting yourself in this very contained box, that you can never do anything else, that curating down to a single what, who, or both, somehow limits you for what you can do in the future. To give an example here, I’ve done icons for a while, design for a while, and illustration, which kind of mixes with icons.
  • 28:08 You have to create subject matter. Illustration is something I’ve worked on, and that has improved my icons. Here at seanwes, I work on the illustrations for all of the shows, courses, and all of that, so I get a lot of illustration experience at seanwes, which bleeds over into my icon work. Most recently, and this is the skill I’ve never had that I’m working on—I’m still beginner level at it—is creating humans. You’ve seen me grow in that, Cory, in illustrating humans, figuring out how to make faces, bodies, and those kinds of things.
  • 28:55 That’s new for me. That’s a different thing, and I’m growing and expanding that. That will affect who I’m trying to reach, the people that want to create icons that involve people, or whatever it is. I have these new skills that I can start using. It’s not this limiting thing. Curation is not a limit; it gets you in the right position to understand where your “who” and what cross paths and how to keep those paths crossing without splitting off into something new.
  • 29:33 Cory: I totally agree.

When Your “Who” & What Don’t Connect

  • 29:36 Cory: Cory McCabe asked, “Won’t the most fulfillment come in making sure you’re doing what you want to be doing first, then figuring out how you can help a specific person? We hear things like, ‘Do what makes you come alive,’ and, ‘Pursue your passion.’ If you start with who you can serve first and then figure out the what, isn’t it possible that you might end up having to do things that don’t fulfill you?” That’s a really good question.
  • 30:02 I think it depends on your level of passion for who you want to help. If you are doing things that don’t fall within your skill or talent level or what you enjoy doing, those are things that can ultimately lead to burnout. You’re like, “I think I want to help this person, and I don’t have the ability to help them in the way that I actually can, in my personality, but I’m going to try and do it anyway.” It just doesn’t work out.
  • 30:35 As an example, let’s say, in this case, I want to provide counseling to these teenagers here in Europe. Let’s say the only need that exists is admin work—crunching numbers, doing paperwork, doing research on things, and all of that kind of stuff. I would literally be bald, Kyle. I would pull all of my hair out. I would have no beard. I am not an admin person. I don’t want to do that kind of stuff.
  • 31:24 In that case, my passion for the who is great, but if the what doesn’t come as a natural outpouring of my talent, skill, what I enjoy doing, or what I’m passionate about, yeah, that’s going to be tough. In that case, it might be better to find someone who can do the thing for the person you’re passionate about, get those people plugged in, and that way, you’re doing something to help the who.
  • 31:53 For some people, it looks different. If you genuinely want to help somebody, if you say, “I really want my brand to help this kind of person or these kinds of people,” with some creativity, you can do anything.
  • There are hardly any limits on how you can help people once you know who you want to help.

  • 32:18 Even if it’s like, “Cory is passionate about a group of people who never watches films, but he’s a film maker,” he could say, “I make films so I can raise $6 million and give 90% of it away to these organizations, charities, or people that need that help.” They need admin work done and he’s not an admin work person, but he can make these films because he’s passionate about helping those people.
  • 32:45 There was also some interesting discussion happening in the chat about whether there’s a difference between an extrovert or an introvert? Maybe extroverts focus on the who first, more naturally, and maybe introverts pick up the what first. I don’t know that it’s that generalized or simple. There may be a thread there. I have done zero research on that, but it’s interesting.
  • 33:12 It’s a combination of figuring out how to converge those two things. First, you need to figure out both of those things. If you have a what but no who, that’s going to be tough. If you have a who but you’re not really sure how to help them, that’s going to be tough. Figure out how to converge those things, that’s the first step.

Get Creative

  • 33:43 Kyle: The other part of this is that, honestly, you have to get creative. Some of these things we’re talking about aren’t necessarily a black and white issue. Let me read the question for context here. The end of Cory’s question was, “If you start with who you can serve first and then you figure out the what, isn’t it possible that you might end up doing things that don’t fulfill you?” That’s an interesting thing, because I remember specifically the story of Blake Mycoskie, who started TOMS shoes.
  • 34:26 He’s the facilitator. He noticed that these kids didn’t have shoes, when he went on this trip. When he got back to his apartment, he started trying to figure out, “How do we make shoes?” He started making some of them by himself, and then he realized that he couldn’t make enough, first of all, and second of all, he wasn’t good at it. He started outsourcing that. For the shoe-building portion, there was another country with these people who really wanted jobs, and there weren’t a lot of jobs available in the area.
  • 35:12 He offered them a job making the shoes for him, since they were really good at making baskets and different things with cloth. They started making shoes for him, so he’s paying them, and he’s continuing with his mission of serving people in places that are less fortunate. When he sells a pair of shoes, he also gives a pair of shoes away to the kids he originally saw who don’t have shoes. He’s the facilitator. At this point, he’s not making the shoes and selling them.
  • 35:45 He’s the facilitator between those two things. He’s making what he wants to have happen for the who he wanted it to happen for, but his what is totally different. His what isn’t directly, “These children need shoes, so I need to make shoes for them.” He’s positioned himself in a way that he feels most fulfilled, where he’s being that in-between person that’s getting things between these two sources, providing these resources to people, and going out and talking about his mission.
  • 36:15 He’s got that figured out. If he liked making shoes, he would probably still be making shoes, but that’s not the thing he’s really passionate about, but he still got to the mission he wanted to have. Also, from the what side, Steve Wozniak of Apple liked to make computers. He liked to work on computers and he liked to build things, but he didn’t care about the who. I don’t want to say that he didn’t care at all, but Steve Jobs was more of the go-and-sell-it guy.
  • 36:52 Steve Wozniak wanted to sit back and make these things. I’ll say he was the introvert, for sake of example. He wanted to be alone in his workshop, working on these things. He was able to fulfill himself, and he was excited about what Apple wanted to do, that they wanted to provide home computers for people, but he didn’t necessarily want to send that message out into the world. He and Steve Jobs worked together really well doing those two things. He was kind of the what and Steve Jobs was kind of the who.
  • Put your heart and soul into figuring out your “what” and your “who”, and then figure out how they meet.

  • 37:46 Cory: Bianca was asking in the chat, “That’s a thing I want to work on with illustrations. I don’t know who it would be for, so I get discouraged. I feel like I’m just drawing for the sake of drawing.” Here’s the deal. You can illustrate for anything, for anybody. Everyone needs art in their life. Maybe there’s one person. Maybe it’s for clients, so you can help them tell their story better. Maybe it’s your cousin, who only likes your art and can’t connect with art in any other way, except through that.
  • 38:33 There are a million different ways this can look. I know, it’s not that simple. There’s a lot that goes into that. This should be part of your daily question. Say, “Who am I doing this for?” Then you can even get into why.

If You Don’t Know Your “Who” (Or Your “What”)

  • 38:56 Kyle: In some cases, I think that comes as a result of doing the what. In Bianca’s case, she wants to do more illustrating, but she doesn’t know who it’s for. She’s worried to work on that skill, because she doesn’t know who it will eventually be for. I would say, start making things and putting that out there, somewhere. Maybe you have a current thing you do, and you don’t want to distort that, so maybe start a different account somewhere else. Start sharing this thing with people.
  • 39:35 Start attracting some people to that. Clearly state, “This is me working on my illustrative work,” and through that, you start to learn who is interested in what you’re doing. That happened with me when I started working on things and sharing it on Dribbble, which is a design sharing network. I started sharing stuff there, and I was very naive at the time. I thought, “I’ll make anything and share it, and see what people think.” Eventually, I started to understand the people there.
  • 40:09 I started to understand who is interested in my work and who follows along with that, and I started to grow this very, very organic audience. I wasn’t working to build an audience. I didn’t have anything to build one for, but I wanted to make things and put them out there. It wasn’t for the goal of building a brand. I want to make that distinction. This was very different. I wasn’t trying to build a brand—I was doing the what because I enjoyed it. The who came along after I started doing the what, and then I started strategically building a brand and understanding what I wanted to do.
  • If there’s something you’re interested in doing and you don’t know who it’s for yet, it’s okay to explore that.

  • 40:56 Cory: Another person that comes to mind is Sara Blakely. She’s the founder of Spanx, which I don’t wear, just to be clear. I am not the target customer here. She’s awesome. She’s a self-made billionaire. She was listed in 2012 as the world’s youngest self-made billionaire by Forbes. She’s been on Time’s 100 most influential people. She’s great. I’m on the Spanx about page, and she was getting ready for a party, and she was like, “I don’t have the right undergarments for the smooth look under white pants,” so she grabbed some pantyhose and took some scissors to it.
  • 41:57 She was like, “This is great. Maybe there are other people who would benefit from this.” Spanx has a mission to help women feel great about themselves and their potential. That’s their mission. We’ve done lots of shows on vision and all of that, and it’s through clothing accessories, multiple types of things. The what almost came by surprise, out of nowhere, and she was like, “I bet there are other people, other women, who could benefit from this sort of a thing, who I want to help.”
  • 42:36 She started with the what, and that just exploded. They’re doing great things. That was one person who came to mind who started with the what and then thought, “I actually want to help these people,” and then saw great success there.
  • When your “what” collides with a love for people that they can feel, that’s where success is found.

  • 43:13 I really believe that. Then it’s not just, “Oh, I’m trying to make all this money. I’m trying to be a billionaire,” or whatever. It’s that you actually want to change the world and help people. Spanx!
  • 43:26 Kyle: I’ve talked with a local small business owner here, and now she’s full time doing personal training for people. What started that is that she likes to work out and stay fit, and some of her friends were like, “I want to stay as fit as you are. I don’t know how to do this.” She started essentially doing personal training, but she wasn’t calling it that. She was just helping them. She kind of found her who to what she really liked to do, and she thought, “Wow, that makes sense. These are the people who need what I’m offering.”
  • 44:09 She’s started to use that as a template of people she talks with and trains with, and she has been very successful with that. I’ve noticed that with smaller businesses. A lot of the time, with larger brands, we don’t necessarily hear that story—or, at least, it’s not portrayed that way. It would be along the lines of, “I really liked working out, and I started helping other people do the same.” They skip over that part of figuring it out and not knowing ahead of time how they’re going to do it or who they’re doing it for, depending on which direction you go.
  • 44:50 It’s very important to understand that if you’re in that transition period, there is a time of uncertainty. You may know who you want to do things for, but you may not know what that is. Those things aren’t automatic. It takes some exploration, some research, and naturally letting it happen over the course of time.