With 5 Words, Mark Cuban Taught a Lesson in How to Stay Focused on Your Mission

Do you have an assignment? If you run a startup or any other business, the answer is probably yes. You may also have a personal mission that you use to guide your own decisions.

But having a mission is relatively easy. It’s much harder to focus on this mission. Mark Cuban made that distinction in an interview on Adam Grant’s podcast Re:Thinking last week. Earlier this year, Cuban helped found the Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company, and while he’s listed on their website as an investor rather than a co-founder, it’s the first company he’s put his name on. Cost Plus has a business model that is radically transparent but not easy to implement. Cost Plus sells generic drugs to consumers at exactly 15 percent more than the drugs cost the company, plus a flat fee of $3.

That can offer significant savings over regular pharmacies. Those taking Gleevec, an oral chemotherapy treatment for leukemia, can go from $10,000 a year at a traditional pharmacy to about $200 a year at Cost Plus. Cuban himself takes an anti-hyperthyroid drug whose price went from $200 to $9.90 when he started buying it from Cost Plus, he told Grant.

A very simple mission.

But when Grant asked him if he used his own experience as feedback to improve the Cost Plus customer experience, Cuban’s response was insightful. “We’re trying to eat our own dog food, and yes, we’re trying to enhance that experience,” he said. “But… our mission is to be the cost-effective supplier of every single drug that we can legally sell.” Point. It’s a very, very simple mission. But fulfilling that mission is difficult because it’s really difficult to stay focused on not adding bells and whistles.”

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As an entrepreneur, he added, there’s a natural inclination to constantly tweak things to improve the customer experience. “But then we have to do this cost-benefit analysis, right? Because if we do that with potentially tens of millions of customers, it could mean, OK, we can’t stay within that 15 percent threshold.”

If you want it tomorrow, that’s not us.

And so, he said, Cost Plus wouldn’t offer telemedicine or publish blog posts from famous doctors, and it could take a caller 11 minutes instead of 2 minutes to reach a customer service representative. “If you need to pick something up tomorrow or have a concierge doctor and expect them to deliver it tomorrow or today, that’s not us. If you’re looking to save $9 on your 30 pills every month, we’ve got you covered. That’s the problem we solve. And it’s a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed.”

That’s the problem we solve. How many companies – and business leaders – could make better decisions if they just put these five words first? You will always feel pressure to compete with what your competitors are offering. Customers will always ask you to add features and services. But if you can focus on solving the problem your company is uniquely good at solving, you can use the same test that Cuban runs. Will that help us solve our one special problem, or will it make it more difficult? Will adding this new feature or improving it get in the way of our best performance? If you always ask yourself this question, you always know what to do.

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Of course, your unique value proposition can be something other than price. In fact it probably should be. Unless, like Cuban, you have very deep pockets and can fund an unprofitable business for a long time, competing on the price can be difficult, many experts say. But the principle and the lesson remain the same.

There is a growing audience of readers who receive a daily text from me with a micro-challenge or self-care tip or motivational tip. Often they write back to me and we get into a conversation. (Want to learn more? Here’s some information and a special invitation to an extended free trial.) Many are entrepreneurs or executives and tell me that understanding their own core purpose is essential to success. What problem can you or your company solve better than anyone else? Great things happen when you focus on the answer to this question.

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