Jim Collins, in his book BE 2.0, explains how purpose and mission are important to companies. To help explain this, he uses the metaphor of crossing a mountain range and seeing a star on the horizon. Your purpose is to reach the spot on the horizon below the star. The current mission is climbing up the mountain you’re on. The next mission is climbing up the next mountain and so forth in order to get closer to the spot on the horizon. You will have many missions, and may never reach your purpose (the spot on the horizon).
What is Bridge’s purpose? Our purpose is to help indie businesses more easily run their online businesses. These days, online and offline business areas are often merging, so to just say "online business" seems limiting, but that’s honestly the part with which we help. We’re not involved in the other half (the POS) at this time. Helping businesses with their online business is a massive undertaking and includes: a website, an online gift registry, email collection, online security, online payments, SEO, social media, and more.
What is our mission? Our mission consists of many tiny missions that include: building great registry software, helping businesses with wholesale ordering, sharing industry news among peers, building an online marketplace to pool retailers’ content (shoplocal.org.), and more. These missions are broken down in to even smaller parts that are our BP (BackPack) items.
When Collins talks about purpose and mission, he explains that purpose and mission are part of a larger vision. What is vision? He says that vision is one’s belief system, and it's in the leadership’s DNA. This can’t be manufactured or artificially created. If one lacks it, one can’t hide that fact. There’s a popular parable about a king who wears a robe made from invisible fabric but is in fact nude. One could view this as a lesson about visionless leaders. Now, let’s look closer to home: Bridge. This becomes embarrassing because we have to ask, “Who is Jason?" What ‘vision' do I bring to the table for you? To answer this question, we have to review the facts of my past and ask what we can deduce from it. I passed the State Department’s foreign service written exam four times, was a White House intern, was in ROTC, received an appointment to West Point, graduated from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, was a journalist in Caracas (where I met Hugo Chavez), created the Council on Foreign Relations’ 2008 election website, and interned at the State Department’s Commercial Service Office in Buenos Aires. I was accepted to the American University in Cairo for graduate studies in sociology but didn’t attend because ...my dad forgot to tell me about the acceptance letter until a year after it arrived (true story). I volunteered in 1999 for a scrappy little group that wanted to turn an abandoned rail line into a park. That became the High Line Park. I became a paper boy at 11-years old, worked at two jobs in the summers to afford college, and ran a small ad agency before starting Bridge. I’m at heart a failed State Department kid that still wants to make our communities better via the power of private enterprise.
If one were to mention the story about the king with no clothes, I’d proudly show them our "Bridge Builder" t-shirts.
What’s "our" vision? It’s in my DNA: public service powered by private enterprise. It’s helping America, Americans, our Western ideals, and supporting our local communities to be places we want to be. We can see that in Bridge: we work daily to help local communities by helping their brick-and-mortar businesses thrive. We help employ hundreds of people at indie shops across America. We estimated that during the pandemic, we helped at least 250 people keep their jobs. Not bad for our small team of six. We recently updated our domain name to Bridge.org—the ".org" points to our community development and public service. At the bottom of each of our emails, we show the American flag. That’s not just lip service: we help Americans stay employed, and all of our Bridge team is based in the U.S. Whenever I talk to venture capitalists, they tell me how firms cut costs by employing people overseas. To which I think: I can also save money by dumping garbage out my window. I feel that encouraging people to shop local while hiring offshore is against our values and vision. Doing the right thing often costs more. Freedom ain’t free. To quote Josh Ford, "it’s $1.25.”
While it may sound odd and strangely personal to have a vision that is grounded in my DNA, that’s how founder-led companies are. What great companies have to do is then take that DNA, replicate it from the founder, and be prepared to lead without that founder. Because one day: I won’t be here. You will be. Bridge will be.
That brings us to the Bridge team. In addition to our vision, purpose, and mission, we need: the Bridge team. They are essential to achieving our goals and helping them grow. They magnify the vision and help it spread its impact and benefits. Ultimately, they bring happiness to our customers and our team.
Having all these parts come together is rare, and I think we’re doing it.