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I finally fell out of love with my favourite little cafe. 18 months ago I went there almost every day, not just for the coffee but because of how it made me feel to be there in amongst the noise, the life and the friendly faces with the smell of the ocean wafting through the open windows. It was such a great place, everything was made right there on the premises and the owners were in the thick of it… caring, and that showed.

Last week I decided I’m never going back. Their success has killed everything they once stood for, it’s crushed the soul out of their business (the thing that made them brilliant in the first place). The cafe had been busy to the point of bursting for a long time. The great coffee (every cup), homemade food and the posture of the owners and the staff meant that people loved telling their friends about it. Customers didn’t mind waiting for a table or paying a dollar extra for a delicious fresh brownie and the story they could tell themselves. Then everything changed.

The business expanded. They extended their premises. The owners started working ‘on’ the business not ‘in’ the business. Their new systems and processes changed the whole feel of the place and wiped the smiles off the faces of the staff. It became obvious even to customers that the goal posts had shifted and that the first focus was maximising profit and capitalising on their growing numbers with cynical pricing.

It seems to me that their values shifted along with their metrics. They forgot what made them successful in the first place….. perhaps they never really knew.

This is not to say that you can’t go from starting small to building a hugely profitable business. I’m not implying that you should not aim to turn a good profit. It’s perfectly okay to have a change in strategy as long as you don’t have a change in values.

In a recent study Millward Brown discovered that the success of the 50 best businesses in the world is driven by their ideals, not simply by their product innovation or service provision.

In every category the brands that stand out, the ones that succeed wildly, like Red Bull, Zappos, Apple, Amazon, Lindt and Innocent Drinks are the ones that people love. Go ahead and be the most profitable cafe, consultancy or app developer in town but don’t forget to give people a reason to love you. Then remember the story you gave your customers to tell.

The future of your business is actually built on a lot more than what you hand over at the end of the transaction.

Image by Craig Belamy.