For the past several weeks we’ve been walking down the startup strategy path for SDG Games, a new business concept that has grown out of my desire to learn more about Biblical geography. The initial business concept was captured in a startup strategy strawman. We identified and then further developed an initial target customer persona. We captured our value proposition and validated a level of problem-solution fit. Now, we are far enough into the journey to develop an initial hypothesis for a business strategy.
What is a business strategy? My favorite definition says that a strategy is a framework for making hard decisions easier. A business strategy is the top level strategy for a business. It guides all decisions in the business, including investments made in product development, marketing, sales/distribution, and operations. My favorite framework for capturing and communicating a strategy is the Purpose Pyramid.
At its simplest, the Purpose Pyramid documents a strategy at three levels:
- What is the purpose of the strategy? For a business strategy, this is the purpose or mission of the company.
- What three pillars support the purpose? What must be true for the business to be successful in its mission?
- For each pillar, what plans are being pursued right now? What actions are being taken to establish or strengthen the pillars?
Additional elements can also be incorporated for a more complete picture:
- What is the panorama within which the strategy is operating? What is the external and internal situation impacting the strategy?
- What non-negotiable principles define how the strategy will be developed and implemented?
For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the Purpose, Pillars, and Plans.
All aspects of the business strategy need to be faithful to what is true — what is true about the situation creating the opportunity; what is true about the market being served; and what is true about the passions and capabilities driving the creation of the business. SDG Games is a business driven by my Christian faith and focused on serving Christian families. That will be reflected below as we walk through developing the business strategy. When I develop strategies for business that aren’t as explicitly faith-driven, the passions, capabilities, market needs, and situational opportunities for those businesses similarly are reflected in their strategies.
The original purpose I drafted for SDG Games was “educational games for the glory of God.” That’s not a bad description of the business’ products and motivation, but it doesn’t really provide a compelling mission for the company, so I used the five-whys approach to dig deeper:
- Why do I want to develop educational games? To provide a fun way to help me and others learn things related to scripture.
- Why do I want myself and others to learn things related to scripture? So that we can better understand what scripture is telling us.
- Why do I want us to better understand what scripture is telling us? Because scripture is one of the main ways that God communicates with us.
- Why does God communicate with us? So that we can know Him, understand ourselves, and have a relationship with Him.
- How can we have a relationship with God? By being reconciled to God through the finished work of Jesus Christ, the Living Word.
That exercise helped me focus on what the most important outcome is of better understanding what we read in the Bible — to have a deeper and stronger relationship with Christ. That being said, the games SDG Games is developing are intended for use by Christian families, and those families may have kids who are not yet Christians. God may choose to use the ability of these kids to better understand what they are reading in the Bible to draw them into a saving relationship with Christ.
The purpose statement should capture three important elements: what SDG Games sells (games) to whom (Christian families) and how that creates value for our customers (better connecting to God’s written word [the Bible] and the Living Word [Jesus Christ]).
SDG Games’ purpose is to help Christian families connect more deeply with the Word through entertaining games.
What needs to be true if SDG Games is going to accomplish this purpose?
My test for whether or not we have the right pillars is two-fold. If we have the right pillars then:
- If we are successful in all three pillars we should expect to be successful in achieving our mission.
- If we fail in any of the three pillars we should expect to fail in achieving our mission.
SDG Games’ three pillars supporting its purpose are:
- Develop educational content that honors God.
- Develop family games that honor God.
- Operate a business that honors God.
Obviously, there’s a common theme across all three pillars — that of honoring God. To keep this article (somewhat) brief, I’m not diving into the non-negotiable principles portion of the Purpose Pyramid, but for SDG Games these principles are honoring God and loving our neighbors. For this business, however, honoring God is more than just a principle that guides how the business operates, it is a definitional element of the content, game play, and business practices required to achieve our purpose.
Specifically, the content SDG Games produces must honor God by being faithful to scripture, humble, and pointing to Christ. Our games are focused on teaching Biblical truths, so as much as they can, they have scriptural content woven throughout. Additionally, I plan on creating supplemental materials, like study guides or books, that complement the games and can be much more direct in their presentation of Biblical truths. All of this content must accurately reflect scripture where scripture speaks. But where the Word is silent, we must deal with that silence with humility and not presume to have all the answers. And all of it should point to the hope we have in Christ. I believe this approach is the best way to honor God with our content.
Developing family games that honor God requires creativity, encouraging the fruit of the Spirit, and reflecting Biblical morality. While most of what we know about game design we’ve learned from playing other games, I believe that SDG Games should be more than just “the Christian version of X” (where X stands for a popular secular game). There’s clearly a place for that in the market, but I believe that for SDG Games to honor God, we need to more actively reflect God’s own creativity. And developing games that are fun for multiple ages to play, that teach important Biblical truths, that encourage the fruit of the Spirit, and that reflect Biblical morality will require tremendous creativity.
One of the biggest challenges is developing games that have enough rivalry and competitiveness to engage players while still encouraging “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22–23). Finding that balance will be critical. Meanwhile, the Bible includes many examples of sinful behavior, but God doesn’t approve of or even tolerate sin and neither should our games. There will be times when our games or complementary content will accurately quote scripture that reports the sinful behaviors of men, but our gameplay can’t reward sinful behavior or present sin in a positive light.
Finally, operating a business that honors God involves integrity, quality, and healthy relationships. If we have great products but are dishonest and underhanded in our dealings with others, then we are likely to hurt people’s connection with the Word. On the flip-side, if we operate with strong integrity, but produce inferior products, then we won’t be serving our customers well. Colossians 3:23 tells us we are to do our work as to God, and we should be ashamed to present a poor quality product to the Lord. Finally, we need to be focused on cultivating healthy relationships with vendors, distributors, and customers. Of all the people we work with, I imagine some won’t be Christians, but hopefully it will be apparent that we are. God may choose to use our interactions with them as an important connection for them to His truth!
While our immediate plans involve developing, producing, releasing, and marketing specific game products to market, those tactical plans will be shaped by the strategic requirements outlined above and reflected in the purpose pyramid below: