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Our five-part email series has one mission: to help turn your business into a brand. Each week, we’ll share practical advice, insights and fresh ideas. Forward buttons at the ready.

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Meet This Week’s Meaning Maker: John Lim, District 34 Co-Founder

Every great story takes a village. Joining ours this week is John Lim, co-founder of District 34.

John is on a mission to help more people own their own home. He won’t accept ‘Generation Rent’ and the government’s indifference. Instead, he’s built a platform that matches first-time buyers with land and then works with development partners to get homes built at fairer prices.

Put simply, John is a brilliant example of how big data can pair with a big purpose to create a profitable and meaningful business.

So, John. Imagine you’re in a room with an investor who’s arguing that profit is way more important than brand purpose. What’s your counter argument?

I walk away. You’re not going to change the way certain people think. In my opinion, there are different types of people with different rules.

There are more people who believe profit trumps purpose, but the people who change the world are the ones who think differently.

Making money is actually really easy. It’s trying to make money with a purpose that’s more difficult. Companies die, the world turns, we are only just a spec in the grand scheme of things. But there are people who change the trajectory of the world because they existed. 

Purpose sits on top of everything.

If you have a proper why, you’ll find your way through any ‘how’.

When it comes to purpose in practice, what are some steps you’d recommend to a fellow startup founder? How should they get started?

Because of Silicon Valley and all of these big exits, a lot of startups are set up not for customer needs, but investor needs. 

It’s so important to be honest about what’s driving you and what your real purpose is. Based on what your own purpose is, the next step is identifying what pisses you off.

Passion starts with anger. 

A lot of what drives me is actually being pissed off and angry. Think of what pisses you off and savour it. It’s not a positive emotion, but feel it. It’s useful. It’s my battery. Whenever I feel tired, I go back to my place of anger — I find it so energising. It gives you a second wave of energy and it makes you get up and go for it.

It’s been so amazing to see District 34 solving a genuine problem at the perfect time. What is your personal meaning of brand purpose and how has it helped your team stay focused and motivated?

I’m not a branding person, but I am a founder. What I’ve learned is that we all need a list of things we stand for and say no to. 

In terms of hiring, my strategy has always been to find people who are passionate about the purpose. As the company grows, you need team members who also enforce this list of things that we stand for and say no to. 

The stuff you say no to can be painful, when you have payroll to make, for example. I have asked myself whether trying to be selfless has actually made me more selfish.

In many ways, purpose starts with pain. Only when you go through truly testing times do you learn how powerful having a purpose actually is. 

Bianca Bass
Bianca Bass

Bianca is a Marketing and Communications Director who combines strategy with storytelling to build brands, reach new audiences and create impactful campaigns.

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