When an aspiring entrepreneur like you gets asked: “so what are you doing?” you might want to go into the details of your app idea: I’m helping people find great clubs, I’m helping venues find and manage staff, I’m making it safe for women to drive other people around and get paid for it. And the longer you go on, the sooner you’ll lose the interest of your listener.
You see, when people ask entrepreneurs “what are you doing?”, what they’re actually asking is “how are you changing the world?”. They aren’t interested in the grit of what you are doing right now, they are interested in what impact you see your business having medium and long term. In fact, they are asking you about your vision.
Take a look what relevant tech names have to say when it comes to their vision:
- “To organise the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” — Google
- “We connect people to unique travel experiences” – AirBnB
- “To be the pulse of the planet” — Twitter
- “We help every team achieve great things together” – Atlassian
Your startup’s vision puts into words what you want your North Star to be. It may sound grandiose, but at the end of the day it describes the highest peak you want to reach. The vision is also something rooted in reality. A well-defined vision looks at current social, political, technological trends and makes an educated guess of what the world might look like in the long term if you just add one special application (your own) to the mix.
I’m sure you’re wondering what’s the point of having a vision, if it’s just something you imagine will happen long term. And we’ll be honest – some vision statements sound unrealistic any way you look at them.
After all, how is having a vision useful when you’re struggling to find a viable product, understand your audience or close partnerships to make your finances get in the green?
The short answer is: it’s useful in all these cases. By having an almost unrealistic – sometimes bordering on idealistic – vision, you set yourself a golden standard by which you measure all your actions.
That might be something hard to wrap your mind around, so let’s go into details a little. Here you have all the different applicabilities of having a clearly defined vision, broken down to different aspects of your business.
Your vision helps you define your product
When you start building your MVP, you do so with the mindset of putting in the minimum effort to create value for your end user. But having a vision for your business helps you prioritise the new features you are offering your users, as well as framing the feedback you receive. On the one hand, features that are often requested and bring you closer to your vision will be all the more important to implement – while features that are requested, but not in your purview, are more easily identified and pushed aside.
Like people, businesses who try to do everything to please their users will soon find they’re stretched too thin and falling apart. But knowing your own set limits makes it easier for your audience to know what they can come to you for, as well as give your business the frame to grow it to its best form.
And this is how we come to the next point on our list.
Your vision helps you define your business growth
Have you seen the younger trees in a forest, growing with all their might upwards, aimed for sunlight? A business with a clear vision grows in the same way. Every strategic direction they develop, every objective, every set of tasks, is another bit of growth aiming towards the vision the startup has set itself.
When you know what you’re aiming for, it’s easier to prune the activities that don’t take you closer to your goals. But when you don’t know what you’re aiming for, you grow all over the place – you turn towards anything that’s flashy, anything that’s promising, and before you know it, you choke your own livelihood with all the turns you’ve made.
End users don’t want products that will choke them and complicate their lives. End users look for products that raise them up, give them a better perspective and make their lives easier or more fun. When end users know your vision, they know what perspectives they’ll gain from using your product.
Your vision helps market your business
When you know what you want to become, it’s easier to tell your own story. Whether you’re talking with customers, negotiating with partners, pitching to investors, your vision explains to them why you are building a product in the first place.
When you start with the why, it’s easier to position yourself in the minds of your audiences, as it’s easier to share what drives you (hint: your goals) and what is important in your process (your values). Marketing can become either magic or a beast with many heads – but when you remember to go back to the basics – does this message I’m putting out there reflect my vision? – it’s easier to realise if you’re marketing yourself the right way or not.
Your vision helps you build your team
While it might be the last item on our list, it is, in truth, probably the most important. As any startup grows, yours too will need a growing team to help shoulder the workload.
One of your first tests as a founder is to make sure everyone on your team understands your vision the same way and turns towards it when making plans.
In many ways, your startup’s vision is a hiring filter to see if a potential candidate resonates with what you do and what you’re aiming for, as well as the foundation for your company’s culture. Ask any team, and they will tell you that navigating collaboration and decision making is a lot easier when you all know you’re pulling in the same direction.
When people talk about an organisation’s vision, it’s easy to see it as a marketing fluff. In truth, a vision that is only written on the About web page and not applied in any way isn’t a vision at all.
It’s also true that when you start building your idea, your vision may be strong and at the forefront of your mind. But as your product is developed and your startup becomes a daily reality of users and cash flows and bugs to be fixed, your vision may end up waysides.
For your vision to reach its potential, in the way we admire what Steve Jobs did with Apple or what Google is doing with the world’s information, it has to become infused in every part of a startup as it grows. Sometimes it won’t be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, but as long it’s something you and all your team members turn towards when making important decisions, you will see it’s easier to overcome anything the entrepreneur life throws at you.
It’s hard to know which path to take, when you don’t know where you’re going. But once you know your destination, no obstacle seems insurmountable. A company with a vision doesn’t look at the obstacles in front of them. It looks at what’s beyond them.