Visions matter. This is true for all companies, but especially for startups. As an under-gunned underdog, your vision needs to be the differentiator that revs you up and keeps your fire burning as you bump along the rocky startup road. Done right, a vision excites investors, engages customers, and propels your brand forward. Most importantly, a big vision attracts the most ambitious talent – the not-so-secret weapon of any startup.
A vision should paint a picture of a future you see, that no one else does. This is bigger than your product or service: it’s your aspiration to fix something in the world that’s broken. It shouldn’t be something you can solve today, but something you make a dent in over time; and it should inform all the strategic decisions your company makes.
As investors, we can attest to the power of a vision statement. While we may not remember the details of your TAM chart and product features; a punchy and compelling vision will live rent-free in our minds.
Tips To Get Started
There are two types of vision: a Commercial Vision and a Cultural Vision. A commercial vision is focused on the dollars, and is a simple way to put a stake in the ground and share a big goal. Carted, a company seeking to revolutionise e-commerce with its universal commerce API that allows creators to build a checkout anywhere, states its commercial vision is to “wipe $100 billion from Amazon’s market cap”.
It’s clear, it’s aggressive, and it’s very energetic!
On the other hand, a cultural vision articulates the change you want to bring about in the world. When writing your cultural vision, it’s important to park your commercial ambitions and keep them separate. Here are some considerations:
- Think beyond your business - make sure your vision is bigger than anything that you currently make or sell today. Project least ten years out, and make sure it’s not purely self-serving.
- Clarity is key – there should be no room for doubt about what you’re trying to do
- Make it emotive – make it personal, pressing and punchy. Go for the present tense and locate your vision in people’s lives. For example, instead of saying, “to have every working person in the world using Microsoft products”, try “a Microsoft computer on every desk and every home”.
- Make a dent in the universe – you should be tackling an intimidatingly huge problem that you can’t solve today, but can chip away at over time.
- Make it specific – if your vision starts feeling lofty and vague, bring it back down to earth and make it real.
- Be frightened - in the words of Muhammad Ali “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough”.
- Separate your commercial ambition - Keep numbers and shareholder value out of your cultural vision.
With that in mind, let’s take a moment to be moved by some stellar examples of a visions done right:
LinkedIn: Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.
Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire, and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
Blackbird: Supercharging Australia’s most ambitious founders.
Skin Software: To help every Australian feel more confident in their skin.
Ovira: To end the unnecessary suffering of women everywhere.
Cake Equity: The fastest way for founders to share value from their company’s equity.
Slack: Make work simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.
Tesla: To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
GoDaddy: Radically shift the global economy towards small business ventures.
Spanx: Transform women’s lives by boosting their confidence.
Khan Academy: Provide a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere.
Multitudes: Build a world where equity is the default at work.
Honda: Be the company that society wants to exist.
Now, it’s your turn. These questions are designed to get you thinking beyond the functional and transactional elements of your business and land on something that makes you (and others) leap out of bed in the morning.
There is no magic formula, but answering these questions with bite and balls will help you get to a place that feels right. Don’t overthink, just get going - you can judge, reword and refine later. This exercise may be best done outside of the office, when you have proper time to think laterally and imaginatively.
- What change do you believe desperately needs to happen in the world?
- Why does this need to happen, RIGHT NOW?
- What future do you see that others don’t… yet?
- How can you make your vision dramatic and momentous?
- What happens if you do nothing? What does dystopia look like to you?
- Complete this sentence: “We’re not in the business of [the category you play in], we’re actually in the business of […]”
- What would you need to achieve in order to make your company redundant?
- What great injustices are you seeking to correct?
- If you succeed, why will people be better for it?
- Which of your category norms are damaging, and why?
As you turn your attention to writing a vision statement, aim for one that is thrilling, clear, future-focused, differentiated, and specific. And of course, send your gold our way - we would love to read them.
Living Your Vision
Writing your vision is one thing, living it is another.
Once you have a vision that moves you and your team, it’s time to ensure that it not only aligns with your company’s values, but your entire strategy. Find ways to hold yourself accountable to your vision, and use it as a yardstick for making decisions.
Finally, it's easy to live up your vision when business is good; it takes courage and conviction to be vision-led when times are turbulent. When your company is next faced with a tough decision, bring your vision to the forefront and use it to help you with the decision at hand.
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