Why Startups Need a strong Vision

Adopted from Intercom’s blog.

Meaningful companies are built upon a strong timeless vision. Let’s look at some examples:

  • “To organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” — Google
  • “To be the pulse of the planet” — Twitter
  • “To be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” — Amazon

These statements may sound abstract and grandiose, but as you begin to think about it, you realise why a plan like “To be the Best iPhone Photo App for Sharing Pictures with Facebook Friends” or “Let’s Build Stuff and See What Happens, Right?” just won’t cut it.

The vision for a company must be robust for years at a time. Technologies, social networks, trends, all come and go, and a company must stay relevant regardless. Notice how Google doesn’t mention search, Amazon doesn’t mention books, and Twitter says nothing about apps or tweets. This is long term thinking. You can’t base your company around current technologies, trends, or other companies. It’s about what you are doing for your customers.

A vision lets you set goals that define your path and progress. For each goal, whether it’s “10% market share” or “100K Users”, you can plan a strategy for achieving it. A strategy let’s you choose tactics, that is, different ways you can go about achieving it. Each tactic lets you pick your activities, these are the actual work done to make it happen.

Whew, that’s a lot. Let’s take a specific example…

Setting a vision lets everyone know what direction they’re going, even in small teams. It helps you understand what activities are beneficial and which ones are valueless distractions. It tells you when to say no, and when to say Hell Yeah. As Michael Porter wrote in “What is Strategy”, “Overall advantage or disadvantage results from all a company’s activities, not only a few.”. A vision let’s you define those activities.

When you see all activities as being useful, no activities are useful. The problem with a plan like “Let’s keep adding good features“, is that it’s hard for people to agree what’s a useful thing to spend time on. This is fine during exploratory days when you’re fishing around for a niche or an angle, but when you’re specifically trying to achieve something you need a common vision to help you define what you should be doing. When you don’t know where you’re going, any road looks good. This is disastrous.

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