Tag Archives: vision statement

Startup Vision: Paradox of Consistency vs. Opportunity

Startup VisionThe world is full of paradox, like this one. Here’s research on startup vision that shows “The tech landscape is lush with entrepreneurs whose success blossomed only after the founders had modified or even abandoned their original vision.” That makes sense when you see examples and details. But wait – what about the idea that the best startups are driven by clear vision? Doesn”t the one contract the other?

That’s business. Hard and fast rules don’t work often enough. You can’t just follow lists of best practices.

The thought comes from reading The Risk of an Unwavering Vision | Stanford Graduate School of Business. That piece summarizes research by William P. Barnett, a professor of business leadership, strategy, and organizations at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business; co-authored with colleague Elizabeth G. Pontikes of the University of Chicago. They decided to gauge entrepreneurial success rates by researching the early choices made by software entrepreneurs operating in 4,566 organizations in 456 different market categories over 12 years.

Successful founders change the startup vision

For example (quoting from the article above, describing the research) …

“Facebook became something quite different from the Harvard-specific social connection site created by Mark Zuckerberg. Airbnb? That short-term housing rental juggernaut started as a way for people to find roommates. What eventually became the ride-sharing app Lyft originally offered carpooling software for large companies.”

Barnett adds

“It’s almost always the case that the greatest firms are discovered and not planned.”

Following the crowd doesn’t often work

The post highlights Barnett saying:

“If you want to find a unicorn, listen for the buzz and run the other way.”

And adds the details:

“Barnett and Pontikes found that entrepreneurs who were willing to adapt their vision and products to find the right market often did the best. They also found that those who followed the herd into perceived hot markets, or “consensus” entrants, were less viable in the long run than those who made “non-consensus” choices by defying common wisdom and entering markets that were tainted by failures and thus regarded as riskier.”

Why is this paradoxical?

But wait. Doesn’t vision drive most successful companies? I’ve written in this space about what I call values, which are related to vision, with the idea that clear and consistent values can drive success. For example, from an older post here titled Build a Mission:

… you and I know companies … driven by missions. People can believe in a mission. It gives the team power and momentum. People are happier when they work on something they believe does some good to somebody.

So my conclusion is – and I’ve written this previously – there is no such thing as universal best practices. It’s all case by case.

3 Stories Your Business Strategy Depends On

Stories are not just stories; they’re experience repackaged. They can tell a lot more than just a story. If you own a business, or ever want to, you should be able to tell each of these stories well. If you can, you’ve already nailed the essence of long-term strategy. If you can’t, then here’s a good way to rethink your business.

You want to be able to tell these stories because they’ll help you understand, focus, and manage your business better.

1.  The Story of The Buying Event

Tell the story of an imagined best-possible customer wanting or needing something, finding your business, and buying from you. Try to describe that person (or company) in detail. Be able to describe the process in glorious detail. What did she want? What did he need? What led her to your business? What was he looking for? What problem did she have? How did he find your business, and what made him decide to buy? What were the important decision factors?

2.  The Story of Why We Exist

Be able to tell a simple story about how your business makes some people better off. Guy Kawasaki talks about making meaning, making the world better. And that’s not just the social enterprises or non-profits, that’s the shoe repair business on the corner, the marketing consultant, graphic artist, and the hot dog stand that appears before noon. Every successful business does something for somebody, or it doesn’t last. And that’s a story you should tell yourself. What difference does your business make to the world?

3.  The Story of Our Future

We used to call this the vision statement in the old-fashioned formal business plan. I don’t care whether it’s part of a document or not, but it’s a good concept to keep. Imagine your business three to five years from now. What does it look like then? What is it doing differently, then,  that it doesn’t do now? How has it changed? Is it in a different location? What new things is it selling, and to whom? How has its meaning changed?

If you can tell these three stories, you’ve got a business strategy.

(Image: istockphoto.com)