03 Turning Products Into Companies
A bold vision to attract and unify the team
“Even the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step…”
Where do you start and what should you expect?
The Lao Tzu quote above is easy to relate to. But sometimes figuring out that first step is the hardest thing for would-be entrepreneurs looking to start their business. Startup Secrets here presents along with Paula Long to share the story of EqualLogic as a case study for how to develop your startup roadmap. Paula is a multi-time founder who has experienced the ups and downs of starting and building a business. And while EqualLogic was a billion-dollar business, it was far from a linear path. What can we learn from Paula’s journey, and what framework can we draw from this to think about how you might plan your path to building a successful venture? These are important issues that are a good setup for a number of the Startup Secrets workshops and frameworks to which we point from within the slides below, so enjoy this as a jumping off point!
Jump to section of video:
- The Entrepreneur’s Roadmap (3:40, 21:15, 47:25)
- Outlier Customers (12:40)
- The Funding Mirage (20:40)
- Business Models (24:09)
- Investor Pitches (26:20)
- Unique Differentiation (29:43)
- Value Propositions (33:10, 40:00, 1:18:15)
- Minimum Viable Products (36:13)
- Hallucinations (45:23)
- Vision (46:55)
- Culture (113:43)
How to be a Mentor
We’ve all heard mission and vision statements before. They’re often lofty and inspiring, and sometimes it’s difficult to decipher what they really mean. Vision and Mission statements can be incredibly important for communicating the direction of your company, how you see the future evolving, and the values that you hold. They’re there for your team, for your customers, and for you too – to help you “stay true” in times of difficult decisions.
Most successful companies have vision and mission statements that rarely, if ever, change. They might evolve in terms of products or various solutions those products provide as the market evolves, but a strong and consistent vision and mission statement is one of the great strengths you see in successful companies. Venture Capitalists often look for a strong vision of the future in entrepreneurs, so it’s important to take the time and sort out: how is this market going to evolve, and how are you going to lead it?
What’s the Difference between Mentor and Friend?
Vision and mission statements are often combined into one, although many people like to split them apart. A vision typically is a broad, long-term statement, about how the world is going to change as a result of your company. A mission is often closer-term, and more specific, like an inspiring statement of intent. In other words, a vision statement will outline where your company wants to go, where a mission statement offers how you will get there. A mission will follow more along the lines of what a roadmap looks like (more information below), where a vision is the ultimate end goal.
Just because these statements may seem difficult to define doesn’t mean you don’t need clarity in their writing. They need to be memorable and engaging, while also achieving realistic aspirations. They should align with your cultural values, and help display who you are as a brand.
Why Does it Matter?
Your vision and mission statements are primarily going to be the way you communicate where your company is going to your stakeholders (customers, partners, investors, employees, etc.). An understanding of what the future may hold will help your stakeholders maintain loyalty to your company, and be supportive of the future goals you hold. If you don’t have a vision and mission, and all you’re talking about is the feature or the product you’re building, it’s very hard to get inspired.
As your vision and mission become clear, it’s a lot easier for people to grasp what you’re doing and why they should participate. Define what impact your product will have, and you’ll start having people jump on board. And, if you’re selling to visionaries, you won’t have anything to sell them without a vision! You have to have a connection with your potential audience that’s meaningful to them. It’s going to have to be a directional statement, or a sense of what they believe you’re going to do. Your vision and mission statements are going to promise to your stakeholders that you’ll carry through on your understanding of the future.
We’re also often asked: is it worth starting a company if you have a great group of people, even if you don’t have your value proposition or idea together? The answer is yes! If you have your people together, and an idea of how you want to change the world with your vision and mission (even if the vision and mission are informal), you can start to craft a clarity of purpose, followed by ideas and a great value proposition. Your vision and mission, aligned with ideas of problems to solve, will enable your company to move forward and establish culture.
But here’s the thing: if you’re not early with a vision, then you’re probably too late. You need to be thinking about what your market is going to look like, typically in five to seven years, even though that feels like an eternity! But that’s often the amount of time it takes to really build a business. Your stakeholders are going to be looking for people that can connect the dots.
Developing Your Statements
We can’t give you a formula to write a mission or vision statement, because there isn’t one. Usually, people start off with an idea of what these could be: think about your product, and why you created that product. What idea did you have for how it would grow and evolve?
Beyond that, you should ask yourself a few questions: what is the market opportunity here? How will the market evolve? What do you see changing with trends in the future? And most importantly: how are you going to lead the market? If you have an understanding of your market opportunity and evolution, you’ll be on the path to creating your mission and vision statements.
Remember to not get carried away on a customer’s vision for your product. While talking to your customers about your vision and mission can be a great idea, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t get carried down someone else’s roadmap. You can check out our lesson on Outlier Customers to learn more about how to avoid this misstep. We can tell you that it’s very likely you’ll be pulled in a bunch of different directions by your customers, and you’ll have to be careful to stick to your own mission and vision.
Vision, Mission, and Culture
Mission and Vision are also essential for the inner workings of your company. As we discuss in the culture lesson, how you do business is just as important as your product. Vision and Mission are tied into culture deeply since culture will be the means by which you execute on your mission and vision. Try to link these three pieces together as you build up your company in its early stages.
Additionally, your vision and mission (tied in with your culture) will hugely help with hiring. As we said earlier, your vision and mission statements are often what inspires customers, investors, partners and other stakeholders to become involved with your company. It’s no different for your employees! You can attract people that will fit in with your culture and be excited about your company if you work on creating a cohesive and inspiring set of mission and vision statements.
Roadmap and Execution
Execution is the most important piece of your vision and mission statements. If you write your vision and mission statements with no execution to back it up, you’ll be failing on your promises to your stakeholders and will have a difficult time building your company.
It’s as simple as this: if you don’t have the people to execute, the culture to select the right people in the first place, and the vision to actually engage, focus, and unify everyone on getting the result you want, then it’s almost impossible to execute on building anything. Whether it’s a product or a company, your execution is fundamental.
Lots of entrepreneurs understand that the vision-mission statements are important, but they’re way more concerned about how they’re going to get their first customers and gain some traction. But you’ll gain customers and traction much more easily with one aligned vision for your company! You’ll have to balance your vision and your execution in order to build something sustainable.
You can start out by building your roadmap. If you start with your value proposition of what you do now, and the vision of where you’re going to be in five or ten years’ time, you’ll be able to build a roadmap that bridges the vision and the execution. Describe your roadmap in as much detail as possible, and talk about some of the tangible steps that it will take you to get there.
These roadmaps can take the form of product roadmaps, or hiring roadmaps, or everything in between. Think about the changes in your marketplace, with concepts like distribution or regulation. Think about how you’ll respond to each of these changes, and how you’re going to adapt to the evolving market. If you have a plan to execute on your vision, you’ll be able to align your entire company much more closely to your ideas and inspire others to join your project.
This roadmap is especially important for customers. When you have an idea of where you’re going, and how you’re going to execute on those ideas, you’re sharing with them that you have an understanding of how their business or life is evolving. While you listen and learn and iterate and pivot, you’ll also be developing along a roadmap that’s clear to the customers, and they’ll be able to rely on you to meet their needs.
Balance your vision and mission by putting your roadmap between them. Show your customers, and other stakeholders, that you have confidence in where you’re going, and that there’s a path you’re taking to get there. Otherwise, you’ll seem muddled in your ideas, because you don’t have a lot to show, and there are a hundred different directions you can take.
Even though it’s a softer subject, your vision and mission, tied in with your culture and brand, cannot be put to the side as you start your company. Keep these concepts in mind as you build your startups, because they truly will help your company grow with the confidence of your stakeholders behind you.
For more on vision and mission, check out our original workshop here, and read through the resources below. You can also check out topics on vision and mission in our other video workshops here, here, here, and here. As always, head over to our forums if you have any questions, or want to share your wisdom!