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Your startup vision is not the product or service you want to create; that’s just the vehicle to help realize it. Your actual Vision is the “promised land” you’re striving to bring into reality; that imagined tropical island on the horizon, full of people (customers or clients) whose lives are enhanced (a problem solved or need satisfied) by the product or service you’re offering (it’s of some value to them)… in exchange for their hard-earned $. Having a clear vision can plant a startup-saving lighthouse on your tropical island.
Your actual Vision is the “promised land” you’re striving to bring into reality; that imagined tropical island on the horizon, full of people (customers or clients) whose lives are enhanced (a problem solved or need satisfied) by the product or service you’re offering (it’s of some value to them)… in exchange for their hard-earned $. Having a clear vision can plant a startup-saving lighthouse on your tropical island.
(1) A fitness trainer writes their startup vision: “I want to open a gym and offer workout classes for new moms in my neighbourhood.”
A better version: “I want to educate and engage new moms on the joys of community, being active and healthy living.”
(2) You and 3 friends envisioned Spotify before it existed. A too-narrow vision might read: “We want to develop a music streaming platform accessible via web and mobile devices.”
A better version: “We want to connect people to their favourite music, artists and readymade playlists, anywhere and anytime.”
In both examples, the first versions inadvertently make a product/service/technology the subject of the vision, while the better versions more wisely make the customers’ needs and benefits the focus. Understanding how your business promises to deliver benefits or value to a customer is crucial to getting past the first riptide.
Value is the customer’s personal sense of benefit, and your vision should not be tied to your solution’s howzithappen tech or marketing features. It should always serve timeless consumer desires that don’t depreciate: Happier, healthier, inspired, empowered, more convenient, more choice, better quality, cheaper, faster, tailored treatment, social/environmental impact, etc. How many of those you adopt and how they’re prioritized in your startup plans depend on your business goals and knowledge of your customers.
Also important to note: in both examples above, the misguided visions point the principals in very different directions vs. the customer-centric visions.
Example 1 might see the trainer unwisely start looking for property to lease and equipment to purchase. A better decision instead sees her first going everywhere new moms meet or socialize and asking for their feedback on what her “Coming Soon” gym aims to provide. Are they happy with existing gyms? Do new moms have unique needs not being met? What’s your ideal new-mom-sensitive gym look like?
Example 2 might see the team also unwisely start Googling “how to build streaming platform” or jump into designing an app/web interface. Instead, they should start talking to time-starved complainants about current patchwork solutions to anywhere-anytime music and readymade playlists (commuters, fitness lovers, road warriors, etc.) What are their main frictions? Expensive? Too many steps? Moving music between devices?
An additional benefit from being rooted in a customer-centric vision is how flexible and adaptive your startup handles change: change in feedback, change in objectives, change in customer trends, even change in your startup team.
A thoughtfully planned Vision provides sharper, shared purpose, a stronger push-off, clearer navigating, and helps protect the core mission from being undermined during inevitable times of uncertainty.
Wrapping up, it’s not imperative to get your Vision language right on day 1, but at least starting from a customer-centric vision will get you an order of magnitude closer than a non-customer-focused one. You can always tweak it as you learn and grow, ultimately polishing your startup identity and keeping your lighthouse burning brightly on the horizon.
observer, talker, general provoker