Monday, July 13, 2015

Vision for Startups

Appropriateness for a startup to establish a vision while rapidly pivoting to find the right strategic fit

Many startup organizations begin with a great idea but discover they frequently need to make course corrections, or pivots, as they discover and test market realities.   I would argue that the organization's core purpose, values and vivid description need to be clearly identified early.  A startup organization's strategy however will likely be adjusted and re-evaluated with each pivot.  A well thought out and strongly fitted strategy will help to identity the repercussions, tradeoffs and weaknesses of any proposed pivots at the risk of not pivoting fast enough.   Eric Ries and several other entrepreneurs from whomI have heard suggest that “most entrepreneurs who have decided to pivot…will tell you that they wish they had made the decision sooner.” (

During the internet bubble burst I worked for a small startup, Ventaso, focused on "increasing the effectiveness of sales and marketing organizations worldwide".   This initial mission statement was quite broad and allowed the organization a great deal of freedom to deliver solutions to a targeted audience.  The initial vivid description much more precisely allowes sales and marketing to speak with "one voice".  Speaking with "one voice" meant rapidly providing approved and consistent marketing collateral across a broad product line to all sales personnel.

Ventaso went through continuous and significant changes in the first few years including a name change, moving locations, replacing the CEO, product platform changes and dissolving partnerships.   However through each replacement employees came into work the next day and worked toward the same vision of success.   Our Identity was not tied to leaders, workplaces, logos, or the corporate name, they were tied to our purpose and goals.   The company’s goals determined if potential employees felt they could contribute, customers felt they could benefit from products, and investors felt the company could be profitable.

Each department in spite of continuous change was able to make decisions about product platform changes, markets to explore, and changes to release dates because we were all moving in the same direction and had the same goals.  The "one voice" theme was easily paraphrased by the press, customers and all employees concisely with the same message and enthusiasm.

The core purpose of the company evolved but was never replaced like so many other components of the company.   Eventually when investors felt the company’s vision would not be sufficiently profitable they shutdown the company rather than replacing the vision.

The organizations core values: imagination, accountability, collaboration, tenacity, integrity and quality were not integral to the business.  They were not incorporated into the daily work of employees, hiring interviews or decision making.   Although it is unclear if the core values could have changed the fate of the organization it is clear that it would have been difficult to instantiate these values if they were not there from the start.

Ventaso did not have a BHAG.  We tried to integrate our product with popular tools and celebrated the success of each new customer but internally engineering did not know the competition we were trying to beat, the metrics we were trying to reach or the company we were trying to emulate. Without a BHAG the feeling was like trying to surf a tidal wave rather than rocketing to the moon. We didn’t know our final destination but we were sure going to enjoy the ride.

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