Whenever I get called into a company because its growth got stuck, its vision, mission and position are the first place I go. I could make many and severe changes to the process, the org, the feature set, etc. but it’s all guessing until the high-level stuff gets straightened out.
3 Reasons Startups Need a Vision Statement
- It is why you are doing everything you do.
- It answers the question for everyone who might ask what you do and why you are doing it.
- It is short, succinct and should leave no doubt in your decision matrix.
Getting stuck in the growth phase happens a lot with startups, especially product startups. I found I was answering so many questions so often where the answers came straight from my product playbook, I eventually just documented that playbook in the most concise, common-sense and plain-English way I could.
Then I published it in Teaching Startup, my startup to help founders build better startups, using Teaching Startup itself as an example in the playbook. Founders loved the playbook. I have since given an overview as a talk at a startup’s annual meeting, and I’m using it for one startup I’m on the board of and another I’m advising.
Here’s Teaching Startup’s mission statement: Teaching Startup provides access to actionable, insightful and honest startup advice for entrepreneurs at all experience levels, regardless of their connections or resources.
This mission statement is what guides me to build a product that helps other startups figure out how to build their own products. With that in mind, let’s start rethinking our product from the top. And I mean the very top.
Vision, Mission and Position Are Not Fluff
In product development, the hardest switch to flip is from the subjective hopes and goals of the company to the objective tasks and execution of the product roadmap, which is the reason why the link rarely gets created. That lack of direction is usually a big part of the startup’s growth issues. If you work very hard without direction, you don’t get ideal results.
Most of the time, a vision statement or a mission statement sounds like corporate fluff. This is where most startups go wrong, too. If and when they bother to think about and write these statements, they just try to copy that fluff.
But these concepts are incredibly important, from the beginning all the way to the exit. If you ignore them, you’ll be flying without direction. If they’re fluff or inaccurate, you’ll head in the wrong direction, usually at top speed.
Your Vision Is Your Goal
Your vision is your future. It’s your billion-dollar story.
Now, you don’t have to have a perfect vision on day one. And you can always modify or enhance it based on the changing conditions and the perpetual learning you will do on your startup journey. I would start verbose, and then cut it down.
Your vision is your future. It’s your billion-dollar story.
Let’s look at an example. Teaching Startup’s vision statement: Make more and better entrepreneurs.
Maybe that’s cut too far down. I’d call Teaching Startup an early-stage startup. And in this, the vision is tight and accurate. It definitely serves its purpose in terms of making decisions, especially around building the product.
But a startup’s vision doesn’t dictate decisions on its own. We’ve got a ways to go yet. Your product is what’s going to get you to the goal of your vision. But first, you need a plan.
Your Mission Is Your Plan
Your mission turns your vision into the headline of a plan.
If your vision is your company goal, your mission is a statement of what you’re doing to achieve those goals. Your mission is your north star, and it should encapsulate your value proposition, guide your priorities, and act as the foundation of your plans.
The goal of Teaching Startup is to make more and better entrepreneurs. To get there (stated at the top of this article), we’re providing access to actionable, insightful and honest startup advice for entrepreneurs at all experience levels, regardless of their connections or resources.
My instinct here as a writer is to explain how we do that, but that will come later when I get to position. The mission, in some sense, is to get you to ask me to explain how.
From the top down, my mission says how I’m going to get my vision done. It doesn’t state why — that’s the goal of the vision, which does so by implying we need something more to “make more and better” entrepreneurs. But the mission does get into the “why” of that implication. Teaching Startup is necessary because there are limits on access around connections and resources.
From the bottom up, when I’m considering decisions, whether about features, markets, initiatives or even deals, the mission is guiding me.
Positioning Turns Words Into Actions
Your position turns a plan into action and begins to bring the vague subjective ideation into the concrete objective execution. It begins to define your market, your value proposition and your key benefits.
A prescriptive strategy for defining positioning kind of defeats the purpose because startups and products are so unique, but I will outline what it is you need to do to define your positioning.
Your positioning needs to accomplish all these goals:
- Describe how your product fits into the market.
- Give a concise description of the problem and solution.
- Define and communicate value.
- Turn a mission into action by offering the “how” from the perspective of your customer.
To get to a positioning statement, ask these questions first:
- What does the product do?
- Who does it do it for?
- What problem does it solve?
- Why is it the best solution?
Now, let’s use Teaching Startup once again as an example.
Teaching Startup is a knowledge base of content that entrepreneurs turn to when they need an experienced approach to strategic and tactical elements of running a business. Teaching Startup makes complex concepts of entrepreneurship universal and easy to implement and delivers them at a fraction of the time and cost associated with traditional advising.
I don’t think that position statement is perfect. Yet. But what it does do is answer all of the questions and achieve all the goals. They may not be the exact right answers and the exact right goals, but they give me something I can work with, right now.
And now that I know what I want to do and how I want to do it, I can start building a better and more valuable product as opposed to a product that’s just a bunch of features and functionality.
I’ll next start setting limits based on the market I’m targeting. After that, we’ll be able to better identify customer needs and key benefits, and have productive conversations about product-market fit. Once we get there, we can build a useful roadmap, driven by business priorities and customer value.
That’s the understanding every startup needs to reach to have any hope of getting their growth unstuck.