One of the questions investors like to ask founders is – what is your vision?
While seemingly cliché and qualitative, the question of vision is really important. After working with more than 80 founders, I believe that the ability to articulate a strong and clear vision is the leading indicator of success for an early founding team.
Why is vision so important? In short, a big, clear vision becomes an anchor; a North Star; a framework for decision making, a tool to convince, to inspire, and ultimately, endure and win the startup marathon.
1. Vision is the ability to see the future.
In startups, vision refers to the ability to clearly see and articulate the future. Vision is a thought experiment by the founder of what the future should look like. Founders are often able to see something that other people don’t see. This gives them strength, conviction, and unfair advantage.
Strong visions aren’t just high-level, one-sentence descriptions. Strong visions are a mix of high-level, big-picture ideas and a great amount of details. When founders have a strong vision, you can tell by how they speak about it and articulate it. The nuances and details often reveal a fluency and level of clarity that is not present when people just have an idea about something.
2. Where does vision come from?
We’ve written here previously about the importance of Founder/Market Fit. Strong Founder/Market Fit is based on years of experience in the industry, and often leads to strong vision. Founders identify an initial opportunity and start thinking about it. As they dig in, the opportunity becomes more and more clear to them, and starts getting louder and louder, ultimately consuming a founder and turning into a big vision.
Another way that big vision comes along is through pure inspiration and a spark of insight. This typically happens in the consumer space, where founders don’t necessarily have years of experience, but still have a clear, vivid vision of the future. Examples would include Facebook, Snapchat, or Oculus.
3. Vision leads to conviction and inspiration.
Compelling vision leads to conviction. Founders become so compelled by the vision, so consumed by it, that ultimately they develop a strong conviction. This conviction is not just a gut feeling, it is all encompassing. Strong conviction is the result of a vision based not on just a blurry vision of the future, but on facts, data, and traction. The more early traction and growth founders get, the stronger their conviction around the vision becomes.
Great vision convinces and inspires founders, and also convinces and inspires investors, customers, and employees. Founders who convince themselves have a much easier time convincing others. The conviction and inspiration comes through loud and clear in every conversation, and in every sentence.
4. Vision sets the direction & helps make decisions.
Strong vision provides the answer to a really important question – where are we going? Vision sets the True North, and becomes the strategic guide. The best companies never deviate from their vision, and never compromise on their True North. Where do we invest the effort? Should we launch this product or another product? Which markets do we enter? What do we stand for as a company? Every strategic question is informed by the vision.
The vision also helps frame the next question – how do we get there? The vision guides milestones and decisions. Things that don’t fall into the path are discarded. Quantitative goals that bring the company closer to fulfilling its vision are measured. Especially in early-stage companies, having every project, every decision, every pixel, align with the vision is really critical.
5. Vision helps endure, and ultimately win.
Finally, and most importantly, having a strong vision helps founders endure their journey. Starting a company is fundamentally irrational. Most startups fail. Founders who have a massive vision have an unfair advantage because it is this massive vision that’s pulling them forward.
Founders without strong vision—without big conviction around the opportunity—simply can’t endure all the obstacles of the roller coaster ride that is a modern startup and they end up giving up.
Founders with strong, massive vision can’t stop; they can’t resist the pull of the vision. They keep going, and, ultimately, have a much higher chance of winning.