The Lean Startup movement has changed the global startup landscape over the last few years, providing a simple methodology for resource-constrained companies to quickly learn from their customers, iterate their product development, and ultimately create products that people want. As a result, Lean Startup principles are a key component of the Founder Institute curriculum.
However, in practice, many startup founders misinterpret one of the key principles of the lean startup: “the pivot”.
“A pivot is a change in strategy, not vision” – Eric Ries
This definition sounds simple enough, but most people screw it up in practice because they don’t know (or care) about what “vision” truly is. What’s more, if you were to do a Google GOOGL -0.15% search on “company vision”, all you will find is a litany of convoluted HR and corporate communication-focused definitions. In other words, definitions that have nothing to do with a small startup.
However, forming a clear vision for your startup is perhaps the most important early thing an entrepreneur can do. Here is the simplest definition I can give you for “startup vision”:
A startup’s vision is their interpretation of what the world will look like in the future, and how their venture will be part of this future.
As Eric Ries and all Lean Startup practitioners will tell you, your strategy to carry out your vision (your “mission”) should change – whether due to customer feedback, learning from experiments, market forces, etc. That is the definition of “the pivot”, and it is one of the key reasons why startups can outmaneuver and beat the large and slow moving corporates.
However, your startup’s vision CANNOT change. If it does, that’s not a “pivot” – that’s a new company.
Let me explain.
When you create a company, you basically have nothing – “vaporware”, as I like to call it. All you have is your vision: it is why you start the company, and why you spend countless nights working on it when you could’ve been [insert fun activity with family/friends here].
This vision is also what you used to “sell” early team members and co-founders to devote their time and lives to the company, investors to devote their money to the company, journalists to write about the company, and maybe even your reluctant spouse to allow you to start it?
My point is, once you have established your company’s vision, that vision becomes greater than you. It is now your enterprise’s “North Star”, and it should guide each and every decision your company makes. Your vision is the embodiment of your brand, and the reason your company exists.
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With the vision in place, your company has your target, and your sole job as a founder now becomes articulating that vision, rallying people around it, and figuring out the right strategy to achieve it (your “mission”). If you keep changing the target, it becomes near impossible to hit.
“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” – Jack Welch
Is it hard to create a clear vision, and then stick to it? You bet. In fact, it is much easier to abandon your vision than it is to grind it out and achieve it – that is precisely why so many companies fail.
The companies that succeed and endure are almost always the ones that created a clear vision, and then stuck to it.
Or, you can change your vision and start a new company. It’s your call.
Ressi, who writes about entrepreneurship and how to grow startup ecosystems, wrote this article for forbes.com