Think Big – Vision vs. Idea

As some of you might know my PhD research is also all about tech startups. As part of it I talk to and interview a lot of founders all over the world. A lot of people know that most parts of a startup including a lot of the ideas change quite significantly, especially in the first years of business. However, often times there’s a core idea or vision that always stays the same. This vision is what guides the startup through the ups and downs of the real world and what keeps it on track, while dynamically iterating on and validating its business model.

On my trip to Silicon Valley in May, I realized that there’s a lot more people there that, even if they are still just working on a small first product, have a big vision behind their startup. This vision is the core of their startup and it is the core of what they are passionate about. It is what motivates them day to day and it is what people will see and feel when talking to them. The vision of an entrepreneur is their “reality distortion field”, it is what convinces their cofounders, employees, advisors, angels, and investors to stick with them. In the end it is one of the fundamental building blocks that makes a startup successful.

Here in Germany, however, I often see early stage startups with decent ideas, but lacking big visions behind them. Some founders might have lots of ideas or lots of “functionality” that they want to add to their products, but often there’s no real big goal in terms of “we want to make a dent in people’s lives”. The lack of a strong core idea is one of the reasons these startups might fail. When they get to the limits of their idea and the market doesn’t accept it like they thought it would, these startups struggle keeping alive. It is harder for them to change course, cause the limited field of view that the small idea gives them doesn’t allow for radical changes. Often times the founders don’t see how they can recycle team, technology, customers, and/or partners into a new idea. They also might miss opportunities to claim completely new business areas with their existing products. A great example for latter is mytaxi, which expanded their core product (a peer-to-peer marketplace for personal transport) to the field of intra-day-logistics by using their existing resources (taxis and their drivers) to deliver packages quickly – no drones needed.

Having a big vision is also important when pitching. It makes it easier to convince your audience that it is worthwhile listening to you. It gives your maybe still small or non-existent product a context that makes it more attractive. It shows the core of your passion and motivation behind the startup. This is even more important in short format pitches like an elevator pitch.

Our vision is to … We do this by … Here is [the product]

Conveying your vision is very close to working with the “Golden Circle” by Simon Sinek. You “start with the why”, which should be your vision, then go on explaining the how, and finally finish with the what – your product. Not the other way around!