Blurred Vision: Better Than Blindness

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By Poornima Vijayashanker (Founder & CEO, BizeeBee) Everyone by this point knows that one of the primary tasks of a startup founder is to set the vision for the company. Yes there are additional tasks such as keeping employees motivated, recruiting new talent, and good old fundraising. But for now, let's focus purely on setting the vision. Initially, this is one of the hardest tasks because there are three things that determine the vision:

  • What will the product be?
  • Who will the product be for?
  • How will the product and company be built?
  • Know what you want.

The reason it's so hard to set a vision is because as a startup founder, you have to know what you want. When I started BizeeBee, I knew I wanted to build a tool for small businesses. In fact, all I did in the first three months of starting BizeeBee was walk around and talk about how I was going to build a tool for small businesses. Had I built any of the product yet? No. Did I know who I was building it for? Sorta. Did I know how I was going to build the product and company? Yes! One out of three isn’t too bad.

So I knew how to build products and I knew how to recruit. That was a decent start, and that’s where I began. People who are about to risk something: a day job, their reputation, or other jobs offers, want to at least know that their leader has a decent idea of where they are going.

After all, those who join startups know that there won’t always be a smooth ride. Some actually thrive on a roller coaster, but everyone wants to know that there is a destination and their leader has charted a course. Problems begin when founders don’t have a course, are constantly changing it, or abandon the pursuit altogether. This is by the way the quickest path to demoralizing employees.

The other reason it's so important for employees to know where they are going is because they’re participating in helping you solve problems. Letting them know where the company is headed gives them a heads up to start thinking of solutions. I talked about how we were going to build a solution for small businesses, it had to be a very simple product with a consistent UI, and one that required little no setup. Then when it came time to start building those became our guiding principles.

Part 1 of vision setting: talk about what you’re going to build and set some principles to guide your decisions.

Got market?

I’m not going to get into the whole spiel about finding product/market fit because there are plenty of blogs out there that talk about it. Figuring out what the product will be takes time.

But the one often overlooked point is how will the product shape the business. The reason this is overlooked is because too many startups take a brute force approach to product/market fit trying a bunch of different product ideas, instead of trying to understand the market first. This is also why coming up with a business model or monetization scheme is difficult for most. Placing too much emphasis on the product and not enough on the market is what is driving many of the feature driven companies to exist. It's fine to be a point tool if that is what you want, but know it, own it and focus. Don’t spend time touting how you are saving the whales if that’s not part of your product benefit.

As a startup founder, you need to understand the landscape of the market you are in. That means knowing the competitors, understanding the problems of potential customers across demographics, and finally figuring out how to differentiate yourself. It's this differentiation that will help with product/market fit, creating a product roadmap, and then being able to market your product to customers.

Part two of vision setting -- Figuring out your market and what problem in that market you’re aiming to solve.

If you build it, they may come…

Every startup founder, especially those of us who are technical fall in love with the product we’ve built, and think its the greatest thing since sliced bread. More than likely it's not. So first give yourself a pat of the back for knowing how to build, then go out and look for who is going to value it. This takes some time and can alter your vision. For example, you might have originally built a product for say a yoga studio, only to discover that it only works for small independent yoga studios or private instructors. Well that's ok, at least you know who your initial customer base is. Your vision has changed slightly but now you can go out and look for more of those customers!

These discoveries are merely detours, not a change in direction.

Part three of vision setting -- if your customers don’t come, go out and find them, and tell them about your product! No one calls a founder a visionary until they’ve successfully executed on bringing their vision to life. So even if your vision is less than perfect, it's important to at least have one that consists of knowing what you want to create and how you want to create it.

This post was originally posted at Femgineer.

Photo credit: Julius Dillier. About the guest blogger: Poornima Vijayashanker is Founder and CEO of BizeeBee. Prior to that, she was at Mint where she began as employee #3 in 2006, and stayed through the startup's acquisition by Intuit for $170M in 2010. Prior to Mint, she was in the Master's degree program for computer science at Stanford University but dropped out to join Mint. Poornima holds a double degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science from Duke University. Poornima blogs on Femgineer.com and is a competitive yoga. Follow her on Twitter at @poornima.