The Startup Vision

It is a typical startup scenario. Start with big dreams of that product/service/solution that will make everything else everyone has done so far in the space seem irrelevant (ok I’m kind of exaggerating…but lets face it that’s who entrepreneurs are, that’s how we are wired). But of course, this cannot happen without “customers” who pay. So, willingly/unwillingly the founders begin their journey of customer discovery.

What happens next is chaos. Whether enough thought was put into the process of customer discovery, segmentation and business model or not – accounting for everything you hear, assimilating the information so that it makes sense (without biasing it with your own wishes and wants) and then coming up with a close to accurate sense of what the customer wants (whether they know it already or not, whether they acknowledge it already or not) is not an easy task. Here is where the vision actually plays a crucial role. It cannot (and mostly should not) keep changing with a few naysayers day in and day out and it helps define the very crucial strategy of what to do by clearly stating who you are/want to be and who you are not/don’t want to be. (If you think by saying who you are, who you are not is obvious to your stakeholders, think again. It really helps to articulate it clearly so that everybody in the team and outside is on the same page.)

Every piece of evidence you look at, prospective customer input you look at should be through the eyes of this “Hypothesis”, this Vision, and see if it stands the test. If and only if, it does not stand the test and there is overwhelming evidence from your “desired” customer segment that this is not something that will work, then one needs to go back to the drawing board before taking any steps further or start pushing your own vision down the customer’s throats. Mind you, you can always find a few “polite ones” or “overawed ones” to bowl over – but it is in the lack of scale that you will eventually get stumped!
What is important is this:
1. Each and every member of the team should be on the same page as to the “vision” of the company (and no – this is not some PR/marketing ho-ha, it has to be what you want to be known for when you grow up, so it requires an effort to put together)
2. When you meet the customer, set the right expectations as to why you are there (not to SELL) and get prepared to LISTEN (really and literally with your ears open and not through the filter of your hopes, dreams and biases) – trust me, the more you have been in the system and the more of a slick sales person you are, the more difficult this is for you to do! So, check your biases and tendencies at the customer’s door and tread carefully in.
3. Document the inputs received. Collaborate and discuss with each other on what happened while taking a realistic view against the initial “hypothesis” and vision that was set for the company to check how things are holding up – this can be done for a set of every 5-10 solid customer meetings.
4. Be willing to pivot, if required.
A lot of thought and interesting discussions about this topic are present – my favorites are the book  “The four steps to the epiphany” and the ever insightful Steve Blank‘s blog – you should check them out!
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