Building a startup is sexy. The front-end developer with skinny jeans and hipster swag is the new version of a Scotch drinking Ad Man.
And this is all good…believe me I love to rock the fake nerd glasses just like the next SoMa hacker, but there is an issues that often arises along side new trends. Trends tend to be superficial. They are trends because they have hit some type of critical mass, and to gain critical mass you must have mass appeal. Appeal typically lives on the surface…think about it.
Why do I bring this up?
Because I believe entrepreneurship should be about adding value instead of just solving problems (there is a difference). Because I believe when you are not in touch with the purpose, the vision, or the “why”, you are not setting yourself or your organization up for long term success.
This is why I think every entrepreneur should go through thorough “vision validation” before they start building a startup.
If you’re an entrepreneur you understand the concept of validation. You’re constantly experimenting to validate certain assumptions you have. You ideate, build, test, learn and start all over again. Going through this validation process helps you gauge your successes and failures and helps you pivot or preserve.
We often get caught up in the mechanics of building, the data and user feedback to the extent that we forget why we’re building what we’re building. We need to validate our vision to see if the sleepless nights are worth it, if we can handle 40 “no’s” from VC’s, and if we’re ready to make a ding in the universe.
So how do you validate a vision or your dream?
I don’t know of a systematic process to rapidly test and validate a vision, mainly because when it comes to vision, your instincts or gut directs you. Visions typically aren’t agents of the mind, strong visions aren’t intensely intellectualized, they live in the realm of passion.
Instead I believe that validating a vision should involve an inquiry-based learning process, where you are asking yourself questions to deeply inspect if your visions connects with your purpose, your interests, and the change you want to see in the world.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself in efforts to validate your vision:
Does my personal mission and company vision align?
Creating a successful company takes more than smarts and hard work…it takes passion. The bigger the game you’re playing in, the more you are setting yourself up for temporary failure. Smarts and hard work can do little to get you beyond those temporary failure; passion and vision does.
I have made it a point to only start businesses that I feel align with my personal mission, which is to add unique value with all I create. If I don’t commit to that guideline when building a business, I know I won’t be able to commit to that business.
How will this idea push society forward?
This question tends to get lost in the sea of startup sexiness I talked about. However, when reviewing the history of entrepreneurship, it’s evident that entrepreneur are creators that move the world forward.
If you are an entrepreneur this should be your underlying mission. Go manage a hedge fund if your primary focus is money, politics for power and status…as an entrepreneur, your creativity and audacity is meant to transform society.
So ask yourself: if I execute on my vision, will the world be a better place?
Do I want to be doing this 10 years from now?
A friend of mine that sold one of his startups and Co-founded two Y Combinator companies was telling me about his new venture over the phone a few weeks ago. Recently he’s been working on a few ideas that got some traction and had some legs, however he was not excited to grow those ideas. This new ventures was different…I could hear it in his voice, he was pumped! He told me that he took a bit of time to take a step back to reflect on the new idea he had…while “stepping back” he ask himself one simple question:
“Do I want to be doing this 10 years from now?”
He took a look at what his strengths, his passions, and the form of the business and answered the question with an emphatic “YES!”
Who else shares this vision with me?
This is a tricky one.
A competition audit is essential before starting a business. Some industries support multiple players (like agencies and other service based companies), while others are winner take all (like network driven models like Facebook and Foursquare). These varaibles are are important to access before you start, however all this can be done with research.
When it comes to vision validation, it’s important to find peeople who shares your vision with you. Most successful companies need a team to make it work, therefore inspiring a team that’s united under one grand vision is essential.
The best way to see if people share your vision is to simply share. Start talking to people about your idea, and tell them why you’re doing it. Don’t just tell anyone. Tell people you look up to and really connect with. People that if they backed you, you would know you’re on to something.
Before you build your next startup, take the time to validate your vision. Look deep within (and sometimes outside) to see how your vision resonates with you, the people important to you and if it passes those tests…see if it resonates with your market.