In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about two parts of the business trifecta, the vision and mission statements.
As a founder, you should have a clear mission and vision for your company. Mission and vision statements are similar and knowing the difference between both can go a long way in moving your company in the right direction.
In this week’s episode, Steli and Hiten share their thoughts on what a company’s vision should be, how it differs from its mission, how to create early versions of these statements and much more.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
00:00 About today’s topic.
00:43 Why this topic was chosen.
01:34 What’s a mission statement.
02:28 What’s a vision statement.
03:41 Why you might not need both statements at the same time.
04:04 You can also have a product vision.
05:10 The right time to have a mission statement.
05:43 Why both statements are tools to help you run your company.
06:51 One of the main goals of these statements.
07:19 How these statements can help you make better decisions.
09:20 How to create an early version of your statements.
3 Key Points:
- It’s not about if it’s trendy, it’s all about if it’s useful to you.
- If you don’t know where you’re going you’re not going to get there.
- Mission and vision statements are tools to help you run your company.
Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.
Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. Today, on the Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about two parts of a trifecta for a company that we haven’t talked about. We’ve talked about values before, so company values. I don’t think you and I have talked about company vision, so the vision for your company, your business, or company mission, which is a mission for your company. I think there are just really really interesting, just like values, in that they can actually, you know, cause people on your team, because this is really about the people on your team, to be motivated toward a common, sort of set of beliefs, set of goals, if you want to go there.
Steli Efti: Yeah. The episode on how to define your company values, is episode 336, 336, for people who want to check that out. Let’s talk a little bit, first, maybe let’s define what is the company … What is a company vision and what is a company mission, and how is this different? I see there’s a little confusing between vision and mission statements, often times.
Hiten Shah: Take a crack at is, Steli.
Steli Efti: All right. I’ll do my best. For me, vision is really all about super long-term, the north star of the company, you know, kind of where potentially even an unattainable future, where you want your company to be. Ideally, the vision statement is something that gives people direction without being hyper-specific about all the specific steps, right? As my example, I always love to bring up Google’s original vision statement that was like, take all the world’s information and make it universally accessible to people. That’s both, very specific, but also so broad that there’s a lot of different things a company or people in your company could do that would potentially help the company move closer to that vision. A mission statement, in my definition, the way that I would think about it and talk about, is a bit more on the tactile side, in terms of trying to answer the question on how are we going to get to our vision? Like, how do we deliver this? You know, adding a bit more specifics on like, what are we going to have to do in the kind of more immediate future? Maybe, you know, a vision statement could be like a 100 year thing, verses, a mission statement could be a five year thing, or a three year thing of like, here’s the part of the world, or part of our product, or part of the customer base that we want to go after. You know, we want to make … I don’t know what the mission statement is of Google, to be honest, but like, you know, building the best search engine, or building a search engine that gives people the answer they were looking for in the very first result, or something along those lines that still kind of hard, and doesn’t tell you how to do it specifically, but it’s kind of more concrete.
Hiten Shah: Yeah, I like that. I think that when you think about it as time, a one being way further out the vision, and another one being a little closer, the mission, that’s a good way to differentiate those two. I think it’s also like, you know, something where like you might not actually need both at the same time. That’s something I would point out to folks who are just like, I have values, or I need to get values, I need a mission statement, I need, you know, some kind of vision. I think that you know, if you’re sort of early, even just a year or two old, you can have a product vision. You might not need to go after a full-on company vision. And then, you have a mission that’s supposed to help you realize that product vision, which might be a simpler way to think about in the short run for your company if you’re like somewhat small, in terms of a number of people, and still figuring stuff out.
Steli Efti: This is interesting. I like that framework. One question I wanted to ask you because somebody sent me an email a few days ago, and they basically asked vision, mission, and value statement, and if that’s something that they said, both still quote-unquote, still trendy. So, still, something that a lot of companies what to do, and asked specifically, is this only valuable at our later stage, or is this also valuable for me as a single founder, when I just get started, or for a tiny team when we’re like five or six people? I thought that that was a really interesting question. Like, would you define a vision, mission, value statement at the stage of just being one person? Is it still trendy? I thought that’s an interesting question to ask.
Hiten Shah: Yeah, you know, that’s interesting. I think for me, you have to think about how do you onboard new people into the company? If you’re one person, and other people are going to come onboard, it can be helpful to have some kind of product vision, and some idea of what the mission is right now, right? And so, I think people, you know, in terms of the trendy thing, yeah. I mean, these are tools, values, mission, vision, these are tools to help you run your company, to be honest.
Steli Efti: Right.
Hiten Shah: They’re tools to help you define the culture. They’re tools to help you get to where you’re looking to go. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going to get there. If you’re, you know, early like this person that emailed you and is asking if it’s trendy, it’s not about if it’s trendy, it’s about if it’s useful to you? Does it help you shape the culture? Does it help you bring people into the company in the right way? I would say, absolutely, yeah. If you’re one person, and you can have some idea of a product vision that you feel like makes sense right now, and you can have a mission statement about, you know, related to like, kind of like what you said, which is, how do we realize that long-term product vision, but in the sort of, short term, what is one big category of thing we’re doing, or the thing we’re doing? I think that it can be hugely valuable. In fact, those two things might be more valuable than values, when you’re like smaller because you might not know your values yet, right?
Steli Efti: Yeah, yeah. I think, you know we’ve talked about this. I think to me, vision, mission, values, these kinds of things, one of the big kind of goals of these tools is to create team alignment, right?
Hiten Shah: Yep.
Steli Efti: To make people understand like, what are we trying to do, where are we trying to go? We recorded … One of the probably most important episodes ever on the Startup Chat was the episode was how to accomplish team alignment. It was episode number 76, so people will want to check that out. To me, having people understand that the directions of where we’re trying to go, and how we want to get there, is helping ultimately, should be helping people make better decisions, or understand the decisions of other team members better, so there’s less friction, and there’s less pulling in, you know, quote-unquote, different directions. Like, where people are just arguing about details because they don’t understand like the picture, where we want to go, right? If we don’t have an end destination, and we start walking, and you want to take a left, and I want to take a right, we might argue that you know, the left way looks more friendly. I’m going to be like, “Well, but the right way looks like it has more people, so we’ll meet more people.” We could argue on those points forever, without understanding, how could we make a decision, what is the best direction, if we don’t know where we want to end up, right? A lot of times, people argue on these details small, like should we take a step here or a step there, that those arguments would never happen if on a high level we both understood what our priorities are, what the direction is, and the end destination that we’re going to get to, and how we decided originally we want to get to it. If we had that high-level understanding, it’d be much easier for us to make decisions, day to day, right?
Hiten Shah: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more.
Steli Efti: Let’s say, you know, we’re early stage. Let’s maybe not take the example of like, I’m a one person that has not done anything and I’m thinking about a startup. Maybe vision, values, mission statement, I don’t think it’s the biggest waste of time, but it could be. But, let’s say you’re a small team. You have a few people and you’re hiring people, right? So, team alignment, team onboarding, these things are truly important. How do you create, kind of a version one? I’m going to throw out there, one of my main tips with this type of stuff, applies to vision and mission, as well as values, is that you should think about these things as versions, just like a product, and not think of them as like once we’ve set it, or put it on paper, it’s, you know, it can’t be touched, it can’t be edited, it can’t be expanded on, or retracted on. As the world changes, as you change, as the company changes, the competitiveness space changes, and your customers are changing, you might have to revisit these things, and add, subtract, expand on them, right, as things are changing in the world. I think a lot of times, one of the reasons why people have a such a difficult time defining these things is because they feel like, they need to, quote-unquote, get it right the first time. When you have that kind of a pressure, it creates this kind of an unnatural situation, where it’s going to take you forever. It will never feel like you’re ready to actually write it down. Think about it as a version one, that’s good enough. To me, good enough would be, hit’s the criteria of, we all are excited about this. We all are in agreement. This helps us makes us better decisions day to day, and understand the decisions that we make in a better way. If you can create something that helps with these points, you have a good enough version one. And then, it might make sense, you know, when you’re small, maybe to once a quarter, or once every six months, to revisit, and take a look and see, is this still helpful? Does this still seem right? Are we acting in accordance with what we’ve written down here, and kind of like, update, or change, or adjust it? That would be my first step. Still, I would assume that a lot of people have a very, and a lot of teams have a very difficult time to do this. Do you have any kind of best practices, or like advice that you would give a founding, or a startup team, that tries to sit down and write this out for the very first time?
Hiten Shah: Yeah. I think your tip is really important. Like, this is a working document, especially early on. It’s something you shouldn’t feel like you can’t change, within reason because you’re still learning a lot about your market, your customer, and things like that. My best tip is like, you know, something I said earlier, which is if early on you’re working on a product, it tends to be, whether it’s a services business, or a software business, or some kind of marketplace, or whatever it is, think about it more as a product vision. What are you looking to achieve with your product? What’s the sort of short-term, or medium-term end goal with your product? Instead of worrying about a company vision, think about what the product vision should be. Where’s this product trying to get to? Where are you trying to get to with your product? The reason is, most of the people you’re hiring are going to be very helpful in determining what that looks like for your product. And then, the mission would be exactly the kind of thing that basically, whatever encompasses the tactics you’re taking or employing, in one statement to head toward that product vision. Let’s say I’m out there and I want to create the best vegan dog food, right? I don’t even know if that’s a good thing or not. I know it’s a thing. My product vision might be that, you know, to basically to enable dog owners, actually, right? So, that’s a customer, so this is like a product vision type thing. So, dog owners to enable vegetarian dog owners, or vegan dog owners, to feed their dogs like they eat, right? That’s my product vision. That’s what the product should be able to do, right? And then, our mission could be like, create vegan dog food that dogs love. See, what I did there is, I didn’t try to make it about the company, although it is. I made it about, what are we looking to achieve for humanity, right? That’s the vision, right? And what humans, right? Just to get specific. And then, in the mission, I went for what’s a short-term way to think about what the company needs to do. So, if I’m recruiting people, I’m like look, our job here is to make it so that people who are vegan, their dogs are able to eat like they do, right, because that seems to be a problem. If you’re vegan, you probably want your dogs to eat like you do. And then, the mission would be, create food that the dogs want to eat. If they don’t want to eat it, guess what? That vision will never come true.
Steli Efti: I love it. I love it. All right. That’s it. That’s, I think everything that we wanted to pack into this episode in terms of both describing why it might be useful and rather important, and then talk a little bit about how people should think about this, and how they can get this done in, I think, less burdening, and less like intimidating way. I think people put too much pressure on like, we need to write something that, you know, I don’t know, is going to be like earth-shattering.
Hiten Shah: It’s going to last forever.
Steli Efti: Yeah, it’s last forever, and it needs to be a statement that when you read you get goosebumps, and it’s earth-shattering. They create that kind of crazy pressure that then makes it impossible for them to get it done, or get it done in a way that’s useful. All right. That’s it from us. If you are playing around with your vision, values, mission statement, and you want Hiten and my feedback, just shoot us an email at steli@ [inaudible] and firstname.lastname@example.org. We always love to hear from you. We always love to give more specific feedback, and advice, and help to our listeners. Until next time, we’ll hear you seen.
Hiten Shah: See you.