Recently, we interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs to put together The Struggle Is Real – a document articulating the unique challenges, struggles and perspectives that business owners have.
Several readers have asked us to expand on the individual points into more extensive posts. This is the first post in that series.
Relevant quotes about entrepreneurial vision:
“Your vision is very important. You should know whom you’re selling to, what your marketing and advertising says about you, and whom it’s speaking to. Me personally, I don’t try to please everyone. I understand who I am selling to and I work towards that vision all the time.”
— Ralph Lauren
“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”— Teddy Roosevelt [source]
“For every successful founder I know the story is the same: somewhere along the way someone important to them told them they weren’t good enough and would never amount to anything. The anger and self-doubt embedded in them by that searing experience becomes a nuclear core fueling their relentless drive for the rest of their lives, long after they have proven the doubters wrong.” – Chris DeVore [source]
“Chase the vision, not the money. The money will end up following you.” – Tony Hsieh
“The thing I really want to emphasize is, I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have a choice . . . the dream is something you never knew was going to come into your life. Dreams always come from behind you, not right between your eyes. It sneaks up on you. When you have a dream, it doesn’t often come at you screaming in your face, “This is who you are, this is what you must be for the rest of your life.” Sometimes a dream almost whispers. And I’ve always said to my kids, the hardest thing to listen to—your instincts, your human personal intuition—always whispers; it never shouts. Very hard to hear. So you have to every day of your lives be ready to hear what whispers in your ear; it very rarely shouts. And if you can listen to the whisper, and if it tickles your heart, and it’s something you think you want to do for the rest of your life, then that is going to be what you do for the rest of your life, and we will benefit from everything you do.” – Steven Spielberg [source]
Here are some frequently asked questions to do with entrepreneurial vision:
– First, do you even have a vision? If you don’t have one in particular, does that mean entrepreneurship is not for you? Can you be an entrepreneur without one?
– Second, is it useful to articulate your vision? How do you articulate it effectively, in a way that helps you achieve your goals?
– How precise should your vision be? Is it possible to be too precise?
– How do you know when you should change or compromise on your vision? What if your vision turns out to be wrong?
Every entrepreneur we’ve talked to has at some point taken a leap of faith, guided by some sort of vision.
Deciding to start a business means entering an environment that you’re not familiar with. Even if you’ve worked in another startup before (which lots of entrepreneurs recommend doing, because it does reduce the shock a little bit), it’s always ultimately something novel, uncertain, scary.
Very few people do this out of the blue, or by accident. Deciding to strike out on your own is a scary thing, it involves taking on more responsibility and accountability. It’s a choice.
To do this, people usually require a vision of some sort.
Now, when you hear about a vision, you might think it’s something incredibly clear, like an vivid dream of an alternate reality that feels perfectly real. Some sports and business coaches recommend doing that. It’s the secret, etc. I can’t personally verify the effectiveness of this, but it certainly seems like it couldn’t hurt.
There are businesses that start because somebody saw an opportunity and took it. That doesn’t seem like an example of some grand vision.
If you’re reading a blogpost about entrepreneurial vision, chances are you’re already somewhat interested in the subject.
How To Identify And Articulate Your Vision
It begins with a simple question: What is it that doesn’t exist, that should?
Every entrepreneur is making an effort to go against the grain and make something happen. He or she has an idea that they believe is worth doing something about. It’s not just entrepreneurs who do this – every great movie, novel, building, product was once somebody’s brainchild before it was manifested in reality.
It’s important of translating vision into action. Looking through /r/entrepreneur, it’s interesting to notice that there are people who say, “I have the desire to run my own business, but I can’t figure out what business.” This is a sort of Schrodinger’s entrepreneur – your vision is indistiguishable from hallucination until you’ve done something about it. Ryan from Barkatree emphasized the importance of adapting your vision to account for what you learn from the environment and from other stakeholders.
A vision can be as simple as an idea. Desmond from Statement pointed out that words like “vision” or “dream” can be quite daunting, and even burdensome because of the weight of expectation. It can be simpler to just think of it as, “I have an idea that I’d like to test out”. When that idea is validated, it provides a glimpse of something greater.
Simplicity is power. An overly complex vision makes it hard for people to grasp, and buy into. It likely means that you haven’t thought long and hard enough about your vision in order to communicate it simply.
Articulating your vision is useful, since it forces you to be precise. It’s tempting and a little too easy to talk about vision in terms of grand ideals, but in practice what is helpful is being clear about the trade-offs you’re going to be making. What are your priorities? What are some things you will not compromise on? Dharma from The Wedding Scoop pointed out that a clear vision makes it easier for you to persuade other people to get involved, whether as co-founders, employees or customers.
While you should be clear on your vision, you can be flexible about how you achieve it. Every entrepreneur sets out into some form of uncharted territory. There’s no way of knowing in advance what the optimal path will be towards your destination. So rather than get fixated on the methods, keep your eye on the prize and consider alternate paths periodically.
Revisit your vision periodically. I’m reminded of Steve Vai, a guitarist, talking about how musicians should have a vision for their own self-development. Daily practice is critical, and it involves running into a lot of failure and disappointment. Staying motivated (which is more important than people realize!) requires revisiting the big picture – reminding yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Check in next week for our next topic: dealing with self-doubt as an entrepreneur!