Start-ups have professionalised tremendously in the last couple of years, yet many still make the same unnecessary rookie mistakes. One thing that I have learned in the last few years is that it is not only important to have a plan, but to develop your vision before you start. The great thing about the start-up community is that it is relatively easy to get into contact with people who have experience with your type of business and/or can show you a thing or two on how “the world” works.
There is a wide variety of available potential partners: VCs, Business Angels and Institutional Investors, and of course (Peer) Serial Entrepreneurs. Each of these will be stakeholders in your venture at some point of time and you need to understand to use them wisely. One reason I would always try to go for “smart money” is because these investors and shareholders challenge you on a whole other level. This became apparent to me when developing the vision for one of my latest ventures MIFLORA.
When it comes to developing a vision for your newly founded company, use your network of experienced stakeholders wisely. A strong sparring partner with a thorough understanding of your type of business can help tremendously. Having a broad pool of (pre-)seed business angels can give you just that type of early stage guidance and jump-start your business from the get-go.
Develop your vision before you start
The company vision is what keeps your team motivated, and gives them a purpose to their work. I personally feel that too many start-ups and young businesses simply start without having thought about where they would like to be in 2-5-10-20 years. A vision does not have to be a tangible goal as such, but is there to provide you and your team with a general direction.
At MIFLORA we developed our vision together with our company builder Venture Stars and with the help of a few of our strongest business angels. The company-start had been good and we had met our month-on-month business case targets for 9 months in a row. Our solid business case will surely gave us something to hold onto in the first couple of months, but we wanted to go above and beyond our straight-forward targets. We felt that a more extensive company vision was missing and we had to develop one quick.
A vision is there to provide your team with a general direction
Our initial idea was to become the market leader in flowers, but soon we realised that this positioning was already “taken” by Fleurop (in Europe) – a company that has been around for more than 125 years. One of our business angels said: “Why don’t you try to broaden your scope? What would we need to do to dominate the market?”.
To us on the founding team this was quite an eye-opening statement. We had been so focussed on building a solid online business that we had forgotten to think about a greater purpose behind our company. Only 5-10% of all flowers are sold online, and if we would want to tap into a far greater market we would need to broaden our vision – the strategic implications and feasibility would follow next. Selling every second flower meant having to think about offline channels, understand the current market-setup with lots of independent brick-mortar stores and importantly the strong position of wholesalers in the flower industry who dictate market prices and the product offering.
The vision we developed in the days that followed was that we were determined to “sell every second flower”. Even to us, this sounded like a somewhat absurd “goal”, but soon we realised that a vision should not be confused with straight forward strategic performance goals. Maybe this first “vision-statement” had a bit of a double-whammy to it, as it had both a clear tangible goal in it as well as a “market domination” component and we could have made it more general, but it did reflect our performance driven approach well.
Don’t be afraid to think BIG; break your vision down into actionable targets afterwards
In the weeks after that we developed the strategy around our long term vision and broke it up into smaller, more tangible goals for our product, IT and marketing teams. The short-term impact was fantastic, our employees were more motivated than ever before and within 3 months we doubled our (off-season) monthly turnover. If I would have to pick one of the most important moments in the first 12 months of our business, this would probably be the day that we wrote down that one sentence on a whiteboard.
Founders should bring the initial vision
I believe that sometimes it is better to wait for the right sparring partner to come along. Wait for a partner who not only believes in your vision and team but also challenges you to take your vision even one step further than you could imagine. A strong business partner and investor will know when it is time for change and when it is time to support management in their decisions.
Short-term goals can be changed rapidly when you see that something does not go as well as planned, but be sure to be aligned on the overall vision from day one. Having a common “picture of the future”, motivates all stakeholders involved with your company and most importantly I have found that it motivates the team tremendously as it gives each team member a purpose to their work.
Discuss your ideas within the management team and ask all stakeholders for their honest opinion. It will only help you form a stronger opinion, a clearer vision of the future and brings the team closer together.