I'm in the last job I'll ever have. In my role as co-CEO of Techstars, a company I co-founded in 2006, I am helping to scale a great organization that empowers entrepreneurs all around the world to succeed.
I've had the benefit of seeing a lot of different situations in business of all sizes. My first startup grew to 250 and was bought by a publicly-traded company of 2,500. Then, that company was acquired by a conglomerate of 25,000 people.
As a result, I believe that there are four fundamental elements to running a successful business: vision, product market, financial foundation, and people.The first element is vision, because without a vision, no organization can succeed.
In the early stages of a business, the vision is usually obvious. But as companies grow, maybe the person with the original vision isn't with the company anymore. Startup founders and their companies don't always stay together.
One of the most recent examples of this is the high-profile split between Travis Kalanick and Uber. But, you can go back further to Twitter and Jack Dorsey, or Jerry Yang's departure from Yahoo, or even further back to Steve Jobs' ejection from Apple. The list of visionaries that left their visions behind is pretty long.
Whether the visionary leaves for good, or leaves and then returns, the culture and the business take a big hit.
So, how does a company survive the departure of a visionary? Simply put: find someone that can either uphold the original vision or has a vision of their own.
That person can be someone unexpected: a lead developer, head of marketing, sales rep, or CTO. The bottom line--you need someone that can rally the entire company. Because vision should be a source of inspiration and motivation for employees.
While some companies lose their vision because the visionary leaves, others just lose their way. As startup businesses start to scale, the vision can easily get lost. Focused on the execution piece--rolling out the next feature, or product, hiring the next developer or sales rep, but missing or neglecting the reason that all of those actions are even important.
Some say ideas are a dime a dozen and that execution is what sets good companies apart from bad companies. I don't agree. I view vision and execution as equally important. In my partnership with co-CEO David Cohen, I am the person responsible for the execution of the vision.
As such, I see firsthand the need for a vision. Without a visionary, companies end up operationalizing themselves into obsolescence. In other words, being really good at something that doesn't matter anymore.
If we go back to the four fundamental elements of running a business that I mentioned earlier--vision, product market fit, financial foundation, and people--not only is vision the first, it's the one that all others are built on.
Without a vision, the product and customer fit will always feel misaligned. Similarly, the financial foundation is the execution of a vision. No CFO can build a foundation without an understanding of where they are going. And finally, the high-performing people that you want at the company either won't join, or worse, will join and then leave because there isn't a north star guiding them.
However, when an organization can align all of these things with its vision, that's when dramatic growth happens and the business soars to the next level.
If you are just now developing your vision for your next startup, or going through a realignment or revision, here are 3 books that I've found helpful to better understand how to set and maintain a vision:
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
- Do More Faster by David Cohen and Brad Feld
- The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller
Does your company have a vision that everyone is moving toward? Are you wondering how your vision can better catapult the company's growth? Let me know what you think.