The single biggest reason why start-ups succeed

Most individuals speak about how they dream to start their venture or a side hustle. but very few go ahead and do it. Out of the ones who do it, only a fewer number of people succeed.

The most common responses I have got from various people is that they start something up because, they don’t like their day job, they hate their boss, their current job does not pay well, etc… mostly these are negative reactions. They are “don’t wants”. To some extent, these reasons sound fair and valid. But is it enough?

It feels almost impossible to start and if you have started, it’s a big win already. Once you start your venture, where do you go from there? Of course, you need to make money. Money seems to be the goal. However, in reality, money is only one of many results. This is a crucial aspect that most individuals miss. Money is only one of the many results a business will generate.

You need to know where you want to go. What tangible outcomes do you aspire to realize? What’s the end goal that you are trying to achieve? You need to know! Why? If you have already started and know where you are headed, then you need to know “HOW” you are reaching your goal, “WHAT” do you need to do to reach your goal, and who can help you along the journey.

The answers to these questions define whether you can sustain what you start. Whether you can build your start-up into an enduring business. One could argue that you need to know the problem you are solving, the solution to the problem, your USP, etc… and I agree with the same. But in reality, if you answer these questions with honesty and integrity, you will have much clearer answers to the problem, solution, USP, etc…

I believe that the most important question out of all is the vision. What you do what you? What do you stand for? Why you exist?

Background

Businesses in both the current world and in the past always spoke and speak about vision. All future businesses will probably speak about their vision as well. They all have their visions on a piece of paper, on a board hanging at the entrance of buildings, in meeting rooms, in the CEO’s room, etc. But do we understand what a vision is? The word “vision” has been highly used globally but rarely understood. While it’s important, that we document the vision, discovering the vision is definitely should be the goal.

In the current world, especially the new businesses seem to not worry much about vision as much as the old did. Instead of a vision, they have a mission. A set of things they do to achieve a short-term goal. Achieving short-term goals is important without question. However, the question is does a mission alone help to build an enduring business? Some would argue that the world is changing so fast, we cannot think of a fixed vision to pursue. However, this is the differentiating factor between enduring businesses and the rest. The enduring businesses pursue a vision that does not change for 100 years or more regardless of the external factors.

The next commonly used term in businesses is “values”. All the businesses seem to have the values documented and publicly showcased as well. In their website, in their marketing materials, etc… How do the values contribute to pursuing a vision? On the other hand, every business sets goals and milestones. yearly goals, quarterly goals, monthly goals, etc… Do these goals contribute to pursuing a vision? Yes or No? What type of goals would push a business towards pursuing a vision?

The point I’m trying to make is that even though the word vision is highly used, it’s rarely understood. On the other hand, founders and business leaders confuse vision with values, purpose, goals, operating practices, business strategy, and so on. The next point I’m trying to make clear is that how a well-formulated vision can help to build enduring businesses.

Vision Ingredients

A vision is not just one-sentence statement. It’s a much deeper concept. A concept that touches the soul of everyone in the business. If it doesn’t, then either you don’t have a vision or you got the wrong people on the bus. A vision defines what you stand for and why you exist. It defines the values and purpose of what you do. It also should explain what you aspire to become, what you will achieve and what you will create.

While what you will achieve and create seems straightforward, the purpose on the other hand seems not clear. Not because it’s vague but because it is not just a statement. The purpose or why is more of a belief and tied to emotions than a tangible outcome. The best-selling author Simon Sinek explains that whatever we do, we do it not because we need to but because we want to. What we need comes from more of a logical side and “what we want” comes from the emotional side of human beings. The purpose of a business exists not because you need to, but because you want to.

The purpose should also last at least the next 100 years. It should be relevant for the next 100 years. If you think in a few years your purpose might change, then it’s not your purpose. It’s probably a business strategy or an operating practice that you are adapting to cater to current business needs.

Values

One of the key aspects of a vision is values. Values are principles and beliefs which guide your business and people. An enduring business must have enduring values which will guide you at least for the next 100 years. The list of values must be small, around 5 to 10. if you have more, probably you have confused values with operating practices, business strategies, technological advancements, etc… the point is not what values you have, but to HAVE values that will be true and enduring.

To make it easy to understand let’s consider an example. Let’s take Apple. According to Tim Cook, the following are a few of apple’s values.

  • We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products — this will be valid forever
  • We believe in the simple, not the complex — will be valid for the next 100 years without a doubt
  • We participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution — 100 years? check!
  • We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us — 100 years? check!
  • We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot — 100 years? check!

Imagine Tim Cook saying something like this,

“We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great phones”

This won’t last long, because it’s quite possible that with the technological advancements, there will be way better devices than phones. I’m sure Apple knows it better! Probably they might have plans for it already.

Articulating Values

To arrive at your values is to be extremely honest and maintaining integrity. Anything you put on the list must stay there for the next 100 years. Anything you put on the list must be endured regardless of whether the markets are good or bad. Those values must be celebrated even if those seem to be disadvantageous in a certain market or a situation.

You can always plan to change the markets in which you operate because we don’t know what the future holds. However, if you plan to change the values, then you don’t have values. If you think something on the value list might change in few years or certain market conditions, it’s not a value. It’s an operating practice or a business strategy that serves the current state of your business.

The most suitable people to come up with the list of values will be the most credible few people in the business. If you just started, it’s the founders. if you have more people working, then the most credible few people should come together. Think of it as that your company is given an opportunity pick few people to represent your company in the biggest and the best conference in the world. Whom would you send?

Once you are at the conference, it’s time to pick your hearts and brains to deep dive. Be extremely honest. Maintain integrity and come up with a list. Then ask the questions;

  1. will this be true in 100 years?
  2. will we still keep this if the market conditions are bad?
  3. Will we still keep this if it seems disadvantageous in certain markets?
  4. Will we still keep it if……

If the answer is yes to all these questions, it goes to the list. If there is at least one No, it doesn’t go to the list.

Purpose

“I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money. While this is an important result of a company’s existence, we have to go deeper and find the real reasons for our being.” ~ David Packard, 1960

The purpose is both what you stand for and why you exist. Similar to values, an enduring business has an enduring purpose. A purpose that will hold true for the next 100 years or even more. The purpose is the reason why the people in the organization are working for the business. Simon Sinek says that It’s not because they need to work for your company, but they want to!

There is a huge difference between needing and wanting. If someone needs work for your company, the reason could be anything. It could be probably because they need a salary. They just need a job. This is why they need to work for you. If someone wants to work for you, then it’s not that they can’t find a job, but they choose to work for you because they believe in the purpose. They believe in what you believe. They do it for them.

Let’s take apple’s purpose for example again.

“To make the best products on earth, and to leave the world better than we found it”

Apple’s purpose is so concise that I didn’t have to find any other examples. No wonder why they are the best technology company in the world.It clearly articulates what they stand for and why they exist.

They stand for making the best products on earth. This is the “what” part. “what” = the best products on earth.

They exist to leave the world better than they found it. This is the “why” part. “why” = to leave the world better than we found it.

What’s your purpose?

Discovering Purpose

How do we discover our purpose? How do we find our why? Simon Sinek explains that the greatest people and companies know their why. They start with why no matter what they are about to do. It’s one of the best explanations I ever came across. So to find your purpose, you need to ask yourself “WHY” as many times as it takes until you cannot go further deep down.

In general, it does not take more than 5 “why”s.

When I founded my first business, I wanted to find the purpose of my company. It was a last-mile logistics services provider for e-commerce. We wanted to make sure we deliver to every corner of the country. To discover our purpose, we started asking why from where we were.

  • We want to deliver to every corner of the country. WHY?
  • Because we want to enable e-commerce businesses. WHY?
  • Because we want to deliver to every customer in the country. WHY?
  • because we want to make customers happy.

That was it. it was our purpose. We wanted to make customers happy.

Purpose inspires change

While the purpose is an enduring principle that doesn’t change for 100 years or more, it does inspire change. It inspires change which is essential for growth. The external factors which are out of your control will constantly change. Market conditions, customers and their behaviors, Laws, pandemics, and so on will continue to cause change. With these sometimes disruptive changes, businesses must adapt and pivot their efforts to survive, thrive, and endure. All this change does not come easy. It takes a massive emotional commitment to change. People are reluctant to change, and to build enduring businesses leaders must inspire to stimulate change. What inspires leaders to inspire the rest? It’s the purpose.

Leaders inspire change. Purpose inspires leaders

You need to have an inspiring purpose to make all the work you do meaningful and you need people to work with those meanings, because an enduring business cannot be built alone. Simon Sinek says “Failure we can do alone, but success takes people”. To attract, inspire and retain people who would ultimately make your business a success, an enduring purpose is needed.

Envisioned Future

Best-selling author of the book, “Will power doesn’t work”, Benjamin Hardy explains that to achieve something great, you need to first BE the person who already achieved it. Then you need to act as if you have already achieved it, work for it, and eventually have it.

BE — DO — HAVE

To do this, you need a vivid description of what you will become, what you will achieve and what you will create. For a vision to be complete, you need to know this. It doesn’t mean that you will always achieve it but, the key to success lies in shooting at the moon.

To articulate this vivid description, first, you need to imagine the future. You need to set a goal. A great goal. A goal that scares the hell out of you and sounds crazy for the rest of the world. Steve Jobs said that the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do it.

Jim Collins put it in another way. He says that for a vision to be completed you need to have a vision level BHAG. A vision level Big, Hairy and Audacious Goal. It’s set 10 to 30 years into the future. How do we set a BHAG 10 to 30 years into the future?

You can assess the current market conditions and current capabilities of the business. it’s because you have the data to support it. So based on all the information you have, it will not be difficult to set next month or next quarter goals. However, it’s unpredictable what will happen in 10 years. An enduring business expects the unpredictable while the rest don’t.

For a vision to be completed we have to shoot at the moon. We need to look into the future. In 10 to 30 years what goals do we want to realize? To answer this you should make efforts to see beyond the current capabilities of your business and people. You should imagine what the future might hold and what it will take to achieve your goal.

Articulating Future

There are 2 key parts to articulating the future that you aspire to achieve which completes the vision. Those are; Setting a crazy enough goal and describing it vividly.

Different people may use different ways to arrive at the goal they aspire to achieve. Jim Collins recommends the following 4 methods based on years of research to set goals, to set BHAGs.

  1. Setting a quantitative target — “We will generate $100million MRR in 2040”
  2. Beating a competitor — “We will knock-off Samsung in both quality and quantity by 2040”
  3. Role model — “We will Amazon in our country”
  4. Internal Transformation — “We will become a company with the best product in our country”

Choose how you want to set your goal depending on what inspires you the most. However, remember to make a SMART goal while it sounds crazy. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevance, and Time-bound. Don’t try to make the goal sound crazy just for the sake of it, make sure you can achieve it for real. It might take a long time which is the point but is still time-bound. Don’t set a goal 100 years into future because practically a person will not be able to work for a goal set into such a future.

The second part is to put into words what you will become, what you will achieve and what you will create with passion and inspiration. Every person who is working in your company, who will work in your company, and yourself should be able to understand and keep it in your mind without trying. It should bring goosebumps, when you remember it and when you express it.

Henry Ford articulated his envisioned future like this;

I will build a motor car for the great multitude. . . . It will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one — and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces. . . . When I’m through everybody will be able to afford one, and everyone will have one. The horse will have disappeared from our highways, the automobile will be taken for granted . . . and we will give a large number of men employment at good wages

Again, you might not be able to do this alone. Get the most credible few people in your company to come together in creating this vivid description. Set it final when it starts to bring you goosebumps. Put it into words with passion and inspiration. You are set to go.

Summary

The word vision is a highly used word but rarely understood. Enduring businesses understand what a vision is and they have a vision. Vision is not just one sentence statement but is with a deeper meaning which ties to our own beliefs. An enduring and complete vision has few key aspects to fulfill. Vales, Purpose, Goals, and vivid descriptions.

A key point to remember about vision is that you do not determine or set a vision. You discover it. You do not ask what values you “should” hold, but rather what values you hold. It’s not that you only set a purpose up, but you live by the belief. Your vision can be anything but what matters the most is how disciplined and consistent you are in actually living up to it.

Taking next steps

Every successful business or individual always has a vision. Apple, Southwest airlines, Martin Luther King Jr, Disney, Winston Churchill, General Motors, 3M, Alibaba, etc all have a vision that inspires themselves and those around them.

The first step in building an enduring business is to discover your vision and is to live up to your vision with great discipline and consistency.

Start discovering your vision today. If you feel it’s too late, remember it’s better late than never.

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Thilina Fonseka

Thilina Fonseka

Be Inspired, Do Inspire!

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