Way back in the last century when I was a serial entrepreneur it was almost mandatory that founders come up with both a vision and mission for their companies. They were the centerpieces of your pitch. At that time I noticed that a lot of founders had a difficulty in distinguishing between vision – which should be your view of the world in the near future as it relates to your business and mission – which is your raison d’etre, the purpose of the company, it’s reason for existence. For example, Microsoft’s vision – in 1977! – was that there would be a PC on every desk and in every home. Their mission was to make sure that every one of those PCs ran Microsoft’s software. Obviously that vision and mission served Microsoft extremely well, until the mobile revolution, which Microsoft completely missed.
Watching this Y-Combinator How to Build the Future interview with Mark Zuckerberg, I was forcefully reminded of the need and power of a mission for your startup. I highly recommend this video. While I’m not a fan of Facebook, as I see most social media as a platform for voyeurs to enjoy exhibitionists, I was extremely impressed by Mark Zuckerberg: he’s extremely articulate, frank, and thinks deeply about what he does. I knew he probably studied computer science at Harvard, but was surprised that he studied psychology as well, and his study of psychology deeply informed Facebook.
Sam Altman, President of Y-Combinator, asked Mark about the billion dollar offer from Yahoo, which as everyone knows, he turned down. But what I don’t think everyone knows and what Mark disclosed was that his entire management team left within a year after he turned down the Yahoo offer! And Mark takes the blame for this, ascribing it to his failure to communicate his mission for the company, which has to be the shortest, most succinct mission I’ve ever heard: “To connect the world.” So one very important function of a clearly articulated mission for your company is to align the management team and the staff. If they don’t buy into the mission, they should leave. Conversely, people attracted to your mission should want to join the company.
As stated in a previous post, investors don’t bet on the present, as most startups are small, weak and unprofitable – they bet on the future. A compelling vision is a great way to show investors you are focused on becoming a great company in the future and need their help to get there.
As to the difference between vision and mission: your vision is where you are going, your mission is how you will get there, which can change. Big companies, like the $7 billion conglomerate Thomson, which bought Course Technology, tend to have missions so long they can put you to sleep. My saying about visions and missions is that you can wake up any employee of the company at 3 a.m. and ask them to recite the vision and mission and they would get both right verbatim and then go right back to sleep.Take Google’s mission statement, for example: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. That was the founding mission, but now that Google has moved into driverless cars and other efforts that have nothing to do with organizing information, it’s obsolete.
My vision for Mentorphile is that virtually everyone may need to become an entrepreneur, as the future of work is changing dramatically from globalization and automation. My mission is to help founders succeed by sharing what I have learned from my experience both founding startups and mentoring dozens of founders. Having a clear and compelling vision and mission for your company is a best practice of successful startups.