Reconciling Vision and Focus

Which is more important for your startup–a big vision or a specific focus?

Lately I’ve been hearing about this dilemma from several companies I work with through Techstars. These companies have mentors or advisors telling them they need a big, bold vision to draw others to the company, attract investors and be viewed as thought leaders.

At the same time, they are also being told they need to focus–they need to do something very specific and really build up a dominant market share with good revenue in a specific area.

Many view this as conflicting advice. It causes them to thrash about, between big vision and specific focus. In reality, it’s not conflicting at all.

Having a long term vision and having focus early on are completely compatible ideas. The key here is that your focus should show how you’re executing along the path to fulfilling your vision. Recognize that over the long term, your company has a trajectory with a start point and a theoretical envisioned endpoint where you change the world. Focus on one concrete step that lies on the path of that long term vision. You need both your vision and a focus that is in line with that vision.

When I was at the Disney Accelerator recently, this vision vs. focus topic was coming up a lot. It so happens that one of the participating companies is a great example of focus that demonstrates progress toward the overall vision. The vision for this company is helping parents and kids connect and communicate. They’re doing that right now, but they’re doing it in one very specific area–chores–with a suite of web and mobile apps called ChoreMonster.

Of course chores are only one way that kids and parents will communicate. But what if you think of chores as one interaction along the path of helping kids and parents interact? By focusing on chores, the company is making progress while still maintaining their overall vision.

Vision or focus? There’s no need to choose one or the other. Instead, choose both–talk about your vision while making progress with your focus. Just like with your eyesight, vision is of no use without focus.

file under: Startups

9 responses to “Reconciling Vision and Focus

  1. I think the product roadmap might be the bridge between the focus (now) and the vision (later). Suppose you break-up the roadmap into 4 timeframes, then the first timeframe is what you’re focused on, and it’s all linked together. (Of course, the roadmap can change, but at least you’ve got a starting point)

    1. If the vision is how we want the world to look then the strategy is the steps we plan to take to get there.

      That seems like semantics, but it’s useful to draw a distinction between roadmap and strategy. One can imagine a strategy that stretches beyond the initial vision. You can argue that successful companies change the scope of their vision as they outgrow it. In those cases the mission is the constant.

      The part I struggle with is whether to pitch the initial vision or the full strategy…

      1. You said it well in your first paragraph.
        But note that a roadmap can be detailed or not. And you could have different version of that.

        To answer your question, in general I wouldn’t make strategy as part of the pitch unless you’re being expected to reveal exactly HOW you will get there.

  2. Another way to look at it: Mission, Vision, Aim, Direction, Purpose, Focus, Dream are all unreachable. The important thing is that they can never be achieved, except in a trivial sense. Goals, objectives, projects, milestones, tasks are all achievable and measurable. The mission, vision etc. exist to guide the setting of the goals, objectives etc.

    Sometimes goals which are far enough into the future can masquerade as a mission. For example Microsoft’s “mission” in the late 80s was a PC on every desk. At the time most people thought this an unreachable dream. But it was a goal, and they did achieve it in the late 90s. The problem was that after this there was no mission to guide the setting of new and worthy goals. That is part of the reason that Microsoft to some extent lost their way in the market.

  3. Agreed both are extremely important. Most people have a problem switching between the two. that is why not every body can be a leader. It is like the distinction between Managing and Leading. Leaders set the vision and Managing is focusing on execution to attain the vision.

  4. Chris Bergman is maniacal on focus while playing the long game in chess. Happy to have him as a mentor. Glad to see ChoreMonster used as an example.

  5. What made me realise the power of this concept is the story of a big EMR company. They started as a database for a blood bank. Small, focused, painful problem. Then tried to be a database for lab results. Then for other departments. And now they are a big NASDAQ company. It helped me realise that having a vision to disrupt an industry with your technology is equally important as having the killer first niche execution of an idea that can be the snowball to start the avalanche down the road…

Comments are closed.