• by William Mougayar
    Venture advisor, 4x entrepreneur, marketer & strategist. I live in Toronto, curate a lot, blog a bit, and help startups.

Communicating Your Vision vs. Your Product

vision-320x240Here’s a classical mistake I’m seeing with some early startups that have a compelling vision, during the time when they come out with the first iterations of their product.

They try to blurt out their vision on the marketplace instead of communicating a user behavior they want to induce.

If you’re a startup, your vision was great for telling (and selling) the VCs about you and getting them excited, but your market needs something more tangible and concrete, that they can work with.

So, don’t introduce your vision to the market if it’s too hard to see the linkage between that vision and what the product does for users. If you are still early, the first versions of your product and your lack of initial critical mass usage will not provide enough gunpowder to visualize the realization effects of that vision.

UBER didn’t come out saying they wanted to revolutionize public personal transportation (although they may have told their investors that). Instead, they came out with a compelling product that enticed users to dip in it, and by virtue of their market success, we could see how they are revolutionizing the old taxi industry.

If you have a great vision, think about how you want your users to boot-up your vision. That bootup starts with the product, not the vision.

The gap between the vision and its realization is far too wide when you start, so it’s better to focus on what the product will do in its initial days, and let the vision’s achievement be an after-effect of your product success.

The reverse side of that problem can also occur if you overbuild the product way ahead of its propagation. If you overbuild to the point where you might think that you’re showing a version that is closer to your vision, you will inherit a very difficult on-boarding problem. The steps will be steeper for hoisting your users on your product.

But if you underbuild, or go to the market with an underwhelming offering, you may not be giving your users enough to hang on to, til you get them to that vision you have.

I’m currently working with two startups that represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. One has overbuilt their product and is being challenged to hoist users on their platform. Another one has a great vision, but is having a challenge in explaining the initial boot-up process in a compelling way.

They each have a different set of challenges. To the startup that has overbuilt, I’m saying to them: “A mature product is not your vision; you’re making it more difficult for users to get on-board.” And to the one that’s putting the vision ahead of the product, I’m saying: “Park your vision in the background, while you put your product in the foreground.”

Market adoption with a less mature product is more important than a comprehensive product with no users. It’s easier to evolve your product usage and user loyalties as your product evolves with every iteration, instead of assuming they will jump in both feet because you have a “perfect product”.

This begs the following question which I have been asked: “Is the vision inconsequential to inducing the initial user behavior?”

My answer is that it’s not inconsequential in the long term, but it is less relevant in the short term. In the short term, you want to induce behavior that has a benefit to the user.

In reality, individual users don’t really care about whether you achieve your vision or not (or what it is). They are lured by what you offer them and how compelling it is.

Did you know that by using UBER you were contributing to them revolutionizing the transportation industry? No. Or by sharing on Facebook, you helped them become a content/media juggernaut? No.

So, what I’m saying is: Your vision is great. Park it, but focus your communication and delivery on what your product will do, i.e. to make the collective user engagement get you closer towards that vision.

If you say you want to boil the ocean, your vision will not be believable. But if you give each user a little kettle to start with, and focus on getting them to boil a little water in their own way, then before you know it, their collective actions will be enough to boil that ocean.

Visions are generally fuzzy, and they aren’t believable initially. They only get clearer as your market footprint increases.

=> Don’t just introduce your vision to the marketplace. Introduce your product rather.

=> Keep the vision for the VC pitches. Let it unravel on its own to the market.

  1. JLM

    I agree with you but I want to add another thought.

    Vision should include the actual user experience. Not just — “I want to revolutionize the transportation business.” But also, “I want to provide the world with the ability to summon reliable, safe transportation using a mobile device at a price point that delivers value when compared to all other alternatives.”

    In this manner, the vision is a snapshot of the customer’s behavior.

    When selling anything, if you can get an observer to observe a satisfied customer using a service — modelling the actual customer experience — you almost don’t have to use words. It is like watching a table of happy people eating a great dessert — “Hey, I want what they’re having.”

    [This is also a great reason why video should be used to describe products. It can capture those smiles, not just the words.]

    Vision should also be a part of Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values and Culture. It is not an orphan.

    Even if a founder is not able to perfect all of these planning documents, just a first pass allows them to “align” the efforts of the team while also aligning the focus on the customer.

    I cannot tell you the number of problems I have seen fixed by just completing this perfectly logical work.

    The question, perhaps, should be: “When the customer uses our product how does she feel? How does she look?”

    You’re a smart guy, Wm. Well played and thank you.


  2. William Mougayar

    Good additive points JLM.
    The vision-to-reality part is very important.
    I think what you described above “I want to provide …” is the value proposition and it’s a key linkage indeed.

  3. Twain Twain

    Product: Do a karate chop into our camera, in-store, and this action tweets the retailer to send you a discount coupon.

    Vision: A world of natural interactions (i.e., that goes beyond mouse clicks and screen swipes).

    Mission: Making retail magic with smart, social, retail IoT (i.e. this means developing and delivering a range of hardware and software products).

    http://www.capitalonstage.com/en/ just admitted me to their event on the strength of my product idea. They usually only let in Seed/Series A.

    The way to think of it is that the vision is like the roots of the startup; users don’t need to see it first.

    They initially see the branches: the product on offer.

    Then they look past the branches to see the tree trunk: the mission.

    Eventually they discover the roots of why the team is doing and delivering what it is: the vision.

    These are my frameworks as a founder.

  4. William Mougayar

    that’s a good framework!
    yup, keep focused on inducing the product behavior for your users.

  5. Twain Twain

    Thanks, I developed it from my own earlier missteps, lol.

  6. awaldstein

    disagree with this.

    you are confounding vision as a pitch and core vision and belief that is what your brand means to the customer.

    in consumer goods your brand is what people hold in their hands. it is the vision of themselves feeling/looking/being better.

    if they are just buying a sweater or a juice or a car, the game is all price and over.

  7. bruno cecchini

    Imagine if Vitalik Butterin did not share is vision 2 years agos, Ethereum would not even exist.

  8. William Mougayar

    True, but that’s not the same thing I’m talking about here in the startup context where you have a product and you need to get it in the market.
    Vitalik’s articulation of his vision was necessary in order to achieve the global community support he ended-up getting. And his vision was articulated by a white paper, not a product. The product was built later.