In choosing to do our startup in the San Francisco Bay Area, near the heart of the Valley — the world center for technology and innovation — and joining an incubator run by Xooglers, we didn’t expect our company’s most powerful and transformative lesson over the past 4 months to be that in the realm of the visceral, intangible, and emotional. What we learned first and foremost was the importance of vision and its resonance as an organizing principle.
A company is a group of people making a series of decisions. But what continues to bind individuals together in a common enterprise? And how do individuals with wildly variant opinions and selves make shared decisions? The lesson we learned is that vision, not profit motive or friendship, provides the emotional glue to stick together and the axioms upon which concrete decisions — resolving data and feedback — are made.
iDoneThis started out as a side project done over a weekend by Rodrigo and me with one simple mechanic in mind — a daily prompt to record what you did that day. In years prior, Rodrigo had kept a calendar to track daily progress and we thought to make that process easy for everyone. People liked it.
But from the get-go we didn’t have a grander sense of what iDoneThis would become — and it showed. On day one of AngelPad, Thomas Korte and Gokul Rajaram harangued us for telling them the exact same story about the product that we had when we’d applied back in May. There wasn’t an evolution in the product’s story that’s inherent in growth and maturation.
The truth was that we were standing still at a fork in the road. Without vision, it’s impossible to resolve competing customer requests, measure data in relation to objectives, and apply best practices and learnings in context. Vision resolves customer issues at cause not symptom, contextualizes, and prioritizes. If the founders are aligned, vision invigorates — otherwise, decisionmaking as a process breeds dissent because vision is axiomatic.
That process of human gravitational attraction, decisionmaking, and retention is the lifecycle of enterprise organization and has vision at its core. For instance, attracting new talent means selling a vision because vision is the glue going forward and the emotional hook to joining in the first instance and it drives appraisal of profit potential secondarily. The rise of Google exemplifies that — organizing the world’s information is an epic idea worthy of the best of the best’s life work who took it as inspiration and as a challenge on a high-level and comprehended how it could make them very wealthy when the discrete product under consideration, search, wasn’t thought of as much of a monetization opportunity.
In the convergence toward a real emphasis on founder-market fit, passion, and domain expertise, we’re seeing how founders and investors understand the importance of vision contrariwise to the concept that the “idea” is worthless. Rather, delivering a vision means describing a world just outside the realm of possibility, but drawing a line connecting it back to the current state of the product in actionable and plausible steps, through history, ultimately ending back to the founder, who he/she is and the makeup of his/her prior experiences.
For us, at AngelPad, Thomas and Gokul admonished us to tell a compelling story on what iDoneThis could be and why it was the problem that kept us, the founders, up at night. It started out feeling like sophistry — post-hoc rationalization to please and persuade investors with a plausible argument — but ultimately, it’s simply an exercise in narrative which is by its nature retrospective and reductive.
Why did we build that thing we did, out of all the things we could have done, and how did our life bring us to that point? If it was exploitation of a market opportunity, you need to start over. A vision is about inspiration, not opportunity — and inspiration comes from self-reflection. Vision, then, is sight looking inward, a process of “connecting the dots” on your past experiences — giving them logic and trajectory, and solidifying that story into a belief in where that can take you.