Founders usually have a very clear mental model of what their business is all about. Who are the target customers, what the product/service represents and what all the moving parts are that need to come together to make the business model work. To them, how it all should work is crystal clear and abundantly obvious. It’s their vision of the business and to them it all makes perfect sense.
But here is the thing, while that vision is crystal clear to them it’s not always quite so clear to everybody else. Unless the founder has taken the time and trouble to make sure that everybody else grasps the same vision, the same mental model of the business, then confusion and misunderstandings are almost inevitable. The responsibility for making sure their vision, their mental model, is understood by others sits squarely with the founder. So guiding principle No.10 is a call to make sure this is not overlooked;
- Learn how to clearly articulate your vision
Now this may sound like a really easy thing to do, and at one level, it should be. But time and time again I see founders frustrated by the fact that those around them don’t always ‘get it’.
What is obvious to you, may not be to others
For the founder this can be extremely frustrating and annoying, they have real difficulty grasping the fact that not everybody sees everything the same way they do. This arises for two main reasons, firstly to the founder the vision is so abundantly clear that having to explain it seems like stating the abundantly obvious, surely they should not have to do that, right? Well the reason that is wrong leads to the second reason, unless someone somewhere has clearly explained the vision, revealed it to a level and in a form that somebody else can relate to it and understand it, then it’s very unlikely to just magically form in another person’s head. So unless you and all your team and stakeholders are all telepathic, it explicitly needs to be put there!
Generally for startups, the founder’s vision will often be well understood by the co-founders, it’s usually that shared vision that has bought them together. However as the business grows and more people come on board unless very conscious steps have been taken to share the vision, then the risks of misunderstanding and misdirection of activity becomes greater. If the founder and co-founders don’t find ways to make the vision a shared one then the chances are signs of fracture will start to show up sooner or later. I well recall when I was growing my business the first time it dawned on me that not everybody on the team clearly shared my way of thinking about things like values, customer relationships and how we position ourselves in the market. It was a real wake-up call and made me realise that part of my job was to make sure the vision did not only just exist in my head!
“But you don’t understand”
But it’s not just about making sure the vision is shared by your team. Pitching to investors is another situation where the founder needs to work hard to express their vision. One of the reasons investors like to see pitches is not just to have the business opportunity presented to them, they also want to see if you can sell the concept and selling the vision is part of that. The post pitch Q&A is often the acid test time and there is one line you really don’t want to hear from a founder in response to being pressed on some aspect of their business model, that infamous phrase “but you don’t understand”.
Sadly I have heard this countless times and for me it’s a red flag and an almost automatic fail. Why? Two reasons, firstly it’s a comment that usually emerges from frustration with the questioning party’s apparent lack of understanding, but it throws the ‘fault’ for the lack of understanding back on the questioner and therefore fails totally to move the dialogue forward. My usual thought when I hear this line is ‘too right, we don’t understand, because you have not explained it properly’, just occasionally I may actually say that! The second fail reason, this response reveals the way the founder manages gaps in communication and understanding. If that is the approach they are taking, then it’s probably going to happen a lot and that almost certainly means they are going to be quite hard work to deal with!
Practice articulating your vision
So take some time to think about how you articulate your vision, how do you explain and make clear how your business model works for those that need to understand it. Think about how you say things and how it needs to be tweaked slightly for different audiences, your team, your customers and prospective investors, each of these will be attracted to different aspects of your vision. However you tweak it the vision will always need to make a cogent whole, a robust mental model they can all understand. If you hit frequent roadblocks in people grasping or understanding it then you need to own that deficiency and work on ways to better explain it. Think about the times when it’s going to be appropriate to take the time to make sure the person you are talking too really does understand it. Oh, and delete the phrase “but you don’t understand’ from your vocabulary!