From the Anatomy of a Start-Up: Emotions Edition Series
The first stage in any start-up experience is what I call “Visions of Grandeur,” and it’s undoubtedly one of the most exciting phases in the journey. The company vision is brand new, the possibilities are wide open, and the only expectations a founder needs to meet are his or her own. The creative process of bringing an imagined product to life is thrilling; in fact, for many founders, it’s the most compelling reason to pursue a new venture. The key here is not to temper the raw, uplifting emotions that lead one to fall in love with an idea, but rather to nourish that passion and use it to generate the motivation and enthusiasm to see your start-up through the peaks and valleys ahead.
The Visions of Grandeur phase starts with an idea. The idea is king. The idea is everything. It can come from any number of sources: a random conversation over drinks with friends; a unique angle on solving an everyday problem; a solution to a prevalent challenge the industry has yet to crack; or, most commonly, a timely opportunity to pair emerging technology with a founder’s unique perspective on the industry.
Regardless of where the idea comes from or what form it takes, the real challenge lies in bringing it to life. The clearest path to overcoming inertia and getting your business up and running is by understanding the current landscape and the opportunities that lie therein, without sacrificing any of the raw passion that sparked you in the first place. Sure, there can be value in naivety, but at some point, you will need to sell others on why your idea will vastly outperform existing alternatives. You can start by asking yourself:
Are there similar products or services that already exist, and how is my idea different and/or better? Why hasn’t someone else thought of my specific approach? And if comparable solutions exist, how can I separate my vision from the pack?
This isn’t an exact science, answers to these questions will inevitably differ from one founder to the next. But “stress-testing” is an important step toward fortifying your Vision of Grandeur and engendering similar belief and confidence in others. At the very least, answering these questions can help build the necessary momentum to take your idea to the next phase.
In some cases, you may develop concerns about the competition and where your business fits in. Moments like these should not be viewed as death knells, but as opportunities to adapt and improve your initial vision. The best way to fine-tune your product is by sharing it with potential customers. Product testing and/or working with potential customers to create service value propositions can help founders gain a better understanding of their business, as well as the opportunities and risks associated with it. Or you can start closer to home: family, friends, and close business associates may not be the most objective jury, but any enthusiastic reaction to your rough pitch will remind you why your idea is special and worth seeing through.
The most important factor, however, in shaping your Visions of Grandeur isn’t market research or customer feedback. It’s you. What kind of founder are you? What perspectives do you bring to the process?
If you have a technical background (which is usually the case) most of the mindshare at this early stage will go toward the design and features of the product over the more important and difficult challenge of customer acquisition and business modeling. Conversely, if the founder has a business background (preferred) then market fit, traction, and competition play a larger role early on, helping to shape the product design at a later stage. In either case, the ideal start-up consists of more than one founder with complementary technical and business experience.
I often remind founders in my portfolio:
“If you had known how much work was required for success, you may have opted for an alternative career.”
Although this is often true, with the right attitude, perseverance, and stamina, doors will typically open when challenges are met with ingenuity and a sense of opportunity. Most entrepreneurs are naïve about the amount of work and dedication required to succeed — and that’s not an entirely bad thing. Naivety can be a powerful tool in feeding creativity, fueling innovation, and finding progress where others perceive limits. Furthermore, being unfamiliar with the countless challenges that await allows a founder to lead with his or her greatest tool: passion.
Throughout my career, I have used Visions of Grandeur to add passion to my start-up investment pitches. Most people (and yes, even VCs) respond positively to passion and enthusiasm, so don’t be afraid to use a healthy dose of Visions of Grandeur to your advantage.
Here at Inspiration Ventures, Visions of Grandeur is an essential component in evaluating start-up companies for financial backing. In fact, it’s one of the first things we ask founders to talk about. Along with experience, market opportunity, and timing we believe that passion for the business is a requirement for long-term success. Market conditions will most likely change with time, but the enthusiasm, vision, and character of the founder are the most reliable ingredients of every investment. For this reason, always present your business plan in ways that allow you to express your passion. Passion is contagious and can be a very powerful way to convince others to get on board with your Vision of Grandeur. With any luck, the VC you’re enthusiastically pitching today will match your fervor when he advocates on your behalf tomorrow.
Next, I’ll be writing about the start-up phase called: The Imaginary Friend.
Robert Fanini is a General Partner at Inspiration Ventures, an early-stage investment fund founded on the belief that entrepreneurs can achieve the unimaginable through creativity and unrelenting perseverance. Learn more at InspirationVC.com and follow us on Medium for startup advice and insights.
By Robert Fanini, Partner at Inspiration Ventures
Illustrations by Rob Goodman