Building a startup is sexy. The front-end developer with skinny jeans and hipster swag is the new version of a Scotch-drinking ad man.
And this is all good. Believe me, I love to rock the fake nerd glasses just like the next SoMa hacker, but there is an issue that often arises alongside new trends. Trends tend to be superficial. They are trends because they have hit some type of critical mass, and to gain critical mass you must have mass appeal. Appeal typically lives on the surface.
I believe entrepreneurship should be about adding value instead of just solving problems. When you aren't in touch with the purpose or vision, you are not setting yourself or your organization up for long-term success. This is why I think every entrepreneur should go through a thorough "vision validation" process before building a startup.
If you're an entrepreneur, you understand the concept of validation. You're constantly experimenting to validate certain assumptions you have. You ideate, build, test, learn, and start all over again. Going through this validation process helps you gauge your successes and failures, and helps you pivot or preserve.
But we often get caught up all the data and user feedback that we forget why we're building what we're building. We need to validate our vision to see if the sleepless nights are worth it, if we can handle forty "no's" from VCs, and if we're ready to make a ding in the universe.
I believe that validating a vision should involve an inquiry-based learning process in which you are asking yourself questions to inspect if your vision connects with your purpose, interests, and potential change you want to see in the world. Here are some questions you can ask yourself in an effort to validate your vision:
- Does my personal mission and company vision align? Creating a successful company takes more than smarts and hard work -- it takes passion. The bigger the game you're playing in, the more you're setting yourself up for temporary failure. Smarts and hard work can do little to get you beyond it; passion and vision does more. I have made it a point to only start businesses that I feel align with my personal mission, which is to add unique value with all I create. If I don't commit to that guideline when building a business, I can't commit to that business.
- How will this idea push society forward? This question tends to get lost in the sea of startup sexiness I talked about. However, when reviewing the history of entrepreneurship, it's evident that entrepreneur are creators that move the world forward. This should be your underlying mission. Go manage a hedge fund if your primary focus is money, politics for power and status…as an entrepreneur, your creativity and audacity is meant to transform society. So ask yourself: If I execute my vision, will the world be a better place?
- Do I want to be doing this 10 years from now? A friend of mine who sold a startup and co-founded two Y Combinator companies was telling me about his new venture. Recently, he's been working on a few ideas that got some traction and had some legs, but he wasn't excited to grow those ideas. This new venture was different -- I could hear it in his voice. He was pumped! He said he took a step back to reflect on the new idea he had and asked himself one simple question: “Do I want to be doing this 10 years from now?” He then answered the question with an emphatic "YES!"
- Who else shares this vision with me? This is a tricky one. A competition audit is essential before starting a business. Some industries support multiple players (agencies and other service-based companies), while others are winner-take-all (network-driven models like Facebook and Foursquare). These variables are important to access before you start; however, all this can be done with research. Find people who share your vision with you. Most successful companies need a team to make it work; therefore, inspiring a team that’s united under one grand vision is essential. Start talking to people about your idea, and tell them why you're doing it. Don't just tell anyone -- tell people you look up to and really connect with. People that if they backed you, you would know you're on to something.
Before you build your next startup, take the time to validate your vision. Look deep within (and sometimes outside) to see how your vision resonates with you and the people important to you. If it passes those tests, see if it resonates with your market.
Brenton Gieser is a social entrepreneur and the co-founder of Be Social Change and JoynIn. He is also a social media strategist focused on adding unique value through the products, projects and companies he builds.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.