I spent six and a half years in undergraduate and graduate business school and I can tell you, without a doubt, that the worst taught topic was company vision. It’s clear, in retrospect, that not a single professor I had truly understood it (or at least could explain it in a way I could grasp).
Fred Wilson has a new sustainability post this morning, in which he shared a video of Dennis Crowley, founder and CEO of Foursquare, talking about the time when Facebook announced Facebook Places, Google announced Google Places, and everyone was competing with tiny Foursquare:
Fred goes on to point out that this is why we need a corporate vision. That vision keeps the company on the straight and narrow, focuses it on the long-term success of the business, not a short term roadblock.
Here’s what happens: small company starts to gain some traction, big company realizes it is something they should be doing and makes a build versus buy decision. If they decide to build the technology, whether that’s because small company rebuffs big company or because big company decides just to build their own, little company now feels overwhelmed by the competition.
But here’s the thing: big company has not thought about the problem for years, lived with it and experienced it first-hand. Big company is a mercenary, bent on getting into the space because they think they need to. Small company, meanwhile, lives and breaths this problem every day, talks to customers who live and breath this problem every day. And that’s the competitive advantage: the small company’s ability to solve the problem better than big company.
A vision is critical. Without it, the company gets waylaid by every distraction, every competitor, every decision point. And as for the CEO, if she doesn’t feel it in her gut, live and die by that vision, then the company will never make it.