Vision Is Not Words on Paper

They dive into the water, but don’t know the bottom. That’s how the fate of businessmen who jump from one startup to another without any vision looks. Why company vision is important, how to work with it and not let it overwhelm you is what we talked about with Robert Janča, a visionary guy, a creator of stars, a marketing, branding and innovation expert from startlights.cz.

Robert, you helped brands like Kofola, Czech Railways, Botas 66, and Zoot with their business development and marketing. How do you perceive a company vision?

A vision means three words to me - meaningfulness, authenticity and engagement. These help me answer the question Why, How and What I do.

Can you give me an example of a vision?

A vision of a hockey team can be winning the championship title. A vision is, therefore, an ideal that the team aspires to reach. It implies strategies, tactics and operational plans and helps determine the meaning of our everyday actions. Simply said, a vision is not that I will be the most beautiful, clever and richest person in the world. Being the best at something is not a vision, it is a goal.

How does one create such a vision?

There is no universal recipe. A vision usually comes when one finds a hole in the market, a problem or a stereotype that they want to change. A vision drives change, development and innovation. When someone asks them what they want to do, they should be able to answer simply. The best visions are those which are one to two sentences long.

What if the vision is so simple that even competitors have the same one? For example, "I want to change the way people use transportation."

In this case, the vision needs to become more specified. More people want to fly to Mars, but everyone wants to achieve something else there. One may want to get there first, another one to build the first housing estate or find water there, etc.

How should one pass on their vision?

There is a nice word for it called onboarding. The person who came with the vision should pass it on to the newly recruited people in a sensitive and comprehensive manner. The worst is when people say, "Take it as a fact. This is how we do it here." Visions written on the website or on the wall serve pretty much nothing. A good vision is such that inspires you to think and develop. That is why one should read the vision from time to time and every three to five years, employees should discuss how they they feel about the vision - are they too narrow-minded in fulfilling the vision, or did they get too far away from the vision?

Do you know any company which has an inspiring vision?

I like the vision of Kofola, which is based on love. They usually only do things that they “love”. That is their way. Besides other things, this value stems from employee’s behavior within the company and Kofola is trying to spread it outward. That’s why they are so successful.

Can a vision take a turn for the worse?

Yes, sometimes, one sticks to a vision so much that it becomes harmful. When you are working on a project, until certain point you can give it up. But there comes a moment when can’t give it up, even though the vision can lead you astray. People can give you advice, but it’s of no worth.

Can you think of anyone who became too obsessed with their vision?

Perhaps Elon Musk with his vision of Tesla and Mars colonization. I think it won’t go well if he doesn’t slow down the pace and take a different approach. It seems like he is planning to fly on Mars tomorrow, but it might not happen over next twenty years. It's a beautiful example of how a vision can be thwarted and lose its charm.

Interestingly, everyone worships Elon Musk like some Superman and especially, entrepreneurs take him for contemporary Steve Jobs.

It took Steve Jobs many years for his idea to succeed. Elon Musk, on the other hand, wants to fulfill his vision incredibly quickly. It closely reminds me of startups that have to defend the viability of their product within five months, while they used to have ten years for that in the past. How did it happen that the time shortened so much? Why don’t startups today have the same amount of time as Steve Jobs had to make Apple such a perfect brand? I don’t think it’s unfair to put such a pressure on the young visionaries.

How do you feel about visions in the startup world? Is this environment creative?

It seems to be very toxic and manipulative to me. One comes up with an idea, but from the outset they are under the pressure of an investor who tells them that they must have such and such figures to invest in their idea. Another barrier arises when one starts to compare with other entrepreneurs, and so moves away from who he is.

Entrepreneurs work day in day out, put all their money into the project, and persuade others to do it for free, but after some time, the project stops making sense to them, but they still remain in it. Why? I think they do it because of their responsibility towards the investor and other people. They start losing their authenticity, creativity and their own visions. Can it end up well? I don’t think so.

That’s interesting. I have never heard anyone talk about startups in this way.

I think the environment is unhealthy for people. Unicorns, that people talk so much about and many dream to become one, are doing well at the top, but no one cares about what happens in the lower deck. Fuckup nights don’t talk at all about emotional losses that people suffer. Nobody cares about what happens to people after investors reject their “stupid” idea, whether they don’t lose their self-confidence or how they feel.

You are right that sometimes feedback from investors can be tough, and it can completely discourage people from doing business.

Well, they either get discouraged, or they continue founding other startups because someone in the Silicon Valley in the US said that every normal entrepreneur should fail several times before they achieve anything. I find it stupid, but everyone trusts this mantra. Nobody cares that I have failed, perhaps I won’t even wonder why I did, it’s probably due to the fact that I didn’t have a vision, so I'd better create another startup. I’ll have a look at some idea in the world and try to do it here. People aren’t well-prepared and yet, they start a business.

When I hear the word startup, I'm slowly starting to see a lot of risky investment behind. Something unstable and uncertain. I am very sorry that startups have such a designation. A definition of a startup itself is ambiguous. Take for example this one: "Startup is a state of mind, in which people consciously exchange the feeling of stability for a promise of a potential rapid growth with the possibility of immediate impact." But it's just a company.

Do you think that’s why 9 out of 10 startups fail?

Maybe. You know, I am fascinated by the fact that this number doesn’t bother anyone. How is it possible that so many fail? The greatest brains of the world should be interested in creating better and better things in the world and startups could be bearers of this. It’s obvious that there is something wrong in the startup environment and nobody cares. I haven’t met anyone who would be concerned about this and have it as their vision. To change it and remove the causes. I would be happy if one day I could decrease this percent of disappointed and unsuccessful startups. That’s actually the reason why I got engaged in this environment.

See, what a vision! Could you summarize for me how to work with a vision?

Think about whether what you are doing is meaningful, whether it is authentic and whether you are willing to engage in it. Don’t be afraid to let the idea ripen for several months or years and leave it when it doesn’t make sense to you. In the beginning, you usually have nothing, only your vision that you are trying to materialize. That’s why I have always appreciated family businesses because they are humble and authentic. In essence, they do everything that their common sense tells them and it’s often the way to the best vision.