“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” —Tony Robbins

In this episode, Mitchie and Amaury walk us through creating a business vision, and breaking it down into smaller, actionable steps with the added participation of your own customers.

Show notes

  • What’s the importance of building a business vision
  • How far do you go
  • How to turn it into something you can actually act on
  • Why building a startup is like climbing the Himalayas
  • What the “smaller mountains” look like when building a startup
  • How to know how you can provide value
  • Where motivation comes into play when we’re talking about your business vision

Links 

Transcript

Read the transcript

Mitchie Ruiz: Welcome to My CTO Friend the Podcast, where founders come to learn how to manage a tech startup. This is Mitchie Ruiz, and I’m with Amaury Khelifi. Hi Amaury.

Amaury Khelifi: Hi Mitchie, and welcome, startupers, to today’s podcast. In this episode, we are [going] to talk about how to build a vision, how to split the big picture into small actionable steps, and how to involve your customers in that process.

Mitchie: Now, remember that for this first series of the podcast, we are working our way down Amaury’s book, going through the tips and real startup experiences he’s gathered throughout the years. So if you’re a founder without technical background, listen up because you’re in the right place. Now let’s just go ahead and jump right in.

Amaury: What’s the importance of building a business vision? I think that’s where everything starts. When I started my startup a few years ago, I was trying to fall asleep. And like light that turned on, I got an idea, and then I just woke up. I woke up and I spent one or two hours writing, writing all ideas that came to my mind. And I think almost any startup founder starts kind of [that] way.

Mitchie: They have a revelation, a big idea that gets a hold of them, and they just start writing away and start imagining what that’s going to look like.

Amaury: What it could look like, and then one idea brings another one [and so on]. That’s magic.

Mitchie: I have a quick question. So when you are having this idea, and you’re writing down what it could be, how far do you go? Are you imagining the whole thing? Are you just having this vague notion of what it could be?

Amaury: The first reflex is to write everything that comes to mind, business model… I think one of the first things I did is trying to manage commissions and how much people can pay. And maybe we should have focused more, instead of just thinking of how much people would pay, on who do we want to serve. And I think that must be the first reflex that a good founder might have. We will find a way to generate revenue. No worries about that. The main thing is who do we want to serve and how do we want to help them. That’s the first focus of building a vision.

Mitchie: And it does make sense. If you haven’t figured out how you’re going to help people, you haven’t figured out what your value is, and then no one will pay for something without value. So going through those first steps at the beginning of who you’re going to serve that comes with the revenue afterwards. The revenue will solve itself out. Well, just wanted to get that out of the way. Now once you’re there, once you’re in that process of getting that idea out of your head, how do you turn that into something you can actually act on?

Amaury: The first step is to brainstorm at 360 in terms of technologies, in terms of business model, in terms of audience, in terms of communications, in terms of, “How can I bring value?” So you need to do this brainstorming and also talk with people around you. If you have a friend who is an engineer, talk with him. If you have someone else in Web marketing, talk with him as well. He might have good recommendations in terms of communications, maybe starting your YouTube Channel.

It’s a whole thing, building a startup is a 360 process. It’s not only just a product or an audience. You have so many things that creating a mind map—a mind map is a great tool to get started with your main concept and then you just draw lines and new idea one after [another]. And that comes naturally.

Mitchie: And all of this process of brainstorming and mind mapping and getting to know what other people think of your idea, you should always have it right under the main notion, the big vision of what you want to have.

Amaury: Yeah, absolutely.

Mitchie: It has to be your North Star.

Amaury: Yeah, you still have that vision, and the vision is something that where we might be able to figure out what your values are, and how you want to change the world in some way. And behind that, of course, the first step, you are not going to change the world with a single website or even with a few customers. But that might be the vision of something bigger that you want to achieve down the road.

Mitchie: And while we were discussing this topic, you came up with this really great analogy of looking at your startup and your end product as climbing the Himalaya. You have this huge mountain, a big goal that you want to achieve. But you can’t just decide that you’re going to climb the Himalaya, put on a backpack, and get a plane ticket and get there, and try to do it. You need to go through a lot first.

Amaury: Yeah, absolutely. And lots of founders that come to me, they saw Airbnb, they saw Facebook, they saw all [those] big startups, and then they have a new idea, the fact that you can build maybe the Airbnb for something, the Facebook for this positioning or for this type of audience. Some of them want to build a social media. Come on, we don’t build social media, we become social media at some point. And that’s the biased way, the fact that we have startups all around us, they were here for a while, several years at least, and we imagine that we can build something at their stage, while in fact we need to build something smaller in order to grow one step, one version at a time.

Mitchie: Or one mountain at a time. You need to start with the small hills.

Amaury: Yeah, absolutely. Like if we want to compare it to the Himalaya analogy, of course.

Mitchie: Yes. And something actually very interesting is that when you are tackling a huge project like building a startup, you might think that the only stage worth enjoying is when you get there, when you get to the end of it. And that’s not really true. It’s like saying that only the summit is a good part of the mountain. All of the journey to get there while you’re climbing, while you’re getting there, that’s worth documenting, that’s worth putting as much work. Even if you’re climbing a small mountain, that’s a step to get to that big startup, that big Himalaya that you’re going to climb. So for what you’ve shared so far, how can we translate these smaller mountains in the startup building business? So what does that look like when you’re building a startup?

Amaury: Well, when we create a project, we are going to identify maybe 10, 15, 20 functionalities that we want to see in that application. And the focus that you need to do is to be able to prioritize that functionalities and based on what you as a founder, you want to put your focus on based on what people are willing to pay, as well as how complex it is to build these functionalities. And that will help you to build what we call the roadmap, of course, with steps, planning, times and investment, and budget according to each step. Because if you want to build Facebook, as an example, it might cost you billions, or maybe not billions but millions and millions. And the product that you would give to people would not make sense at all. Because there are thousands of thousands of functionalities on Facebook. It would be a very messy product if you were creating something like that. And the right way is to identify what the single functionality that you can bring to your client’s life.

Mitchie: So the core of your idea, in a sense. So Facebook, like you said, it has so many things. There’s Marketplace. There’s Groups. There’s Pages. There’s connecting with friends and advertising, and so many things. So the idea would be for each startup founder to get to the core of what they want to achieve.

Amaury: Yeah, to get to the core. And there is something else that we need to take into consideration, is the change management of your client. Because your clients are used to doing things in a certain way. So the best thing you should work on is to understand how your clients, how your prospects go through these challenges today, and how you can at some point help them with a single step. And then this first tool that you are going to provide them will help them in a second way as well [and so on]. So it’s like having a 10-step journey, and you are just going to help them to do the first one, and then second one, [and so on]. So help them where you can bring them the biggest impact on their own duties.

Mitchie: I see. So taking again Facebook as an example, the process where you’re stepping in, the steps that you’re helping these people achieve would be in connecting with people? That would be kind of like the journey that you’re stepping in there?

Amaury: Well, it depends on which project. If we want to create—I often take this example, but an Airbnb, if I want to build Airbnb tomorrow, what I would do is to create a list and an audience, and make people, yeah, connect with each other. And that’s the same with Facebook. If you want to create a Facebook platform, what you should focus on is what are people’s hobbies, what they are interested in, and then connect people within that common points. It might be hobbies, it might be places where they live, etcetera.

Mitchie: Right. Depending on the field.

Amaury: Yes.

Mitchie: So the process in a sense of an Airbnb or a Facebook, a place where you connect with people, you would need to just go ahead and isolate the process, isolate the idea and the topic that you’re connecting about, and then look at those steps. Look at where you can step in, where you can help, where you can boost someone and make their life a little bit easier.

Amaury: Absolutely. And if you were building Facebook one more time, maybe you should start like a new university forum, and that’s the way Facebook came up, something like 15 years ago. They just created a forum for their university, and it became something a lot bigger.

Mitchie: So that’s really the way to do it. I mean, that’s the way it has been done, and that’s the way we need to do it right now. We can begin with the Himalaya. So once you have isolated that small part that you can step into and give a boost, what do you then? How do you know how you can provide value in that process?

Amaury: You can know if people see value whenever they are ready to pay. So in their process, in their day-to-day life, when you start to provide them value through content, through methodologies, through tools, through just services—services is a very good way to start a startup, even a SaaS startup. I often say that software as a service startups start by services, and then you will replace yourself by software. So identify this and make people pay. Make people pay for the help you provide them. And if they are willing to pay for your time, hopefully, they will be able to pay for a software that will provide the same outcome or even a better outcome if we bring AI or more data in this analysis, that can be even better.

Mitchie: And something that you mentioned before is even in the way you’re tackling these tasks, you should be innovative. So we mentioned this a little bit earlier when we were talking about the innovator role in our earlier episode, but to not only be innovative with your idea and what your startup is going to be, but also the way you make it happen, the way you communicate with your customers, the way you plan, the way you separate those big tasks into smaller ones, be innovative, think outside the box so that you can get new results and more refreshing results and more creative ways to make that dream happen.

Amaury: Yeah, absolutely. That’s the only way. That’s definitely the only way.

Mitchie: Now what about motivation? When we’re talking about vision, there’s something just a little bit inspirational about it. It’s not just this business plan, but it’s more about a dream. So where does motivation come into play when we’re talking about our business vision?

Amaury: I often say that the founder is going to build his own structure, the company structure around him. So he needs to communicate what the end vision is right [off] the bat, for sure. Then he needs to describe how he can get there, how the company can get to that point, ensuring all the steps that he already envisions. And then he’s going to hire people that believe in that vision. He’s going to get investments from investors that believe in that vision, and work with partners as well as attracting customers that fit to this vision that resonate to the founders.

When we talk about product design and building a software or an offer that fits the founder, we might be even able to figure out what’s the personality of the founder just by seeing the product. And I feel like big brands like Apple, we have a bit of that behind. We can figure out what are the personalities of the founders behind their brands.

Mitchie: And these are usually strengthened in the brand. You can see, let’s say, the best aspects of someone’s personality, and they are strengthened when the company starts getting bigger and starts getting more powerful and starts being able to mass supply their product because it just gets multiplied inside their product and their customers, and inside their community. Because it becomes a community that people that use that service or that product, they become a community and they’re actually, like you said, resonating with the person that created it.

Amaury: Yeah, absolutely.

Mitchie: It’s a powerful thing.

Amaury: That’s just exciting. Honestly, that’s just exciting. When you do that work for yourself, you truly work on yourself to personal improvement, etcetera, and you know who you are from the bottom of your heart, from your guts, and then you communicate that to people, and people follow you. That’s just amazing. And that’s where you build a business, not just to build a business or to earn money, but to serve people because that’s what it’s all about when we build a business, is to help people, to bring solutions to help them moving forward faster, easier.

Mitchie: Wonderful. On that note, that was very uplifting. Is there anything else we should talk about on this topic?

Amaury: No, I think we touched on a bit of everything in terms of building a vision is just a starting point, and you need to keep it in mind all along your journey. And to improve your vision while communicating on it, because people will suggest a lot of things and that’s by listening to people that you will be able to form your vision on a long term. But you were about to touch on something else, [weren’t you]?

Mitchie: On the motivation part of it?

Amaury: No, I thought you wanted to come on to another idea.

Mitchie: No, I was just thinking because what we’ve talked about, it’s very inspiring, it’s very encouraging. It is a little intimidating. But what you said about wanting to help people, being the core of doing a startup, it just got me thinking a little bit that you really need to be genuine to be a startup founder. The company that you’re going to build is a reflection of yourself, not only professionally but personally. You need to put it all in there. You can’t do it half way.

And what we talked about before on ‘What startups WANT vs what they NEED,’ how startup founders, they have so much at stake. There’s so much risks in building a startup. And just trying to put everything you have in it is going to help you avoid some of those risks because everything’s going to be more consistent.

You are definitely going to get more people on your side by just being yourself and letting that show in your company, in your company culture, in your employees, in your mission, in your product. It’s something that got me thinking that you really need to be raw to be a startup founder.

Amaury: Yeah, you need to care [about] your people, absolutely. And there are different types of mindset that brings me to this idea. For a while in the US, people were saying, create the biggest [number] of user base as you can. We don’t care [about] generating money. We’re going to generate money later. But I feel like it does not really matter how many people you have in your database. What really matters is how much you help people.

And that’s where it’s okay to start without a business model [that’s] very fine-tuned. It’s okay to start without generating money from day one. But what you need to do from day one is to help people to care and to listen [to] what they have to share with you. And then you will figure out a new innovative way to help them in their daily life.

Mitchie: And like we said at the beginning, to integrate your customers into your process, that process of listening to them and hearing what they have to say, and what they’re sharing about their lives and their struggles and their challenges, that’s going to shape in turn your roadmap and what’s most important to them, coming back a little bit to those smaller, attainable steps. Those are also going to be in some way defined by what your customers need.

Amaury: Yeah, absolutely. They will almost never tell you what they want or what they are willing to pay. But they will tell you what their difficulties are. And that’s your role as a founder to turn [those] difficulties into solutions. But I think that’s something that we are going to get deeper in our next episode.

Mitchie: Yes, we are. Our next episode, talking about that, that’s ‘Know your customer.’ So we already dabbled a little bit into that today. But I hope you join us next episode to talk about how to get into the mindset of your customer and how to provide something of value to them. Now before we go, I just want to thank you, Amaury, for this wonderful conversation.

Amaury: Thank you, Mitchie.

Mitchie: A lot of insight.

Amaury: Yeah, it’s always a pleasure to be with you. An in conclusion, let’s just try to sum up very quickly.

Mitchie: Yeah, so we started with a startup vision, a big idea. The one you had in the shower or while driving or washing the dishes, you came up with this huge idea. And the point of it is you need to write everything down, like you said. We need to make sure that all of those little parts of your idea are there. And shape a big vision, a big idea of what that startup is going to be and how it can be, how it could look like.

From that, we break everything down into little steps. So the idea would be to climb smaller mountains before you get to that Himalaya of your big startup. By separating that idea into small attainable steps, you can get the people that can actually complete those tasks.

And just again, motivation. Make sure that you remember why you started. You remember that initial idea. And that you have in the middle of your startup journey, why you’re doing this, why you want to help people and be yourself while you’re building startup.

Your company is going to be a reflection of yourself and the people that you hire, the people that you attract to invest or to use your product are going to be attracted to your personality inside your project. So it does sound intimidating, but it’s really exciting. It looks like a lot of work, but exciting work nonetheless.

Amaury: What a wonderful conclusion. Thank you, Mitchie.

Mitchie: My pleasure. So if you want to learn a little bit more about startup tech management, Amaury, where do they have to go?

Amaury: Yeah, just myctofriend.co. There are lots of content—videos and courses, just to learn technical management and many other things startup founders need to know.

Mitchie: That’s right. And for links and notes of today’s episode, you just need to add a slash and the episode number to myctofriend.co, in this case, slash four: myctofriend.co/4. Now you can also get all of the other episodes by adding slash podcast: myctofriend.co/podcast.

Amaury: And by the way, I am writing this time my book [Startup Without a CTO], thanks to Mitchie’s help. If you want to pre-order a print copy of that book, you can go to startupwithoutcto.com. And if you pre-order a copy now on startupwithoutcto.com, you will get an early digital version two months before the official launch. You just need to go, again, to startupwithoutcto.com. Thanks again. Thanks again, Mitchie. And we look forward to talking to all of you again very soon for the ‘Know your customer’ episode.

Mitchie: That’s right. Next episode, ‘Know your customer,’ looking forward to it. Thank you, everyone, for listening. Thank you, Amaury. Until next time.

Amaury: Thank you, Mitchie. Bye, everyone.

Mitchie: Bye.