Don’t build anything until you have a clear startup mission

Every startup is building a product, but not every startup has a clear mission.

In this post I will explain how we defined our mission by focusing on our story.

Our story

Here is the story of in a nutshell:

3 years ago, my partner and I co-founded 3Dsellers, a company that develops tools for eBay sellers.

We bootstrapped the company from 0 to 200K customers and 11 employees.

Growing a business sound like a simple process:
1) Analyze your business
2) See what’s not working
3) Fix it
4) Repeat

However implementing this process was a difficult task.
We worked hard to measure everything, track conversions, build charts, create dashboards, compare metrics and more.
We used different analytic tools which really helped us, but we felt that the existing tools are still too complicated, expensive and limited in functionality.

We decided to build an analytic tool, that will help both us and other startups grow. We named it Kilometer.IO

Kilometer will be simple, flexible and affordable, better than anything else currently available.

Defining our mission

When building or planning a new startup we usually think about what we are going to build. I think that this is wrong.
First, we have to stop and understand why we want to build it.

The answer to why? is your startup mission.
The answer to what? is your strategy for getting there.
The why? can change regularly.

Let me give you an example: According to the Economist, Steve Jobs’ mission statement for Apple in 1980 was “to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

His mission was not to make iPhones or iPads or Macbooks.
All these devices are just an implementation of Apple’s bigger goal — to create technology that will change your life.

You can definitely tell that Apple are achieving this goal over and over again.
iPhones changed the way we use our phone.
iTunes changed the way we are consuming music.
The Apple watch will probably change the way we think about our watch.

Your mission should be inscribed deep in your company’s DNA.

At Kilometer, we set our mission as “Helping startups grow.”

What do we need to do to achieve this mission?
We will: Build an analytic tool for startups -> Make it easy to use -> Get people to use it -> Improve it

The next question we asked ourselves was:
“Is building a great tool really the best way to help startups grow? Is it enough? Can we do anything else to fulfil our mission?”

We decided that building a great tool is not enough,
new tools will probably pop up in future, existing tools will try to improve,
we need to think about sustainable advantage that is more powerful than features or price (those can be easily copied by our competitors).

To achieve our mission, not only we will build the best analytics tool for startups, but we will also build a community that will share with each other how to use our tool to grow their business.

The world’s fastest car is useless unless you know how to drive.

Most of the marketing techniques I’ve used were a direct result of learning from other people’s experience.
Sharing knowledge with colleagues, reading blogs, books and case studies is the foundation of every successful marketing “hack”.

Google Analytics is a very powerful tool, but it always felt too complicated, and just “not for me”.
A year ago I saw my friends using Google Analytics at his startup.
When he demonstrated to me how he use it, and helped me dig into a few of its powerful features,
I was amazed and I really understood how important is it to see what other people are doing with tools.

Since we want to help startups grow, rather then just charge them for a tool they don’t know how to use, we need to build a community of Growth Hackers around the product.

This community will inspire its members to learn from each other and share how they use our tools to achieve success.

When your mission is bigger than “build features A, B and C,” you can see the big picture, understand what is the value you are providing to your users, and what you need to do in order to deliver it.

A mission should be a vision of the value you provide to people, not a list of features

5 Years from now the world will change, feature “X” will not be good enough, we will probably need to build feature “Y”.
As long as we know why we are doing what we are doing, we can be sure that we are moving in the correct direction toward our mission.

Having a clear mission helps with product development

When planning we came up with a list of features we wanted to develop.
Are those features essential for our mission? Will they all help startups grow?
We need to continuously check every part of the product we are planning to build in order to make sure it fits our mission.

Having a clear mission helps with marketing message

When developing solutions for eBay sellers at 3Dsellers(a company we founded in 2012),
we had a clear mission: “Build tools to help sellers sell more”.
We choose this mission since we felt that increasing sales was the biggest problem eBay sellers faced.

When someone visits our website we want him to feel he came to the right place,
that we can help him increase his sales, and that we have a variety of tools that were intentionally built for this purpose.

For instance, when users asked for a shipping automation tool, theoretically we could have built it, but it would not have fit our mission.

Unfortunately, many startups devolve into a list of features, without a clear understanding of why they are building all those features.
Will these features help the startup achieve its mission?

This blog is part of our effort to show you how we manage our startup, how much money we make, how many users we have, which marketing techniques we try, and basically how we grow step by step.

You are welcome to join our journey! Share your experience and help us build tools that you will love to use.