How to give your startup the right mission statement

Today I spent a few hours mentoring the chosen cohort of the FastForward Pre-Accelerator Program. The Founders were in the quest to build an MVP and communicate their startup’s offering ahead of an upcoming pitch to Angel investors. Having coached numerous startups to prepare for pitches to corporate customers at The Bakery, I knew which dos and don’ts I was expected to offer advice on.

What really struck me about companies at this pre-seed stage was that despite the diversity amongst them (industry focus, Founder age, team size, background etc) they all struggled with the same thing. From AI, fashion brands, SaaS products, hairdressing marketplace, ethical retailers, to headphone products… it was in their communication.

Defining their mission statement.

Instinctively, everyone knew what they wanted to achieve in terms of the tech build, revenues, business direction and what they needed support with. Yet, the detail that was missing in nearly all cases was the clear articulation of why what they were building needed to exist in the world.

Why what they had to offer mattered for their customers.

“Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you.”
–Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO

Without identifying who you are serving and why you are serving them, it is really hard to get clarity on objectives or product roadmap. It’s almost impossible to prioritise features, or market research groups, or ideal Board advisors if you haven’t narrowed down that mission.

Communicating WHY a company exists is the foundation of any successful sales pitch, whether to your first investor or your 100th customer.

To gain clarity on your startup’s mission statement, I would encourage spending a lot of time answering the following questions:

What problem exists in the world that I have set out to solve?

The best companies are born out a perceived need that has been observed in a really tangible, ideally painful way. It could be the length of time it took you to make a specific appointment, or how far you had to travel to buy a specialist product, or how frequently a common item breaks. Whatever the need, start with why you are addressing it, rather than how. Why did what you’re building need to be created? Identify what is broken.

What audience am I serving?

Be really specific. Corporate companies, or men aged 18–35 might sound specific but that is not nearly close enough. Take stock of your target demographic, if it is YOU then brilliant, ask yourself and people like you a million and one questions. If it’s a business customer what size company would it be, who in that company would buy from you and who else will be in that decision making process ahead of purchase. Really do your homework on what needs these customers have, what are they reading (where are their eyeballs) and what are their current buying habits? If you can understand this customer at a really granular level you are best placed to serve them.Try to please everyone and you’ll end up pleasing no one.

What will your product or service offer that is unique?

It is surprising how little time is focused on what specific USP people bring to the table. If it’s a ‘better’ alternative to other products on the market be really clear what is the specific edge you provide. Is is cost? Availability? Better service? If you want a ‘thing that does a bit of everything depending on your needs’ then you won’t be able to build something that wins in any of the categories.

Do I really care?

This might seem obvious but many people go into entrepreneurship because it’s cool or seems fun or glamorous. The dim reality is that for every press release, successful raise and high profile public speaking engagement that successful a Founder gets involved with; there are a thousand hours worth of slog behind the scenes. If you’re not super passionate and committed to this specific problem and the execution of its solution, its unlikely you’ll find it in you to make it work.

Call it what you will: your mission statement, your Why, the problem you are solving… Really hone in on this. Only once these are defined will you be able to communicate your vision in a pithy way that will get investors and customers lining up.


Ellen Kate Donnelly

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