The True Value of Vision

While watching Benjamin Zander’s famous Ted Talk, it clicked for me. The major lesson of a 6-month long journey popped into my head, as I listened to Mr. Zander speak about what his job as a symphony conductor entailed. Finally, I understood the true value of vision.

At my 7-person startup, what started as partnership talks 6 months ago, quickly evolved into acquisition talks, as we expected it might. As I began to do more research into other acquisitions made by this potential acquirer, I wondered what made all these relatively young, immature companies, with negligible hard assets and negative cashflows, worth so much money? And what was it about some founders that justified them being offered these 8-figure retention packages?

As I spoke to other founders who had been through similar situations, it became clear that the value was in the people. “You’d be surprised how valuable a well-functioning team can be to a rapidly growing company,” one young founder who had his startup acquired said to me. “From their perspective, think about how much value having your tech/team accelerates their trajectory,” he said. A venture capitalist who had been through this himself and then seen it many times through his portfolio remarked, “Companies like that, have no shortage of talented people they can hire, but what is harder to find, is leaders.”

As we prepared for our trip down to meet this acquirer, I reflected on these words. I asked another venture capitalist what else I could be doing to prepare, and she said: “The most important thing is to know your data and be able to talk about your vision and the potential.” I was starting to see a common thread develop with the words: people, leadership and vision. As we made final preparations for our trip down to California, we made sure we knew our talking points related to our people, leadership and vision.

The day after our meetings in sunny California were complete, I asked our CEO about one of his meetings with an influential executive from the potential acquirer. That person was most interested in understanding whether his current passion project might align with our CEO’s vision. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

Back in Toronto, my mom (a huge classical music fan) showed me Benjamin Zander’s Ted Talk. I half paid attention as my mind wandered. But then, Mr. Zander, a conductor for the Boston Symphony, said:

“I had an amazing experience, I was 45 years old, I had been conducting for 20 years, and I suddenly had a realization. The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound; he depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful. And that changed everything for me; I realized my job was to awaken possibility in other people.”

And suddenly it clicked.

What was a “vision” but a possible future? And if someone can awaken this possibility in you (or get you to buy into their vision) such that you feel compelled to help, then doesn’t that make him your leader? And so, if this leader inspires you and others with his vision, and now has aligned a team of talented people to push towards this possible future, is that not an incredibly powerful, valuable thing?

See therein lies the true value of vision. Vision is the tool used to inspire and lead people in an important and valuable direction. And when you have a group of highly talented people, aligned and working well together, pushing towards something meaningful, well that is rare, valuable and in technology circles, often justifies a seven or eight figure price tag.