How important are aspirations to your company's success?

January 13, 2010 by

As an expansion stage investor, the companies that we invest in generally have a reasonably differentiated product, are contenders in a good product market, have a basic go-to-market methodology that they are executing reasonably well, and have business and economic models that are working reasonably well at the point that we invest. The goal that we have with each and every portfolio company management team is to help them build a great company.

We spend a lot of effort helping the companies get greater market clarity, build really economic and scalable methodologies (through product development, go-to-market development, and organizational and operational development teams through our global consulting services teams in OpenView Labs), and we spend a significant amount of time trying to help the companies become more aspirations driven (a.k.a., mission, vision, and values driven), which we believe are the right set of focal points that will help an expansion stage company expand into a larger growth stage company.

With respect to helping the companies become more aspirations driven, we offer workshops to our companies’ senior management teams to help facilitate their efforts to get really well baked and resonating aspirations and then helping the team create vehicles to get them incorporated into the day-to-day activities and decisions in their companies and ultimately become part of each company’s culture.

I was really interested to see Tony Hsieh’s interview in the New York Times on the topic of aspirations, and more specifically values, as I think that he has done an incredible job building Zappos‘ culture. I was really interested to understand that he built his first company without building culture and because he didn’t like the result he sold the company and decided that he needed to build the culture of Zappos, his next start-up, from day one.

In my view, developing, communicating, and living aspirations (mission, vision, values) are a great vehicle for helping to build company culture and both Zappos and Tony Hsieh are great examples of doing this really well. Take a look at the interview and think about it.

Just as a side point, there is a lot of cynicism in people about aspirations. I was pretty cynical about the use of aspirations for a long time, as 90-95% of companies either don’t have aspirations or have them written but don’t live them (which is even worse in my view). The net effect is that very few people have experienced a company with great culture from an employee or management viewpoint. My view changed when I realized that all of the products and companies that I really love have at their core a set of aspirations that they have driven into the culture of their company.

Think about the products and companies that you really love and you will find the same thing! Then, answer the question “how important are aspirations to your company’s success?” My view is that you can clearly build a large company without them (again, 90-95% of companies don’t do this well), but you will have a lot more fun and build your company better and easier with them!