When you are in the venture eco-system long enough, you will have heard the term “stubborn of vision, flexible on details.” There are other ways of saying it, but the general sentiment remains the same, make sure your goal never waivers, but be amiable to how you get there, it goes hand in hand with “there are many ways to skin a cat,” which is one of those sayings that I am surprised is still around in todays politically correct world.
👇 Here is a video of Jeff Bezos discussing this kind of idea and more.
The interesting thing is that I have seen a lot of startups recently focused on the inverse of this statement. I find that more often than not, founders are stubborn on process - flexible on vision.
Now, how are these two things different?
Sometimes it’s easier to visualize with a more physical mission, we spend so much time in the digital, but our brains clutch onto concepts in the physical world:
Christopher Columbus is famous for his discovery of America. His vision however was to discover a faster route to India!
He was rejected for financing the first time
He ended up consulting the queen on oceanic matters (He requested his title be “Admiral of the Ocean” - Awesome title.
After 8 years the queen agreed to fund his mission
He built boats, a crew and a plan
In between this 8 year span, he had wanted to discover a new path to India (searching in the unknown), however because of limited resources, he took steps towards his vision, rather than being able to accomplish it all at once. He built his brand, he surrounded himself with the people who could make it happen and eventually raised the money. He maintained the goal of the voyage while flexibly building out different pieces of the process along the way.
You can imagine his pitch to the Queen: “We cannot move any faster to India the old ways that everyone believes are the only ways! We must find a better way!”
For him, voyaging with a ship was the best option with his resources in order to attempt at his goal. He would have probably gone by foot, or flight if he believed there were better ways. He wasn’t focused on the ship, he was focused on the vision, solving a global problem.
“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
The money raise was a part of the process, it is a resource to get to the vision, not the vision itself.
Now, if Christopher Columbus had been flexible on vision, and stubborn on process, he would have focused incredibly hard on the boat, and probably fundraised for whatever Queen Isabella desired at the time because the problem he was trying to solve was less important than the tactics. Rather than discovering America, he would have probably designed faster boats going the same routes. Or he would have found that tourism was a better path towards immediate money, even though it doesn’t get you closer to the goal, it does allow for you to use a boat.
It may be because I focus on investing in extraordinary technology, the founders feel the need to present and focus on the technology they are using, in order to build their company. I see a lot of founders fixated on their technology, and not obsessive about their mission. Which one are you?
If you are using VR for X, who cares. What does VR enable you to do better! What does Bitcoin allow you to do better! It’s not the technology that matters. The technologies should be allowing for something new to exist towards building your mission.
Of course, I love this example also, because he did not discover a better way to India, he discovered an entirely new continent! You never know where you are going, until you get there. Be willing to change tactics, but stay fixated on a vision.