How (and why) to craft a vision and mission for your startup

Written By

Matt Speiser

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If a startup is a belief in how the world should work, vision and mission statements describe what that belief is and how to make it a reality. These foundational documents inform everything a business does, and are a guiding light for employees and prospective hires.

As such, crafting great vision and mission statements is key to setting a business on the path toward success. In this post, we’ll explain what vision and mission statements are, how they differ, and considerations for founders when creating their own vision and mission statements.

What is a mission statement?

A mission statement is an internal document that seeks to explain why a company exists. It’s typically one or two sentences long and comprised of three parts:

  • What the company does
  • How the company does it
  • Why the company does it

The mission statement serves the purpose of focusing employees and encouraging them to find new ways to achieve desired business outcomes. The mission statement typically sets the tone for a company’s culture, values, ethics, and agenda.

What is a vision statement?

A vision statement, on the other hand, builds off a company’s mission statement by illustrating what the world could look like if the company accomplishes its stated mission. As such, a vision statement is forward-thinking (typically 5-10 years out), ambitious, and designed to be aspirational. If employees can understand what the future they’re working towards looks like, ideally they’ll work harder to achieve it (assuming they’ve already bought in on the mission). In this way, the vision statement provides the organization with a common cause and enhanced sense of purpose.

While there’s no set format for a vision statement (some organizations combine a mission and vision statement together), most tend to eschew the particulars of how the business operates and lean instead into more abstraction and emotion to describe the impact the business could have on the world. Ideally, a company’s vision statement can be summarized in a sentence (as we’ll see in the examples further down).

Mission statement vs. vision statement

With those definitions in mind, it’s clear that what a company’s mission statement and vision statement have in common is that they both guide the direction of an organization. As such, they can (and should) help shape everything a company does, from product to process. The key nuance between the two is that a mission statement defines what your company does and why it does it (with respect to the immediate value and solution you’re providing), and the vision statement explains how your company achieving its mission could have a greater impact on the world. Both relate to a company’s core values and culture, and both can attract employees and investors — and keep them engaged, motivated, and excited.

However, a mission statement can only inform on the current status of your organization. The vision statement portrays what you believe your organization could become in the future — which may look very different than your current mission statement.

Mission statement examples

As previously mentioned, mission statements are short, punchy, and cover what an organization does, how it does it, and why it does it. Here are a few examples of persuasive mission statements:

  • Apple: “To bringing the best user experience to customers through innovative hardware, software, and services.”
  • Disney: “To entertain, inform, and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling.”
  • IKEA: “To offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.”

Vision statement examples

While there’s no set format for a vision statement, most also tend to be short and punchy. Here are a few resonant vision statements:

  • Shopify: “Make commerce better for everyone.”
  • Google: “Significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible.”
  • Patagonia: “Use all of our resources to defend life on Earth.”
  • Nike: “We see a world where everybody is an athlete—united in the joy of movement.”

Note that these vision statement examples offer big, bold visions of the future, but abstain from explaining exactly how these outcomes will be measured.

How to write strong vision and mission statements

Great vision and mission statements should temper ambition with realism and be broad enough to remain relevant as the company grows. Addtionally, they should be strategically written so as to help employees focus on the task at hand (i.e., this is what we’re trying to accomplish) while motivating them for the future (i.e., this is what could happen if we accomplish what we set out to do).

Although we discuss vision and mission statements in tandem — and while we noted earlier that some companies choose to combine the two — we recommend creating each one separately, allowing them to be their own individual thought exercises. These documents can be distributed together to employees and should work together, but it’s helpful to keep them broken apart for clarity and more immediate value. To that end, each can follow its own process to ensure that you land somewhere strong.

When sitting down to write your mission statement, consider the following process:

  1. Information capture: Write down who your company serves, what it offers to customers, and what makes it unique from other organizations in your market. Try to encapsulate all this information in a single sentence.
  2. Refine and edit: With the bones in place, tinker with the language or write variations in an effort to craft something that’s both resonant and persuasive.
  3. Collect feedback: Share the mission statement with people you trust (ideally within your organization) and incorporate their feedback into the final product.

Similarly, here’s a process you can apply to writing a vision statement:

  1. Determine your goals: Write down where you want the organization to go, what problems the organizaton can solve if successful, and how that might change the world.
  2. Be specific: Edit down your vision statement to make it as relevant to your organization as possible. Ideally, the end goal should be one only your organization is capable of achieving.
  3. Collect feedback: Share your vision statement with internal stakeholders to determine if it resonates, and incorporate feedback into the final product.

As you work through both your vision and mission statement, remember to remain connected to your company’s core values. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. As such, consider how your company’s actions and vision connect with its core beliefs. Focusing on values can humanize the work of a business and endear it to customers and employees.

Another important consideration here is to avoid buzzwords and jargon. The point of both the mission and vision statements is to be engaging, resonant, and clear. Overly convoluted prose or dull platitudes can dilute the impact of mission and vision statements and make them less accessible. This in turn makes it harder for them to serve their key purpose of anchoring your work and your team in a shared understanding of what you’re company is about.

When should you draft a vision and mission statement?

Vision and mission statements should be in place before a startup goes out to hire or fundraise. While the founders might understand the startup’s vision and mission, it’s important to be able to convey it effectively to prospective investors or employees.

Once in place, both the vision and mission statement should be revisited periodically as the startup scales. This ensures that both the mission and vision remain relevant and can continue to serve the purpose of guiding, uniting, and motivating stakeholders. A good best practice is to set aside time each year to review your organization’s vision and mission statements.

How to drive impact with your vision and mission statement

The process of creating a vision and mission statement can in itself be valuable in that it calls on you to be thoughtful about your company’s purpose, and create alignment on what that means in the long term. But it takes ongoing work to make the mission and vision a part of your company’s day-to-day culture and business, rather than just a few slides in your brand deck.

One way to ensure that your mission and vision remain top of mind for the team is to make sure that you’re surfacing and resurfacing them with the team on a regular basis. Many organizations invest time and resources in ensuring everyone knows and understands the company’s vision and mission by organizing regular workshops, holding seminars, and or sharing out visual assets (e.g., posters) that can serve as a constant reminder.

Beyond that, it’s also important to think about ways to measure the impact of your mission and vision. While these statements are more qualitative than anything — and though they are lofty and ambitious — it’s helpful to find a way to weave them into your company’s day-to-day business operations. This is where objectives and key results (OKRs) and key performance indicators (KPIs) come into play. When planning seasons come around, take the time to reflect on which of your OKRs roll up to the company’s mission and vision, and what KPIs they can measure to determine if the OKRs are being met.

Vision and mission statements are short, but their impact can be huge. Employees, investors, and customers want to know what a business is working towards and why it matters. Writing out great mission and vision statements can truly move the needle towards a business realizing that mission and vision.

Written by

Matt Speiser

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