Last week we officially announced that Voxa has raised a total of $2.5mm to build a world class messaging intelligence platform. I described the vision of messaging intelligence in a post on the Voxa blog here, and it was also well documented in this Atlanta Business Chronicle article by Urvaksh and this Pando article by Michael Carney.
The feedback has been positive form Voxa clients and friends and many have complimented our big vision. It’s a true compliment to hear things like “Wow, you guys are dreaming big!” and “We love your vision, those are really big problems.”
I just finished Peter Theil’s book, Zero to One. In his book, Theil describes true monopolies and encourages startups to build dramatic, big, new inventions that change the world and not to continue the cycle of incremental improvements and optimization. Every startup CEO building a tech product should read this book. It is a blueprint for your big vision.
However, coming to a clear and big vision wasn’t easy.
Over the last 4 months of raising money for Voxa, the most common feedback we heard from investors was “We like what you’re doing. You guys are a guaranteed single, but we are looking for home runs and grand slams. We’re looking for a billion dollar vision of yourself.” The delivery of the feedback usually came in the “build a product, not a feature of another product” jargon.
For us to hear this was difficult. It was painful because I think we knew it was true. We could tell you with great precision what we look like in 6-18 months, but we couldn’t see what value we add beyond the features we currently offer for Salesforce.com users. We couldn’t see the 5 year vision because we hadn’t yet spent the time and effort to develop it.
At the end of the process though, we reframed our message, we uncovered and built out a grand vision, and we now truly believe in it. Once we started truly believing in ourselves and have a confident vision, everything started accelerating.
If you’ve followed the Voxa story since last November, I hope you appreciate how far we’ve come with the story we’re telling. Here are my top takeaways for any CEO hunting for a big vision.
It’s hard. Taking where you are today and creating a picture of where you will be in 3-5 years is straight up hard work. We met with exactly 97 different investors (and tracked them in a separate CRM). Each of these provided feedback and it was a full-time job getting meetings, taking feedback, and iterating on messaging and your story.
Yes, you can question as you go. It felt strange to be asking for money, then walking out asking ourselves if we’re going in the right direction. We knew that we had some amazing basic components (email server connectivity, CRM connectivity, natural language processing, ranking algorithms), so for us it was just trying the different sequences and variations until we discovered a big opportunity.
Iterate, question, iterate, question. I’ve learned this from David Cummings. Constantly reevaluate your position and the next step forward. You can’t obsess too much over big ideas.
It’s ok to be frustrated. Yes, it was frustrating. We wore out some whiteboard markers with diagrams, markets, ideas, charts, and positioning statements.
Buffer your team. If you have an operational business like we do at Voxa, you need to keep the sales, marketing, and engineering teams protected from wild swings in vision statements that can change every 24 hours. It wasn’t until we felt the vision was tested and true that we started preaching it over and over to the team.
Investor feedback is valuable. Even if you’re not raising money, I encourage you to spend as much time as you can land with investors. Their view of the future is more valuable than others’ view. Current clients, for example, usually only ask for the next obvious feature of your current offering and aren’t on the same wavelength with helping you change the world.
Last thing: When you find it you will know it.
Having a big vision that you can articulate over and over is a powerful tool for a startup CEO. Dream big, but remember it takes a lot of work to turn that dream into a future that you are willing to bet big on.