The Most Important Ingredient in Becoming an Entrepreneur is to Have Vision

January 22, 2020

I once started a speech saying “Without vision you have nothing.” At the end of the speech I was given a standing ovation. That speech laid out my vision for getting customers to buy our product. It must have worked because over the next six quarters sales went through the roof. My future was so bright I had to wear shades.

My reward? I got fired. I’m 100% certain the speech had sealed my fate 18 months earlier

As it turns out, our CEO didn’t have a vision for where to take the company. He wasn’t the founder; he was the hired gun, one of the most accomplished sales leaders in the early days of tech. Unfortunately, when it came time to tell us what the future looked like, he struggled and it eventually caught up with him. Not before he fired me.

At the time, the only vision I had was how to make the phone ring and close sales

I had about 80 people on my team, all stellar sales and marketing people. All great listeners. All trained to ask for the order. Back then, orders came in over fax machine so when it rang, it was music to our ears. It was money. To keep things going, all we needed was more product.

Back to the vision thing…

Even though we were wildly successful, we were in trouble and we all knew it. You can throw world class sales and marketing at a problem and if customers need what you are selling, and you “ask” for the order, you’ll be fine. But, what about after you’ve saturated the market? What do you do then? This is where vision comes in.

A vision can be lots of things. If you’re in sales, maybe your vision is to hit a stretch goal. Maybe you’re in tech support and your vision is to answer 99% of problem tickets within six minutes. But what about product? This is where you really need vision, but a different kind of vision. You need the type of vision that gnaws at you, so much so that it consumes your every thought. 

My first vision hit me out of nowhere. I suspect this is how it goes for most entrepreneurs

I was actually getting a little bored when it happened, thinking about heading over to Fast Eddies near the White House for a couple of beers and interactive trivia after a daylong meeting.

Sparing you the technical details, what I had figured out was a technology that would eventually sit between the satellite companies, the broadcast networks and every local TV station. Over the next ten years that technology was used over a billion times.

What is important to this blog is how that technology, which I later named Geneva, became my obsession. I could instantly see how building Geneva would solve a very big problem, but it wasn’t so apparent to everyone else. Thankfully, we had a brilliant engineer named Ken, who when I called to tell him my idea, quickly said “Yep. That’ll work.”

The best vision is a shared vision

While Ken and others went to town building the technology, I went to town convincing people to use it. I literally went door-to-door on Capitol Hill talking to members of congress, their staffers, building janitors and the cafeteria people about my idea. Once the prototype was ready, I went back to the Hill and went door-to-door again logging members and their staffers into my application to try it. If a member wouldn’t take a meeting, I called in favors from other members to get me in the door. I knew I was right and I wasn’t going to quit.

After nearly three years, Congress brought me in to testify under oath about my idea

That was the tipping point for Geneva. It went from my vision, to mine and Ken’s vision, to the vision of our entire company. Nothing anyone could say would slow us down. We built Geneva. We convinced everyone to use it and, over time, Geneva became the standard. We won. Broadcasters won. Viewers won.

Without vision you have nothing.