Early on a mentor suggested coming up with a mission statement for Drover. That was news to me. Everything else I had heard up to that point had emphasized perfecting my elevator pitch -- describing my product and the problem I hope to solve. But my mentor pointed out that an elevator pitch is designed to get customers, investors, or general interest in your company. A mission statement is more emotional. It’s not completely dissimilar, but instead of raising curiosity in your company it’ll hopefully generate warm fuzzies with someone who’s already familiar with you. A mission statement is also more personal. In fact, in the beginning it’s likely that no one else will even see it. Instead it’s there to keep you focused and motivated by why you started a company in the first place.
At first I was completely stuck. I had no idea where to start when trying to write a business’s mission statement. For lack of a better idea, I started looking around to find mission or values statements from other startups and get some sense of what I could write. It wasn’t always productive. Let’s be honest, there’s good reason HBO was able to satirize the world of startups so easily in Silicon Valley. But I ultimately was able to get a sense of the direction I wanted to go in.
It might be worth taking a moment to differentiate between a mission statement and a values list or statement. I like to think that a mission statement is why you exist as a company, and a values statement is all about how you work. In my opinion a mission statement is a better place to start because it helps set the tone for your values, and is more important for a solo founder, since values statements tend to be more often utilized for marketing and/or recruiting purposes.
It can be handy to have both, and indeed I eventually did write my own values statement. I was in the process of becoming a public benefit corporation (more on that later, I’m sure) so it was necessary to start thinking about values. That’s a bit of a special case, though. Generally at the beginning it’s more important to focus on the why.
My own brainstorming consisted of a massive list of words and phrases. Everything that came to my mind when I thought of Drover’s purpose. The results varied from product features to totally nebulous words that mean nothing on their own such as “safe.” Odds are none of the actual words you write will show up in your finished mission statement, but you’ll also start to see the thoughts or ideas that keep popping up in different forms. If it’s not immediately obvious, force yourself to categorize your list and then come up with descriptions of the categories after you’ve sorted them.
You’re not going to get this right the first time, and that’s OK. It’ll probably take several iterations until you feel like you’ve got it right. Don’t put too much stress on yourself, though. Much like your elevator pitch is designed to get someone to ask you further questions, your mission statement is there simply to remind yourself why you’re doing your work. It’s impossible to put all your reasons for your startup into your mission statement, but it should serve as a good jumping off point for leading you to many of those reasons.
Once you’ve got it figured out, at the minimum you should display your mission statement in your workspace. It might also be something to add to your website or social media. Don’t feel pressure to publicize it immediately, though. As long as it’s something that helps keep you motivated it’s serving its purpose for the time being.
Of course any startup founder hopes that one day things like a mission statement or list of company values will be key tools for attracting and keeping quality employees. And they are, but don’t forget that they’ll ultimately be working for a salary, too. In the beginning, when it’s just you and chances are there’s no funding, a mission statement can be a small but mighty way to help keep you going.
And what did I come up with? It’s not perfect, but I think it sums it up nicely --
What do you think?