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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Seattle 2.0, and imported to GeekWire as part of our acquisition of Seattle 2.0 and its archival content. For more background, see this post.

By David Aronchick

The best entrepreneurs in the world ridiculously optimistic. The first thing she does when she sees a problem is decide that it is her responsibility to rid the world of this vile condition. Immediately, stars appear in her eyes and billions of dollars of money, market changing dynamics and new industries appear before her. Her excitement could not be more palpable, and she readies herself to dive in to make the world a better place. But, just before she does, the very best of them will hold back and ask herself, “Am I being too optimistic? Maybe I should think again?”

This can be one of the entrepreneur’s first mistake; trying to some how tie the vision to reality. The fact is painting a world-changing mission has a lot of value, no matter how lofty or detached from the facts on the ground. When you are getting started, it will be your ONLY time to be completely unencumbered by any history or existing execution experiences. And as you scope out this enormous realm of possibilities, you will be at your most inspirational, something that will come in handy time and time again when you are at your low points.

When I see a mission that is too small, the first thing I recommend is to generalize – do not just think about the market you will be serving tomorrow, think about who you will be helping in a month, a year, in ten years. You are not just figuring out a new way to get people DVDs; you are building a new distribution service for digital content. You are not giving people a way to view their housing records online; you are advancing the real estate industry into the digital age. You are not just providing a place for people to share funny pictures; you are giving people five minutes of joy every day. Every vision can and should be bigger and more inspirational.

Beyond the ethereal, being huge does a lot of things from a strategic standpoint as well:
  • If you are raising money, do not even think of walking in the door unless you have a big blue-sky vision to paint. A venture capital firm will not even look at you twice if there is not a chance of a $100M business.
  • The more ridiculous the vision, the easier it is to market – by a mile. A business whose sole goal is to put goats on the moon is going to be mentioned all over the place; saving 2% on a gallon of gas will not be mentioned in your 5th grader’s newspaper.
  • Hiring is so much easier when you are selling people’s hearts, rather than their minds. Give your prospective employees and partners the chance to fill their thoughts with lofty ideas and you will win people a lot faster (and be surprised with what they create)!
  • When (not if!) you need to pivot, you will not have enough room to go after what you want if you are not chasing the big thing. Instead, you will sound like a fair-weather fan when you drop your current plans and move to a (seemingly) unrelated vector. When the conquering the world is your goal, there are lots of ways to do it.
This “overly-grounded in facts” behavior is something Seattle startups suffer from too much. We, denizens of the Emerald City, tend to be far to pragmatic a bunch, choosing only battles that seem near-term possible, rather than the enormous goals that are far beyond any chance of solving in the next five years. Yet, the exercise of putting the the biggest target you can think of on the wall is critical to making a difference; if you are merely realistic and win at your small goal, it will not add up to much. But, if you aim for Everest and fail, you will never look back and think, “Why did I bother?” You will be too busy looking for the next mountain to climb.
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