Getting intentionality right is what separates unicorns from their mediocre competition. (BCV)

How To Be Intentional With Your Messaging

Moving with intentionality can be the one main advantage startups have over their larger, slower-moving incumbent competitors.

5 min read October 24, 2023
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Life is hard for an early-stage startup. Bigger companies can pay higher salaries, the cost of capital is much higher than it is for established companies, and your brand value on day one is zero. 

But the smallest startups have one major advantage over the largest of competitors. Where the incumbents are weighed down by a slow, burdensome decision-making process developed by the collective force of years of habit, startups can move with intentionality, making speedy decisions based solely on what’s best for the business and its customers, with no mind to politics.

The key to this kind of intentionality is to keep the mission of the company as your North Star, no matter what. For most founders, finding that mission isn’t so much an act of creation or discovery, so much as it is remembering what it was that inspired you to go on this crazy journey called entrepreneurship in the first place.

At any given time, a founder will have any number of competing priorities, from recruiting to fundraising to hitting a quarterly sales target to actually building the product. With a more intentional approach that prioritizes that mission above all else, the noise falls away, and the thing to focus on becomes clear.

If you get this right, it becomes a tremendous competitive advantage for an early-stage startup. Getting it wrong, however, means you run the risk of mediocrity, and of becoming just like those slow-moving companies you originally wanted to disrupt.

The mission is everything

Moving with intention to fulfill your mission doesn’t automatically guarantee that every decision will be the right one. As a founder, poor decisions are inevitable. This isn’t a bad thing: Simply put, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough risks.

A strong mission, clearly stated, is the foundation on which to build a strong culture. It’s up to founders to articulate their mission in such a way that the rest of the team is inspired to take it as seriously as you do. 

If that’s done successfully, you have a team that knows what’s truly important, themselves empowered to only focus on the stuff that actually makes a difference. Where the tech titans are bound by years of process and bureaucracy, a startup can focus solely on taking quick and impactful actions based only on getting the company closer to achieving its mission.

With that more intentional framework in place, the chaos of startup life can give way to a kind of clarity. It will be no less hectic, but you and your team will know where to focus your energy.

None of it works without communication

One of the most distressing things that an investor can hear from a startup’s employees, on social media or elsewhere, is that they don’t understand how decisions at the company are made.

Once a founder has identified and articulated the company’s mission, the next step is taking any and all opportunities to communicate it to the rest of the team constantly and clearly. You have to be seen living that mission, following the values you set for the company day in and day out. Incremental and major decisions alike have to be seen to come from that same place of intentionality.

Not everybody at the company will agree with every decision made by leadership all of the time. However, if you’re successful in that kind of overt communication, making your values clear with every move, employees will at the very least understand why and how the company arrived at its chosen course of action. The necessity to be clear about the mission over and over will inevitably seem repetitive and even reductive to you, but it becomes ever more important as your company scales.

A great example of this mindset at a larger scale is found with Amazon’s famous mantra of “Disagree and Commit.” While it’s important for a founder to move with conviction in pursuit of their mission, it also falls on them to give the rest of the team the logic and thought process behind which the decision was made. Right or wrong, that level of transparency around the decision-making process shows through action what’s important (or not) to the company.

Scale makes it harder

This approach only gets harder as a startup grows. Communication clearly and consistently with 10 or even 100 employees is much easier than doing the same with 1,000 or 10,000. As you grow, too, the pressures change, and the mission may expand with it.

Therefore, it behooves early-stage founders to start thinking with intentionality as soon as possible. The earlier in your startup’s lifespan that you adopt this approach, the more the habit will form among you and your founding team, and the more disciplined you’ll be as a company. This makes it an even more potent strategic weapon.

The early start will also help it last longer, and take you through the next stage of your journey – whatever that happens to be.

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