Sell a vision and not a product

By Ivan Tay

I just did a pitch recently to a group of seasoned entrepreneurs who were supposes to pick the winners from among our group, so that the winners can pitch to a group of real venture capitalists at a local Singapore VC firm.

There were many good ideas, some of them are already funded or is already on their way to becoming funded. After my pitch, which in my opinion was not the best, I sat down and thought about how hard it is to find a real winner who will go on to become the next Google or Facebook. I have seen this many times before in my previous attempts at launching my own ideas.

The reality is that the chance of picking a winner at any competition, accelerator, incubator, organisation or etc is near to zero.

Yet many of our startup efforts in the startup ecosystem are about picking the winner. Our Singapore government does it with their grants, our VC firms do it with their funds and our research or institute of higher learning does it with their available resources.

The thought of picking the winner is like saying that we can actually predict or perhaps even know who will be the winner. My take is that no one knows or can predict the winner. If we could, we would be the ones doing it. I hope I don’t sound bitter by saying this. I think that the reason that many of us feel that we know better is because of our pride.

However, I do believe that there is someone who may have the answer but it is not with the judges or VCs. It is the entrepreneur who knows who the winner is. The reason that I say that is because only the entrepreneur can see the vision of its success before it actually happens while the rest of the people who are picking the winners are merely gambling.

That is assuming that the entrepreneur believes in his or her own vision by putting everything that he or she has to see that vision come true. Along that thought, this is how I think our startup ecosystem should be picking winners, by how much the entrepreneur believes in his or her vision.

Sounds like a stupid approach? Hahaha… maybe!

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Here is the reason why I suggest this approach. I have come to believe that the entrepreneur who is fighting in the trenches of the early startup journey is not really selling a product or technology or even an innovative business model rather he or she is selling a vision.

The more people who believes in that vision, the greater the chances of success. Think about it! Is it possible to get excited about a startup’s product if you cannot see their vision? The vision is also what differentiates a startup from an SME.

Let me give you an example. I had built an automated appointment scheduling product roughly about a decade ago that had people promoting it and giving it a good review even though they have never signed up for the product. I never paid them for the review and they are neither my friends nor my family. It puzzled me for a long time but I now think that they had responded positively to a product that they have never used because they saw the vision of an automated appointment scheduler (and this is roughly about a decade ago).

Let’s face it. A minimum viable product (MVP) is not going to be able to really sell and acquire significant number of users in the early days of the idea. However, what it does enable is to give an insight to the users about the vision’s actual feasibility. The product then has become the vehicle to which the vision is realised.

We all know that the product is never finished and is constantly evolving. As the product gets better and better at meeting the needs of the customer, the closer we find ourselves moving towards the vision that it promises.

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Therefore, selling the MVP is not going to be very effective because it is at the furthest point from the possible fulfilment of the promise. Sometimes our MVPs fail to bring clarity to the vision and instead indirectly obscure it.

Our focus should be to sell the vision to which the product promises and the vision should inspire its adoption. I think this also explains why a product that does not have a vision becomes merely a utility and never achieves greatness.

I am convinced that entrepreneurs should focus on selling the vision rather than the product. I have been pitching a product that I have been building in my own spare time but with mediocre results. Now, I want to change my pitch and focus on the vision rather than the product’s utility.

Let me give you an example. This was the tag line that I was using “Eliminate web traffic spam on your site” which focuses on the product’s utility. I have revised it to “Preempt attacks on your site”. My hypothesis is that the measure of web traffic spam on a site has a direct correlation to impending attacks.

Therefore the vision is that my technology can predict impending attacks before it happens. The implications are that web security can now be preemptive rather than reactive. Without this vision, the utility of my product seem to have clouded the full potential of its application.

What do you think? Would you have tried my product because of its utility or vision?

This article, entitled Sell a vision and not a product originally appeared on e27.

The author, Ivan Tay, is currently exploring the application and translation of research technology in data analytic based problems. His recent analytics driven web traffic spam experiment is at


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