The Mission Statement

Tuesday September 01, 2015

Mission statements explain what you do. They are simple and elegant statement. For instance, let’s assume we are creating a mission statement for a hypothetical coffee shop, which will call the Coffee Machine.1 The mission statement explains what the Coffee Machine does in plain English. It should also be short. Some mission statements run on and on and encompass vision and even values. Let’s write a simple one for the Coffee Machine.

The Coffee Machine provides great coffee and food for our neighbors.

Its elegance is striking. Of course, the rule of threes can be used to provide a stronger effect, if desired:

The Coffee Machine provides great coffee, delicious food, and amazing community for our neighbors.

We also added some adjectives, but you get the idea. A critical aspect of the mission statement is that it is written in the present tense. It’s what we are doing today. In the case of the startup, it is what I imagine we are doing on day 1. It is also active, beyond the active voice. We don’t say “The Coffee Machine exists to…” because the language is sterile, and we certainly don’t say “Great coffee is provided by the Coffee Machine.”

The statement, though, answers three critical questions. First, we answer who is doing something. That is probably always us, but that’s okay. Second, we say what we are doing. We provide great coffee, delicious food, and amazing community. Third, we say for whom we are doing it. It’s not just our customers. It goes beyond that. The mission statement is an opportunity to define the customer base broadly. Sitting here in Maryland, I am not providing coffee to Seattle.2 But I am for “our neighbors,” which not only defines a geographic scope, but uses a positive appellation for the customer base. It creates a connection we can build upon later.

With a mission statement, we defined our place and we relate to the world we inhabit. As a fun exercise, one can create a personal mission statement, a defining moment that can crystallize one’s place in the world.

Next, we will look at the vision statement, so we can see where this is all going.

Image by Cory Doctorow / Flickr.

  1. The startup is not a coffee shop. 

  2. Victrola pretty well has that covered.