There is a lot of positive energy, excitement and hoopla that surrounds new entrepreneurs and startups who have a vision of how to change the world according to their own point of view.
Trouble is, nobody cares.
Not really. Sure, your parents may care. Your spouse may care. Your startup investors may even care — a little (but remember they have other startup investments to protect them in case you run aground).
In fact, most people are expecting you to fail.
Perhaps even hoping you will fail, so you get pulled back into the dronefield.
As king-of-melancholy rock singer Morrissey croons, “We hate it when our friends become successful…If we can destroy them, bet your life we will destroy them.”
This is not to be pessimistic or negative, it is simply realistic: 90% of new products fail, not because they aren’t better or more innovative or disruptive, but because they have not clearly articulated their reason for being and attached themselves to people in ways that make them care.
Entrepreneurs have to attract positive energies and create momentum that incites the public at large to level you up — to care just a little more about you and your enterprise than everyone else trying to capture their attentions. How do you do that?
You may be enthusiastic, have great attitude and a great business plan, but what you really need to move from cult to culture is great narrative.
What’s your story?
Every great narrative starts with “Once upon a time…”, “One hundred years ago…”, or “We went out for drinks after work…”. What inspired you? What sparked you? Where did your disruptively breakthrough 10X idea come from? Who are you? It’s never too early to start your creation myth. In the beginning, it’s all you have.
But the origin story is just the beginning of your narrative. The next piece is: Why are you here?
Explain yourself. We have don’t have time to listen, so make it quick. Think. Think different. Invent. Be the best you can be. Those are the reasons for being for IBM, Apple, HP and the United States Army, respectively.
Some people talk about the “Why?” This is the why. What basic human need(not want or desire, but need) are you fulfilling? There are thousands of books about strategy, Strategy: A History by Lawrence Freedman is one of the best.
But why you exist is only the next step in your narrative.
The next piece is you must identify yourself. Sure, that can be your logo: think the iconic Nike swoosh, the America flag, the Google G. Lots of people start out with a logo and a home page. It means you’re in business, right?
But like Method, TOMS or Beats by Dre, you can also identify yourself and stand out with great product design.
Or, if you’re in a truly fledgling state where all you have is an idea on paper, it might just be you and a few charts — and the partner or other risk-takers you’ve convinced to join you.
Play the part you want your company to play. The founders of Charity:water were constantly photographed in Africa, surrounded by their beneficiaries.
Sight, sound, smell, touch and taste are all iconic sensations wired directly to our brains and create positive or negative imprints (the taste of Chobani, the playing fields of Call Of Duty, the sensory-surround of virtual reality, the fragrances of Caldrea cleaning products actually make people want to clean).
Icons are memes that are hard-wired to our brains and spontaneously signal whether we should come closer, or run for our lives.
Choose your icons wisely.
(Hint: It’s better to spend $800 on letterpress business cards, than $400 on the Moo cards everyone else gets. Unless your message is that you are just like everyone else. By the way, we love Moo: only we use them for other things.)
Create positive rituals. Know what things you want to celebrate. Polaroid was the legendary start-up in the 1960s: technologically innovative, disruptive, design-smart and founded by a Harvard drop-out (is any of this ringing bells?). And, by the way, in order to create the patent-wielding Polaroid film substrate, chemicals had to flow down an eight-story glide. (Imagine telling investors that you have a great, innovative idea — but first you have to build an eight-story building!)
In the Polaroid cafeteria a chart was posted with the names of the people who had earned patents. Polaroid celebrated patents.
Other companies celebrate new hires. New clients. Awards. Front page articles. Office space. Stock pricing. What do you celebrate?
Process is ritual. This is the way we do things (and it’s not the way “they” do things).
Do things differently. Act different. Be different.
Make people wish, dream and hunger to do things the way you do.
In order for people to consider you differently, you have to help them think about you differently. So surround your new idea with the unique vocabulary that identifies you. The best, easiest example: “Iced grande skinny decaf no foam latte”. We all had to learn new words just to order a cup of coffee.
Language creates culture and a new lexicon works wonders.
“Language creates culture.” Say it again. Baseball fans, coders, accountants, Halo players, historians of the Napoleonic wars — all have words, phrases and language that they use to express events, ideas and moments of community.
They are excited, vibrant social communities fanning their fandom. When people start using your language, it means they want to become a part of your tribe.
And still, nobody cares.
Not really. Especially those people over there — the ones that keep telling other people how much you suck. The competitors and naysayers who shrug and shake their head and tell whoever will listen that you’re not getting it done, you have a long way to go, you’re never going to pull this off. The ones who say it wasn’t a good idea anyway — you couldn’t scale, wrong metrics, wrong technology, wrong consumer, wrong wrong wrong, all wrong.
You have to understand that they really don’t care and never will. The cruel fact is that some people will never be a part of your Venn diagram. Not everyone is going to buy you or buy into you.
As Peter Thiel once declared, “Almost everyone is going to tell you your idea sucks…The haters are never going to go away.”
And know this, too.
Nothing will reaffirm your commitment and the energy of your partners and team than having someone else tell them, you are wrong. Think of a Dunkin’ Donuts drinker trying to convince a Starbucks drinker. Red and blue states.
Stand on your side of the line. Tell people, “Come, stand over here. Be one of us. We’re not like them.”
“Startup founders tend to be functionally obsessed, not story obsessed,” adds Mike Parsons, founder of LaunchPodium. “Tell us why that killer function or app makes our world better. That’s the story!”
Create your own pieces of narrative and stand tall. You will trigger the emotional parts that make your ecosystem feel better than any other. Eventually, more and more people will care. Really care.
And if their caring not only feels good, but is rewarded by you with ever-constant stories that remind them of the best parts of why you exist, more and more people will care.
Just remind them why they’re standing in line.