Feelings count before the numbers ever do in the Startup world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Startups need the participation of many different people in order to be successful; technical folks, creative folks, marketers, customers, manufacturers,
partners, advisors, investors and many others. Beyond the technical and creative aspects of the startup journey, founders are challenged to meet the psychological expectations of numerous potential participants in their enterprise if they are to be successful. This is a big challenge.
Like it or not, a foundational cornerstone of the founder’s job is getting people to believe in you. Key to this process is realizing that the pathway to getting support is to create the right emotional space for participants. Before partnerships with organizations or individuals can take form, an emotional dance always take place in which risk is assessed, and predictions are made about the implications of working together.
Your potential partners will be putting part of their reputations on the line if they endorse working with you. This means if you send the wrong signals, they are likely to veer off and take a pass on the opportunity. No matter how good your technology may seem, you have to create the right feeling to set the stage for serious investigation.
The fact is: Feelings count before numbers ever do. The right set of emotions can even make up for bad numbers or technical uncertainty in high risk startups- whereas great numbers will rarely make up for a failure to make people feel the right way about what you are doing.
Let me share one of the most painful business meetings of my career:
In order to help a local startup get ‘started up’, I arranged a meeting with a well-known venture capitalist from Silicon Valley. I briefed the VC and brought him out to the small company’s development lab- a ‘get to know you’ session where we would have a conversation and see a demonstration of an impressive new technology. The demo was good, and had everyone excited about the possibilities of the new startup.
Later, over dinner, the startup CEO made a critical mistake: He forgot that this was a business interaction, and a time to project the right aura about himself and his inventions. The CEO did talk a bit about the technology, then swerved the metaphorical bus off the road, through the guardrail, and into the abyss. He decided to share all kinds of personal stories including a list of previous business failures, wild projections about profit potential, details of run-in’s with the law, disputes with the government, and many organic visceral details of life that I cannot appropriately share with you on Forbes. I was mortified — and trapped. The CEO had ignored my attempts to keep the conversation on topic, and mid-way through I was fervently wishing for an ejection seat that could have launched me up from that table through hatch in the ceiling, and safely out of that conversation.
In the silence that took hold when I drove the VC back from dinner he told me simply: “Its a great technology, but your friend is uninvestable. He doesn’t follow the rules.”
What he meant was that in order to even consider playing ball, professional partners like VCs have to trust that they will have the right interpersonal, reputational, and emotional environment to operate in. This space of feeling precedes and overrides the numbers and potential profit of any nascent relationship.
The Emotional Checklist:
- Ego under control? (Can the founder work with people?).
- Appropriate use of language and technical terms (Sounds believable and authoritative).
- Appearance is acceptable. You fit into the right archetype for your industry. This does not mean you are expected to wear a suit and have a manicure (although that rarely hurts). You do need to fit an archetype for your industry.
- Technology adheres to norms for the industry – your invention looks, smells, and feels ‘right’.
- The right level of sophistication. You use the right keywords at the right time, and come across as being capable and in control of the right level of understanding – not a rube.
- Confidence and Vision – (Do people feel an irresistible need to get on board with you after you make your pitch?)
As a startup, make sure that you do the things that you need to do to build a technology that is fit for the market. While doing so, pay due attention to the packaging and appearances that will make your startup emotionally accessible and attractive to other participants. Too many entrepreneurs spend so much time on the execution of their ideas that they end up neglecting the emotional aspects of how their offering connects with people. Despite what you may think, your technology does not speak for itself. It doesn’t matter if you have the best idea and the best technology in the world: If you don’t package it in the right emotional space, your ability to attract other people to assist you will be extremely limited.
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