Startups are the romantic fables of our time. They are filled with hope and despair, good and evil, hero and villain, success and failure. Insiders are fascinated with how they are created, how they work, and how to make them last. Outsiders hang onto their every peak and valley, creating their own stories for how they might succeed or fail.
At their core, building startups is about dreaming. It’s about creating something that didn’t exist before.
And yet as entrepreneurs, the minute we start building these companies, we forget what they are all about. We get enamored with the details that no one else cares about. We talk about how our features will win, or how our approach to the market is better, or how our competitors are doing it wrong. It’s as if building a successful company is about being logical.
The execution of the details matter. But even more important, is to never stop selling the dream, no matter how illogical it may seem.
Martin Luther King Jr literally told everyone his dream. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Abraham Lincoln did the same. “My dream is of a place and time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.”
Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Richard Branson are examples of people who sell the dream over the details.
Learning to sell a dream takes a lot of practice. Especially when you are fighting fires on a daily basis, it can be challenging to sell a vision that seems incredibly far from today’s reality.
Everyone Wants To Fall In Love
Falling in love is a beautiful thing. It’s exciting. It’s consuming. It’s a fresh opportunity to begin a relationship the right way.
For investors, they are just waiting to be swept off their feet. Purposefully meeting with lots of companies, they are looking for the right combination of market, team, and product that make their heart skip a beat.
Customers are no different. New brands arrive without legacy or preconceived notions. They haven’t yet delivered a crappy product, deviated from their promise, or broken anyone’s heart. Customers get to believe in what you are saying without being blinded by past experiences.
Founders and early employees follow a similar pattern. Wanting to be part of the next success story they are looking for an opportunity where they can make a difference. Where their talents are valued, their minds are pushed the brink of exhaustion, and they can taste victory.
Constantly Enable Them
Falling in love takes time. It takes lots of dates, unforgettable adventures, and even a few hardships. In building deeper relationships you want to slowly unveil your hopes and dreams because part of falling in love is the mystery about the unknown. Growing, improving, and unveiling is an important element in enabling someone to fall in love.
More than anything, falling in love requires you to be naked in you vulnerability. You have to completely let down your guard. You have to sell the why before the what. You have to work harder than everyone else to deliver on the promise. You have to admit when you fuck up and do everything to fix it. Because sharing your beliefs is significantly more personal than sharing your ideas.
It’s easy to be vulnerable when things are going well. It’s mind numbingly terrifying to admit when you are struggling.
You may not yet realize it, but over the history of your company you will face this single question in millions of ways; Should you sell the dream or the details?
It shows itself in questions like this these:
* Should your advertisements inspire or talk about why you are better?
* Should the answer to an investor’s question be long or focused on memorable sound bites?
* Should the copy on your website start with what you do or why you do it?
* Should your monthly business updates begin with the numbers or first remind them about your purpose?
It’s easy to start with the details. It’s much harder to constantly sell the dream.
Elon Musk never stopped selling his dream to make mass market electric cars that people actually wanted to drive. Even in the face of financial ruin, he kept pushing.
Steve Jobs never stopped trying to create beautifully designed products. He wasn’t worried about defining himself as a hardware company or a software company. He didn’t create commercials that focused on the technical specs. Instead he captivated our imaginations with passion, emotion, and belief. He sold what he believed in and the rest of the world bought it.
A lot of founders forget that it’s easier to capture someone’s heart than it is their mind. Convincing someone is infinitely more difficult than captivating them.
*Image Credit: National Park Service Digital Image Archives via Creative Commons