How To Build Excitement for a Startup When People Are Skeptical
February 7, 2022

How To Build Excitement for a Startup When People Are Skeptical

by Brian de Haaff

Giveaways and contests. Viral videos. Partnering with so-called influencers. When people talk about generating excitement for a new company or product, the suggestions often skew towards hype. Marketing tactics might draw attention — if the timing is right. But the reaction is typically fleeting. The next hyped up thing bursts onto the scene and yours fades to black.

People are attracted to authenticity. Future customers, teammates, and partners will rally around what you are building when they feel your passion and understand your vision.

Now, you may think that you have passion. You are galvanized to build a business, product, or service. But are you able to transform that into a convincing story that inspires others? Without cultivating a true connection with the insight and passion you have, it will be exceedingly difficult to gain momentum towards your ultimate goals.

There will be naysayers from the very beginning. We are often skeptical about what is new or has not yet been done. Breakthrough ideas make people uncomfortable. It takes vulnerability and intellectual honesty to share what is important to you, especially when others are dubious. And let’s be honest — you need folks behind and beside you. No one builds a lasting business alone, even the rockstars among us.

Every interaction you have is an opportunity to turn uncertainty into excitement. Not hype. I am referring to the realistic optimism you have for the potential of what you are doing. Here is how we did it when we were just starting out with Aha! — it is an approach I still follow even now that the company has experienced explosive growth:

Refine the story

Distill your insight so it is easy to share. Describe how you came to the vision and why it matters to you. Practice telling the story and keep working on the parts that do not fit together. For customers, focus on the benefits of what you are building. For prospective teammates, add in what makes the company unique and the learning opportunities so rich.

Answer counterarguments

Resolve all of the “yeah, but” comments. Incorporate rebuttals into your story. When we first launched Aha! Roadmaps in 2013, a friend told me that no one needed a tool for product managers because there were already tools for adding user stories for engineers to work on. I knew I needed to anticipate similar “yeah, buts” and delineate the owners of product development — separating the “how” (engineering) from the “why,” “when,” and “what” (strategy and prioritization).

Share the journey

Openly discuss how you vetted the concept. There is no need to hide that and the more you divulge, the more others will feel personally invested in your business. Over time the success of the business will provide additional proof points that your vision holds weight.

Reveal what comes next

This is where you get to predict the future. (You can tell the future, right?) In all seriousness, every entrepreneur has a view of what they want to achieve and the impact that they will make. Highlight what you are aiming for — just note that your prediction needs to happen in some form or people will lose trust.

You do not need tons of people to get started. Most meaningful businesses began with just a few customers willing to pay for the solution and a handful of people energized to join the team.

If you believe deeply in the vision you have for the future, be rigorous about telling your story. Keep refining and incorporating new information. Be curious. Do not accept a rebuttal silently. Ask questions. Poke holes and seek to understand the deeper meaning behind that initial feedback. You will eventually go from "yeah, but" to "yeah!"

That consistent spark will be your cue that you are honing in on the right message and format. Your customers and teammates will become the company's most ardent advocates — an extension of your excitement. It is a virtuous cycle and essential for an enduring business.

Read more of The Founder’s Paradox.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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