4 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Inspire Confidence Even When Talking About Failure
After hearing countless pitches and updates from fellow entrepreneurs, I’ve learned how to get a quick read on an entrepreneur’s likelihood to succeed based on the way they speak about a handful of key topics.
Of course, a deeper dive into the product and the business model is essential. But how you discuss the following topics can determine if someone is willing to make that deeper dive or not. Consider whether or not you might be on the good or bad side of the equation when discussing the following.
Bad: “Let me show you these killer features.”
You don’t succeed because you love your product’s features. You succeed when your customers need your product’s benefits. If you’re inordinately focused on what you consider to be your product’s coolest bells and whistles, and not on why your customers need and use your features, you’re in trouble.
Good: “Customers keep coming back.”
If your customers keep coming back, then your product has killer features that help people do what they need to do.
Lesson: Products aren’t great because you love them; they’re great because your customers need them.
Bad: “Nobody’s doing what we’re doing.”
This may excite those who don’t know your space; the rest will cringe. Yes, you actually do have competitors. Don’t cite a microscopic differentiator as the secret sauce that makes you “revolutionary” and “disruptive.” If you say you don’t have competitors, you either haven’t done your homework or are living in denial.
Good: “We’re unique and better than our competitors… traction proves it!”
Entrepreneurs succeed in the face of competitors. Acknowledge them. Beat them. Show that you’re truly unique and better than them. How do you prove it? Traction, even if it’s modest, early traction. If your customers looked at your competitors and chose to use your product instead, then you’re a viable player in the marketplace.
Lesson: Don’t pretend that you have no competitors. Show that you will beat them and that you’re already starting to do so.
Bad: “I was just interviewed by….”
Seeing your name in the press can be intoxicating. Of course, even if it’s focused on you, your company still gets a bit of visibility. But PR focused on your product story is what helps your company the most. Sure, your personal story in the press will impress your friends, colleagues and employees, but you’re running a company to impress and attract customers. Leaders put their company’s success first, not their personal brand. If your company succeeds, your personal brand will soar because success is greater validation than self-promotion.
Good: “We just appeared in….”
Customers aren’t wowed by your childhood lemonade stand, how you dropped out of college, or whatever personal yarn you’ve crafted. They want to know what your company does, why your product is so great, how others love it, and how it would be great for them as well. Target press on outlets that reach your target customer base and on your product story.
Lesson: Focus PR efforts on your company, not yourself. As an entrepreneur, you need to make your company succeed, not build your personal brand.
4. Past failures.
Bad: “We were ahead of our time.”
There are a lot of excuses, but I hear this one all the time. If you were actually ahead of your time, then you built something without noticing that people wouldn’t need your product until you were long out of business. Timing is everything, and you’re advertising that you may not have a feel for it.
Good: I messed up on X, and should have done Y.
Learn from your mistakes. This is called experience and there’s nothing wrong with having made mistakes. Start-ups fail all the time. It’s been shown that the companies started by experienced entrepreneurs do better than those of first-time entrepreneurs. Investors are forgiving of failures (unless you have a long list of them), but only if you’re acutely aware of what you did wrong and how you’ll be more successful in the future because you’re smarter now.
Lesson: Show that you learn from failure and are better and stronger for it. Denying that you failed suggests you might fail again and won’t understand why.
In the end, you’re constantly talking to knowledgeable investors, potential employees and business partners who are assessing your and your company’s prospect of succeeding. The undercurrent to the above points is that substance eclipses shine. People want to know that you’re customer-focused, practical about the marketplace, experienced and able to attain success instead of just talking about it. Show them this and people will want to invest in you, work for you, partner with you and buy what you are selling.
Related: Richard Branson on Embracing Failure