It’s no secret: Your startup is your baby, and when it comes time to introduce it to the world, you want everyone to love it just as much as you do.
However, unlike the first impressions individual entrepreneurs make, a startup’s first impression is more than just a firm handshake, a snappy outfit or an honest smile.
Rather, it’s an amalgamation of multiple events and conversations happening in unison over several months.
During your startup’s early days, you’re making an impression on every person you encounter, whether on journalists, investors, industry influencers or the Jimmy John’s delivery guy that comes by every day. Every interaction you have represents your startup in some way.
As you head in to this vital first impression period, make sure you keep the following four tips in mind:
1. Wear your personality on your sleeve.
If you’re heading to an important meeting or event, don’t leave your personality at home. Venture capitalists and key decision makers rub elbows with so many people, and after awhile, they all start to blend together. That’s why it’s important to stand out with your unique words, actions and style.
If you visit my company’s website, you’ll immediately notice that we embrace weirdness and enjoy partnering with other rebellious companies. Not only do we state that fact in text, but we also show it in person. Whether it’s the 1990s Nickelodeon cartoon sweater one of my employees still wears or the E.T. pin I wear on my leather jacket, we make sure our words, actions and appearances all contribute to the impression we’re striving to make.
2. Elevate the person you’re speaking with.
Having someone think you’re smart and charming is good, but having him think you think he’s smart and charming is even better. We all know someone who always finds a way to make us feel great about ourselves; this is a vital skill for entrepreneurs to have.
A great way to achieve this is by simply showing interest in other people. Remember their names, ask them about their backgrounds and dig into their hobbies and passions. Doing this in an authentic way will create a human connection, which I believe is the most powerful type of first impression you and your company can make.
3. Learn to use your vulnerability.
Being strategically vulnerable is a surefire way to build an authentic relationship. Note that I add “strategic” because I’m not suggesting that you share your deepest, darkest fears and secrets. Rather, share enough to demonstrate that you’re a courageous human who has foibles.
One of the best things you can do in a conversation is make someone feel comfortable, respected and admired. By sharing your own vulnerabilities, you’re bridging the gap between “it’s just business” and building a relationship. Most people prefer relationships, and I think you’d be surprised how much this can impact the business side of things.
4. Don’t forget your power pants.
Though a startup’s words, actions and style are all key, they mean nothing if they aren’t accompanied by a good dose of confidence. For starters, it helps if you feel good about what you’re wearing. Put on your power pants, your power scarf or your power sweater -- whatever it is that makes you feel like a million bucks. Also, consider striking your best power pose in the mirror before a big event.
I have a pair of power boots I wear during the winter that always make me feel like I’m ready to conquer the day. Even for important phone calls, I’ll put on my boots (or a nice pair of dress shoes, depending on the circumstance) to boost my confidence.
Though it spans a period of time rather than a instantaneous moment, your startup’s first impression largely weighs on how you and the rest of your employees present themselves to everyone they encounter.
The business world never sleeps. You never know who you’ll run into, and you never know who that Jimmy John’s guy knows, either.
It pays to be prepared.