How Do You Get People to Believe in Your Business? Tell a Good Story.
A lot of people have good ideas -- but it's often those with the best stories who are able to set themselves apart.
When it comes to starting a company, one of the hardest challenges founders face is convincing other people to get behind their idea. If you're a product-focused founder like I was, the challenge can be especially acute. You've identified an interesting technology breakthrough, isn't that enough? Nope.
As I learned first-hand when founding my first company AppDynamics, the key to securing early employees, investors and early customers is turning your idea into a story.
Stories are powerful because they get to the very heart of human nature. They speak to people, and you need people to believe in you and your vision to get behind you. Here's my go-to formula:
Why is the problem you are solving big and relevant?
Start by pinpointing the specific problem that you solve. This is the tentpole that supports your entire story. Once you have the problem statement down, take it a few steps further: Explain why the gap exists, why it needs to be addressed and the size of the market opportunity.
For AppDynamics, I had to explain why current application performance monitoring and management solutions were failing to meet the needs of software development teams in the first place. Then, I had to explain how this problem was bigger than just software developers. Software now touches nearly every aspect of business and society, so improving the delivery of applications actually has an outsize impact on modern business and the world at large. This second step helped me contextualize the market opportunity and demonstrate how what at first looked like a niche issue was actually a major untapped market that everyone was overlooking.
Investors won't just take your word, though. Use concrete numbers to credibly size the market opportunity. One way to do this is to compile statistics from existing market research. Another is to calculate how much money is being funneled into this area of the market already, or how much companies are currently spending on solving this problem in the wrong way. These data points help you articulate that the market exists and quantify why addressing it presents a massive opportunity.
Why is now the right time for your idea?
While a great idea is important, the idea alone is not enough. For proof, look no further than Google Glass and Pets.com (the dotcom-era pet food delivery service), which were undoubtedly ahead of their times. What was missing was great timing -- the catalyst that accelerates, even necessitates, the need for change.
You should be able to explain why the timing is right. Ask yourself: What is it about today's world that makes it fundamentally different from the world we came from? Why does it require a new foundation or approach?
Perhaps it's a generational shift in software architecture, for example. Consider how the shift from desktop computers to mobile phones created an opportunity for apps like Spotify and Dropbox to transform the music and file sharing industries by delivering better user experiences.
Think about the major changes happening in the world that make existing approaches obsolete or make it necessary to rethink systems. Whether it's AI and automation, the changing nature of how people work or another big market shift, illustrate why addressing this need at this specific moment in time can give your idea a powerful tailwind.
Explain what is special about your foundation or approach. This is your opportunity to showcase what is fundamentally different about your solution, and more importantly, why this difference is the key to success -- whether it's your groundbreaking technology, underlying architecture or revolutionary business model.
Look at how Lyft and Uber completely upended the taxi industry by introducing a tech platform that created an entirely new marketplace and business model to connect consumers with drivers. If you look at Square and Stripe, they've outpaced their peers because their architectures are built for the world we live in, not the one we came from, and because they understand the behaviors and preferences of the consumers and businesses they're built for. In the case of my company Harness, which solves the complexities and pain points around continuous delivery pipelines that lead to downtime issues, companies see the ROI in dividends.
Draw comparison points with the status quo to demonstrate how your solution is not only preferable -- it's also more sustainable. This is your chance to talk about how your solution will not only change this first market but how it will lead an industry-wide transformation.
Why are you the right person or team to make it happen?
The X factor in your story is why you and your team are uniquely positioned to solve the problem. This is your opportunity to establish credibility and convince potential investors, co-founders, employees, customers and partners that you are the person or team to place their bet on.
If you're one of a limited number of people in the world with expertise in your space, talk about how that experience has shaped your approach. For example, Slack founder Stewart Butterfield's experience building Flickr gave him the unique vantage of seeing the next wave of communication taking shape. Similarly, if you look at Evan Williams, you can almost see progression of internet communications unfold in front of you -- Blogger, Odeo, Twitter, Medium.
If you don't have the expertise, but can offer a personal element around the founding story of why you're determined to solve this problem, that works too. For me, I'm passionate about empowering software developers to have the tools they need to create better applications. At AppDynamics, I kept running into this problem around continuous delivery -- to me, the status quo was completely broken. I didn't see anyone fixing this unacceptable problem, so I knew I had to solve it myself. That's why I created Harness.
Whatever your reason, paint a picture of how you came across the problem, why you want to solve it (the more personal the problem is to you, the better), and your vision for a future that looks different because of your solution. It's just as much about the idea and the technology as it is about the person or team making it happen.
A lot of people have good ideas -- but it's often those with the best stories who are able to set themselves apart. Turning your idea into a story -- one that identifies the need, why it's imminently important to solve it, why you have the winning solution and why you're the person to bet on, is key to setting your company up for success.