Founder's only get one chance at a first impression

Most of you have probably heard that age-old saying "you only get one chance at a first impression." While you can debate it's merits when applied generally, when it comes to a founder's first impression with various potential stakeholders (customers, employees, partners, investors, advisors, etc.) it can be quite applicable. It sounds like a very trivial topic but honestly you often get one shot to describe your company to people and many founders are throwing that opportunity away with simple mistakes.

I remember when I had launched my solar company it took me a while to learn this lesson. When I first got started, every-time I was asked what it was we did my answer was "We've developed a combined heat and power concentrated photovoltaic system that can extract heat 7X better than the current industry standard." Needless to say most people looked at me like I had two heads. Even if they did think the tech was cool they inevitably followed up with "Okay so what's the point?" That sucks.

That sucks because you only have a few seconds to grab someone's attention. Many times founders may not even be aware of the first impression they made on someone. Investors pass on companies all of the time based purely on pitch decks, websites, Crunchbase profiles, etc. without ever speaking to the founders.

Truth be told, part of the reason I failed to connect was because at that time I was a pretentious founder. Mostly however it was because I was looking at this the wrong way. Like most founders I never really gave much thought to what the goal was. What I was doing instead was 1) trying to sound intelligent 2) trying to strike a balance between being comprehensive & concise. If you do that however, what you end up with is something that comes off very esoteric and verbose. (see the irony in that word choice?)

So why is it that I, like many founder's, failed to grab people interest even when the company may have the potential to do so? It's because the goal of communicating is not to solidify the fictitious intellectual hierarchy in your head. Neither is it to be overly comprehensive at the expense of being coherent.

The goal of a founder's first impression is simply to grab the person's interest.

You are not going to sell someone based on an elevator pitch. You are not going to get their investment, and you are not going to get anyone worthwhile to sign as an employee either. Much like with a resume' all you are looking for in that first impression is to grab their interest enough so that you can lead them into an engaging conversation. The goal is not for them to declare your genius it is for them to say "Hmm that's interesting. Tell me more".

The way you do that is not with academic statements like "We've created a blockchain based artificial intelligence platform to digest hyper-contextualized data from digital transformation companies." It's through storytelling. Think about this, nearly every major religion in history tends to have some kind of central text. How does that text communicate the message? Through stories.

When you connect your audience with the story of your customer, it creates a natural sense of empathy. Almost no one is going to instantly "get it" and start nerding out on the tech with you. You need to tell the story from the customer's perspective beginning with the problem they have and then how your product makes their lives so much better. If that isn't described in a clear and engaging manner within the first 30 seconds you've lost them.

James Shomar
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