Sell the Potential, not the Present

Steve Jobs while introducing the iPad in San F...

Image via Wikipedia

So there you are on day one of your new venture. You’ve thought long and hard about your new idea and you’re ready to build a great company that is going to change the world. Now it’s time to attract customers, employees, and investors. No problem, right?

Except for the fact that you have absolutely nothing to offer anyone because your company does not have an office, a product, or a single employee! So how do you get started with this world-changing vision if you have few assets to leverage?

The simple answer – sell the dream, baby, sell the dream!

The Vision is the Asset

A startup company has only one asset – the vision of what the company might be someday. Today it’s just some poor guy burning through his life savings hoping all his hard work will pay off. No one wants to quit their job to go work for that vision!

Yet employees will jump out of bed to work for a vision they believe in, even if the paycheck isn’t there just yet. Investors get excited about the idea of making an enormous return on a single investment. And customers are always interested in the next best product from the next best company. You need to become all of these.

While you cannot completely ignore where you are today, you should not let that define the prospective opportunity your company offers. From a practical perspective, most startup companies evolve so quickly that they’re not even worth describing in current terms. Your focus should be on getting the company to where it will be, not dwelling on its position today.

What you are is what you Intend to be

Apple Computer has been long honored for having one of the most cult-like followings among employees, investors and customers. Apple founder Steve Jobs created a vision that the company would develop “insanely great” products and the people surrounding him believed it as much as he did. As a consequence, they do create these amazing products (we love you, iPod, iPhone, iPad) because they believe so passionately in the vision of what they intend to become.

Think of yourself as an author telling the story of what your company will become. The author is the visionary and the messenger — seeing the vision and sharing it with others. You can envision what your office will look like, what your product will sell for, and how happy customers will be when they purchase the product. Give that vision color and detail. Have fun with it. The more those around you can see the vision as clearly as you, the more likely they will be to accept it as their own.

Keep in mind who you are selling the dream to and how your dream affects their well being, not yours. Don’t try to impress potential investors by telling them how rich this new idea is going to make you, tell them how rich you are going to make them! Paint the picture in a prospective employees mind by telling them how great their job is going to be day-to-day, not just how great the company will be in the future. You’re asking these people to take on a considerable risk so you need to make the prospect of a big return as tangible and visible as possible.

It’s true if you Believe it

Even more important than selling the vision is believing that you can execute on it. Anyone you are talking to will need to be convinced that your vision will actually become a reality, and that comes with bit of planning and a whole lot of optimism. If it weren’t for the wild-eyed optimism and belief that a crazy vision could become a reality, companies like eBay, Amazon and now Google would never have succeeded.

Consider the fact that Google had a vision to become the leading search company at a time when competitors like Yahoo and Excite had already dominated the search engine space and many thought there was no room to compete. Within just over five years they went from a simple vision to an IPO reality based on selling a dream that most thought could not possibly come to fruition.

Make the Vision Huge

Don’t be shy about making your vision huge. The great thing about being a startup is that anything is possible – so let it be! It’s OK to dream a little bit. Amazon.com wasn’t built on the prospect that they might sell a few books. They dreamed of being the world’s largest on-line book store from the beginning and that’s exactly what they became.

If you’re going to dream, dream big.

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One thought on “Sell the Potential, not the Present

  1. When Steve Jobs died, I just couldn’t believe it. I told myself that one day he might have more solutions on website traffic, effective internet marketing tools, more cool gadgets and all that kind of stuff. RIP Steve.

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