Every founder is like a new parent. After months of anticipation, friends and family react as you expect: excitement and celebration. But when it’s time to introduce your creation to the world, you learn the sad truth—no one cares. Journalists don’t mob you with interview requests and customers don’t overwhelm your contact forms. This can result in anger unless you, the founder, acknowledge your startup baby isn’t that cute.
I’m reminded of the famous “gotta see the baby” Seinfeld episode. The parents are beaming with joy, fully expecting everyone to share their excitement, but Jerry’s reaction is notably icy. The parents see the amazing intricacies of human life and understand what led up to this moment. They see people who’ve invested in their success get excited, but their acquaintances see a baby. They’ve seen thousands, and they’ll see a thousand more.
I was always stunned parents couldn’t see this for themselves until I caught myself doing the exact same thing when I was a new uncle. Hell, I think my dog is amazing and no one cares. (But seriously, he’s super cute!)
I’m here to knock some sense into you before you anger your staff, co-founders, or strategic marketing contacts. Below, I have some strategies to get a better perspective and save yourself from bridge-burning.
1. Know you have the founder-baby bias
As a founder, at the very least, it’s important to understand you are biased. Failing to understand the founder-baby bias exists results in tension and anger to those who don’t share your enthusiasm. You can burn relationships with your marketing team, advertisers, PR people, sales, or even journalists that may one day write about you.
As an emerging tech PR guy, I see almost every first-time founder fall victim to founder-baby bias. After a few weeks or months of pitching stories to journalists, founders are horrified journalists and paparazzi haven’t lined up outside their door as they would for Lady Gaga at a red carpet event. They are equally horrified marketing can’t get them thousands of hits with a few digital ads. They picture themself as a juicy steak in front of a hungry patron. In reality, they’re a single dish at a huge cruise ship buffet.
Due to my previous writing in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and others, I still get pitches from proud founder parents. I see constant claims of creating “disruptive” technology that has actually been around for years, and plenty of easy-to-spot stretches.
As a founder, you may truly have something amazing, but on the surface, you look like everyone else. People before you made identical claims by the hundreds. Seriously. Plus, there’s a good chance a few dozen people are doing the same exact thing you’re doing. Go ahead. Google the words you use to describe your startup. I find many founders don’t do this.
2. Get solid feedback on your startup optics
If you have contacts, colleagues, investors, or even journalist friends that you know will be brutally honest, go ask them for how they would communicate your unique value to the public. Ask what blind spots you and your team might have.
You know who these folks are, but I’m guessing you don’t want their feedback because you know what they’ll say. Perhaps you’re scared of what you will hear. Check your ego, and ask for their advice. Then shut up. Don’t correct them, but say “thank you, what else comes to mind?” Keep asking over and over. Remember, this is your baby, so you will want to lash out. Don’t do it. Accept the feedback with a smile.
It’s also important to write down what they tell you with a pen and paper. This will help retain what they are telling you, demonstrate humility, and show your interest in their feedback. They will be more likely to work with you later.
For those who may be hesitant to criticize, tell them about “a startup an acquaintance” is working on. Explain your startup as if you’ve just learned about it. Ask them if it makes sense to them, then let them ask questions. This will help change your perspective but also release the other individual of the burden of upsetting you.
3. Write an article about your company
Consider a publication you respect or would like your startup to be featured in. Now, write an article to appear in that publication as if you were a journalist covering your startup. Aim for about 700 words in length and when you’re writing, focus on the reader of that publication. Give them value and explain to them why they should be excited about your startup. Be clear on how it will impact their life today and tomorrow.
After you’re done writing, go back through the article as an editor. Ask “can you prove that?” to all claims you make—challenge your own viewpoint. If you can’t prove something on your own, ask yourself which customer or colleague could go on the record and back your claim. Can they? Will they?
After your edit, go back through once more and consider it as an outsider. If someone in a completely different industry wrote this about their company, are there any eye-rolling moments, or clearly biased sentences? You may be shocked by how difficult this exercise is when you’re forced to write your thoughts out and prove claims.
The silver lining of your founder-baby bias
Looking at your startup or company through rose-colored glasses isn’t all bad. The positive spirit and hope you have for your company and your product is a good thing. It’s good to be passionate and excited about your company. If you don’t have this excitement, there’s a bigger problem, and you should listen to Scott Belsky‘s interview.
To get outside your own head, as a next step I recommend pitching me your own “startup baby” as if you wanted me to write about you. I’ll provide a perspective that comes from reading thousands of pitches over the years. Provide your first name, email address and after you hit submit, reply to my email with your pitch.
Plus, I’ll send a PDF that gets your message huge reach in just 10 days. Let’s goooooo!