Four months ago, I joined the marketing team at Percolate, a marketing technology platform. We work with brands like GE, Mastercard, Unilever to help them plan, create, publish, and analyze their marketing content — with a big vision to transform marketing through technology.
It’s been a blast. I’m responsible for the company blog and lead many of our content marketing efforts (whitepapers, case studies, video, etc). I love my team (we’re hiring) and there’s a lot of great momentum at the company.
Having worked primarily in consumer or SMB software companies in sub-10 person teams in SF, I’ve already seen a lot of differences in how a successful post-Series B enterprise software company based in NYC operates. Just like I did when I moved from SF to DC, I’ve tried to capture some useful ideas here (some big, some small) that might be interesting to you as well.
1. Adopting / switching software is a major decision at bigger companies.
It can affect the workflow of dozens, hundreds, potentially thousands of people in various departments and even external organizations. There might even be changes in power dynamics (ex: maybe with the previous software, finance had total visibility but now they need to wait for a report to get exported by the head of marketing). Making the wrong choice could really screw things up and hurt your career — that’s why people often go with the “safer” big corporate option like Oracle or Adobe or Microsoft. Continue reading…
Here’s a thought experiment: What would you rather have: 1,000 dollars or 1,000 engaged followers?
Sure, having cash helps you pay rent and put food on the table. And when you are living paycheck to paycheck, the choice is obviously the former.
But if you’re reading this on a smartphone while on a break from responding to email, you probably have more to gain from the latter. Because real influence is very hard to buy. If you can shoot videos or record podcasts or write essays that capture people’s attention and trust, you have a powerful asset. An asset that probably is worth far more than $1,000.
In October, I released Winning Isn’t Normal and have made a few thousand dollars in sales. But what gets me most excited is reaching new audiences with my book. So I’m giving it away for just $0.99.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve helped a handful of startups work on their YC applications and interviews. I spent much of the time brainstorming with the founders on the best way to explain their business in the most clear and compelling way possible. These founders knew a lot about the market and had spent months if not years developing their ideas, but that often meant they would be all over the place when talking about what they were doing. This caused their pitch to sound weak and not be as compelling as it could be.
Paul Graham is, among other things, really good at boiling companies down to their essence. When practicing for Demo Day, you’d see founders start to pitch their company and Paul would say “Wait, don’t say that. Why don’t you say you are doing ____” which summed up the company in a more beautiful and compelling way than anything the founder had previous pitched.
Startup Pitch Archetypes
When talking to an investor (or potential advisor, partner or other person who cares about the viability of your business success) you will talk at some point about all the major things: the market, the product, the team, the target customer, the business model etc — but how you lead the discussion and how you frame your points matters a lot.
From my experience at two demo days, talking to investors about Ridejoy and listening to lots of aspiring YC founders talk about their businesses, I realized that the best startup pitches seem to fall into several patterns. Depending on the type of business you’re building, who you’re pitching and your personal style, there are probably one or two archetypes that would be most compelling.
I’ve identified eleven compelling startup pitch archetypes (depending on how you slice it) and have tried to explain what they are, what they sound like, examples of YC companies that might have used this archetype and advice on how you might go about using it.
Take a look.
– I tried to match YC companies to pitch archetypes that I thought made sense but I was not at their meetings with investors nor did I attempt to verify this article with them (not enough time). The “What it sounds like” quotes are all simply illustrations of what this type of pitch might sound like and are all written by me, not by other YC founders. I’m not trying to put words in anyone’s mouth. Finally, these pitches are not magic. Nothing works unless you do.
The Standard Pitch
What it is:
You’ve identified a problem / unmet need that a specific group of people have and have created product or service that addresses the need/solves the problem and is within your target customer’s budget.
What it sounds like:
“Over 40% of widget makers say they are “displeased” or “extremely displeased” with their widget designing software, particularly in areas X, Y and Z. We’ve built a better widget designer that is 2x as good in X, Y and Z than the competition” Continue reading…
——- 7 strategies I used in my effort to get a team dues implemented —–
1) Build a base of supporters
For a good idea to be adopted by a group, it’s not enough for most people to be on board – you need a few very vocal supporters to champion your idea. As captain, I had some positional authority, but I knew it would be important to enlist the support of former captains and friendly teammates before the presentation even happened. Taking the time to have one on one conversations to sell your idea to people you trust within the group is time consuming but vital to ensuring your pitch to the full group is successful.
2) Prepare to address objections
This seems obvious, but people generally don’t prep enough for objections. If you just dismiss people’s viewpoints, they don’t feel respected and will be more likely to fight your proposal. In this case, I knew there were at least three objections I had to address and I took time to appropriately address each one.
We don’t spend that much money as a team – I built out a very detailed spreadsheet with our team’s expenses which meant it was harder to challenge the amount I was requesting
I don’t have money on me – More of a timing thing, I waited until the guys had received their per diem
I don’t want to overpay – I promised my teammates we would stick to the budget and if that if there was money leftover it would be returned to them
3) Neutralize nay sayers
Even after addressing objections in a way that will please most people, there are often still nay sayers who just refuse to change, don’t want to do anything or perhaps dislike you personally. Making sure that Eric and Luke wouldn’t shut down my idea in front of the group was a key strategy for getting team dues through. Depending on your situation, there are a couple tactics you can take to neutralize naysayers:
Try to win them over in a one on one - Sometimes nay sayers just want attention. Other times, they have a genuine concern or misunderstanding. When you meet in person, you can create a safe environment to speak honestly, identify the underlying issue, and figure out what to do — without the pressure of egos or an audience.
Have someone they trust/respect win them over – you might have the right message for the naysayer but perhaps they need a different messenger. If you can convince someone they trust to make the case for idea (see building base of supporters) they might be able to get through when you couldn’t.
Use peer pressure to force them in line – if you have enough support, you can make them look like the bad guys – the ones holding everyone back from pursuing this great idea and thus pressure them into going with your proposal. This isn’t always easy to do and it could backfire. Plus, I had a feeling Eric and Luke would just dig their heels in.
Cut them a deal - I used this technique when I offered to let Eric and Luke pay individually. This can be a risky move, because if people find out about the special treatment, they may doubt my integrity and overall motives. Why do some people get a deal but others don’t? Do you have to suck up to Jason or make a ruckus to be exempt from rules in the future? In this case, it was worth taking a chance because I felt like most people would understand.
Strong arm them into agreeing – this is typically a last resort move – threatening to make their life miserable or eject them from the group (if you have that authority) are blunt objects that can work but will definitely cause some collateral damage and are best avoided.
4) Show them you have their best interests in mind
People need to know that you care about them and aren’t proposing an idea that really only benefits you. The best way to do this is to have a track record of generous contributions to the group (and to remind them of this track record).
In my case, I mention talking to Susan, who was an administrator in the athletic department and tried to get our team more money (by increasing the number of days of per diem we got from 4 to 6 or 7, which is what we usually got). I wasn’t successful but I mentioned it as a reminder of “Hey, remember, I’m out there busting my butt so we can get more money. Keep that in mind when you think about this.”
Find a way to show people you care about them and want what’s best for them – it will help them trust you when you suggest something new. Continue reading…
This is part 1 of a three part series on the Art of Buy-In. Part 2 is about my first experience in using these strategies to get a good idea implemented. Part 3 explains the specific tactics I used (and would use in the future) for getting buy-in plus further resources to check out.
Too often, the best ideas get shot down.
Tell me if this has ever happened to you: a group that you’re a part of has a thorny problem and no one seems to have come up with a workable solution.
You rack your brains and realize that there’s an answer that will fix the problem in an effective and responsible manner. You make a proposal, explain your idea and expect everyone to get on board. But for whatever reason, the group rejects your idea and either does nothing, or implements a worse solution.
I’ve definitely been there – and it sucks!
For smart, good-intentioned people, seeing one of their ideas get killed – often for no good reason – can be one of the most frustrating things in the world. But what can we do?
Well, here are some options:
blame the group for being dumb
dismiss the decision as a political game / popularity contest
avoid proposing ideas in the future
withdraw from the group because you are frustrated
But do you really want to do those things? If you care about growing as an individual and genuinely care about the group you are a part of and your ability to make a positive impact on these people’s lives – you must recognize that none of these options are ideal.
What you really want is the ability to get people to understand and implement your good ideas – helping everyone win.
I’m sure you’ve run into at least one person in your life, maybe a mentor, a coworker or fellow student or just a friend, who people seem to listen to and who actually is able to get the group to go along with their good ideas. How do they do it? Hint: it’s not because they’re smarter, better looking or more popular than you.
It’s because they’ve mastered the art of buy-in.
There happen to be a number of strategies that are highly effective in getting a group on board with new idea. The fact is, people are not robots – there are social and psychological dynamics to getting a group to agree to do something.
For instance – often times a person might personally agree with an idea but is worried that others disagree and don’t want to make waves. If everyone thinks this way, your idea never gets off the ground, even if everyone in the group agrees with it. How frustrating!
The good news is - you can learn these strategies.
I once dealt with a thorny issue where I got buy-in for an idea that had been previously proposed (and shot down) by a leader in the group by using what I’ve learned about getting buy-in. I’ll be writing up this story very soon.
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