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The magic phrase for starting up right

A great business idea can tempt an entrepreneur to oversell it, which is a really costly mistake
Young businessman with business idea (Young businessman with business idea image via Shutterstock)
Young businessman with business idea (Young businessman with business idea image via Shutterstock)

While jogging last week, I heard one of the characters in my audiobook say to the other incredulously, “Wow, Ed. You did exactly what you said you’d do.”

Something about the power of that statement struck a nerve, and I couldn’t figure out why. (Okay, this is partially because said “doing” involved an average Joe climbing from a canoe, up a sheer cliff, into a tree, and killing a bad guy, using the bow and single arrow he had with him. But I digress…). All week long, my subconscious has been whirling at the sheer power of that statement — to the point that I created this little graphic to print and hang on my wall as inspiration. (Feel free to download this print-ready PDF version in A4 or Letter size for yourself if what I’m about to say has the same impact on you.)

When I think back to all the startups for whom I’ve helped create business plans, websites, videos, or other messaging, I realize that virtually every step of a successful business can be boiled down to the notion of simply meeting expectations. No, not even surpassing them. And more specifically, setting the correct expectations in the first place. It may sound obvious, but walk with me here…

Maybe we have some history to back us up, but we Israelis have a tendency to boast and inflate our potential with some pretty bold optimism (especially, I find, when we talk with American audiences). Can’t be bad, right? It can be, if it gets you in trouble.Missing Expectations

It starts with the business plan, PowerPoint, or video you produce to help secure investment capital. Our natural inclination is to paint a picture of our project as so big, so all-encompassing, so paradigm-changing and (yes, the overused) disruptive, that an investor would be foolish to let this opportunity slip away. But whether you’re talking about returns on investment, time-to-market, market size, or the head-turning impact it will have on every human being who comes across it, you’re setting yourself up for a fall if you overstate it.

The good news is that most of the financial projections at this early stage are ignored by, well, pretty much everybody; at this juncture, there are too many variables involved. You only need to offer a hypothetical, realistic model to show that you’re thinking about dollars. But the other factors are taken pretty seriously and if you can’t hit those milestones, you’re going to have investors complaining, quoting the plan back to you.

Example: If you say you’ll have 50,000 users in 12 months, and you have 40,000, you look bad. You’ve missed. If you had said 40,000 (not to mention 30,000) you’ll look great when you hit the target. Same work, same execution, different result.

Do exactly what you said you’d do.

Next, this strategy continues post-launch, where your customer-facing claims are going to be held up to the light by any blogger or reviewer who takes the time to assess your offering. Again, your conundrum is to make assertions powerful enough to get attention, but not so bold as to get people laughing at you when you either failed to do so or your competitors do it better.

Do exactly what you said you’d do.

The challenge appears as well in business partnerships: Relationships where another company’s experience, user base or best-of-breed solution fills a gap in yours, in return for some kind of revenue share. These generally require projections, and rely on you to make enough progress to justify the legal, management and tech implementation work. Even a fairly profitable relationship can sour if it falls short of the numbers discussed.

Do exactly what you said you’d do.

And for all the all the freelancers and service providers out there creating websites, writing copy, designing logos, hatching marketing plans, crafting SEO strategy, building PowerPoints…this applies more than ever. The more your proposal spells out the steps and the deliverables, the closer you’ll be able to match those expectations. And while we’d all like to think (and boast) that we constantly surpass expectations, holding onto clients and drawing new business from word-of-mouth is usually about nothing more than someone saying to themselves as they write your check: “Well, he did exactly what he said he’d do.”

Read Start-Up Israel to keep your finger on the pulse of Israeli high-tech and innovation!

About the Author
Jay is the CEO of RapidFire Consulting, helping Israeli companies "tell their story" - figuring out what to say and to whom - through Explainer videos and the other dozen modes of web messaging.
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