You'll never get a first chance to make a second impression (if you don't read this post:)

As a founder who has made many, many mistakes (and seen other founders invest huge sums of money to make a “good first impression”), it frustrates me when founders believe this statement and spend unnecessary resources and time trying to make that first contact with customers “perfect.” It  infuriates me when people who should know better perpetuate this message on founders, because while it is semantically true, the message it sends is toxic. It may be the single most dangerous message in startups/innovation, and possibly the one that creates the most amount of waste.

It is an absolute myth that you have one chance and one chance only to launch a product or to convince a customer.

The chances of this being true get close to zero when you are truly solving a real problem, understand your customers, and are genuinely conscious about customer service and value creation.

Let me tell you a story about a recent experience I had with a company called Via. Everyone and their mother is trying to create an UBER for something, or to compete directly with Uber. Via’s value proposition is any ride in Manhattan costs a flat $5. It’s a ride share, so they pick up others along your route, but never veer off course to do so.

A friend of mine convinced me to download the Via app a few months ago so he could get a 15 dollar credit (will post separately about this - virality like this also only works with a compelling value proposition combined with an exceptional user experience). It was not available to use from my apartment (below Canal Street in New York City) but I was headed to midtown after work (I work in the Chief Product Office at Pearson, where we’re implementing lean and agile best practices across the company to increase innovation and improve learner outcomes through our Product Lifecycle) to meet a friend and finally decided to give it a try. I was told the driver was 3 minutes away. I got a text message with clear instructions where to wait, what store to stand in front of, the vehicle and the driver. Inevitably, the car was 3 minutes away for the next 30 minutes.

I still made it to dinner and my “first world” problems ended when Houston's spinach and artichoke dip showed up at the table. The company apologized and credited my account, and asked me to try again one more time.

Fast forward to the next week. I had to meet my wife at the doctor…I was crunched for time and was not going to wait around on the corner for more than 3 minutes this time  but the value prop spoke to me-- $5 to get to the appointment. And in a car so I can relax on the way, get some work done, and check the latest #leanstartup mentions on twitter.

The car arrived as promised 1 minute later. It was a shared ride, but the deal is they will only pick up another rider if it doesn’t add time to your trip. One of the other riders was on maternity leave and it turns out the driver just had a baby two weeks ago! We all enjoyed the ride together, talked about being parents, technology and innovation.

I used them on the way back to the office and when that ride was good too, I knew that not only did I get back and forth from the doctor for $10 and in style, but I had a blog post out of it. It is absolute bullshit that you cannot ship early. It is bullshit that customers demand perfection in the beginning.

Here are a few house rules…
  1. Just like most things in life, intent and reasonableness rule. If you let people down over and over again - yes - that is bad business. The point is not to be afraid of that first contact with customers.
  2. Not only will most people not revolt against you, they will root for you to get it right the second time… again as long as you treat people with respect and have a VERY compelling value proposition (remember Peter Thiel’s 10x rule)
  3. Don’t assume or treat your customers with kid gloves. They know the risks. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be evil, but don’t be afraid. Early adopters like to be early adopters. Let them! Would I have used this service on my first day, or to my first interview? Or to my wedding? No…
  4. Stakes matter - it is true that customers have choices like never before. But the are not the highfalutin types that people who believe in this first impression nonsense. Especially not early adopters, especially not when you have a focused, unique and POWERFUL value proposition. Especially not when you treat people with respect and are genuinely trying to learn and get better. And especially not when the stakes are reasonable - which by definition they are… no one tries new products when they can’t afford them.

Do you remember Facebook Beacon?
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