I work in a start-up.
By definition, a start-up begins as an idea. At its most basic level, the job of a start-up is to take that idea and turn it into something "real": preferably, something with a product, customers and revenue.
But, long before you get to that stage, your start-up has to become "real" at a variety of other levels.
First, and most importantly, it has to be real for the founder(s). If the founding team can't see it, there's no way anybody else will.
The founding team's job is to make the start-up real for other people. Every start-up is a Tinkerbell. If you don't believe in us, we will die. You can show your belief by clapping your hands, or coming to work for us, or investing in us, or buying our products -- but before you'll be willing to do any of that, you have to believe.
This is where the term "Reality Points" comes in. It's the phrase I've been using to describe the way in which we earn credibility: from the Latin "credere," to believe.
Here are five ways we can earn Reality Points:
- Reality Points from other people. Social creatures that we are, we are more likely to think something is real if someone else can see it, too. If a talented executive has left a job with a well-established player to join your tiny Web company, her belief will infect others.
- Reality Points from media coverage. Why do we all want to be covered on ReadWriteWeb? It's because, if THEY believe in us, we must be real -- or at least, real enough to invest in.
- Reality Points from TV advertising. Obviously, the purpose of advertising is to get people to buy. But, somehow, television in particular also serves another purpose altogether. If our product is on TV, it is that much more real. The claim "As seen on TV" has been hugely successful for driving sales because of the implicit endorsement TV represents -- even if the TV coverage is simply paid airtime. The fact that a product has been on TV means that this thing is real enough to spend your money on.
- Reality Points from other distribution channels. The buzzphrase being thrown around at the conferences I've been at recently is "360 brand," generally referring to a piece of intellectual property that exists as a TV show, a toy line, a website, and maybe an undie collection or something. Each additional medium through which your brand gets perceived adds to your Reality Points. Physical brand extensions give you +10,000 Reality Points.
- Reality Points from other Reality Points. Reality Points are cumulative and self-reinforcing. If I see you on the Web, I might think you're an OK start-up. But if I then also see you on TV, and in the stores, and then my friend mentions you, and then my mom mentions you, I will believe in you.
It is always we who imbue our companies with authority and credibility, the same way we do for our economy and our legal system. But the more Reality Points you gather, the more people will clap for you. It is a virtuous cycle that can take your idea from nothing and turn it into something "real."
How have you earned Reality Points for your organization? Let me know, in the comments or on Twitter.