Three Simple Rules To Dramatically Increase Your Start-up's Chance Of Success

I was pretty hoity-toity last week.

I talked about existential crises, communicating who you truly are, finding those people who resonate deeply with you and forging a joyful connection with them. I spoke about the communication being a dynamic relationship, about alignment and culture, about values, and filters, and worldviews.

But sometimes things are a lot simpler than that. And while I believe in and stand behind everything I said last week, it is also important to remember we are humble animals, often driven more by our lizard brains than by our executive brains. So here are three simple rules for your start-up that take into account our oh-so-basic human nature:

1. Choose a name that is easy to hear and interpret. One of the first companies I co-founded was called ThoughtSource. We thought it was clever -- great ideas are born here! -- but it turned out to be quite possibly the worst name ever. When I got on the phone with someone and said, “Hi, it’s Kaila from ThoughtSource,” the reply was always the same: “Foughtforce? Sotsorce? What?”



Important Point: Your name does not have to describe what you do. Starbucks has nothing to do with coffee but when you hear the word you can easily repeat it. Twitter doesn’t explain Twitter, but, again, you know the word you’re hearing even if you don’t know what it means.

2. Make sure people can get their heads around what you do. People like to be able to “get” things. If they “get” you, they can “help” you, and life becomes a heck of a lot “easier.”

When you explain your business to someone, you’re looking for that moment of discovery, that “Aha!” You want to see people feel like the circle has been closed and all the questions have been answered -- the company makes sense, and they’re kind of surprised nobody has done it this way before. If instead their eyes glaze over and they say, “Oh,” there’s a chance you need to revisit the way you communicate. There is also a chance you need to revisit what your company actually does.

Important Point: The whole “getting what you do” thing only applies to people who ought to be able to get what you do. If you’re starting the next Twitter and your grandma doesn’t understand it, that’s not a problem. If Ev Williams doesn’t understand it, you need to go back to the drawing board.

3. Never fight a two-front war. Sometimes you’re stuck with a difficult name. Sometimes your business proposition is hard to convey yet still awesome. These things happen. But if they happen at the same time, you’re in a lot of trouble. Imagine: “Hi, it’s Kaila from ThoughtSource. We’re a company that lets you send 140-character text messages out into space where anyone can see them, and you can see the messages other strangers send out.” The person on the other end of the phone is now hopelessly confused; I lost her at “ThoughtSource,” and my confusing business offering had no chance of winning her back.

Important Point: Did I mention you shouldn’t fight a two-front war?

What are your simplest rules for success?

3 comments about "Three Simple Rules To Dramatically Increase Your Start-up's Chance Of Success".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, March 7, 2014 at 12:39 p.m.

    Write and practice a really good elevator pitch. Then try it on people - you need at least half of them to be interested enough to spontaneously ask positive questions.

  2. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt, March 7, 2014 at 2 p.m.

    Start ups should beg, barter, steal, offer equity or whatever it takes to engage professionals that understand naming, along with all aspects of corporate identity, is a science that takes experience to do right the first time.
    "The only thing more expensive than hiring a professional is hiring an amateur." - Red Adair

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 7, 2014 at 5:10 p.m.

    All CEO's should be banging down your door and paying you well for you to work for them. Not for just this reality but for all of your work.

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