The Curse of Our Culture of Overpromising
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“We’re going to change the World” is a slogan many startups use. Every product begins with an idea. Some ideas are so powerful that they can conquer the minds and hearts of millions, even the most wealthy people on the planet. Investors will spend millions to be part of something great. The most promising ideas often fall apart when they reach the marketplace, and even more ideas will always remain on paper or drawing tables.
Why does this happen? The root of this problem in our modern business culture — the culture of overpromising. This culture causes startup owners to feel successful long before they even create a prototype of their product. This sense of success in the future is so strong that others believe it to be true.
“Fake it till you make it”
A compelling story can convince investors to invest in a promising venture. Funds will be used by the startup to grow, hire more people, and increase its estimated worth. The money will also go towards research and development. The startup is still exploring the space, but it is far from creating anything tangible. To gauge interest in the product, it uses demo versions and fake doors. This approach is not a good one.
The longer a startup follows the “fake it till you make it” approach, the more expensive and dangerous its product development path becomes. We are all familiar with what happened with Theranos, a promising startup created by Elizabeth Holmes. But does her example stop entrepreneurs from pretending that they have innovative technology while they have only an idea? No.
I bet right now, we have dozens of well-funded startups like Theranos in Silicon Valley. Although not all of them work in critical domains like healthcare, it is likely that their most valuable asset is the good story that creates traction.
Good design helps to sell anything
Most startups founders recognize the importance of good design. Design is a powerful tool, and it allows product creators to convey positive emotions and feelings to users before they start using a product. We all love beautiful things and believe that beautiful products are more effective.
Startup founders use design to create the illusion of finished products. This illusion helps them sell their idea. It cannot have any supporting evidence. No functioning product. No technology. It’s a clever idea to create something large, but it is so compelling that people believe there is something truly amazing beneath it.
An idea is worth nothing, execution is what matters
A well-executed idea is worthless. You might find that your product/technology cannot be built during the execution phase. Perhaps the technology base is not ready or users aren’t ready to adopt the new product. Your idea is not worth millions, but the execution of it. Many founders believe they have something, but don’t have the product version validated by their target audience. It happens because it is possible. Because there are still people willing to invest millions in something that may never be built.
Our society has adopted the “fake until you make it” approach and “disregard what is impossible” approach. The modern American dream is based on the idea that everyone can create something that will change the world. This vision is shared by everyone, even the richest. Fear of missing out, not being a part of something big, not getting 10 times or 100 times return on their investment is what makes venture capitalists say “yes” to the craziest idea. There are still many startups that have little more than a story.
Will this behavior ever change again?
Yes. The way people create products will change in the post-pandemic world. Investors will be counting every penny. A beautiful vision and a compelling story won’t convince them to give you their money. When the economy is shirking, people are less likely to trust words; they trust actions. Hype is no longer a driving factor for investment.
Design will also be changing. Venture capitalists will not be judged on the product’s appearance but its functionality. Having a working prototype, and an existing customer base, will be top of the list in the investment discussion. Before the investment, design due diligence will be done. Functional design, which focuses on creating products that are usable and have clear business logic, will be more important.
Is overpromising a bad thing in a culture?
Yes or no. If used in moderation, a culture of overpromising can be a good thing. Steve Jobs famously said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” It is important to realize that product design is a complex process. You must go through many trials and errors before you believe you have a breakthrough idea that will change the world.
Steve Jobs, the man who revolutionized the world with the introduction of the iPhone, had to go through a long process in creating the first iPhone. And the design process started way before 2007 (the year the phone was released). The roots go back to the first Macintosh computer released in the ’80s, and the first concept of a portable device created by General Magic in the ’90s. That’s more than two decades of work for technology that eventually changed our world.
Dream big and work hard to achieve your goals.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.