Fake It Till
They Make It
By Neal Taparia, Contributor
Starting and running a business is like entering into a never ending rat race.
How do you get your first customers? How do you get funding? How do you press coverage? It’s a series of constant challenges. You’re always thinking of ways to get a leg up and grow your business.
If you’re getting into entrepreneurship, and you're starting from ground zero, you’re likely willing to do what it takes to succeed. Should you ever lie or enter moral grey areas in order to achieve your goals?
While there are no easy answers to this, here are few reasons why you might want to fake it till you make up.
1. Exaggerate to raise money
To get your company off the ground, you’ll need funding to invest in marketing, building a product, and hiring team. Every investor though wants to see a company with signs of life and traction.
If you’re not an experienced entrepreneur, presenting an idea alone will not cut it to raise money. Investors want to see that people are using your product, and that you’re seeing strong month over month growth.
At an early stage, you may not be seeing this, and you may want to consider painting a rosier picture of your early efforts.
For example, let’s say you’re starting a tech-enabled cleaning service. With your marketing, over 1,000 people have visited your site, and of those visits, 5 people have turned into customers. You could argue that 995 people are actively in your pipeline that could convert any day.
Many companies have faked initial revenue, users numbers, or progress to attract investors. Theranos, which pedaled a vision of a pin prick blood test, is a notorious example where the founder raised over $1BN on false information and promises, which eventually led to lawsuits.
If you’re fundraising, you have to put on your sales cap, and for many that means stretching the truth to win over investors.
2. Sensationalize for PR
PR is a great tool to promote your startup. New customers can learn about your business, it can help fundraise, and it can drive SEO.
But as you know, there are hundreds of businesses vying to get the attention of the press. When their inbox is filled with hundreds of pitches daily, how do you stand out?
One strategy is to sensationalize your business to create a story worth covering.
Perhaps you’re pitching your new startup, and you want to tout how strong your new team is. One developer on your team long ago had an internship at NASA. You could claim that you’ve recruited engineering talent from prestigious institutions like NASA.
Similar to how you may exaggerate growth for an investor, it’s not uncommon to see this in PR. You might highlight the growth in visits to your website which could be 1000%, vs the growth in active users which could be 10%. One stat obviously makes a much more compelling story to share.
3. Talk a big game to recruit talent
Having a strong team is instrumental to a business. It can help you fundraise, as your investors want to put their money not only into great products but great teams. More importantly, with the right people, a great team can help you execute your vision.
When you're starting from scratch, how do you recruit strong leadership? Similar to how you might exaggerate to investors or the press, you might want to talk a big game to sell prospective team members on your business.
This could mean highlighting numbers on your total address addressable market, as opposed to your serviceable addressable market. For example, if you have a new college math product, you can claim over 20 million students may have the need for it. However, in reality, the product would likely be used by a smaller targeted market of math majors.
4. Seed a marketplace
If you’re building a network or market place, you face the proverbial chicken and egg problem. How do you create demand if there is no supply, and how do you create supply if there is no demand?
One tried and true tactic which has been employed by many of the products you use today is to fake one side of the marketplace. Tinder, for instance, is rumored to have created initial fake profile pictures to get users to engage and swipe.
Many Q&A sites will seed a list of questions and answers. They’ll even answer questions themselves. All of this gives the impression of an active community to convince prospective users to participate and grow it.
5. Build social proof
Social proof is an important strategy to keep users on your site or to move them down your sales funnel. New customers know little about your business, and if they’re going to buy from you, they’ll want to know you're a legitimate operation with quality products and services.
One common tactic is to showcase customer lists, testimonials, or media coverage to demonstrate social proof. But if you’re a new business, where do you get this?
Many new businesses often fake this. The customer list and testimonials may come from friends. If you were quoted in a publication on a topic unrelated to your business, you can claim your business was featured in that publication. Some businesses show a list of name brand publications, from Business Insider to Forbes, subtly saying their “concept was featured in” them, when in fact a competitor was covered.
Should you fake it till you make it?
Many of these strategies can be considered unethical, deceptive, or morally ambiguous. On the other hand, you’ve sacrificed a lot to make your business succeed, and everything to get a leg up helps. You can even be at a disadvantage if your competitors practice such tactics and you don’t.
Notable companies like Uber and AirBNB have skirted the law to build their business, which has led to their success. Zenefits created software to help their employees cheat on online broker tests. With it, though, comes consequences. Uber, for example, has been kicked out of cities and its brand has suffered.
At the end of the day, it’s your choice to determine your moral guidelines and the best way to meet your business goals.
This article was originally published By Neal Taparia, forbes.com.
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