Stop pretending, Start building

Stop Pretending, Start Building

Picture this: a founder with a sleek website, thousands of social media followers, and zero revenue. Sound familiar?

Too many startups today are chasing the appearance of success instead of doing the hard work of building a real business. Here’s why it’s time to stop pretending and start creating something that matters.

First of all, I was there just a while ago. I admit it. Focusing on the facade and spending massively on promoting the “fake it until… just fake it” strategy works quite well, especially when you’re broke.

Suddenly, I realized a simple truth: if I spend the only resource I have at the moment (read: energy) on building something real instead of creating a facade of success, success comes much faster.

Social Media Trap

It started years ago, just imagine:

  • Today, around 5 billion people are on social media. It was around 2 billion just in 2015, and basically zero in 2005 when Facebook opened its doors to non-Harvard students. Backlinko
  • In the US, almost every adult spends 6 hours daily using social media. And when it comes to youth (18-30), they’re just ALWAYS online. Our World in Data

The outcome is pretty obvious – life has moved to these playgrounds.

But is it real life? Or are we still dependent on food and water, crying into the pillow behind the shining selfie because we can’t reach A, B, or C? I’m sure you know the answer.

“Fake it until you make it” comes to us with good intentions, from positive psychology to the business world. This approach has historical roots in various philosophies that emphasize the power of belief and attitude in achieving success.

It might not be all bad, but here’s the thing: there’s a difference between using it to play with your mind and using it to show others something that doesn’t exist at all. In both cases, you should really believe in it. But what are the consequences?

Consequences of Pretending

I emphasize two parts:

1. Internal – Mental & Emotional Impact

Maintaining a facade can lead to significant stress and anxiety. People often feel pressure to present an idealized version of their lives, which can result in a constant state of comparison and inadequacy.

For startup founders, who are already stressed, it has a multiplying effect. A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that reducing social media use led to significant reductions in depression and loneliness, highlighting the adverse effects of excessive social media engagement. Our World in Data

Yes, delete your lovely apps if you’re an entrepreneur. Try to use web versions, which are quite uncomfortable – and that’s why it might work to really reduce usage. When you need it, you’ll get to your Instagram, don’t worry about that.

2. External – Credibility & Trust Issues

If you don’t care about your wellness, just remember: once the facade is revealed, it can lead to a loss of credibility and trust, which are crucial for long-term business success. Entrepreneurs who focus too much on appearances may neglect essential aspects of their business, leading to potential failures and financial losses.

From the investor side: I’d frankly prefer to invest twice in the guy who spent my $500k on building a business instead of spending it on buying Forbes articles from no-name contributors and beautiful websites, targeting me and my investment club so we magically believe that he tried.

Nope. Show me the docs, numbers, invoices, the product itself, people with contracts and clearly defined terms. Save me from your fancy office furniture and $50k promotional video.

Real Business Building

Do you know the faces of BlackRock stakeholders? What about the Rothschild clan? Could you remember the last viral Soros Instagram reel? Me either.

These guys are focusing on other parts—the important parts. Let’s break it down with some examples from the startup world.

Focus on the Product/Service

Slack Case:

Slack started inside “Tiny Speck,” Stewart Butterfield‘s company, during their work on developing Glitch, an online video game. Remember the game? I guess not. But when all but one participant leaves a Huddle, Slack plays a jazz track originally used in Glitch (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glitch_(video_game)) for the last participant as hold music.

It started as an internal tool for a game development company. The team focused intensely on refining the product based on their own needs and feedback before launching it to the public. This approach led to a highly polished and user-friendly product upon release. Slack launched publicly in August 2013. By 2014, it had over 15,000 daily users. By the end of 2015, that number had grown to 1.25 million daily users. This rapid growth was fueled by the product’s quality and its ability to solve real communication problems within teams.

Airbnb Case:

The founders focused on one simple thing: their users (those who are landlords) should earn money. They did everything, including manual adjustments and diving into each host’s case. Airbnb started with the founders renting out air mattresses in their apartment to conference attendees in San Francisco.

The focus was always on improving the platform based on user feedback, ensuring hosts and guests had a seamless experience. Airbnb launched in 2008, and by 2011, it had over 1 million nights booked on the platform. Today, Airbnb has millions of listings worldwide and continues to grow, thanks to its user-centric approach and continuous product enhancements.

Customer-Centric Approach

Zappos Family of Companies Case:

Not software, just retail. Just?! Zappos is known for its exceptional customer service. The company offers a 365-day return policy and free two-way shipping, focusing on making the shopping experience as pleasant as possible for customers. Result? This customer-centric approach has built a loyal customer base and significantly contributed to Zappos’ growth. In 2009, Zappos was acquired by Amazon for approximately $1.2 billion.

Glossier, Inc. Case:

One more beauty brand in the era of high tech? Hmm… Glossier, a beauty brand, engages deeply with its community. The company uses social media and customer feedback to develop new products and improve existing ones. This direct line of communication ensures that Glossier’s products meet the needs and desires of its customers. Since its launch in 2014, Glossier has grown rapidly, becoming a cult favorite in the beauty industry. By 2020, Glossier had raised over $186 million in funding and was valued at $1.2 billion.

Sustainable Growth Strategies

Basecamp Case:

Oh, I love these guys. 37signals (https://37signals.com) <3. By the way, they invented the Ruby on Rails framework. Just got to know it while writing this article.

Impressive? Yes. Did they start with social posts? Unlikely. It was 1999.

Basecamp, a project management and team communication software company, has always emphasized sustainable growth over rapid scaling. The company has been bootstrapped since its inception, focusing on building a profitable and sustainable business.

Founded in 1999, Basecamp has grown steadily and maintained profitability without relying on external funding. This sustainable approach has allowed Basecamp to remain independent and focused on its core mission. Five years ago, they were valued around $100 million.

Intuit Mailchimp Case:

Mailchimp started as a side project in 2001 and has since grown into a leading email marketing platform. The company focused on organic growth, offering a freemium model to attract users and converting them to paying customers as they grew. By 2021, Mailchimp had over 13 million users and was acquired by Intuit for $12 billion (BILLION, CARL!). The company’s emphasis on sustainable growth and profitability played a crucial role in its success.

The Other Side

You may say: “Okay then. You listed some positive examples, but what about illustrating your ‘bad consequences’? Maybe it’s not so bad to pretend to be successful and impactful?”

One word: Theranos.

I’ve been writing this for a couple of hours already and won’t dive into Theranos’ story, but I welcome you to my lovely BBC to read the full story – Theranos: Rise and Fall.

I’ll just add: we know this name – Elizabeth Holmes. And we know it is worth nothing.

Get back to the Real Business Building part of this article and try to google the founders’ names. Try to find their photos. (You will, but it’ll take some time).

What to Do Then?!

So, you’re ready to stop pretending and start building. But where do you begin? Here’s a roadmap to set you on the right path.

1. Identify What Really Matters

First things first, figure out what matters most for your business. Is it developing a product that solves a real problem? Is it finding your first few loyal customers? Maybe it’s securing funding to take your idea to the next level. Whatever it is, make sure your priorities are crystal clear.

ChatGPT Pro Tip: Use a framework like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to set clear, measurable goals. This will help you stay focused on what truly drives your business forward.

2. Save Resources

Your resources are limited, so spend them wisely. Instead of splurging on a flashy marketing campaign, invest in product development, customer feedback loops, and building a solid team.

ChatGPT Pro Tip: Create a lean budget that prioritizes essential spending. Tools like the Lean Canvas can help you identify the most critical aspects of your business that need funding and attention.

3. Don’t Care About Fake Numbers

Building a brand isn’t about the number of followers and likes you have; it’s about how engaged and loyal they are. Authenticity is key. Engage with your audience genuinely, listen to their feedback, and show them the real story behind your business.

ChatGPT Pro Tip: Use social media to tell your story, not just to sell. Share your journey, your failures, and your successes. This builds a deeper connection with your audience and fosters trust and loyalty.

My Tip: Be yourself.

Сlosing statement

The startup world is full of noise. Every day, new companies pop up with grand claims and flashy marketing. But as we’ve seen, real success comes from building something that matters, not from pretending to be something you’re not.

Don’t feel bad if someone fake fundraised $1M. Remember: easy come, easy go. 😉

By focusing on developing a solid product, engaging genuinely with your customers, and growing sustainably, you can build a business that stands the test of time. Remember, it’s not about how many likes you get, but about the value you create and the problems you solve.

Stop chasing the appearance of success. Start doing the hard work. The real work. Because in the end, that’s what will make you truly successful.

Get back to the basics. Focus on what matters. Build something real. And watch as success follows naturally.

Kisses 💜

Yours, Alex Sherman,

just an entrepreneur.


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