4 Ways Startups Ruin Their First Interaction With Customers


From Fast Company:

The first interaction with a customer is hard, and sometimes pretty terrifying. You’ve got about six seconds to pique your customer’s interest, and to prove you understand something substantial about them. Six seconds to earn another six seconds, then another.

You share a secret with your customer, and you’ve worked incredibly hard to build something based around that secret. You’ve recognized something they want that no one else has. The key is convincing them you can help in a quick, trusted way.

This makes the stakes sky-high for first interactions. We’re justifiably afraid we’ll lose our potential customers before they’ve even had a real chance to see what we’ve built .

So we play it safe. I do, you do—we all do. Everyone who’s ever launched a startup makes the same mistake, to varying degree: We tone down our messaging and bend over backwards to not exclude anyone. That way, we imagine, we’re minimizing risk. But actually, this is the riskiest strategy of all.


When you go to a retail website for the first time, what happens? There’s a three-second delay, then a banner rolls down your screen, offering 10% or $15 off your first purchase in exchange for your email address.

It isn’t just annoying, it’s a cop-out. The retailer has done something monumental to get your attention: Of all the millions of things you could be doing, by some stroke of acquisition genius, you’re on their site. You’ve handed them a megaphone and allowed them to put it to your ear. It’s their one opportunity to prove they know the person on the other end—the person you want to be—and they’re the ones to help you get there. To prove they know what’s important to you.

And what they’ve decided is important to you is price.

Rather than trying to actually connect, they’ve made it transactional—and in the worst way imaginable: “Give me your email address, then unsubscribe to my first annoying email, but use the discount code in it to save some paltry amount off your first order. Then we can probably never do business ever again. Bye!”

They need to know you live in their world, you breathe their air. If you’re selling SEO services to a physical therapist, they may not be familiar with the term “SEO.”

Your first interaction sets the tone. What that tone is matters far less than your ability to keep it consistent. This is when the stakes are the absolute highest, and this is when you can’t shy away from what you’re about.

If you’re Walmart, and you actually are competing on price—awesome. Then that’s how you want to frame every conversation with your customers. But if you’re not Walmart and you’re competing on anything else, you’ve just set a precedent you can’t keep.

The 10%-off drop-down banner takes many forms. It’s a website with clunky, unfocused messaging. It’s a resume that has bullet points filled with generic action words. It’s a value proposition for a “simple, easy” way to XYZ. It’s someone who has got something to say but is too afraid to say it.

Your job, instead, is to present your product in a way that your perfect customers realize it’s for them—to make them choose you. Here’s how to do it.


The hesitant, toe-in-the-water decisions we make with our first impressions are rooted in compromise and fear. You worry about excluding potential customers, so you compromise and talk yourself into something that’s “less.” Less powerful, less targeted, less funny—just less.

Or, you look around and see other companies offering 10% off in exchange for an email and follow their terrible lead. “They must know what they’re doing!” you think. Now you can move on to more pressing things.

But there’s nothing more pressing. The first interaction is an opportunity for your customer to opt-in. It’s a test that they can pass, not an invitation. For instance: “If you work out five days a week and go directly from the gym to work with your smelly clothes, a laptop, and shoes—then here: I made this backpack just for you.” You better not mention that it’s also got great features for weekend travel. You might even say it’s terrible for that.

You want to be a bouncer for your product. You need to remove the misleading data points that generic messaging typically yields. You don’t want anyone coming in just because you offered them 10% and they like a good deal.

In fact, talking about who things aren’t for will help make the connection that much stronger for the people who realize it’s strictly for them. Bespoke is powerful. Compromise is a disaster.


As Samuel Halick put it in a tweet through his company, User Onboard, “People don’t buy products; they buy better versions of themselves.”

Proving you know your version of the fire-throwing Mario is the first step in your relationship with your customer. They need to know you live in their world, you breathe their air. If you’re selling SEO services to a physical therapist, they may not be familiar with the term “SEO.” So don’t frame the conversation around digital marketing. Frame it around how you understand how difficult it is to get potential clients to find your site.

By the same token, if you’re applying for a job, don’t talk about you. Talk about what the team you’re applying to work on will be like once you’ve plugged your skill set (which is irrelevant on its own) into what they’ve already got.

The biggest differentiator—the most impactful, targeted secret you know—should be front and center immediately.

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