Most Startup Are Ugly (and Why You Need to Keep Telling Your Story)

There are 5 million startups in Asia.

Most of them are “ugly”.

Nothing personal.

What I mean is that the best ones don’t ace pitch competitions.

Just think how the Google boys would perform at a pitch competition. 5 minutes to pitch their idea to the world. They’d flunk it. People would cringe as they stumbled their way through an awkward presentation.

Jeff Bezos did invest in Google early on, but not at a pitch competition. He met Sergey and Larry at his office and agreed to invest $250,000 into Google. That investment is now worth $25 billion.

Good ideas often win demo days but fail in business.

The reason is that good ideas are the most widely accepted ones. But the game changers aren’t widely accepted. That’s the point, they are outsiders, ugly ducklings, Black Swans.

Consider a website for college students designed to waste time. It seemed the perfect bad idea: a site (1) for a niche market (2) with no money (3) to do something that didn't matter.

Paul Graham, Y-Combinator founder, turned down Facebook because he was looking for a swan that looked white, not the outlier Black Swan that could change everything. He writes, "the two most important things to understand about startup investing, as a business, are (1) that effectively all the returns are concentrated in a few big winners, and (2) that the best ideas look initially like bad ideas."

Marc Andreessen of the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz writes that “in evaluating each call option a venture capitalist is seeking a mispriced asset. Half-crazy ideas are typically more mispriced and have the convexity that venture investors need to generate grand slam financial outcomes."

Angel investor Jason Calacanis reinforces the need to seek out “bad" ideas, "The more outlandish the idea is and the less people who understand it, the greater the chances you should invest in it are."

So, you’re probably an ugly startup, or you’re probably presenting an ugly idea.

The problem is that world is geared towards short beauty pageants that last minutes and reward the high fiving smooth operators.

So, what do you do?

You either get really good at pitching and spend your days winning demo days and pitch competitions (such startup founders exist for the purpose of winning competitions). Or, you do what successful founders have to learn – you get good at telling your story and you keep telling it every day.

You need to plant a flag and let people rally round.

It will take time to attract your Fans but it’s a process that evolves with you, as you’ll learn in the next chapter – a process called Agile Storytelling.

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