I was a 21 year-old entrepreneur when the dot-com bubble burst in 2001. Given the unprecedented volume of dying startups, investors and other business partners became less and less inclined to partner with new companies — especially those led by young founders.
But I felt compelled to win over potential investors, customers, and team members. If I didn’t succeed, neither would my venture.
Here are some of the tactics I used to help establish my credibility as a young founder, and grow my business in spite of my age:
- Show others that you’re committed to the venture. Find visible ways to demonstrate your willingness to serve the company. I was always the first person at the office. The signals founders send speak louder than their words.
- Present yourself like the most successful people in your industry. Given that most of our revenue came from brand managers and advertising agencies, I couldn’t show up to meetings looking like the college sophomore that I was. I ordered and wore bespoke dress shirts with my monogram on my cuffs. When advertising buyers started our meetings asking where I had my shirts made, the subsequent discussions usually went well. Don’t take this too far and spend beyond your means, of course, but first impressions still count.
- Find creative ways to inspire confidence. My team was fired up when well-known leaders like Fred Hoar, the late VP of Communications at Apple, and Dana Summers, Nordstrom’s former VP of Marketing and CIO, joined our board. Sometimes I would ask board members and other well-known advisers to come in and share their lessons with my team. Most leaders love to give back to motivated young entrepreneurs, and this helps improve your credibility in a very noticeable way.
- Set and deliver on objectives. Goals and guidelines will go a long way towards establishing momentum and lifting team performance.
- Develop your character. While nothing builds trust faster than delivering results, nothing destroys it faster than a failure of integrity. As you see your dream grow from an idea to an enterprise, your opportunities to cut corners will multiply. Grow your character as you grow your business so the latter doesn’t crush the former.