How your startup can be more credible and less crazy-looking

by | Jan 31, 2017

Have you ever delivered a great sales pitch to an ideal buyer but they didn’t call you back? Or made a great presentation about your new business idea but the audience didn’t buy in?

Your pitch may have been flawless, your argument clear and your demo powerful. Still, you got “Thanks, but no thanks.”

For founders of startups, the problem is often NOT your pitch, your argument or your product. They may even like you.


This is common and natural for everyone who isn’t part of your “crazy” startup. This includes prospective customers, employees, industry press and investors.

All of us are skeptical of advertising, salespeople, marketers, politicians, and anyone else who says “Here’s a new thing you should do!” Like a New Yorker to the pamphlet-pushers on every street corner, our default response is not to make eye contact and say no.

In 2006, Infusionsoft co-founders Clate Mask and Scott Martineau had this exact problem with their young software business based in Gilbert, Arizona. Infusionsoft already had $3 million in annual recurring revenues, several years of 100% revenue growth and a tribe of happy customers.

It was a great story, yet they couldn’t raise funding from local investors. They also had difficulty hiring employees to join their cause. Their clear vision for a new kind of digitally powered small business wasn’t being heard in the wider market.

Clate said, “Infusionsoft has a vision to create a $200 million software business that will revolutionize the way small businesses market and sell. Someday all small businesses will use sales and marketing automation software to grow their businesses. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and our communities. At Infusionsoft, we have a world-class culture that will be an example to other companies.”

“You guys are crazy. That will never happen,” was the common reply back then.

Like all ambitious startups, they thought “We are small and unknown now, but someday we will be big and everyone will know about us.”

Infusionsoft kept growing. Now the company has 40,000 customers, over $100 million in revenues, 600 employees, a beautiful headquarters, $125 million in top-tier venture funding and many industry awards.

When Clate and Scott speak now, the impact is completely different. They aren’t perceived as crazy and their vision is really happening. Now people believe them. Entrepreneurs and small business owners come to hear them speak and learn new small business growth techniques. Attendees write down their words. They get quoted as small business experts.

Remarkably, Clate and Scott have been touting the same vision for 10 years. Same founders. Same messages about small business passion, sales follow up, marketing automation, partnerships and company culture. Almost the same words and delivery too, since they have always been powerful and articulate speakers.

What’s the difference between then and now?

The difference is their credibility.

Credibility has a powerful effect on the impact of any message. Credibility is a component of fluffier concepts like brand, reputation, trust and awareness.

When every part of a message is the same (same communicator, same words, same delivery) but the impact changes, the difference is credibility. It’s like viewing the message with a new pair of glasses.

Credibility points are simply irrefutable facts that create trust between you and your audience, so they believe you. Here are some examples of credibility points that could change the impact of your current company message and pitch:

  • Impressive number of customers and employees
  • Major venture capital funding
  • Gushing praise by industry influencers, press and customers
  • Simple brand, message and demo that communicate your unique value
  • A big new headquarters
  • A product and execution that consistently delivers on your customer promise

I experienced the difference at Infusionsoft when I was chief marketing officer in those high-growth years. We went from an unknown software company in Phoenix to Arizona’s tech business darling in two years by delivering the credibility points in the list above. Clate and Scott went from “crazy entrepreneurs” to local business celebrities and national small business influencers.

Many long-time employees were surprised by this transformation. They saw Clate say the same thing to similar audiences years ago, but he gets completely different results now. “Why didn’t they believe him when he said the same things years ago?” they asked me. Simple, we didn’t demonstrate enough credibility to overcome the natural skepticism.

Now Infusionsoft is simply more credible. There is irrefutable proof that the vision is real. Proof that we intentionally created and deliberately communicated.

Credibility is a force multiplier, but it is often overlooked as you strive to achieve other goals. Remember, things we take for granted now were once new and almost always perceived as “crazy” when they were first introduced. Give people a reason to believe you by intentionally creating credibility for your company, and then communicating it clearly.

Here are a few questions to help you create useful credibility faster:

  • What are your current credibility facts for your business?
  • Which new credibility point would increase the impact of your pitch the most?
  • What credibility do you need to attain and communicate next?
  • What are the different credibility facts for customers, partners, employees, investors and media influencers?
  • What irrefutable credibility points do your competitors use?