Stop selling me love and show me traction


Love ≠ validation.

Startups often struggle with how to differentiate between love and validation. Getting this wrong can lead you astray and quite frankly, makes you look naive. Investors don’t invest in love, nor should you choose to double down on love. You need to showcase validation through traction and you need to make decisions based on validation.

So, what is love? Love is when your Mom says you are the prettiest/smartest person in the world. Love is someone cheerleading and being really excited about your idea. Love is grin f*¢king. Love is everything before someone signs, pays or uses your product a lot.

Validation is commitment, money and/or eyeballs. People have to be willing to commit, pay for it and/or are highly engaged when they use it. This demonstrates your product is resonating. The next question is how do you find more of these people.

Stop selling me love and show me traction.

  • Steve
    June 16, 2015

    Great advice, Dawn. I’m reminded of learnings in the clinical diagnostics arena with a new product we’d developed and were piloting. There is a tendency to seek out those who agree with your design and product features… and crap on those who don’t. “They’re in competitor X’s corner anyway… of course they don’t like it.”
    KEY LEARNING: Relentlessly seek out those who DO NOT agree with your product’s value proposition and ask them why they don’t. Ask them 5 times… you will uncover things that can save you tons of time and fruitless cycles.

    • Dawn
      June 16, 2015

      Thank you for sharing such a great example, Steve, and for adding on other layers of where love can blind you – the dangers of selection bias and discounting those who question.

  • Tim Huntley
    June 16, 2015

    Hi Dawn,

    Last year, I had to relearn a valuable/painful lesson regarding early sales – The early sales appeared to indicate traction/validation, but they were much more about “love.” I joined a healthcare startup that had two high profile customers, and I thought “this looks promising;” however those two early deals were based on long term relationships – the reality of going through an organic sales process (even with warm introductions) yielded much different results.


    • Dawn
      June 16, 2015

      Absolutely, Tim, thank you for sharing. You showcased another great example of how love can manifest. This is often one of the first things I look into when evaluating companies with customers – how real are their numbers? If they are real, how many of those types of customers are out there and how much will it cost to acquire them?

  • Kyle Racki
    June 26, 2015

    Good point.

    This is why I believe with SaaS to charge right away, as soon as you launch your MVP.

    The product will be terrible compared with months/years down the road, but money isn’t the point at this stage, it’s about separating the “oh I love this” from “this is worth paying for”.

    A lot of founders make the product for free until they feel it’s good enough to charge for, but I think your best feedback comes from people willing to take out their credit cards.

    • Dawn
      June 27, 2015

      Great point and well said, Kyle – “it’s about separating the “oh I love this” from “this is worth paying for”.

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