Should You Fake It Until You Make It?

It’s a saying entrepreneurs and inventors hear all the time. It means to present yourself and your business or idea as if it’s legitimate, and maybe even showing signs of early success, when in reality you’re not quite there (yet). So should you fake it til you make it?

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Fake it ’til you make it

My two cents: No.

But before I dive into my rationale, let’s look at what it means to fake it until you make it.

Most faking it takes place in the pitch deck, where having a sleek and professional design can imply you’re the real deal. Unlike the actual product, the pitch deck is an even playing ground where for a few hundred dollars a freelance designer can make anyone’s idea, no matter how nascent, look on par with that of an AirBnB or Casper (in fact, sometimes you can hire the same freelance designers the bigger companies used).

The other place you’ll find people faking it is in their in-person presentation of themselves and their business. Confidence is infectious. Through an individual’s voice and body language they can make another individual, or even an entire room, believe they’ve achieved something great. A handshake sets the tone, and direct eye contact, smiling, and leaning in through proactive introductions expels an energy that says “I’ve clearly got something to be confident about.”

These two channels, the tangible and the intangible, can be built on a foundation of air, and many a seed round has been funded on not much more. But if you really have nothing more than an idea, is this a viable strategy for growth and long term success? Should you fake it, get the funding you need (in the form of investment, a Purchase Order, or your first client), and then figure it out from there? I would advise against it.

Why? Because you don’t have to. There are too many options for you to create a business case and prove concept for you to completely fake it. At Quirky I see a hundred new product ideas a day, some of which are nothing more than sketches on napkins. Everyone is ready to convince me their idea is a winner, but it’s those that offer a real proof of concept that really stand out. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Size of Prize. Know the maximum target audience for your product or business, and an estimated share you’re going after. It’s as easy as using the FREE Fact Finder from the US Census Bureau to get population numbers. You may have the world’s best stroller for triplets, but with only 1,374 triplet births a year the juice is not worth the squeeze.
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US Census Fact Finder

  1. Competitive Matrix. Make one. Use Owler to profile your competition and Wikinvest to see how they’re performing. Google “competitive matrix” and fill out any one of the 100+ templates that pop up in image search. If you’re alone in the top right quadrant that’s a good thing, if it’s packed up there, time to re-think your positioning.
Google search for competitive matrix

Google search for competitive matrix

  1. Purchase Intent. Use a landing page site like Unbounce and create a real page selling your product or service, and show that it’s currently out of stock (or for a service show there is a waiting list to become a customer). Include an email capture to “alert me when this product goes on sale.” Now go spend $500 or $1,000 on performance based (cost per click) Facebook ads using creative messaging that promotes buying the actual product or service. Scared someone is going to steal your idea? Read my article on that here.

Don’t have a real product yet to take pictures of for your landing page and ads? Head on over to Upwork or Fiverr and hire a designer to make you a couple killer renders of your product in lifestyle images. You don’t need detailed industrial designs or mechanical renders, simply shots of people using your product in real life scenarios (which is much easier AND CHEAPER to design than detailing exactly how something needs to be made for production).

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Fiverr Marketplace

You can do all of this in a week or two, and now you’ve got a story to tell, and you’re not faking the fact there is tangible market interest in the product you’re planning on selling. Armed with this data your confidence should naturally increase and your pitch with strengthen. Sure, it still might be worth it to spring on the extra smooth Moo cards, but at least they’ll be backed up with numbers you can count on.