On Building Credibility
Being credible at any stage, but especially as a startup

January 8, 2018
written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

Credibility manifests itself in different ways, whether in reference to a person or an entity, with values that are shared or unshared, and any sort of historical context or existing relationships between the parties. Webster’s defines credibility as--I’m kidding, I’m only kidding! Read on, discerning reader, read on.

What happened when I pretended as though I was going to define credibility? Did you roll your eyes? Did you stop reading, give me a thumbs down, or close your laptop? Losing credibility through lazy writing (or lazy anything) isn’t so different than the myriad of ways one can lose credibility as a company, a leader, or a peer.

Let’s start with being credible as a company, internally. You should have a mission, values, and goals so early on, and at such a fledgling stage, that it’s almost embarrassing to admit it (though those who know, will applaud you for doing so, be it intentionally or by happenstance).

How do you function in any credible way as a company without a clear mission? Why do you exist?! That should be a profoundly fundamental question for a company (even if only a glimmer in a founder’s eye) to insist upon knowing and sharing. Your reason for being will enhance your credibility by clarifying the loftiness of your aspirations, and will help provide answers when roads start to diverge, things get messy, and hard questions arise.

How do you act, speak, make decisions, and know what is most important above all else, if you don’t have values? What kind of organization are you going to build? What type of experience, personality, and characteristics are you going to bring out in yourself, seek in your earliest hires, and interview for when scaling? Your values will hold your entire internal organization accountable, I would argue, even if “accountability” isn’t one of your values.

How do you make any decisions or know if anyone is executing in the right direction, if you don’t have agreed upon goals? When I say “goals”, I mean it in the most expansive way possible. Think of a revenue goal--that’s it. Think of an exit goal--that’s it. Think of a product goal--that’s it. It’s absolutely anything and everything that can be tracked, measured, or accounted for. That means it can also be tended to or it can be left unattended, and what does a company with unattended or unknown goals look like? Probably a lot of things, but not credible.

While we’re thinking at the company level, let’s discuss credibility from the outside looking in. Who looks at your company and decides if you’re credible or not? Potential customers, investors, candidates, press and news organizations, decision makers, influencers, end users, and so on. Do those cohorts seem important enough to ensure that it’s made apparent that you’re a credible company? I think so.

So, how do you deliver on credibility to those outside of your company? Read the paragraphs above that focus on how to build credibility inside your company, then shine a bright light on the activities that you execute on that live up to those things. Make it known--your company is unmistakably that.

This is an easy one, if you get it right from inside the organization, it will permeate all else. Another way to say that is that it’s absolutely impossible, if you fail to deliver on creating a credible internal organization.

Lastly, how about as an individual who’s part of a team within the company (even if you’re an individual contributor, you’re still part of the team that is the entire org)? Decide what these things are for yourself, make them obvious, and live by them. If your mission, values, and goals don’t match an organization’s, and you don’t think you can change that, don’t join.

Decide what your reason for existing is, what your mission, values, and goals as a person are. In my opinion, you can have different sets of these things for different areas of your life--to share an easy example, have one set for yourself as a friend and family member and another set for yourself as a business owner. Just know, if you segment, worlds will collide, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Knowing these things, and then living them day in and day out, will build your credibility (the all-encompassing “your”, whether a person or entity). Credibility will secure opportunity and set forth a path of not-easy-but-well-earned growth and success.

Now go forth and build credibility.