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Texts with Founders: The Student (Dis)Advantage
Overcoming the credibility gap
This is the 18th weekly post from Texts with Founders — tested tactics for early-stage startups. If you haven’t joined yet subscribe for free here:
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The Student (Dis)Advantage
The credibility gap
Student founders and recent grads sometimes act as if they have a credibility gap to overcome when talking with early customers.
This likely stems from the fact that they are young and have limited (or no) professional experience. In contrast, their potential customer is older and probably has been working in their industry for a long time.
To compensate for this perceived deficit, student founders often try their best to appear legit. In the process, they often overdo it and look incredibly green. This is usually most apparent in their outbound:
We're building an innovative AI bot that changes how real estate agents coordinate with clients. Our executive team is made up of Stanford and Meta alums. Want to chat about using the product?
When reaching out to a prospective customer, the student founder often lays it on thick—talking about their game-changing product and experienced team (see "Good Guy Phrases"). Usually, it backfires.
The student advantage
Instead of trying to appear more credible, I've found that student founders have a significant advantage that older founders don't have—the ability to say they are students or recent grads.
This leads to a counter-intuitive point: people often love talking to young people who are genuinely curious about them and their business. They often find this much more appealing than interacting with some slick salesperson.
The "genuinely curious" part should not be glossed over. There's a big difference between interacting with a student founder who acts like they're doing a school assignment to pass a course versus one who truly cares to learn about an industry.
Instead of downplaying that you're a student founder or recent graduate, lean into it. Make it part of your outbound:
We're recent engineering school grads who have spent the last few months working on tools to help real estate agents communicate more effectively with their clients. You can take a look at [LINK]. We've spoken with 47 agents, and 11 of them like what we've built so much they've started paying for it. Would you be open to spending 15 minutes with us to see if we're on the right track? We'd be excited to build something that solves a significant problem you might be experiencing.
Several startups I've worked with have gotten dozens of initial customers by sending similar emails. Immediately after speaking with a prospective customer, they would implement their feedback quickly (see Responsiveness). The founders won their business by showing how much they cared about solving their problems (see Love and Service).
Not just for students
While this is geared towards students, much of it applies to founders who have limited professional experience in the sector they're building in. Any time you try to fake credibility, the most credible people can detect it from a mile away. Approach with curiosity, caring, competence, and (ideally) traction, and you'll go far.
That’s all for this week — thanks for reading.
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Company Values - Use them to attract and repel
Support - Create the headspace to help others
VCs that Ghost - Dealing with investors that drag out the process
Intros and Forwardable Emails - Make it easy for connectors to facilitate introductions
App Launch: Valuation Calculator - Counterintuitive fundraising strategies
Tranche Fundraising - Give early investors a "buy-it-now" price
MFNs - Are they a lousy deal or free money?
Weekly Investor Updates - Keep investors close and yourself on track
Check Size Doesn’t Matter - Forget minimum amounts and optimize for quality people
Raise the round behind you - Avoid a drawn-out process and optimize for the best investors.
Conditional Commitments - Why they aren't commitments and what to do about them.
Handling Inbound From Investors - Avoid distractions and keep potential investors warm.
How “Good Guy” Phrases Torpedo a Pitch - And how to win over customers and investors
Avoid Hiring Too Early - Navigate external pressure focused on vanity metrics
Customers understand before investors do - And some investors will never understand
The Benefits and Downsides of Responsiveness - Where it can help and where it can backfire.
Avoiding Gossip - Nimbly navigate an awkward scenario.
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