For Startups: Why Weird is GOOD (Part II)

By Ehtan S. Auston - Last Updated July 7, 2020
Wizard Van Licence Plate = Weird = Awesome.

After I wrote in my last post that startups need to be WEIRD in order to succeed, I got several emails asking for elaboration on how exactly a company becomes weird.  So I thought I would write a bit more and give a few of my favorite real world examples below.

For those of you who don’t have time to read the whole blog post, here are three easy-peazy steps for achieving weirdness at your company:

  1. Identify your personal qualities as a human being (aka the reasons your friends like you in real life).
  2. Inject these personality traits into your company – e.g. make them part of your company values.
  3. Amplify it by 10  — Promote the heck out of your weirdness.  Talk about it. Blog about it.  Tweet about it.  Scream your weirdness from the mountain tops.  Weird and loud is good.  Weird and quiet is losing proposition.

Authenticity = Foundation for Weirdness

First off, I think it’s important to start with the building blocks.  In my opinion, authenticity is the starting point for creating weirdness in your company.  You can’t manufacture weird.  People see through the BS right away and they’ll call you out if you are being fake.  Your weird has got to come from inside you.  It needs to be genuine.

I also want to be clear that when I say weird, it doesn’t necessarily mean weird in the traditional sense of the word. For me, weirdness is just another way of saying that your company has a soul or has some character to it.  Fred Wilson calls this “voice” and FakeGrimlock the sagacious  Giant Robot Dinosaur calls it minimum viable personality.   Whatever you want to call it whether it’s voice, or personality, or weirdness, at the end of the day it’s what gives customers a reason to love your company for more than just your product alone.

Here are some examples of how can inject weirdness into your company:

Surprise people with  hidden and unexpected bits of humor.

Sprinkle hidden “Easter eggs” throughout your site.  Not everyone will find them but those who do will get a chuckle out of it. Here are three examples:

On GiveForward, after someone donates, there’s a small link on their receipt page offering a virtual high five as a token of our appreciation.

On Groupon, when someone unsubscribes they are taken to see this funny video encouraging them to resubscribe

On Google Maps, try typing in driving directions from Los Angeles to Japan.  I dare you not to laugh at instruction # 27

The key for all of these is the element of surprise.  No one expects to see a funny video when they unsubscribe from a website but when they see it, maybe they laugh and think twice about unsubscribing.  Or maybe they unsubscribe but share the video with a friend who hadn’t heard of Groupon before and now subscribes. You never know.

Be a human, not a robot [no offense to FakeGrimlock]

I think this is important.  At the most basic level, people want to work with people they’d like to have a beer with.  This is not only true for finding co-founders, employees, investors, vendors, suppliers, etc, but equally true for finding customers and users. While it’s unlikely that you’ll actually meet up for beers with your users, if you make it abundantly apparent that there are real human beings behind your website, and it’s not just a big mass of zeros and ones, people are going to want to use your product more.

Take Foundry Group and First Round Capital for example. Both of these are great venture capital firms with excellent track records. However, what I think makes these firms attractive to most entrepreneurs above and beyond their track records is the fact that the people working at these firms seem like real human beings.  Check out the silly dance videos below and you’ll see what I mean.

Foundry Group and First Round Capital make these videos because it gives them an edge over other VC firms.  It sends a signal to entrepreneurs that these guys are fun to work with, and I’m sure it helps them attract top-quality companies.  Likewise, when we hire team members at GiveForward, we have pretty goofy job postings (burrito eating skills and ninja-wizardry skills are typically part of the skill requirements) that reveal our personality.  These descriptions are a way to humanize the company but they also act as a filter. Weird job descriptions weed out the boring and stuffy people and leaves us with the weird, creative and fun people we want working at GiveForward. Our thought is that boring descriptions attract boring people. The more we act like humans, the more likely we are to attract humans to our team.

Here’s an example of one of our job postings filled with all sorts of burrito and ninja-wizardry weirdness.

No one cares about your MBA from Harvard

Seriously, your customers don’t care if you have an MBA from Harvard or that you worked at McKinsey before you started your company.  That’s not relatable to 99% of the population.  Know what is relatable?  Silly stories about yourself. Sprinkling in some self deprecating humor every now and then will make your company more likable. One of the easiest places to do this is on the “About Us” page of your website.  Here are some examples.

One of my favorite companies, Baydin, has a great about us page. Their CEO is wearing pirate hat.  Win!

The DealGooder about us page is pretty funny as well and gets bonus points for multiple burrito mentions.

Weirdness Does Not Necessarily = Funny

Although all the examples I’ve given so far are humorous, I don’t want to give the impression that every company has to try to be funny in order to find their weirdness.  Humor can be part of what makes your company weird, but it’s absolutely not a necessary component. Rather, creating a culture of weirdness is about figuring out what your personality traits (aka values) are as a company and then living them everyday.  For us, at GiveForward, humor and fun are things we value and this is reflected in the way we operate.  But one of our other core values is compassion, and being authentically compassionate is just as important to us (if not more important) as being fun and silly.  Together, humor + compassion is what defines our weirdness.

For example:

We send sympathy cards signed by everyone in the office whenever a GiveForward user loses a loved one.  It’s something that is important to us, and it’s something that our users appreciate.  Here’s what someone recently wrote on our Facebook wall in response to one of our cards:

I went to the mailbox & received by my surprise a condolence card from you guys for our sweet Silas’ passing! Thank you so much it will be packed away forever for us to remember in the years to come & used to teach his brothers & sisters all about Silas & how much he was loved ♥ thanks again. It’s not everyday a company makes you feel “important”.This compassion is just as much part of our voice and weirdness as our goofy side. For this particular user, our small gesture is going to stick with her forever.  For us, that is a small victory to celebrate.

Ethan is business graduate, who talks about gadgets, technology and startups. He's an exception track record in content creation and readers engagement and have been previously contributing to HBR, INC, Entrepreneur, and alike.
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