Think about the last time you told someone, “Oh, that’s interesting.” My guess is it was probably at a dinner table after a small child told you a story about their imaginary pet dragon, or at a networking event (remember those?) when you were cornered and desperately wanted to end the conversation. No matter where it was, it’s likely that when you said it, you had no real interest in whatever you were replying to.
So why do founders think “that’s interesting” is positive signal when an investor or sales prospect says it?
“That’s interesting” does not in any way, shape or form mean the person is excited about your company or wants to buy your product. All it means is they don’t want to be a dick. “That’s interesting” is what people say when they’re trying to be polite. They want to make you feel good, and maybe they’ll even pass the idea along or give you ideas on how to sell to someone else. But people only buy products because of “heart” problems (as opposed to “head” problems), and “that’s interesting” is a sure sign they are not connecting with your idea on an emotional level.
Imagine how you’d feel if your child or pet was sick and someone told you they had a cure. Would you say, “that’s interesting”? Fuck no. You’d probably say, “Holy shit, give it to me now!” and not leave their side until you had what you wanted. THAT is positive signal.
Even when there are rational reasons to want a product, people still tend to buy for emotional reasons. Think of how many people sign up for gym memberships in September for health reasons. Very few. Yet every gym in America is packed on January 2nd. Membership sales also skyrocket in April ahead of “swimsuit season.” Brides join before their wedding days. Men join after they get divorced. All of those are purely emotional reasons that have nothing to do with getting healthier and adding five years to your life.
When trying to sell your idea, product or service, you want an emotional connection early on. Anything less, assume they don’t give a shit about it.
So what if you’ve been getting a lot of “that’s interesting”s lately? Consider a few things:
- Are you tackling a real problem? That’s often the root problem. You’re talking about something people just don’t care about. Like solving efficiency problems. No one cares about making data entry a little less tedious. No one cares about a 10% improvement in output. No one gets fired or promoted for a 10% gain. Make sure you’re talking about a problem that matters.
- Are you using their language? Amos Schwartzfarb talks about this in Sell More Faster. Make sure the product you’re selling is the product they’re buying. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own product’s features, but no one cares about your bells and whistles. Tell them how it will make their life better, not how many features you added last week.
- Are you just missing the mark? Whether you’re a stranger or a close friend, there’s intense social pressure to be nice. We just don’t tell other people their ideas are stupid — I’m an intensely straightforward guy and I still don’t feel comfortable nixing people’s ideas (not that I won’t do it).
Last week, I was talking to a founder who was working on a coffee “box” that delivered on a monthly basis better coffee than the swill served at local coffee shops (I’m a tea drinker, myself, but I hear things). His passion for the service was palpable as he lamented that people were constantly telling him that it was a good idea yet no one was actually signing up. He was getting loads of “that’s interesting” and very little “take my money now, you glorious bastard!”
Instead of taking the feedback at face value, I suggested he ask a simple followup question — “when is the last time you looked for an alternative to your current coffee solution?” My guess is that very few people who said his idea is “interesting” have ever looked for better coffee. Sure, the idea had intellectual merit, but do they actually WANT something better?
Bottom line: If you hear “that’s interesting,” move on. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bad product or the wrong idea, but it does mean that person isn’t buying what you’re selling. What you want is the impolite response. The gut level, grab you by the shoulders, “I will hurt you if you don’t give me this” response that says they desperately want what you’re got.
— Eric Marcoullier
Want someone to give you the straight dope? I’m unlikely to straight-up tell you your product idea is stupid, but I will ask lots of questions until you ask yourself that same thing. What I won’t ever say is “that’s interesting” because fuck that noise. As an entrepreneur, your time is more precious than anything else and there’s nothing to be gained by blowing smoke up your rear end. I’ll always be straight, even if we’ve only known each other for ten minutes. Want proof? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my coaching site.