Generating Momentum Part I: Managing perceived momentum

How entrepreneurs can generate more momentum by managing perception and expectations

Momentum is everything. 

Whether you’re fundraising for a startup, growing a startup, working on a side project, ascending at your job, navigating career moves, or building an audience, having strong momentum makes everything come easier. 

When you have strong momentum, others will have FOMO and thus a sense of urgency to help you, knowing that you’re going to be progressing quickly with or without them. Conversely, when you don’t have momentum, asking others for support is akin to asking them to help you kickstart your car rather than jumping into a moving car. It’s a bigger ask, and they will have less of a sense of urgency to help because you’re not going anywhere.

This is why periods of strong momentum are when entrepreneurs are able to collect the most value. With strong momentum, entrepreneurial people can close rounds of funding, recruit high-caliber collaborators and employees, build massive audiences, close flagship customers, and build strong networks.

When you zoom out and look at entrepreneurs’ careers, there are usually windows of time where they had a lot of momentum and were able to generate a large amount of entrepreneurial assets (skills, domain expertise, network/audience), which then continued to compound for decades. 

To maximize the output of a career, entrepreneurs should constantly be seeking out and finding momentum. The challenge is that momentum cannot be forced. Trying to force momentum is like pushing a boulder up a hill. Having genuine momentum is like chasing a boulder down a hill.

So how do you generate momentum?

Today, we’ll dive into the first way to generate momentum, which has nothing to do with the underlying substance: managing perceived momentum. We’ll explore other ways of generating momentum in future posts.

Managing perceived momentum

Momentum is something that’s perceived by others. While there needs to be substance behind the perceived momentum, there are things we can do to influence the perception. This boils down to conveying that you are exceeding expectations – that things are going so well that you are chasing the boulder down the hill, rather than trying to push the boulder up the hill.

Two founders with the same underlying substance but different ways of managing perception can end up with very different amounts of momentum. 

Suppose there are two founders running the exact same business. They’ve both been fundraising for 3 months and have raised $1.5M. Founder #1 communicated that they wanted to raise $1.5M despite actually wanting to end up around $2M, and Founder #2 communicated that they wanted to raise $2.5M, but would be ok only ending up with $2M. 

Founder #1 and Founder #2 have the same business, have raised the same amount of capital in the same amount of time, and have the same fundraising goal. But Founder #1 has significantly more momentum. They are oversubscribed based on the expectations they set and will have an easy time getting the additional $500K to get to their $2M target. On the other hand, Founder #2 has been fundraising for 3 months, and is still only 60% to their communicated fundraising goal. They don’t have momentum, which is a negative signal to investors, and raising the last $500K they know they need will be much harder for them than it is for Founders #1. 

The way we set expectations and reframe narratives can help us find momentum even without changing the underlying substance. 

In my post, Claiming false starts instead of pushing through slow starts, I wrote about how I advise founders to regain control of their narratives if they find themselves in a position where they’ve started fundraising prematurely and without momentum:

So my advice to founders who find themselves in this situation – where they’ve gotten off to a slow start – is to resist the temptation to push harder and try to manifest success by acting like everything is going well. Instead, take control of your narrative and call it a false start. I tell them to acknowledge that they started these conversations prematurely. Tell investors that they’re in conversations with that they’re actually going back under the hood to work on the business to hit certain milestones before the raise. This turns all of the investors that were stringing them along back into warm leads for their upcoming raise. They can then continue nurturing these relationships while they prepare for a more prepared fundraise process.

By owning a false start, founders are no longer fundraising and put themselves back into a position of strength as they’re no longer asking for money. In as little as a month, after getting more prepared to run an efficient fundraise, they can then start again and come out of the gates with more momentum. By claiming a false start, resetting, and re-starting their fundraise with momentum from a position of strength, they usually end up raising a round far faster (and with better terms) than they would have if they just kept pushing.

This dynamic surfaces itself in fundraising frequently, but it applies to landing customers, growing an audience, and navigating career moves. Customers, followers, and potential employers want to invest their time and attention in something/someone that’s clearly succeeding on it’s/their own. Substance aside, one of the ways entrepreneurs can generate momentum is by managing these perceptions by controlling their own narratives. That often requires that you own false starts or prior mistakes so that you can convey recent momentum.

Whenever talking about managing perception, there’s one important disclaimer: lying is bad. There’s a difference between reframing a story using true facts so that it conveys more momentum versus telling lies.

For example, someone who’s been without a full-time job for 8 months and has been freelancing to pay their bills could frame that 8-month period as “building their freelance business” rather than “freelancing to pay the bills” — they’re both true, but one conveys a sense of momentum. Owning the truth and reframing it in a momentum-conveying way is better than using a lie to try to convey momentum like, “the job offers I’ve gotten have not been what I’m looking for and I’m now also interviewing at company X, Y, and Z.”

If you’re reading this, chances are you could probably generate more momentum in your career simply by reframing your narrative to increase the perceived momentum. Just don’t lie.