Where is the line on "fake-it-til-you-make-it"?

by chipmunk_face. Posted on Sep 13, 2020    114    57

I launched my website last week after spending a year or so getting things set up (its a niche product rental service for weddings). Its currently just me, no employees. Ive fulfilled two orders but bother were for friends/family, so not a "real" customer. I've had some interest this past week, but I'm having a hard time deciding what image to put forward on my website/emails in terms of company size. Since the product is wedding related, the social proof and the impression of trustworthiness is very important. Customers obviously don't want to take a risk renting something from a vendor that is cleary just getting started. No one wants to think they are the first order - its their wedding. So up until now, all my website copy reflects the image of a company that would appear to have a few employees and a good amount of orders under their belt.

But now that I'm having to respond to customer emails, I waffle between faking the image of a well established (or at least well funded) startup, or being mote honest about the fact that its literally me packaging items at 10pm in my basement.

For example:

Customer: Hi, can I purchase this product set instead of renting? Honest answer: I currently only have one of that item in inventory, so you can only purchase it if you only need one (this reveals that I have literally no inventory). Fake-it answer: Let me check with our inventory manager and get back to you.

Customer: Im having trouble booking product XXX. Honest answer: I've updated the product listing and you should be all good now! Fake-it answer: Thanks for the feedback! Our technical team is making updates.

Even something as simple as saying "contact your customer care representative with any questions" or "send all media inquires to our marketing team" seems like I'm lying. But it helps give the customer the impression that they can trust "us" to deliver their product on time for their big day.

What do you guys think? Where is the line between unethical faking, and fake-it-til-you-make-it?



Anything dealing with China. No need to fake it. It's ok to express your undying hatred for that country. Fuck China!

sourcec0p 1

Elizabeth holmes and Theranos. There's a good book about it - Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup.

Never fake-it-til-you-make-it in a healthcare startup. It might cost someone's life.

getch739 1

When in doubt, be authentic.

rockem-sockem-rocket 1

What you have is a sales strategy problem - you should be selling the value of that small company focus, not hiding from it.

Let’s say a client asks how long you’ve been in business, how many employees, etc -

“So I’m glad you asked, that’s one of the areas I think you’ll find really stand out. We’re a small, boutique company, myself as the founder and a few contractors to help support. As part of that, I can assure you I’ll be your single contact for anything you need, from ordering to product recommendations to ongoing support. Anything I can help with, you just let me know.”

ZaurbekStark 1

I don't like the "fake it til you make it" concept. Just faking anything in general seems like it isn't good, you will eventually always end up in a situation where some people will figure it out. In your case in particular, the approach that I would take is to use the fact that you are alone as strength instead of a weakness.

When people send you an email, there is no problem in answering them directly yourself and say that you will handle it (instead of someone from your team who doesn't exist). If you formulate it the right way, people will feel good talking to you because you will have that personal touch. When the team grows and you become more like a "corporation", that personal touch is lost. That's what I would aim at if I were you. Try to use it as a strength to create a connection with everyone that reaches out to you. If they ask for help, fix their problem directly (instead of saying your technical team will do), this will actually impress the customers more, it shows you listen and you can be trusted to fix issues if they arise.

Another point, if you want to build social proof and no one knows you, a couple of things you can do:

  • Start giving your service for free (make it a special offer - limited time for the first month of launch, or for the first 100 customers).
  • Try to partner with someone (other similar brand or person) who has an audience and can do some marketing from you in exchange of a service you do for them.
Froogler 1

Maybe it's just me but I don't expect a wedding product rental business to be some multinational corporation. I expect it to be a one or two person company. I would rather speak to the owner of a company than some faceless customer care rep

-Greenlung 1

> Hi, can I purchase this product set instead of renting? Honest answer: I currently only have one of that item in inventory, so you can only purchase it if you only need one (this reveals that I have literally no inventory).

Fish for more details pertinent to the sale while trying to source more inventory. Tell Cx that you're "awaiting a shipment that is X days away" if push comes to shove. X should be the actual lead time on the product. Don't lie, but also don't share more than you need.

MuzzleCream 1

Hire an "on-demand" receptionist. For a small fee (relatively reasonable). The can answer the phone and take messages and "Refer" to the correct party, and complete your CRM during the call.

You can then, offline, determine the most appropriate answer

By doing everything yourself you are failing to learn to delegate.

Also, and just for the record: People like being contacted by the owner to solve problems. Every customer wants to be the most important customer. A personal note from an owner after a resolution is a lot better impression that a faceless corporation. And, let's face it, the last thing you want to do for a wedding is call Comcast for support.

primrosepalace 1

Your inclination to use “we” or refer to departments is right on track for maintaining fluidity with customer service interaction. Ppl get MEAN when they know they are dealing with one individual, or will just try to strong arm you. Honestly I’d even go as far as making separate email accounts for tech/service/etc as long as you stay on top of them to create a stronger image to this end.

simplysalamander 1

To echo what others are saying: customers like a personal customer experience. They just want to feel like they’re being taken care of by someone qualified, and you can (accurately) present your employee-customer relationship as a direct personal contact from “cradle to grave.” If you put yourself in their shoes - it feels great to email/call a company, and the rep that responds is all “yes - I can help you with that” on loop for every little thing you need as a customer. On the outside, it looks like the company is staffed by a bunch of reps who can provide a full service, and if they call on another day maybe they’d get someone else. Hand-offs suck from a customer perspective, because as a customer you’re like “do I need to re-explain my problem again to someone else? How long will it take for THIS person to get back to me now?” And if “this” person is available to help immediately - then now they must not be getting much business because here’s at least two people who had nothing to do but help me today if they both had this free time.

About the inventory example — I think it’s perfectly fine to be honest about your business model: “The unit(s) we have in stock are kept in inventory for renting, and we’d be happy to help you order a new [item] from the manufacturer to own. Please understand that there may be a lead time associated with that as it ships to you.” Not to mention highlighting the fact that the one(s) you have on-hand are used, and they’d probably prefer a new one.

NWmba 1

Think of “fake it till you make it” as Dumbo’s magic feather. It’s having the confidence to step out and get done what you feel inadequate to do, but are not inadequate to do. It’s having the boldness to approach a big wedding and say “yes I can take care of you” because you know you can even though you’ve only served friends and family.

What it isn’t is pretending to be what you aren’t. Maybe people can make that work, I don’t know but it’s not good practice and will compound your stress.

Besides, most big companies try desperately to sound small and have a personal touch because small means you’ll be cared about and taken care of. Why do the opposite and try to pretend you’re big if it just sounds like people will get worse service?

rusicmarketinglab 1

Low key, there is no line.

See the current US president for reference.

Personally I suggest that you never push it past the point of lying to a customer or client about the deliverables you are providing.

Fake it till you make it isn't an excuse for fraud

BamaHama101010 1

I spent $35k on outside vendors for my wedding. Never once were my wife or myself concerned if they had a technical support staff or customer service representative. I was getting photos, renting wine barrels, fire pits and donut walls, not product development from Silicon Valley. Deliver a solid product/service don’t worry about the image BS.

Nzym 1

When you overpromise, underdeliver, you've gone too far. This is for fakers and experts alike.

perhapsnew 1

You don’t have to advertise that you are one man shop, but you also don’t have to lie to customers either. If they want to buy something you have, no need to “check with inventory manager”, you say “it’s not for sale” and move on.

When you put too much effort presenting your business as something it’s not, customers will smell it.

How many customers asked you a question “How many customers did you serve”? I bet zero.

kanzude 1

Don't lie to people. Offer your service for discounted price to friends & family as that's the easiest way to get some initial traction.

Customer: Hi, can I purchase this product set instead of renting?

Say: Hi customer, I have 1 item available right now but I can have XX more by date XX if you are interested...

People will smell BS sooner or later. Stay professional and keep the professional outlook, be honest to your customers. That's how great businesses are made.

Homeboi-Jesus 1

Lying to your consumer base is a good way to put you out of business before even getting started. How would you feel if you were doing business with somebody who hid the truth from you only to get your business?

Being just 1 person doesn't seem like it is too much a downfall, hell you could even probably spin it into a good thing. Granted, I am in the firearms industry and know virtually nothing about weddings, but wouldn't you be able to offer a more individualized approach, or a lower price point that others can't offer since they have more people to take care of? Or maybe you are fantastic at what you do, and even with being just 1 person you can produce great results? Also, why would it be an issue if a customer purchases the only 1 item you have in stock, couldn't you order a new one? Well, at the end of the day if you want sales, you need the customer to feel confident and happy with your service without lying to them, or else it will blow up in your face terribly if it is ever found out.

xeneks 1

Being vague is just being vague. It’s not bad to omit some data, after all, a retail sale isn’t a confession.

Besides, if you put your back into it, you’ll probably be able to deliver on most forward-looking statements. Unlike me, who still makes promises daily in the cheerfully naive optimistic hope that one day I’ll actually do something productive and sustainable for someone who’s asked for help and is still waiting.

Geminii27 2

"While our rental products are not currently available for sale, we may be able to arrange one for you through our supplier. We'll make enquiries for you regarding potential costs and delivery times for private purchase and get back to you with that information."

KnightXtrix 2

Oh man, I have lived this (when I was starting my first company). It's tough! Here's what you do....


First of all, realize that NO ONE cares about this as much as you do right now. You're really just psyching yourself out here. Customers care about one thing: Making progress on whatever they hired you for. If you solve their problem, they don't give f* if your company is 1 person or 1,000.


Second, people LOVE personalized service. Knowing that you are handling things end-to-end for them is a GOOD thing. Be professional and be yourself.


Okay, phrasing your emails (and website copy etc.): Just say "us" or "I". Don't over complicate it.


Example 1: Customer: Hi, can I purchase this product set instead of renting? — "We're only able to sell 1 unit per customer, otherwise our focus is on leasing. Let me know if that works!"


Example 2: Im having trouble booking product XXX. — "I've updated the product listing and you should be all good now!" <- Your answer was already perfect!


Example 3: "contact your customer care representative with any questions" — "Contact us and we'll help you with anything you need along the way"


Good luck with your business :) Keep at it.

Worldzmine 2

People misunderstand the idea behind fake it till you make it.

Good use:

Being confident, asking to be compensated for what your products/service is worth, taking in big projects, having a professional image/ branding with honest chance and ability to deliver.

Bad use:

I have a test that cures cancer

I have a $1000 juicer that’s amazing

Come to the nicest music festivals

(Truth Is I have nothing)

You know when your lying and when your just punching above your weight.

👍 Ifyou know you can deliver but just need help/ money

👎 If you know you can’t deliver, but think you will figure out later

daftstar 2

The issue is not about "we" being you or many people, it's about your company's ability to execute. If you alone can provide services at the level of quality and scale that it would take another normal company 50 employees to achieve then congratulations, you've got some pretty sweet secret sauce.

Your customers care about outcomes, nothing else.

If you can't provide outcomes, then no matter your size, you were just faking it all along.

jcspring2012 2

First off, setting up differentiated communication channels around functional requirements is not "faking it". Its a rational way to control requests, responses and stay organized. You could have a hundred plus people in a matrixed org, and have people fullfilling multiple functions across the org via different channels still. Yes, being organized will instill trust in customers.

Second, its common practice for companies to provide fake first names only in customer service channels. Do you really think that guy in Mumbai is named Bob? However is likely not appropriate for high touch B2B businesses where relationships matter.

So this is purely an operational quetion for your business and not an ethical question.

catladypalace 2

I first heard it on a TedTalk a couple years ago.

FartyFingers 2

Brain surgery. That is where I draw the line.

im_way_too_tired 3

You're doing great, don't worry. Of course use "we" to represent the company and there's nothing wrong with "let me check with that department!"

Implying that your company is bigger is no problem, but it does become a problem when you start creating email addresses for fake employees. I worked with a co-founder who wanted to do that, didn't understand the problem.

ks9836 3

I think the line is actively lying. It’s “fine” to omit information that isn’t necessary or to blur the lines of the truth, but lying is bad practice.

There is a case to be made for directing people to different departments because it prevents customers from thinking that they can just email you about everything and anything and get a direct response back immediately.

davidjytang 4

I heard Bill Gates deliberately did this when starting out and making contact with big corps by having ppl on the other side to hold for him “to step out of a meeting” or something when in fact he had no meeting, very few staff and was right next to the phone.

I think the purpose of his tactic was to avoid throwing his customer off of their usual expectation and I would argue that tactic is pretty much harmless.

However, in your example, I would wager, your honest answers are not as a sure fire way to deter customers as you may think. It feel very genuine and I bet it attract very different customers.

noob_unrealdev 5

Honest answers all the way bro. No one cares for the latter

_DarthBob_ 6

I think both answers are wrong.

  1. We don't normally offer purchase as an option but I could let you buy one if that's what would work best for you.

  2. I'm sorry you had some trouble, I just tried it and it was fine. Would you mind trying again?

  3. This is my business, so you know I'm more invested in your success than any large company. Any issues come directly to me.

    Leverage the personal. People love knowing they're talking to founders, give them a million dollar service every time. Don't play at being big when you have none of those advantages. Your advantage is that you are not some minimum wage employee, this is your business, you care
Analyst-Suspicious 8

Why do you need to fake the image of a well established/well funded startup?

Most corporations do the opposite, they'll try to fake being a local small business operating out of a garage instead of a faceless corporation they really are.

One-man operation is a huge asset because people know that they are interacting with a real human being and the expectations for a single person are lower than for a company with many employees.

Friends and family ARE real customers. It's none of anyone's business what your relationship status was with the customer. Hell, you could run a local bar and every customer ends up being "friends and family".

Your "bang for buck" ratio should be better than what the more corporate companies can offer. After all, you're taking care of everything yourself and can go an extra mile to ensure quality.

  chipmunk_face 4

Yeah, I know what you mean. I definitely don't want faceless corporation. But I feel like if a customer figured out it was just me and I'd done a total of 5 orders, they would be wary of taking that risk, specifically because its their wedding day. But like others have said, there are many better ways to instill trust and professionalism even with a one-man operation.

Analyst-Suspicious 5

You're overthinking it. People care about the result and about the price. Normal people don't start factoring in "what if he gets hit by a bus" type of things. Which you should have insurance for anyway.

Risk analysis etc. starts to become important in b2b where they will sit down and figure that the risk of you shitting the bed is too high and will disrupt them too much.

jstyles2000 1

To add to that... Customers appreciate authenticity. You're likely not fooling anyone with some stock photos of "employees". Bridal industry is huge, but it's also highly personal. I don't expect to buy my flowers from a huge corporation, same as renting a photo booth - I realize it's probably 'some guy' who owns one, DJ is usually one person, photographer also, even limo companies are commonly just one man shows.

I'd rather see a picture of your face and know the personal service I get ... Not that I have to "email your customer service department".

You're small....own it, and use it to your advantage. Provide personal service that big guys can not.

Cultural_Beyond8851 51

Faking it until you make it is not the same as lying to customers until you make it.

  chipmunk_face 12

Yes, exactly my point. Is saying "we" when its just "me" considered lying? Or faking it?

rockem-sockem-rocket 1

Agree with others here, the royal ‘we’ is a non-issue. You’re in the clear :)

Cultural_Beyond8851 43

You can use the royal we when speaking about the company. But showing fake employees is not that

SpeakThunder 2

I don't agree with this. I don't think you should promise things you can't deliver, lie about important things like financials of your company, etc,. but to present the image that your company is bigger than it is is fine as long as it does over-promise what the company delivers. Having said that, I don't think it's all that necessary to do so. Most people respect a good hustler. And one can always hire contractors to expand to the size of a job and you can either say as much to a customer, or just say you have a team (because using a contractors is viable way of having a scalable team). But an absolutist position of "you should never lie to your customer" is also a bit of righteous poo poo. I know MANY single member companies who present a facade of larger teams as a way to engender trust, but also not be taken advantage of. There's a line, of course, but it's up to the person to be able to know what it is, not this black and white nonsense.

Cultural_Beyond8851 1

You say you know many companies that purposely deceive clients to engender trust. Why would a client not trust a single person company?

  chipmunk_face 1

As a consumer myself, I think seeing a one person operation is not a bad thing in all cases, but it doesn't immediately engender trust. I have to seek out the additional social proof that the product is high quality and will arrive in time for my event as pictured online. A startup with 5 to 10 employees says to me "that business has done well enough to expand. They clearly have happy customers because they have enough orders to justify having a marketing team".

So its more of an assumption on my part that ordering from a single person company comes with the risk of working with a company that has no customer base.

Maybe I will be more comfortable with my image as a one person operation once I have the testimonials to back it up.

Cultural_Beyond8851 2

And couldn’t a one person company actually not deliver to your event on time, because they misjudged the job? How would you feel if your event is ruined because he misrepresented himself. Wouldn’t you publicize that fact ruining his reputation. Not a crime to fuck up, but you need to represent themselves honestly, because the downside of a ruined reputation, or worse, a lawsuit isn’t worth the deceit. Better to say. I am new and hungry and cheaper and hit them up for a testimonial in exchange for a discount.

And then of course deliver and don’t fuck up.

xeneks 7

I received professional advice on that very matter. It’s fine to say you have a partner or someone helping you deliver the product or service. You don’t need to disclose that the partner is your fish, dog, imaginary colleague, your God, or Gaia. Let them ask, don’t mention it further if they fail to, and relish in the potential for excitement caused if you tell them that fido couldn’t get your parcel to the post office in time or that the parrot you occasionally see in a tree couldn’t take any of their phone calls.

Cultural_Beyond8851 12

Sounds like you need a different "professional".

xeneks 3

I should mention, I don’t actually do that myself. I just daydream about how convenient it would be, and never forgot that ‘professional advice’ and so love to share it to encourage thought.

On a serious note. Friends and colleagues in the industry who advise and mentor you are ok to refer to as ‘we’. If you’re trying to do something complex or difficult and are always seeking further advice from people who assist you as team members would, you could readily put ‘our team’ in marketing like a website, so long as you make it clear that it’s you who alone who are delivering the product or service - and that it’s your responsibility entirely for any fuckups and not someone else’s. Suppliers who you work closely with I suggest are part of the team.

Also, and most importantly. It’s really useful for your credibility when you start in business to present yourself as a business and not as an individual. It’s good if you plan to rapidly scale and are a startup and not a small business. But in some industries it’s the combination of the person, the individual and the company that gives people most trust. Take real estate. Did you notice that the agents are always with photo and agent name, even if they have a shared company they identify with? Many industries with professionals actually get more business if the company or team isn’t mentioned at all. I’d suggest the wedding industry is one. Certainly, having collected thousands of business cards and having been around a bit, I’ve never seen the wedding industry have a company first, it’s the individual first. The customer wants you personally and to trust in you, not some company designed to give them the runabout or create the opportunity for shifting blame. Just one clear example of this would be a celebrant or efficiant. Of all the business cards I’ve seen, I’ve never seen a celebrant company. Only a persons name. Photographers also often fit into this. It’s about trust.

The exception to the rule might be a Las Vegas quick-e-wed but even then, I’m sure it would get more customers if it was ‘quick-e-wed by Steven Brothers’.

So don’t get too hooked up on trying to represent yourself as a larger company or business. At the start you’re probably more likely to get sales as a human person. Trust in yourself. You can always pivot or create a series of mvps where you sell the same products under a set of split tested company names later.

This does depend on the product and customer base. Is it cakes, or is it cake and teacup doilies, sold wholesale?

brbss 11

You can use the royal we but also consider all the partners you may not realize you have: your service provider, your web host, that guy you hired on fiver for your logo, the creator of that tool you used to build whatever, your landlord, your ISP, the postman, etc.. In a sense these are all your business partners.

However I would not explicitly lie about having employees because that's not the same.

dvaunr 23

Your honest answers sound better to me than your fake it answers both times in your examples.

For the inventory, just be honest you have low inventory currently but are restocking, ask them how many they need and that you’ll get back to them with a lead time.

For booking the product, why say you’ll have the tech team look at it? If it’s fixed, just say so. As a customer I’d rather hear that it’s already fixed than have to wait for a tech team to look at it, especially a fake one.

For the contact items, you technically are the customer care rep and the marketing team, even if it’s just you filling all the roles. There’s nothing wrong with saying what you have. If you’re really worried about it, just have it all be one contact form with a drop down menu so they can pick a category (customer care, media, tech support, etc). It will make them feel like their inquiry is going somewhere specific while still just sending everything to one spot for you to work through.

  chipmunk_face 2

Good idea on the contact form. Those categories are vague enough that I dont feel like I'm embellishing too much.

rpcleary 2

Depending on the form you're using you may also be able to segment your work a bit. For example: you could block off specific times to focus on "customer care" requests, "tech support" requests, and so on. It can help you be more efficient and provide customers with a better experience.

aeronautically 115

The line is drawn when you start promising customers things that you know you can’t deliver, but stuff like that isn’t that bad at all.

Nowado 1

That standard strongly promotes incompetence...

OptionsBop 9

Catch Me If You Can...

bluboxsw 100

I think you are looking at this wrong.

I see nothing bad about using "we" to hide the size of your company, but stop referring to other titles to imply there are other people there.

It is far more important to express to the client that YOU are the one that is going to hold their hand through the process, and that YOU will make every effort to make their special day a success.

People HATE to be dumped off on other people, leaving phone messages and never getting called back, sending emails that may never be returned. It sucks.

Let them know their experience will not suck because YOU won't let it.

JessiSexy 1

Here you go with the correct answer.

hereforthecommentz 3

Agree with this. Being a real face that people can trust is important. Work on getting a few (real) testimonials.

PGHNerd 21

This is exactly it. Perception through general words like ‘we’ is perfectly fine. If you start referring to specific titles that don’t exist, that is not ideal.

In regard to your offering. It’s okay to be honest but also be supportive. Example: asking to purchase an item you only have one of. Say something like “We are happy to explore that option for you, how many would you be looking to purchase and I can look at our inventory, if needed, we would be happy to order some more in for you as well.”

It is less about how small you are and more about the experience, you are minimizing some of the challenges around an industry and I find people prefer small entities because they get that personalized extra customer care.

Create a customer journey that makes them feel special and the customer is more willing to work with you.