October 17, 2018
Have you found your first follower
In 2016, an entrepreneur said to me: "Forty Ferpection clients in a year, that's great." The nice compliment aside, I'm often asked what we did to make such fast progress. I think this rapid start can be explained by a simple video (and nine lessons put into practice over these last 18 months).
How to successfully get your startup off the ground by watching a video of young festival goers
This is how Derek Sivers illustrates his first follower theory in his TED talk: with a video that shows young people dancing.
The video in question is from an open-air concert during which a young man begins dancing whilst those around him simply ignore him and remain sitting. You might easily just assume the dancer is crazy… until another person joins him. This 'first follower' provides the initiator with his legitimacy. Soon, a third man joins both the first follower and the initiator. This second follower changes the dynamic again, because what we now have is a small group. From this point on, more and more people come to join the dance and the small group turns into a big crowd, i.e. a movement. From starting out as crazy, our initiator has now become a leader.
Like the initiator, the first follower takes a social risk, which in the case in question is that of being ignored or even ridiculed. The fact that the first follower has taken this risk, however, reduces the social risk for the third person and all who then follow. As the group continues to grow, we eventually reach a point where the balance tips and the dance goes from being an anomaly to a social norm.
In short, the first follower theory is a concept according to which the first follower is considered just as important for the development of a movement as the initiator, because the first follower provides the leader with credibility.
How this relates to Ferpection
In concrete terms, the first follower theory is very useful to the entrepreneur, or in fact to any innovator who might give the impression of being a little crazy at the start of their project, with their rough, imperfectly formed idea and their lack of solid references. It provides a reminder that someone external may be able to help them get started by providing them with credibility.
Before describing how this worked with Ferpection, I just want to make it clear that I'm not comfortable with the term follower. One reason for this is that the idea of a follower can come across as passive, whereas in reality their contribution is clearly active, and that includes in the video presented by Derek Sivers. Throughout the rest of this article I'm going to use the term 'allies' instead, which I think is more appropriate.
So who were Ferpection's first allies (I'll refer to them by their first names to make it easier to read)?
In early 2014, Margaux became the first person to sign up on a pre-registration page I'd created in order to see if the concept of a community of testers might be of interest to anyone.
On paper, Margaux and the 191 other pre-registered people didn't send a very strong signal to the outside world. A few months later, however, when I successively crossed paths with three directors at digital companies – Régis at Darty, Mathieu at Parrot and Alexandre at Vestiaire Collective – and having assured myself that they had a testing-related need, I made a point of talking to them about the first pre-registered testers, and I could tell that this served to reassure them about my ability to deliver tests (bearing in mind that I had nothing else at the time. i.e. no technology, not even a PowerPoint presentation).
In parallel with this, and in the course of searching for a partner with technology skills, I met Arnaud, who I talked to about both the first pre-registered testers and the interest shown by various potential clients. Then finally, I arranged a meeting between Arnaud and Régis from Darty.
This meeting was essential because though both had shown interest in the project, neither of them had yet agreed to become a partner or a client, respectively. By meeting up, they were able to mutually assure each other about the fact that I was not completely mad.
In the period between June and August 2014, shortly after I left Coca-Cola, they were all crazy enough to sign up: Margaux as one of the first testers, Arnaud as a partner, and Régis, Mathieu and Alexandre as clients!
- I felt the benefit of having these first allies with me immediately, at the beginning of September in fact, when a team needed to be assembled in order to provide a service to all these clients. I remain convinced that it was not the prospect of going to work in Numa or of Ferpection's analytical algorithms that persuaded Sarah and Grégoire, the two adventurous risk-takers who were eager to join us, but instead our first testers and clients!
If I'm providing you with all these details in as transparent a manner as possible, it's because there are several practical lessons to be drawn from them.
Nine practical tips to help you quickly recruit your first allies
So after 18 months' practical experience (ed. this article was first written in French 2 years ago) of the first follower theory, here are a few ideas to help you find your first allies and create your movement:
Develop a rapid understanding of your allies: why are they following you? Paradoxically, it probably won't be for your idea but instead because of the somewhat new and exotic adventure you're offering them. You've taken the first risk and you're giving them the opportunity to take a risk with less potential costs involved.
Don't be shy, even if you can't yet dance very well: if you don't dance, nobody will join you as your first ally. Our first clients, for example, initially purchased a response to a need before the solution was even completely ready (and this wasn't a big risk for them because it meant, at the worst, that they simply wouldn't be billed).
There is not one first follower: there are several simultaneous “first followers”: one of the biggest lessons I learned was that everything happens in parallel: tester, partner, client… followed, of course, by the team and the rest of the partners. You therefore need to work to cultivate this diversity of allies, as the example of Arnaud and Régis demonstrates.
Show people that you're dancing! There's no point in having your first allies if you don't tell anybody about them. Bear in mind that your first allies help you convince the ones that follow, and so on until a movement has been created. And if possible, prove it. This is the reason why we ask our clients if they'd like to provide a testimonial, whether it be in the form of a video or just a simple quote. This also applies to the team, who - just like clients - can speak about their experience with Ferpection.
A corollary to the preceding point: every ally… er, I mean dancer… counts: before we became partners, Arnaud and I had decided to spend three days creating a prototype of our service, initially to find out whether we could work together. It was Hicham from Ebuzzing – now Teads – who lent us a meeting room for those three days. For weeks and weeks, I would tell this anecdote to potential clients, and all of them saw in it proof of how serious we were.
Be interested in all dancers: before leaving Coca-Cola, I had the opportunity to work with Stardust, another player in the testing market. For months, people kept on asking me if Ferpection and Stardust were competitors. However, once François-Joseph, the CEO of Stardust, learned I'd founded a testing company, he called to find out what direction I was taking and also to give me some tips and even share some valuable figures with me. Since then, we've been working on various projects in partnership with the Stardust team, namely Anna, Cédric, Guillaume, Louis, Majda, etc.
Stay on one dance floor: finding allies involves a significant amount of effort. If you can find a way to recruit them all from the same circles, you'll save both time and energy.
You are not necessarily the best dancer: a point that's sometimes difficult for a project leader to accept is that their role is to bring everything together and not to be the best at every skill. As with the recruitment of a team, you look for people who are better than you, at least in certain respects. At Ferpection, as the CEO, I've found myself fulfilling the role of the company's first salesperson, but that's not been my career path. This is why we're looking for people who do have this experience, and all the better if they are better at selling than I am!
Don't stop dancing, but do know how to concede control! This is a visual way of providing a reminder that all project leaders need to both be able to demonstrate things by example – such as the right attitude to adopt – and know when to delegate, if they are really intent on creating a movement that can exist without them.