Beyond The Handshake: How Startups Can Make a Great First Impression

Every day presents countless opportunities to make an impression on someone who can help grow your business.

Photo: Elliot Tomaeno, founder of ASTRSK; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Elliot Tomaeno, founder of ASTRSK; Source: Courtesy Photo

You’re about to have an important meeting with a venture capitalist. If you can get this guy on board, the sky is the limit for your startup.

You confidently stride into the conference room, flash a smile, look him in the eye, and give him a firm handshake. Sounds like a great way to make a first impression, right?

Wrong. The reality is that you’d already made a first impression — actually, several of them — long before that meeting.

You made one on his receptionist when you scheduled the meeting, you made one on the people in the elevator on your way up to the office, and you made one on the man himself when he Googled you and your brand, checked out your website, and read your press clippings.


Maximize countless moments

For startups, first impressions have nothing to do with what color socks the founder was wearing when he or she met an important person for the first time. They’re the sum of many small interactions over a long-term period.

Every day presents countless opportunities to make an impression on someone who can help grow your business. Here’s how to maximize those moments:


1. Use your secret weapon: the one and only you

ASTRSK, my PR agency, prides itself on taking a rebellious approach. We embrace the weird, and our website, portfolio, and overall brand identity all reflect that philosophy. Every little detail we make public expresses who we are as a company and as individuals — and this high level of authenticity helps us connect with our clients and stakeholders on a personal level.


Photo: © UBER IMAGES, YFS Magazine
Photo: © UBER IMAGES, YFS Magazine

Lift the curtain, let your true colors shine, and highlight what makes your company unique. This will attract the right people — venture capitalists, clients, and even prospective employees — to your brand and lead to stronger, longer partnerships.


2. Say the magic word

Though developing your unique identity is important, don’t enter every interaction aiming to wow your audience with how cool you and your brand are. When it comes to first impressions, it’s key to show the people you’re interacting with that you think they are important.


Photo: © berc, YFS Magazine
Photo: © berc, YFS Magazine

The easiest way to do this is by using a magical word — one that can’t help but make their ears perk up: their name. According to a Cal Poly study, addressing potential customers by name — or creating personalized marketing materials — makes it 36 percent more likely that your message will resonate with them. In your conversations with important people, use this simple, powerful word to your advantage.


3. Flaunt your flaws

Pretending that you are flawless won’t fool anybody. You’ll attract more eyerolls than investments if you take that approach.

Great first impressions require a dose of transparency, vulnerability, and humility. I’m not saying you should share your deepest, darkest fears with every person you meet; I’m urging you to show your audience that you’re authentically human. Don’t be afraid to tell them about how you just dropped your iPhone in the toilet for the fourth time this year.


Photo: © Hoda Bogdan, YFS Magazine
Photo: © Hoda Bogdan, YFS Magazine

If you share some imperfections, you’ll build trust and be more relatable to those of us who are also imperfect. (In other words, everyone.)


4. Lace up your invincibility boots

Though a firm handshake doesn’t qualify as a standalone first impression, maintaining a consistent and memorable physical demeanor is critical.

One scientific study revealed that it takes less than one second for humans to draw conclusions about each other in face-to-face scenarios. In other words, before a venture capitalist even sees the pleats in your pants, he or she is assessing your worth.

Instead of going out and buying fancy outfits that make you feel uncomfortable, focus on wearing professional attire that makes you feel confident and helps you capitalize on that split-second window.


Photo: © Jenner, YFS Magazine
Photo: © Jenner, YFS Magazine

I have a pair of boots that make me feel invincible. Every time I put them on, I feel as if I can conquer anything. I don’t reserve them just for professional engagements, though — I also put them on when I have an important phone call. Sometimes, that’s enough to give me the confidence boost I’m looking for.


Every second of every day, your startup is making a first impression on someone. That’s why it’s so important to ensure your entire operation — from top to bottom — is projecting a consistent, authentic identity in all its interactions with the world.

With the right mix of personality, approachability, humility, and invincibility, you can be sure your startup nails all of its first impressions.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Elliot Tomaeno is the founder of ASTRSK, a PR agency based in New York City. Since 2012, ASTRSK has helped launch more than 200 startups and tech products and has worked with companies like Squarespace, Frank & Oak, Managed by Q, HelloFresh, Favor, ClassPass, and Havenly, as well as films such as “Ex Machina” and “Steve Jobs.” Elliot was listed as one of Business Insider’s “50 Best Public Relations People in the Tech Industry” and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Tech Agency PR Executives in the World.” Elliot was also included in Adweek’s “PR30Under30” list. Connect with @ASTRSKPR on Twitter.


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