You've probably never had your shoes polished. Neither have I, but I've seen it happen. A shoeshiner thumbs a thick cream into a rag, and in a slow circular fashion works the cream into the shoe's leather. Over and over, kneading it in until it's gone.
Polish, done right, disappears. It spends itself entirely on the shoe. It's entire goal is to see the shoe shine. Polish is what every startup needs. It's so important that we've made it one of our core values.
Polish means to make some 'thing' smooth and shiny. Polish is not the 'thing.' It's not the product. It's how the product looks, or how it's presented, or how it feels, or how a user perceives it.
Our core value, Don't forget the polish, is really a clever way of saying, put thoughtfulness and care into the work you do. Apple's Jony Ive says it well,
“I really truly believe that people can sense care in the same way they can sense carelessness...In the physical world so much of it’s that manufactured testifies to carelessness - the one good thing about it is that if you do care about it it’s conspicuous."
Polish makes you conspicuous. It's the polished product that catches the eye amidst a world of dusty and dirty products. It's what gets someones attention, and getting attention is crucial when starting a company.
So how does this actually work? Let me share how we did it at Lightstock.
Before founding Lightstock, my brother and I had spent years using other stock sites – we used them on a daily basis. 99% of all stock sites have white backgrounds, which makes it irritating on the eyes.
Because of this irritation, we wanted to create Lightstock with a dark background. Not only was it less irritating to the eyes but people stay on the site longer. This form of polish sets our site apart when you first visit. It reflects our care for the user – we put ourselves in their position – not with the product only but how it's presented.
A Thoughtful logo.
If you look closely at Lightstock's logo you'll see a cross in the negative space. It's not automatically obvious, but when you see it, it provokes a slight emotion. It's a kind of ah-ha moment. It's a form of polish because it signals thoughtfulness right from the beginning, which suggests more thoughtful experiences to come. A slight anticipation is born.
Short personal emails.
The standard practice, for welcome emails, is to receive a colorful HTML email that includes a company logo, a long sales-y greeting, blog links, how-to videos, social links, and even the kitchen sink.
At Lightstock we replaced the crowded HTML email with a very short personal email from me:
I'm Jon, Co-Founder at Lightstock.com. I wanted to reach out to see if you need any help getting started?
This email gets many responses. People rarely ask for help, but respond with appreciation. This polished approach sets us apart – it signals that we care. We respect the scarcity of their time and for that, they become fans.
Applying polish is the secret to grabbing someones attention. Dr. Henry Clouds says,
"Attention is like rocket fuel for growing anything."
Start thinking of ways you can polish your product. Are there other ways you've stood out? What's working of your? I'd love to know.