During my business school orientation at Booth, the facilitators split us into teams of a dozen. At the end of the first day, we each filled out “first impression” feedback cards. For each team member, we circled characteristics they presented the first time we interacted. At the end of the weekend, we received a glimpse of the first impressions that we made.
More telling than the traits themselves were what the traits together revealed. Each of the traits represented having or lacking two dimensions: warmth and competence. These dimensions are defined by the Stereotype Content Model.
The model is based on the notion that people are evolutionarily predisposed to first assess a stranger’s intent to either harm or help them (warmth dimension) and second to judge the stranger’s capacity to act on that perceived intention (competence dimension).
For example, people that lead with warmth (I want to help you) and competence (and I can) are admired. Counterparties seek to align with them.
The purpose of the exercises was self-awareness. How are we perceived by others? How might that influence their initial reaction to us? (Armed with this knowledge, we could excel at job fairs!)
Luckily, first impressions are easy to tweak with interest and a little effort. Moreover, first impressions are only that, first. Over time, true relationships outshine surface-level perceptions.
First impressions are everything for founders
We rarely have time to overcome first impressions when fundraising. Even though the outcome is not transactional, interactions can be. Parties only have 30-minutes to decide whether they want to “continue the conversation.”
In the absence of long relationships or track records, VCs often employ heuristics to identify which founders have comprehensive skills. With today’s increased pace and fervor around venture financing, these heuristics become ever more influential. Vice notes in The Great Competition to Give Away Money,