A long time ago I was a revolutionary at Apple. My job title was “software evangelist.” My responsibility was to evangelize Macintosh to software developers. Later my title was “chief evangelist,” and my responsibility was to evangelize Macintosh to anyone who wanted to increase productivity and creativity.
Post Apple, I’ve been many things: author, speaker, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, advisor, and father, but I’ve never used the title “chief evangelist” until today. This is because the title only works if your product can change the world—or at least a significant part of it.
Macintosh changed the world. It democratized computers. Google changed the world. It democratized information. eBay changed the world. It democratized commerce. After two decades of looking, I found Canva. It can change the world by democratizing design, and that’s why I’m now chief evangelist of Canva.
We’re big believers in “content marketing” at Canva. It means providing information that’s valuable to our readers and customers. We define “valuable” as something that you can make your life better as opposed to increasing our sales or profits. In this spirit, I’d like to explain how to evangelize a product or service.
- Make it great. It’s very hard to evangelize crap. It’s much easier to evangelize great stuff. I learned that the starting point of evangelism is a great product or service. Great stuff embodies five qualities:
- Deep. This means your product or service has lots of features because you’ve anticipated what people need as they come up the power curve.
- Intelligent. When people use your product or service, they see that someone smart understood their problem or pain.
- Complete. A complete product is surrounded with everything you need. For example, great software is not just the downloadable file. It’s also the documentation, support, and string of enhancements.
- Empowering. A product or service empowers people because it makes them better. Great stuff doesn’t fight you—it becomes one with you.
- Elegant. This means that your product or service is not just functional, it’s also well-designed so that people could use it easily and quickly.
- Position it as a “cause.” A product or service, no matter how great, is a collection of parts or snippets of code. A “cause,” by contrast, changes lives. It’s not enough to make a great product or service—you also need to position it and explain it as a way to improve lives. Steve Jobs didn’t position an iPhone as $188 worth of parts. Evangelists need to seize the moral high ground and transcend the exchange of money for goods and services.
- Love the cause. “Evangelist” isn’t a job title. It’s a way of life. It means that evangelists must love what they evangelize. No matter how great the person, if he doesn’t love the cause, he cannot be a good evangelist for it. If you don’t love it, don’t evangelize it. This has hiring implications too: a good education and relevant work experience are not sufficient. It’s just as important that an evangelist loves the product or service.
- Localize the pitch. Don’t describe your product using lofty, flowery terms like “revolutionary,” “paradigm shifting,” and “curve jumping.” Macintosh wasn’t “the third paradigm in personal computing.” It simply (and powerfully) increased the productivity and creativity of one person with one computer. People don’t buy “revolutions.” They buy “aspirins” to fix the pain or “vitamins” to supplement their lives, so localize the pitch and keep it simple.
- Look for agnostics, ignore atheists. It is very hard to convert someone to a new religion when he worships another god. The hardest person to convert to Macintosh was someone who worshipped MS-DOS. The easiest person was someone who never used a personal computer before. If a person doesn’t “get” your product or service after fifteen minutes, cut your losses and move on.
- Let people test drive the cause. Evangelists believe that their potential customers are smart. Therefore, they don’t bludgeon them with ads and promotions. Instead they provide ways for people to “test drive” their products and then decide for themselves. Evangelists believe that their products are good—so good that they’re not afraid of enabling people to try before they buy.
- Learn to give a demo. “Evangelist who cannot give a great demo” is an oxymoron. If you can’t give a great demo of your product or service, you cannot be an evangelist for it. Demoing should be as second nature, even involuntary, as breathing. This is what made Steve Jobs the world’s greatest evangelist for Apple’s products.
- Provide a safe, easy first step. The path to adopting a cause should have a slippery slope, so remove all the barriers. Examples: 1) revamping an entire IT infrastructure shouldn’t be necessary to try a new computer; chaining yourself to a tree shouldn’t be necessary to join an environmental group; and 3) speaking a foreign language and owning a special keyboard shouldn’t be necessary to register for a website.
- Ignore titles and pedigrees. Elitism is the enemy of evangelism. If you want to succeed as an evangelist, ignore people’s titles and pedigrees, accept people as they are, and treat everyone with respect and kindness. My experience is that a secretary, administrative aide, intern, part-timer, or trainee is more likely to embrace new products and services than a CXO or vice-president.
- Never lie. Lying is morally and ethically wrong. It also takes more energy because when you lie, it’s necessary to keep track of what you said. If you always tell the truth, then there’s nothing to keep track of. Evangelists evangelize great stuff, so they don’t have to lie about features and benefits, and evangelists know their stuff, so they never have to lie to cover their ignorance.
- Remember your friends. Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll see them again on the way down. One of the most likely people to buy a Macintosh was an Apple II owner. One of the most likely people to buy an iPod was a Macintosh owner. One of the most likely people to buy whatever Apple puts out next is an iPhone owner. And so it goes, so remember your friends.
People often ask me what the difference is between evangelist and salesperson. Here’s the answer. A salesperson has his or her own best interests at heart: commission, making quota, closing the deal. An evangelist has the other person’s best interests at heart: “Try this because it will help you.” Keep this difference in mind, and you’ll be on the right track.
Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of APE, What the Plus!, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.
Over this weekend I celebrated my tenth anniversary as a Venture Capitalist. When I joined August Capital 10 years ago, things weren't so different than they are today. There had been a period of real exuberance in venture investing but it had come to an unceremonious end. The momentum in momentum investing had run out of steam. And it was back to the basics in Venture Capital -- fund smart folks building interesting companies that didn't require a pile of cash. I felt grateful then, as I do today, that I had joined a firm that focused on the fundamentals of Venture Capital and company building.
August Capital has always been a big picture firm -- build great companies for the long run and everything else will work out in the wash. I don't think that ten years ago I quite understood just how long the "long run" really was. But Venture Capital is definitely a long term business. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of opportunities in any given year to be short sighted and to optimize for the near term, but those decisions will assuredly come back to bite you. Venture Capital is about thinking long term. Venture Capital is about paying it forward. Venture Capital is about being honest, and forthcoming, and helpful and hard working. And, in the long run, you may have the good fortune to fund a great company or two along the way.
I was chatting with one of my partners recently about the fact that I wanted to write a blog post looking back at my first ten years in the venture business but that I wasn't quite sure what wisdom I could impart. He said, "that's because you're just getting started." Just getting started? Ten years and I'm just getting started? It seemed hard to imagine. Yet he was certainly right. Ten years in Venture Capital is a drop in the bucket.
In my first ten years in the Venture business, I have funded 15 companies -- that's one and a half companies a year. And of those companies, the majority were funded in the latter half of the decade and are really just getting started. While there are a few anomalies out there, the vast majority of "meaningfully large" companies require 6, 8, even 10 years to get to scale. Which means that only my earliest investments have any hope of being "meaningfully large" at this point (I guess the good news is that a half dozen of my companies will likely do around $50M or more in revenue this year, which is certainly progress, but is in no way conclusive). It probably takes about two decades for enough companies to ripen on the vine before one can know with any degree of certainty if he's going to be a good wine maker or not.
One of my partners is fond of saying that success in the Venture business is largely a product of effective pattern matching -- observing the characteristics of successful businesses and then finding new businesses that match those characteristics in material ways. After a decade in the Venture business, it is abundantly clear that he's right; pattern matching is among the most powerful tools we VCs have. Yet without a playbook full of patterns, there's not much matching to be done. So, arguably, the first decade in Venture is all about pattern acquisition so that the second decade might be about successful pattern matching.  I'm looking forward to that second decade. I've got some great patterns at this point and can't wait to put them to good use.
I am certainly grateful for the incredible first decade I've had in the venture business. I owe my partners a huge debt of gratitude for betting on a punky young lawyer with no business experience and a penchant for running his mouth off. It has been my tireless effort to prove that gamble a wise one. I also owe the entrepreneurs with whom I work an equally large debt of gratitude. They have trusted me to join their teams and help steward their companies through the challenging gauntlets that each has and will face. I don't take that responsibility lightly. I value their friendships and their trust, which I hope I earn each and every day.
I may be just getting started, but I've got one hell of a running start. I look forward to my next decade with great partners like Dave Marquardt, John Johnston, Andy Rappaport, Vivek Mehra, and Howard Hartenbaum, and phenomenal entrepreneurs like Selina Tobacawalla, Al Lieb, Josh Silverman, Rene Lacerte, Martin Gates, Jim Heeger, James Currier, Rick Marini, Stan Chudnovsky, Travis Kalanick, Ben and Mena Trott, Barak Berkowitz, Chris Alden, Matt Sanchez, Dave Lerman, Kevin Sladek, Bob Philips, Bharath Kumar, Denis Stradford, Frank Rhode, Erik Swan, Michael Baum, Rob Das, Godfrey Sullivan, Paul Wasserman, Alessandro Isolani, Kevin Johnson, Touraj Parang, Philip Mobin, Konstantin Guericke, Bahman Koohestani, Bill Trenchard, Jim Everingham, Lloyd Tabb, Maynard Webb, Dave Sifry, Richard Jalichandra, Paul Ryan, Tom Lamb, Tom Furphy, Paul Hanson, Susan Wu, Don Neufeld, Rex Ishibashi, Max Ventilla, Damon Horowitz, Garrett Camp, Geoff Smith, Amit Kapur, Steve Pearman, Jim Benedetto, Bill Clerico, Rich Aberman, Ashvin Kumar, Chris Estreich, Philip Kaplan, and the thousands of other entrepreneurs in my portfolio who are working tirelessly to build amazing companies that matter. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be going into my second decade as a Venture Capitalist. I used to say "it's a great job if you can get it." Now I joke "it's a great job if you can keep it." I plan on keeping it for many years to come.
 Unfortunately, one of the most powerful patterns one can have in his playbook is the "Failed Company" pattern, but it's an expensive one to acquire. I suppose this is why partnerships are so helpful. I get to borrow the playbooks of my partners who have been in the business for three decades or more. It would be hard to overstate how helpful that really is.