Why Your Product Startup Needs a Little Showbiz

Admit it. Your product isn’t as unique as you wish it were. There’s probably a bunch of companies that do more or less the same thing as yours. So what to do? Should you add more features to differentiate it from others? This could actually work against you, since more features can decrease the perceived value of a product.

Maybe it’s time for you to start thinking about showbiz instead.


What’s remarkable about your product or company? Decide who you want as your audience and start thinking about the story that you can tell them. Why should your audience care more about your product than about others?

The great book Made to Stick can help you boost your communication skills. It teaches you to look for surprising or emotional aspects of your messages. Use this to better engage your audience when you talk about your company, your product and the problem that it solves.

Ideas that spread win. If your story exists only when you personally present it, it can’t spread. Make sure to capture what is fun, new or surprising about your product in a format that can be shared. At TAT we discovered the full impact of our demos once we started filming them and publishing videos online. Only then, new customers could stumble upon our ideas. Rumor has it that it was through our YouTube account that BlackBerry found TAT and acquired the company just a couple of months later for $150m.

Now, what do you do if the content and stories you share don’t spread like wildfire? You might need to make your product more remarkable.


A gimmick is a silly or elegant thing in a product that grabs people’s attention. It can be any design element that is a bit over the top, such as a radical color, shape or an interaction method such as exaggerated gestures. For startups, any type of attention is better than none. Still, you can do better than this. Gimmicks don’t have to be useless. When done right, they can enhance your story and help people find the essence of your service.

A well-designed gimmick helps you emphasise a feature that you want people to notice. For example, the inflatable “like” button in Facebook Messenger is a gimmick linked to a key behaviour. By making it more fun to send likes to others, the app boosts the exchange of affirmation that makes Facebook solutions addictive.

“I don’t understand French, so I’ll just send three likes” Gif from Little Big Details

Sometimes a gimmick becomes the entire identity of a product. The basic features of Ulo are similar to those of any other surveillance camera. However, the gimmick of Ulo’s “eyes” makes it remarkable. It turns the surveillance camera into a cute robot owl. A simple LED could have been used to indicate that the camera is active. Instead, Ulo uses two expensive screens for this. They tell a story about the product and they clearly communicate that the camera is watching you. I think this is elegant and honest design.

Ulo is watching you. Congrats to Vivien Muller for his fantastic Kickstarter campaign!

Gimmicks can be the reason why people notice and end up buying your product. Of course, your product also needs to deliver long term value when the novelty of the gimmick wears off.


What’s showbiz without a show once in a while? Preparing demos for events, fundraising or crowdfunding campaigns is essentially showbiz for startups. These opportunities to show off your product to new audiences might bring out some of your best work.

When you prepare for a big spectacle, your deadline becomes tangible. It’s scary and exciting and you stay up late with your team and collaborate better than ever. Together, you polish your story and your most gimmicky designs as you prepare to amaze your audience.

“When you spend all this money on sales and marketing, it’s usually a tax you pay because you haven’t made your product remarkable” — Kevin Hale


Improving the showbiz factor of your product should be a design effort more than marketing work. You will know that you are succeeding when people start showing off the gimmicks of your product to their friends or when people line up at events to try your demos. Media attention can be fun, however it doesn’t last long and it should mainly be a side effect of your company’s showmanship.

Now go work on your story, add a gimmick to your product and start working on your next spectacle.

Break a leg!

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Written by Dan Gardenfors

A founder of the design, communication and innovation studio Nobiz, Dan has also worked in concept design at The Astonishing Tribe, which was acquired by BlackBerry.

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