The Role of Conviction in Startups

Written by Dave Bailey

Startup leader speaking with conviction

Human beings need to feel some sense of certainty in order to act. So how do you get people to act when there is no certainty . . . like in a new business?

There are two ways to increase this sense of certainty. The first is to reduce risk by collecting data, performing research, and running experiments. This speaks to our thinking brain.

The second is to provide the illusion of certainty by showing conviction. Conviction means showing you’re convinced that what you believe or say is true. It speaks to the feeling brain.

Sometimes, you have the data and that’s enough to get people to act. However, sometimes you don’t — and that’s when conviction is essential. People often want to act but they need your conviction to follow through.

Founders must present their business case with conviction if they want to get investors to say ‘yes’. Sales must present their product’s value with conviction if they want to get the sale. And team members must show conviction for managers to agree with their plans.

Of course, conviction doesn’t turn a bad idea into a good one. The trick is to speak with conviction but listen with humility. And that’s easier said than done.


Originally published Apr 23, 2021, last updated Jun 1, 2021

culture founders psychology

About Dave Bailey

Hi, I’m Dave Bailey and I coach tech CEOs from Series A to pre-IPO. Join 20,000 entrepreneurs who receive my new essay every week. 

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Previously, Dave co-founded Delivery Hero and other scale-ups, and he's coached hundreds of scale-up CEOs across the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Dave studied at Stanford Graduate School of Business and Oxford University. His writing has been featured in many of the world's top business publications. He has a passion for communication and strategy.

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