The best basketball player in all the land is not named LeBron James. His name is Stephen Curry. It’s pronounced “STEFF-in,” not “Steven,” or “Steph-on.” If you ever meet the Warriors sharpshooter in person, you could probably stick to “nice to meet you, Steph,” and be just fine…

I thought a lot about Steph this week, not only because one of my colleagues is a diehard Warriors fan who grew up in Berkeley but because another one of my friends told me the almost unbelievable story of how Nike lost Steph to Under Armour:

“The pitch meeting, according to Steph’s father Dell, who was present, kicked off with one Nike official accidentally addressing Stephen as “Steph-on.” “I heard some people pronounce his name wrong before,” says Dell Curry. “I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised that I didn’t get a correction.”

It got worse from there. A PowerPoint slide featured Kevin Durant’s name, presumably left on by accident, presumably residue from repurposed materials. “I stopped paying attention after that,” Dell says.”

If the above passage is in fact true, it surely must go down as one of the greatest PowerPoint failures in business history. And mispronouncing Steph’s name? What a shitty first impression.

Even more surprising is the offender: Nike – one of the world’s greatest brand and content machines. With a world class team of marketers, graphic designers, and communicators, you’d think Nike would have put a process in place to avoid the above embarrassment.

Here’s the thing. Smart people don’t wing it. They double check their work. They use “Find and Replace” in PowerPoint to make sure they remove Kevin Durant and replace it with Steph Curry. They practice their pitch over and over (and over) again. They seek out a second pair of eyes before they hand in their assignment. Those TED Speakers who impress and inspire us with their thoughts on the science of happiness or motivation don’t just take the stage and wing it. They put in the hours. That’s what the greats do.

But preparation and persistence aren’t the only ingredients for greatness. The secret ingredient is actually a strong support system. Surrounding yourself with the right team to provide that feedback and help us improve. Every strong writer has a strong editor.

In software development, we have QA. Imagine deploying code to a production environment without first simulating what may happen in a staging environment?

Non-technical professionals should approach their work in the same way. Don’t just hang out alone on an island with your latest case study, white paper, or pitch deck – waking up super early, skipping the trip to the gym, and rushing to the office to finish your slides and practice your transitions. Rely on your teammates. Bring them into the fold. Walk them through your thoughts and ideas. You may just find a new wrinkle that will catapult your work from “good enough” to excellent. Or you may just find a typo to fix. Either way, you’re ahead.

A Nike executive presenting a PowerPoint to Steph Curry with Kevin Durant’s name on a slide isn’t just a “sloppy mistake,” it’s a credibility hit in my opinion. And I think it’s (almost always) avoidable with a strong team around you.

Not detail oriented by nature? That’s OK – trust in your teammates. Share your work with them. Ask for feedback. That’s the whole point of a team. Steph may be the best basketball player in the world, but he didn’t get there on his own. His Warriors teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have his back.

Before submitting that final presentation, make sure somebody has yours.


I was thinking a lot about first impressions this past week. School is back in session, and hundreds of students walked past my home with their parents to the local elementary school less than half a mile away. The scooters to students ratio on my street was through the roof. Every other kid came with some sort of wheeled accessory – bicycle, skateboard or otherwise. The kids all wear helmets now, which is certainly an improvement over the 1980s when I first started elementary school.

But regardless of the updated transportation methods, back-to-school is still all about what’s new. A new school. A new grade. A new teacher. A new set of friends. Schedule of classes. Type of math. Slang on the playground. It’s a lot to take in. I don’t have much experience with Frozen backpacks or Razor scooters, but I do know a lot about new schools. And first impressions. I switched schools in first, second, third, fifth, and sixth grade.

The first day of school is one giant onboarding experience for little human beings. The best schools I attended were the ones that had some sort of a “buddy program,” in place to help new students get oriented. As a new kid, you have to learn on the fly, make judgments quickly, take it all in, and find your way. When you have someone around to show you the ropes- how to open up the lockers, where the cafeteria is, where the buses come to pick you up, it makes a big difference. The school might be the best around, but without that well-thought out buddy program, a kid may never appreciate it’s true value.

First impressions are everywhere, not just around the corner at your local elementary school. I’ve been using a new iOS news app recently called Wildcard. The company’s slogan is “Know the Day,” and my first impression, noted in the tweet above, was a very good one. Wildcard is beautifully designed, lightning quick, and is fast becoming my go-to app for news. The onboarding experience was great – the app has landed on my iPhone home screen.

There are plenty of other solid mobile app and web onboarding experiences, of course. Samuel Hulick’s User Onboarding site, for example, reviews, step by step, how popular web apps handle their signup experiences while UX Archive showcases some of the best iOS flows.

But this post isn’t only about that kind of onboarding. It’s not even just about the traditional definition of onboarding in the business sense – getting an employee up to speed quickly in a new role at a company.

Life is filled with onboarding experiences. With first impressions.

I probably wouldn’t have given Wildcard a second look if my initial onboarding experience was poor. And that’s a shame for Wildcard, because the app is excellent.

Our digital diets are fuller than ever, our attention spans are shorter than ever, and we are so over-stimulated that online, we may not get that second chance to make a first impression – for our new products, for our businesses, for ourselves.

It’s not just enough knowing that first impressions are important, you have to be thoughtful. Plan a little. Think it through. Take it seriously. If you’re the school down the street: choose the right kid (friendly, patient, experienced, outgoing) to lead the buddy program. If you’re the tech company CEO: Choose the right designer to hit a user experience home run with your new mobile app.

So be the school with the well-thought out buddy program, not just the magnet program or AP/IB curriculum. Be the company with the detailed training/orientation program for new hires, not just the one that solves difficult programming challenges once you’re in the hacker’s seat. Those first impressions are valuable, and will make all the difference.