Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust

How to sprinkle Disney magic onto every business decision

Erica Marom
Oct 14 · 11 min read

A friend recently asked me why I pretend there is a tooth fairy. “Why are you teaching your children to believe in lies?”

I sighed. Losing a tooth is a scary and sometimes painful experience for a kid. It’s uncomfortable, there’s blood, it hurts. Why not turn it into something positive? They get a surprise under their pillow the next morning, something happy and meaningful comes out of it. They actually start to look forward to losing a tooth. And, after all, there is a tooth fairy. It’s just me. And when they get older and discover it is, in fact, just me, they like it all the same, and want to continue suspending disbelief.

Life is like that. It can be hard and uncomfortable, scary, painful and disappointing. Turns out, it’s possible to connect to people in a deep emotional way not just by speaking to their pain points, but by speaking to their hopes and dreams.

I recently spent a week at Disney World with my family. If you’re reading this and hoping for some sarcastic, anti-Disney satire, don’t read on. It was wonderful. It was — dare I say it — magical. And I want to explain why, and why I think it’s so important for entrepreneurs, founders, investors, startup leaders and tech workers (especially in Israel) to stop being cynical and start sprinkling some pixie dust.

Disney creates magic by managing to always exceed expectations. The loyalty they create is such that even when they disappoint, their followers forgive them. They are willing to deal with friction, they explain away issues and, most significantly, they even advocate for them to others (cough: this blog). Why?

The Pre-Disney Experience

Planning a trip to Disney World is like planning a vacation on steroids. Booked flights, hotels and the parks? Great. Now everything from restaurants to fast passes (soon to be Genie+) needs to be booked 30–60 days in advance via the My Disney Experience app. They force you to enter the Disney “bubble” before you even arrive, and while this seems annoying at first (enter task list), you are quickly swept up into the magical world of Disney and the anticipation they build up throughout the process.

You research restaurants to check characters’ appearances, you look up rides to decide what to book fast passes for, and you come across Disney planning Facebook groups. Many aren’t even officially run by Disney, but often by Disney travel agents, bloggers or fans. You ask very particular questions, and people answer them: everything from how to “rope drop” to how to book a virtual line.

This is before you ever arrive at the parks, where planning turns into action. People are willing to invest tons of time, effort and bucketloads of money into making this happen for their family. Once you pass through those Mickey gates and enter the Disney bubble, it’s all worth your while. The regular world is behind. You’ve entered the magical world of Disney.

The Service

Let’s start with the basics. Disney park workers — A.K.A. “cast members” — are all nice, friendly and helpful. Just as you might expect when you shell out that kinda money, but rarely receive.

Don’t tell me it’s fake. It’s nice. It makes me feel good. It makes the 20 million some-odd visitors they have a year feel good. It rubs off on people, makes them shed their cynicism, and it makes everyone else nice, too. It becomes real via social contagion. People behave how they think they’re expected to behave. Uri Ar aptly called this the opposite of the crab mentality. Even in a long line, in 95 degree humidity, people were patient, waited their turn, never cut the line, kept their masks on. The Disney magic just rubs off and pays off.

The cast members see you. We rope dropped every day to be among the first people to enter the parks. They await you with eager smiles, knowing how excited you are. They answer all questions. No matter what we asked — from where the nearest bathroom is to where to buy pineapple-flavored Dole Whip — no one ever said “I don’t know.”

It’s beyond the normal “customer is always right” mentality. It’s magical because they listen, make you feel important and genuinely try to provide an extraordinary “guest” experience. It feels like Disney. It works. It makes you happy. It makes you feel like your kid does need that ridiculously overpriced Avatar hat because they need a memento to remember the amazing life experience of flying through the sky on the back of a banshee. And then the cast members wait, patiently, while your six-year-old doles out quarters and $1 bills because he wants to pay for his first Mickey doll himself. They get it.

And even when something does go wrong, because life, and a ride breaks down, and you’ve been waiting in line forever, they make it better. They give you free fast passes to go on other rides in the park without waiting in line. Even when it’s not their fault, like when your non-Disney rental car company f%$#s you over, they tell you to park the car at the hotel and not worry about it, and they don’t even charge the $30/day parking fee.

There’s a lot to learn from this kind of service. It’s about consistently exceeding people’s expectations — that creates the spark of magic.

The Storytelling

We know Disney is a master at storytelling. From Snow White to Frozen, they have perfected the hero’s journey. The protagonist you care about, an obstacle that needs to be overcome, the pain and struggle involved in trying and failing to overcome this obstacle, and finally a solution that brings about a better reality.

We learn life lessons and digest the morals and values that govern our society. We discover the value of teamwork and the significance of community and friendship: Woody needs Buzz, Snow White needs the Seven Dwarfs, and sometimes we even need unlikely help, like Moana needs Maui. We learn about how to overcome our own fear, find our courage. We become resilient, learn from our mistakes and try again. We embrace change as we grow. The stories are not only meaningful and engaging, they teach us something, they’re memorable.

Disney continues to tell stories and share these themes inside the parks. As we waited in line for the Dinosaur ride, they gave us a mission, warned us of challenges and immersed us in the experience. It’s not just being jostled and thrown about with stellar animatronics, expensive lighting tricks and clever sound production, all while wearing 3D glasses. They make sure we understand why we are here and what part we have to play. The line is part of the narrative. We are part of the story, they make us the hero.

The nighttime fireworks show is the epitome of this. Oh — it’s wonderful, and almost beyond words. As the sun sets and darkness falls, Disney is lit up with little fairy lights and the stars twinkling above. Everyone is sitting on the ground at the end of Main Street, in front of Cinderella’s castle. The daytime hustle and bustle of running around is over. It’s quiet, it’s warm. The music starts and builds up slowly to a magnificent light show on the castle walls. The castle is transformed and looks like a fairy tale itself, surrounded by fireworks of every color and size, sparklers and shooting stars. We see iconic scenes from the movies played out, we watch a mirage of the most memorable moments of love and inspiration from Disney history, all while listening to a motivational remix of our favorite Disney songs. Tinkerbell herself flies through the sky above our heads as the night explodes with lights, fire, smoke, trumpets, horns, drums and violins and a beautiful choir echoing around us, singing that life will indeed be happily ever after.

I had tears in my eyes. It was extremely moving. And this is after walking for 12 miles around the parks since 7 a.m. I was tired, but I wasn’t cynical. I was swept up in the Disney story. With thousands of other people standing around me, singing along, wiping their tears, I felt the power of collective joy, of human connection.

Volume up, full screen, I challenge you to watch till the end and not feel anything ;)

The Experience

Imagine a bracelet that takes away all friction from everything you need to do at Disney World.

Magic Bands are some of the most simple and amazing wearable tech out there. It’s light and comfortable, its unique design adjusts to every wrist size, and in five straight days of wearing it around the parks, none of ours fell off.

Your magic band serves as the key to everything: it unlocks your room at the hotel, accesses the pool, it’s your ticket to each Disney theme park, it’s your wallet to purchase anything from food to souvenirs, it’s what the photographers scan when they take your pictures and how you get funny photos linked to your account after each ride. It was surprising and easy and frictionless and MAGICAL. All you do is touch it to a pod at each interaction and it makes a happy sound.

By stark contrast, we spent a day at nearby Universal Studios, arguably the biggest competitor for Disney World. When we checked into our hotel (after a 45 minute wait), we were given small paper tickets for all five of us to use to get into the parks. Then we were given plastic hotel room keys, which also double as express passes. At the parks each day, we had to use both of these to get around, along with scanning our fingerprints. It was the opposite of seamless to rummage around for five paper tickets and five plastic cards every time we went on a ride or transferred between parks.

Even the Disney app was awesome. Remember the 45 minute check-in at Universal? We checked into our Disney hotel via the app. A week before, they asked what time we planned to arrive, and then on the day of arrival they sent us a notification when our room was ready (1 hour early!) and we just went up to our room. No check-in and no line necessary.

In addition to showing ride wait times and a map, they were even testing virtual lines through the app — it’s not perfect, but it does mean we didn’t wait in line for what is probably the best ride at Disney World. It’s scarcity at its best — we were told only an estimated ⅓ of park guests managed to get a “boarding pass” for this ride every day. Honestly, it can’t even be called a ride. Star Wars Rise of Resistance is a 20-minute immersion experience:

You are sent on a mission by the Resistance and board a ship into outer space. But you’re attacked by the First Order, captured and taken aboard their enemy ship. You leave the original ride and go to a different location, where you are separated into groups and “interrogated.” It involves real Disney cast members — who are actually “mean” to you as they line you up and split you into interrogation rooms. Kylo Ren himself appears to threaten you and convince you to reveal the location of the Resistance. Suddenly, the wall is blasted open and the Resistance appear on a daring rescue mission. You board their pod-shaped vehicle, another “ride,” and fight stormtroopers as you zoom around trying to escape the enemy ship. It’s very real, can be quite scary (one of my kids asked me if we were going to die) and is a thrilling adventure. We’re not even big Star Wars fans. Well, now we are, I guess.

Like everything else, it exceeded our expectations. Who expects to get on a ride, and then get off, and get on another ride, and still be immersed in the experience? There are so many tiny details throughout the day where Disney truly surprises you and shows you that, somehow, they have already thought of everything.

So why am I telling you all this? I think startups — from the early stage companies with tiny budgets to the pre-IPO companies — have important lessons to learn.

Some of them are free. The impact of being nice, friendly and helpful on building a business. How creating the right culture within your company directly impacts the way your employees treat your customers, whether B2C or B2B. It’s all people, and people model behavior and learn to behave how we expect them to. We need to raise our standards.

Some lessons aren’t free. Want your customers to “fall in love” with your brand? Follow your values to the ends of the earth. Never compromise. This is what Disney does best. Disney’s values of quality, storytelling, innovation, decency, community and optimism are felt in every experience. These values echo throughout every single encounter, from the stories to the cast members to the attractions. Stand by your values in every single thing that you do, and don’t compromise on the service or the experience, even if this costs money and resources. This is what makes brands memorable, this is what makes brands different.

And, most importantly — stop being cynical, please. Suspend disbelief. See what happens when you explore the concept of anything is possible. Think about that Magic Band. Some Disney executive asked: how can we eliminate all friction from the guest experience? Hey, why don’t we create a bracelet that unlocks everything! It was a $1 billion gamble — but rather than sitting around saying it’s too expensive, too hard to build, requires too much manpower, and no one will wear it — they made it possible. They suspended disbelief.

Dare to dream.

This “trickle-down conviction,” as I’ll call it, must stem from leadership, from the CEOs, executives and investors, who suspend disbelief and chart new territories using their values as their compass. The spark lies in these very things that at first seem impossible. When you dare to dream, you create the magic.

Aleph

Aleph is a venture capital fund focused on partnering with…

Aleph

Aleph is a venture capital fund focused on partnering with great Israeli entrepreneurs to build large, meaningful companies and impactful global brands. It is a partnership of Michael Eisenberg, Eden Shochat, Yael Elad, Aaron Rosenson and Tomer Diari. Visit Jobs.aleph.vc

Erica Marom

Written by

Telling stories @ Aleph

Aleph

Aleph is a venture capital fund focused on partnering with great Israeli entrepreneurs to build large, meaningful companies and impactful global brands. It is a partnership of Michael Eisenberg, Eden Shochat, Yael Elad, Aaron Rosenson and Tomer Diari. Visit Jobs.aleph.vc