How to Start a Career In Your 30s

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I stood huddled in the bathroom stall, texting furiously. My hands were shaking and my breathing shallow as I tried to screw up my courage to just walk out of the bathroom.

Outside the crowd grew, and I could hear the music kicking in. Everyone was arriving, ready for an exciting night. Me? I was stuck in the bathroom, too afraid to join the party, too proud to leave.

I really wish I could say this is a story about high school, but I would be lying.

This happened almost 2 years ago. I was 30 years old, and petrified of my first “networking event.” (It would be months before I even heard that term.)

In my defense, I had spent my 20s bearing and raising children. I always felt a vague dissatisfaction with my choice to stay home with my kids, but I hadn’t done anything about it. Now, thanks to a family friend, I was arriving at this “networking event” with a half-baked idea and the chance to “meet people.”

Obviously, I was terrified.

My story, like everyone’s, is unique, but in today’s fast paced world, reinvention is common. And jumping into any new venture, environment, or group can be difficult. I often still feel like I’m navigating unfamiliar terrain, but here are a few things I’ve learned since that first horrific night.

Network, Network, Network

And network some more.

I don’t mean the type of networking that has gotten a bad rap. Handing out business cards indiscriminately at every event isn’t the way to build a lasting network.

I mean a strong, deep network of people who know you and believe you’re capable of reaching your goals. It takes time to build a real network, but putting in the effort will be invaluable.

I recently witnessed the power of a deep network when a friend lost his job. The experience could’ve been a huge blow, both personally and financially. But, because he’s put in years of getting to know people and consistently doing good work, he hasn’t missed a paycheck. Dozens of people jumped at the chance to help him.

A strong network will help you flesh out ideas, guide your thinking, and create opportunities you could never imagine, much less create, on your own.

That night in the bathroom stall, I had no network. I knew one person at the event, and him not very well at the time. Now, 2 years later, when I’m feeling stuck on something, I have a long list of people who are willing to help me get unstuck. And, I still seek every opportunity to find and build genuine relationships with new people.

Shut Up and Listen

When you’re new to an industry, you don’t know anything. You might have some assumptions and theories and you may have spent hours researching on the Internet, but trust me, you’re mostly ignorant.

For a period of time, the best strategy is to shut up and listen to every conversation you can. This applies to virtual conversations on social media as well as in-person conversations with experts.

It’s tempting to want to jump into conversations before we’re ready, to prove that we can keep up. More often, though, listening closely to the debates and arguments that pop up will teach you more than you could ever learn from the Internet.

Along those lines, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

That night, I walked into a startup event and heard the terms “VC,” “angel,” and “the cloud,” for the first time. (Do “angels” live on “the cloud,” by chance??) A Google search cleared up some of my confusion, but I finally had to pull my friend aside and get some clarity on a few of the terms.

If you don’t want to look stupid (my problem), find that one person you can trust with your stupidity. The more questions you ask, the quicker you learn. People like to be trusted with questions, and asking them shows your respect and confidence in that person.

And like my friend assured me then, before long you’ll be the one people see as the expert.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

This is one of my favorite pieces of advice, but I think it’s often misunderstood.

I don’t mean fake knowledge or expertise you don’t have. That’s a good way to lose the trust and confidence of the people around you.

Rather, I mean fake the confidence you don’t have until you have it.

You may know that you don’t know anything about your new field, but the people you’re meeting don’t know that. And even more likely, they don’t care very much. Act like your success is inevitable and before long, it will be.

I finally left the bathroom stall that night, by the way. Many of the people in that room became my first mentors and some of my best friends. Two years later, I’ve met more people and done more things than I ever thought possible while hiding in the bathroom, including selling my first company.

And, I think ultimately, that’s my most important piece of advice for someone looking to forge a new career in their 30s (or any time):

Quit hiding and get started.

A shot of Whiskey, a Shot of Espresso, and $22 Million from Andreessen Horowitz

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The following interview was conducted at Millennial Media’s Annual Developer Summit by Clark Buckner from TechnologyAdvice.com (they provide expert comparisons on the best crm solutions for entrepreneurs, marketing automation tools, project management platforms for small businesses, tech conferences and much more).

“No.”

“No.”

“Maybe.”

“Let’s wait.”

CEO and Co-founder of Skout Christian Wiklund was prepared for those answers. After all, he’d heard them before and he was pitching his social network to one of the most well-known venture capital firms in the world, Andreessen Horowitz.

Wiklund consoled himself with the fact that Skout didn’t necessarily need their investment. They’d already attained profitability, but who wouldn’t want to be invested in by that firm?

Following Wiklund’s keynote address at the Millennial Media Developer Summit in Baltimore, I spoke to him about that rapid-fire, 48-hour series of events that landed him in a pitch meeting with two of the world’s top venture capitalists.

 

Pitching from the Hip

Wiklund’s initial meeting with Marc Andreesson was to simply tell him about Skout’s upcoming fundraiser, an event still a few months into the future. On that particular Thursday night, Wiklund had no intentions to pitch Andreesson, but Wiklund had an 80-inch TV behind him during this meeting showing four key graphs outlining Skout’s health.

The numbers Andreesson saw in regard to revenue, daily active users, daily messages sent between users, and daily new connections caused him to call in his business partner Ben Horowitz. Andreesson then began pitching Horowitz on the site.

The next morning Wiklund received an email requesting his presence at a formal pitch meeting the following Monday.

 

Up on Deck

Over the weekend, Wiklund assembled a twelve-slide pitch deck to present Skout to the thirty or so venture capitalists he’d soon be seeing. His deck focused on three compelling areas:

  1. Robust Recent Activity - In the previous eighteen months, a majority of Skout’s tracked metrics had increased tenfold. With such an obvious uptick in engagement, Wiklund used these stats to convey an instant sense of credibility, growth, and possibilities.
  2. Core Identity - Investors want to know whether a company can sustain success. Consequently, it’s important for them to have an understanding of the company’s origin and history as well as the company’s value proposition for its customers (as well as its investors).
  3. Future Potential - Lastly, Wiklund focused on what the investors most what to know about: future growth. To that end, he described how Skout would continue to generate and grow their revenue, how the social media site would continue to increase their user numbers, and what the company would do to smartly increase the size of their team when necessary.

Out of the Park

For other entrepreneurs seeking venture capital, Wiklund offers a few pieces of advice: don’t give up, create a simple yet compelling pitch deck, and try as hard as you can to raise money when you don’t need the money.

What Fantasy Football Can Teach You About Hiring for Your Startup

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My startup, Speek, raised our Series A funding in March, and we’ve had to grow rapidly since. Our product and engineering teams redesigned our in-call experience and launched screen share for our Pro and Business users. In the meantime, I’ve been putting together a strong team to launch our new conference calling service, Speek for Business.

You need more than one type of player to ensure your success. While drafting for my fantasy football league this year, I realized that there similarities between the strategic approach of putting together a strong fantasy team and evaluating applicants for a successful startup.

Great Resumes Don’t Always Matter

Every player in fantasy football has statistics that break down the player’s previous performance and can be used to rank against other players for specific positions. Just because a player has had great stats for the past year or two, doesn’t mean that he will perform well.

A great receiver on a team with an injured quarterback will probably not do well that season, but you wouldn’t be able to see this just from the statistics. Fantasy football fanatics will tell you to look past the stats and do your due diligence.

Startups don’t hire people based solely on their resumes. The ‘stats’ from resumes gives useful information about the candidate’s professional experience, but it doesn’t give the full picture. Not everyone is cut out for the startup work environment, and most importantly your startup’s culture. Work hours and responsibilities can change rapidly as the startup grows, which means people have to be very comfortable in a flexible (and sometimes chaotic) work environment.

Focus on asking the important questions during the interview. If you’re still not sure, then it’s time to call and question the references. Work ethic, ambition, drive and flexibility are all crucial factors of a strong candidate for a growing startup.

Hire for the Position

In fantasy football, you’re looking to hire top players who specialize in specific positions on the team: quarterback, running backs, wide receivers, etc. This translates well to hiring for a startup. When hiring, you should be looking for people with strengths that complement the weaknesses of the team. Just because you’re doing a little bit of everything doesn’t mean you should surround yourself with people doing the same.

Furthermore, if you have too many people who are jack-of-all-trades types, you’ll be facing a situation where your team doesn’t have any strengths in any specific areas. So before you think of hiring a salesperson who can also handle the accounting, you should take a step back and consider if the budget allows you to hire two people instead. You want to get the most value from each position.

Look for the People on the Rise (aka Sleepers)

Just because you have the best player on your team doesn’t mean that you’ll win the league. For every celebrity football player with a multimillion-dollar contract, there is a line of hungry players who have the skills, drive and ambition to prove that they are top-tier. While most people tend to focus on getting the top players for their team, fantasy football veterans are strategically looking for “sleepers” who will take their team to victory.

So look past the resume and hire for the team. Hiring an expert at the expense of your team can derail your chance at victory. Focus on hiring people who have the talent, drive and ambition to take their skills to the next level.

A startup consisting of over-performing and talented members can be contagious, and increase your chance of making it to the winner’s circle.

Danny Boice is the cofounder & president of Speek. Speek lets users do conference calls with a simple link (speek.com/YourName) rather than using phone numbers and PINs. Boice attended Harvard, is an adjunct professor at Georgetown, and was recently named a Tech Titan by Washingtonian Magazine. You can find Danny on Twitter@DannyBoice or on LinkedIn.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Serious Startups: The Nashville NEXT Awards

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We’re really excited for our friends featured in the NEXT Awards, hosted by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and the Entrepreneur Center. There are some great companies and entrepreneurs up for awards this year.

But, is the fact that we even have an awards ceremony one of the warning signs of a bubble? I think so. What about you?

Yup. The World is Sexist. Moving On…

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Let’s face it. It’s not easy being a professional woman. There are assumptions, biases, and glass ceilings. You can be twice as good as the boy next door, but earn half as much. It’s common knowledge that when pitching VCs, women are judged on their past successes, while men are judged on their perceived potential.

The very traits that earn a man respect–assertiveness, confidence, laser focus–usually earn a woman liberal use of the “B” word. (Rhymes with “witch,” y’all.)

But, here’s why none of that fusses me too much:

Life isn’t easy. And of all the obstacles I could face, this one isn’t so bad.

In the early 1900s, immigrant entrepreneurs had it hard, too. They were in a society that–despite “give me your poor and weary” rhetoric–looked down on impoverished immigrants. Many of them were worse off than they would’ve been in their home countries.

But that didn’t stop Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, or Cornelius Vanderbilt from finding a modicum of success.

Those men didn’t agitate for equal access. They didn’t form “immigrant only” business groups. They didn’t throw a fit on social media (or the op-ed of the newspaper) every time an idiot said something stupid about immigrants.

They built their empires. Then, they established foundations that made it easier for others (all others) to build theirs.

The greatest thing we can do to advance the cause of professional women is succeed. Build our empires, then turn around and help the next generation (men and women) follow in our footsteps.

I’ve by no means even begun to reach the level of success I want to, but I’m already helping younger women get a better start in entrepreneurship than I did. And, when we talk about how to survive as women in the world, here are some of the things I tell them.

 

Perfect the Fake it ‘Til You Make It

 

Frankly, I’ve realized that this is basically the only thing men have over women in the workplace: they’re first class liars.

And I mean that in the best possible way.

In general, men know how to make their successes look bigger and their failures look smaller. They also know how to act like they know what they’re doing when they really have no idea.

Women tend to want to be more honest and open. Which ends up looking more like weakness.

Stop.

Instead, get a clear picture of the woman you want to be, the successes you want to accomplish, then act like they’re already reality. Just like the men you know, when you start believing your own hype, you know you’re doing it right.

 

Use What Ya Got

 

My business partner publishes regularly on LinkedIn and has been busting my chops for months to do so as well. When I finally did, my second post garnered 3 times as many page views as his most popular one.

“Well, yeah,” he joked, “Because you got featured on the sexist group ‘Professional Women.’”

(Before you get up in arms, he was truly joking. While he badgered me to write more, he often said I would do better than him because I was already a better writer. Another tip for women: make the men around you your biggest fans.)

But, he was right about my ability to get featured in a popular category, and I’m happy to ride that advantage as far as I can, just like he would do for any strategic advantage he might come across.

Sometimes being the minority isn’t a bad thing. Who cares if you only got a role because they need a token woman. Kick ass in that role and the right people will start to take notice.

 

Understand the Invisible Game

 

I wish it were true that the world was 100% fair. But, like I tell my children daily, it isn’t.

While women shouldn’t spend their time raging against the system, it would be naive to act like the natural biases don’t matter either.

Remember, VCs typically judge women on achievements and men on potential. But, by nature of the startup pitch, there’s probably little “achievement.”

What does this mean to women entrepreneurs? You’ll either work hard to find the right investor, or you’ll have to (get to) bootstrap and maintain control of your company.

Study your surroundings. Know who your cheerleaders are and allow them to help you succeed. Learn the language and ways of the people you want to do business with.

And always, always find a way to provide real value to the people you meet.

Ignore the Assholes

 

Last but not least, no matter what you do or how the world evolves, there will always be assholes. No matter what they say, their actions will prove that they secretly think you should still be home in the kitchen. They’ll be rich and powerful, and you’ll think you can’t do anything without their approval.

You can. And you’ll be better off without them anyway.

That’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur. There is always a solution to a problem, and creativity flourishes under constraints. Work around the assholes–and the system–and that empire’s going to be built faster and more stable than you think it could be.

Finally, don’t assume that all men are out to keep you down. Most of us work in male-dominated industries, but 98% of the men I come across want to see me succeed and are willing to help me in whatever way I ask.

At the end of the day, things aren’t perfect, but we’re sure better off than we were 100 years ago.

Just keep building those empires. Brick by brick.

 

Be Like LeBron: Build Your Business at Home

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Where we grow up influences our ideas, imagination and relationships. Our home communities are the launching pads from which we explore the world, most often leaving to find the perfect place to live and work. This usually means moving to the city, leaving rural and small communities to slowly decline.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. We can build our communities to be the ones we want to live in. LeBron James just accepted this challenge, and you can too.

The Decision to Lead

LeBron James gave hope to communities everywhere by announcing he was returning to Ohio to play basketball for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Interestingly, his decision was to return home first and play basketball second:

“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can.”

In his open letter to Sports Illustrated, LeBron articulated a certain feeling of responsibility that many of us feel when thinking about our homes. Usually, we are too afraid to act upon this feeling:

“I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”

The Perfect Place

It’s easy to find the perfect place. You can quickly search the top cities in the world and shop for homes the way you would shop produce in the grocery store, choosing the one that is just the right size, color and flavor for who you want to be. However, it’s much harder to create the perfect place. Looking around your community and raising your hand to create change takes time and work. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.

Knowing that you were there when no one else was, sweating and creating change, creates your legacy and forces you to work harder than you thought possible. In doing so, you make more of a difference than you could have imagined.

The challenge of returning home and building your community is that it never ends. You never quite get things the way you want them; but that’s the fun part. When you take ownership in your city, you join an organic creation that is continually moving and changing. You are one of the leaders driving that change.

LeBron admitted as much when he said:

“I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that.”

The Prodigal Path

LeBron’s decision highlights the prodigal path we hope our own children will take: exploring the world, mastering a craft and returning to share.

First for LeBron was the disastrous decision. As he admits in his letter, he would have done things differently if he’d had the chance, but he still would have left:

“These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go…Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.”

Explore the World

Building a community does not mean you can’t leave. Quite the contrary. Our communities are best when new ideas are brought into them. It is thus essential for us to first explore the world and discover what is possible. For LeBron, this meant heading to South Beach.

For the un-athletic, this might mean going to college, traveling the world, working in the Peace Corps, volunteering for an organization, working a variety of different jobs, dating a variety of people, playing in a band, learning to surf or studying a new language.

Whatever your curiosity calls you to do, do it. Learn from it. Then, use your time in the world to master your craft.

Master A Craft

Once we discover our passion out in the world, we then need to work on it. It’s difficult to start something in your own community until you have perspective and experience on how it works.

LeBron needed experience working in a world-class organization so he knew what he wanted to build when he returned home. You might need time in a certain job, place or relationship before you have an idea of what you want to dedicate your time to building.

Share Your Discoveries

The final step of returning home is always the most difficult. Most of us believe it’s not possible. Fortunately, now more than any moment in history, we can live anywhere and connect with others everywhere.

This presents a new opportunity for communities around the world. The top talent can live in your city and still work with clients anywhere or learn from colleagues and collaborators everywhere. What’s more, these returnees come with a wealth of experience. They have explored the world, discovered a craft and now they have returned to share what they have discovered.

As we master a craft, we need to ask ourselves: Can I bring this skill back to the place that matters to me? How can I share my knowledge and passion with those who matter most?

Some industries pose interesting challenges. There are only 30 NBA teams, so we can’t all return home to play for our local one. The vast majority of us, however, have no excuse.

  • If your community doesn’t have the business or industry you want to work in, build it.
  • If your community doesn’t have the cultural scene that you long for, nurture it.
  • If your community doesn’t have the people you want to spend time with, invite them to join.

What’s amazing is that a tiny number of people who care about their community can inspire massive action.

By returning home and building the community you want to be a part of, you are showing others that it is possible. You are proving that it is not hard to start. Your bravery in starting means that others will follow suit. This is how change happens and this is how movements are started.

The Return Home Revolution

LeBron may not have single-handedly launched the return home revolution. He has, however, validated the desire many of us feel: the calling to return home and make our community better.

As in Northeast Ohio, so is it in communities around the world:

“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.”

Fortunately the hard work is part of the reward, and the amazing things you build will influence the generations who follow. As LeBron said: “I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.” Are you?

A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog here.

Scott Meyer is the “brofounder” (co-founder and brother) of 9 Clouds, a digital marketing and education firm that improves the digital literacy of businesses. He writes and hosts the Digital Homesteading blog and podcast focusing on growing rural business and community and is the author of “Navigating Social Media: A Field Guide.”

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

How to Deal with Differences In Entrepreneurial Vision

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On occasion I like using similes to make a point or start conversation. So to start things off on dealing with differences in vision for business growth, let’s think about this:

“All Roads Lead To Rome” is like “There Are Many Ways To Reach A Business Goal.”

Are there many ways to grow a company? Of course there are. Just because you spend marketing dollars on Adwords versus traditional marketing doesn’t mean you will grow faster or slower. Hiring Employee A instead of Employee B could be a good decision or a horrible one.

People often look at these decisions only from the short term benefit or drawback, but how these decisions are made generally comes from underlying vision for the company as a whole.

In business, the debates behind closed doors on why moves are being made is generally how they fit into long term vision for the company. These arguments can lead to chasms between partners, employers and employees. Simple decisions create massive conflict.

Speed Of Growth

One of the most common sources of conflict is speed of growth. How aggressive should you be in marketing, gambles in expanding overhead vs cash-flow, or shifts in pricing structure.

Generally there can be logical argument for both sides of these debates. The more conservative want slow growth, the aggressive say “let the dice roll, we’ve got this.”

Unfortunately, in business there are opportunities presented which require quick, decisive action. While there may be no risk in refusing to take advantage of them, for entrepreneurs wanting to growth and expand quickly, not being able to get everyone on board to make a gamble creates doubt about the long term.

While you might compromise on one decision, when you see a competitor whoseized it and is reaping the benefits, disagreement on future decisions grows rapidly.

The evidence supports my decisions, why won’t they listen to me?

This will run through your mind over and over, until you find yourself rather irritated and speaking out with aggression.

Enter Conflict

Because the business is more than just a job to entrepreneurs, it’s amazing how quickly differences in opinion escalate into personal attacks. Rather than just debating until finding a good compromise, personal egos rise and it’s now my way or the highway.

Tensions rise, friendships are destroyed and business partnerships become fragile.

When clients, investors or employees begin to sense these conflicts, it’s a normal and quite frankly reasonable to lose confidence and begin looking for alternatives.

Addressing Differences

When these issues arise, you have 4 options You can either be adults on both sides and fine the right choice, or have no excuse for the outcome.

  1. Trust Your Partner
  2. Find Compromise
  3. Go Separate Ways
  4. Destroy Your Company

In my opinion, the only logical choice is a combination of trusting your partner and finding compromise. If this can’t be reached, then going separate ways is the only alternative. This doesn’t have to be abrupt, but if you don’t do this then destroying the company is going to happen.

It may take time, but your fall will be much more difficult to overcome, and can destroy opportunities for the future.

Turning Conflict Into Success

Having conflict is very normal in business. Arguments about the next steps in growth and finding agreement in what are the long term goals can be very hard, but it also provides an opportunity to build a stronger relationship.

If you are willing to put aside your ego and view these conflicts as a way to collaborate, finding an even better option is often the outcome. This just requires willingness of everyone involved to not always be right. To put the needs of the company and all those who follow you before your own.

When you do this, overcoming conflicts, finding better options and achieving success as a team becomes much more likely. It’s just a matter of suppressing ego.

All roads may lead to Rome, but aren’t road trips better with friends?

These are just a few things to think about in resolving business conflicts. Share your experiences and ways you’ve been able to solve problems. with others in the comments below!

Entrepreneurs: Ready, Set, GO!

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Ever feel like you have the pedal to the floor, but the wheels are just spinning?

As an entrepreneur that is a very common feeling as our minds race and the roadway to accomplish our goals is so clear…and yet so far away.

Is there a time to plan? Yes. Is there a time to be patient? Yes.

I talked about this is in “The Harsh Reality of Launching A Startup” and “Do Good Things Come To Those Who Wait.” It’s very important to not push too far too fast, but it’s just as important to identify when the time for planning and patience is over. Go full bore and let the chips fall where they may.

Fortune Favors The Bold

In business, war, politics or love, there is always a time to take action.

As an entrepreneur, whether it’s your first go or 10th, take the time to get idea validation from potential customers and people of merit, put together your plan, then go for it.

Angel investor Pradeep Jaisingh wrote a great article “When An Investor Says “NO” To Your Pitch” which is all about how to respond to the negatives around you as an entrepreneur and to never give up. No one is right 100% of the time, and that goes for investors as well.

There will always be those around you who want to go slow and not take too big a risk, but in truth, every day in business has risk. Each day you hold back pushes the day you reach the mountain summit back. Each day that goes by is one less day we have on this earth.

When Opportunity Knocks…Answer The Door

So often people with great ideas miss opportunities to make a difference. Fast forward 5 years, and they get to hear about how Person X just sold the company or are in another phase of expansion.

We live in a world of simultaneous discovery. This is reality, and we can either accept it or live to regret it. When the stars seem to be aligned in your favor, stop looking for why you should play it safe and just go for it.

Everything is business is a leap of faith, but you must remember that none of us know what tomorrow will bring. As employees or entrepreneurs, nothing is guaranteed.

Go Ring The Bell

You’ve made a plan. Validated the idea. Prepared for the unknown. It’s time to take the leap of faith into entrepreneurship.

Get out there and join all those who have come before you. They’ve all experienced the same burdens and fears, stresses and failures before finally getting to ring the bell when their dreams came to life.

We live in a world of opportunity. So Entrepreneurs: Ready, Set, GO!

The Advice All Entrepreneurs Should Ignore

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In 2011, my friend Kostas and I saw an opportunity. If we developed a hyper-accurate keyboard app — one that enabled users to type without looking at the screen — we could change the way people interacted with mobile technology.

We could eliminate the apologetic email signatures, stop walking into things while texting, and truly ditch our laptops. It would break down barriers to the “Internet of Things.”

Everyone said it couldn’t be done, but that was only because no one had done it. Where others saw something impossible, Kostas and I saw an opportunity to be first in a space with huge potential for growth.

Counter the “It’ll Never Work” Objections

When your ideas are ambitious, the tech industry will inevitably try to make you quit.

One of the first people to shoot us down was an angel investor. We had barely finished pitching when he rejected us outright. A touchpad keyboard for the blind wasn’t feasible, he said. Apple’s iOS didn’t allow real integration of third-party keyboards; without the iPhone, the app could never truly be successful.

I countered both objections. Within minutes of our departure, he emailed our mutual contact, complaining that we were “strong-headed” and “ill-informed.” This was a preview of the most common objection we faced: “It’s never been done before.”

Too many people mistake things that haven’t been done for things that can’t be done. Real opportunities come from ideas that haven’t yet been acted upon.

The Benefits of Attempting Something New

Creating an opportunity from something new provides a competitive advantage in the form of:

  1. Brand awareness: Attempting the impossible generates attention. People want to support innovation, and they’ll spread the word for you.
  2. Access to untapped markets: If your product fulfills an unmet need, you’ll have few competitors and many eager customers. Even if you’re small, you can corner the market with a first-mover advantage.
  3. Future potential: By opening the door to multiple opportunities, you’re maximizing your capacity to succeed.
  4. Satisfaction and recruitment: Not only does innovation bolster morale, but it also attracts top talent.

What You Need When Attempting the “Impossible”

Had we listened to our critics, we would have never started. But when developing a revolutionary new product, it’s not the critics who matter — it’s your user base. You need a devoted group of early users who can offer feedback and help improve your product.

During development, I learned that the iPhone’s accessibility options made it popular with blind users, so we brought our prototype to the blind community. Their skepticism quickly gave way to excitement, and for some, the experience was so overwhelming that they wept.

The prototype was basic. But suddenly we had thousands of real users invested in the growth of the product. Their feedback helped each version evolve by leaps and bounds.

Once you have your passionate early users, you also need to find a way to turn perceived barriers into opportunities. When we released a public beta of our app on iOS, many people thought we were crazy due to Apple’s restrictions on third-party keyboards. But in February, we opened our API to any developer who wanted to use it, transforming the restriction into an opportunity for growth.

Never Be Afraid to Do Things Differently

This historical iOS barrier was enough for plenty of people to reject our idea altogether. But because we pursued the opportunity, we are now celebrating 1 million downloads.

Many entrepreneurs fail because they’re afraid to do things differently. But learning to create opportunity is a skill like any other. You can become better by networking, keeping an ear to the ground, and positioning yourself to capitalize on the shifting market. It’s also important to devote several hours a week to trying things that are new, crazy and potentially groundbreaking.

If you ignore opportunity, it will vanish. But when you embrace it, there will always be more.

Ioannis Verdelis is the co-founder and COO of Fleksy, a revolutionary keyboard that makes typing on a touchscreen so easy you can type without even looking. Connect with him on Twitter

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

How I Manage Projects for Killer Results

project management

As an entrepreneur and a consultant, I’m pretty much always working on a set of critical deadlines for one of my businesses, or the business of one of my clients. I don’t treat them in the same way. In fact, I often treat my clients’ businesses better than I treat mine. That’s not the best admission, but it’s a classic indication of the proverbial “cobbler’s kids have no shoes.”

If I can put in extra effort to drive something home for a client I’m going to do that. The good part is that I’m pretty much always treating my business partners in my own startups like they are my clients, so it all comes out in the wash. At the same time I’d always advise my coaching and mentoring clients to apply the “oxygen mask principle” to themselves, which is to say act like you are on a crashing plane and put your own mask on first so you can help others.

Excessive preambles aside, there are some common principles that I institute in every project that have become my go-to practices. Having developed these patterns I’ve created a blueprint that works for me, operates efficiently, and gets good to better results.

  1. Get out of email. There is no way you can manage a team with email. It’s nearly impossible to even manage a one-to-one project with two people. It doesn’t work. There are tons of reasons based on tons of research.
  2. Repeat rule #1 until it gets annoying. Seriously, just stop. This is 2014 and there are lots of better ways.
  3. Decide on one collaboration system and stick to it. I don’t care what this is. Use Basecamp, use Google Docs, use Podio, or use Asana (my personal favorite). Whatever you do, share the project with everyone and require your team to use it. No email about the project, ever. It all goes in the tool. Stay in the loop by staying in the tool. Fall out of the loop at your own peril. If you are merciless about this the team will fall in line and they will love you for it. Working on shitty projects sucks. No one wants that. Good management feels good to everyone involved. Tie it to getting paid if you have to. My teams know I bring them great projects and I pay them well and this is how I do it. No questions asked. We don’t even talk about it anymore. We literally just kick off projects without a discussion because I start an Asana project and then we start billing.
  4. Did I mention email ruins project effectiveness? Go ahead and try. If you don’t believe me by this point you shouldn’t be reading this article. It’s going to take you a lot longer to do your work and you shouldn’t be screwing around on LinkedIn.
  5. Run the project like you care. Communicate with each person with care and trust until trust has been damaged. If trust has been damaged try to repair it. If you can’t repair it, end the relationship. No harm, no foul. This is project-based interviewing. If you do what needs to be done you’ll get more work. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s pretty easy. Over time you’ll end up with a killer team that will do whatever you need done because they care about you and they trust you.
  6. Document processes the first time and then outsource them. You don’t need your top people doing menial crap for high payment while getting increasingly bored. Every process should be boiled down to its basic components, turned into a workflow, and outsourced on Elance or Odesk. Build business machines and run them. Pay your contractors well for the little pieces they do. Care about them, too. They will love you and come back for more projects. It’s just like #5 yet not on your core team.
  7. Email still sucks.

Resumes are dead. Interviews are largely ineffectual. Linked-In is good. Portfolios are useful.

But projects are the real future of hiring, especially knowledge working hiring. No matter how wonderful your references or how well you do on those too-clever-by-half Microsoft/Google brainteasers, serious firms will increasingly ask serious candidates to do serious work in order to get a serious job offer.

I dog on the HBR sometimes, too, but this article is spot on. It works. Do it. If you manage your project like I’m suggesting and you use your projects to build an awesome team through experience, you will see remarkably better results and you will bill more money or see more success from your startups. #winning

7 Insider Tips on Conference Networking Like a Pro

KristinLuna

Seldom do successful startups begin with an inexperienced, untrained, disconnected leader at the helm. Rather, startup founders often seek as much information as they can from those with experience in their particular field. Smart startup founders will then seek to form a relationship with those thought-leaders so they can continue to glean insight from a proven company founder.

Nowhere does such information-downloading and opportunities for connection better occur than at a conference. In the following list, three conference junkies share their best tips for making the most of your conference attendance.

1. Do Your Research

Travel and media writer Kristin Luna echoes what Dave Delaney, Director of Strategy at TechnologyAdvice, shared in his interview on “How to Conference.” Use social media to do your due diligence on people you think you’d like to meet. Be sure to use Eventbrite’s open attendee list to see who will actually be attending the event.

Luna recounts her success with social media networking prior to speaking at a parent blogging conference as a non-parent. She contacted someone in the event’s Facebook group who provided insider information about the conference that helped her deliver her speech. That person later become a close friend. Luna also parlayed a Twitter relationship into a writing gig for Southern Living.

2. Party Down

Luna recommends hitting the bar after an event as well. As a sometimes event organizer herself, she knows the benefits of offering after-parties. They provide a relaxed and comfortable environment where people might be less self-conscious in approaching each other, and especially in approaching any keynote speakers that might be in attendance. Additionally, these post-conference mixers may be the only time you meet other people who’ve attended different workshops than you did. Take advantage of this time to personally connect with others.

3. Introduce Others

If you know two people in a room who don’t know each other but should, be the one to introduce them to each other. Luna calls this “good business karma.” Though such introductions shouldn’t necessarily be made for personal gain, Luna adds that you never know how you might ultimately benefit from having connected those two people.

4. Refrain from Instant Following

Chief Rippler at Ripple Central Steve Harper suggests refraining from instantly connecting with someone on LinkedIn following an initial in-real-life meeting at a conference. Harper believes that “some people collect LinkedIn connections like coins.” Why does Harper choose that path? Because he believes you should show your worth to that connection over time before forging a more professional connection on LinkedIn.

5. Plan Your Conference Time

Harper encourages conference-goers to have a game plan before attending. Know the workshops, breakouts, and can’t-miss keynotes you want to attend. Look at the speaker and/or guest list and know who you want to meet. Give equal weight to the content of the conference as well as your networking opportunities. Don’t be that person who “attended” the conference but was never seen in a breakout session.

6. Be Real

Deb Cole, author of the first book on Twitter and Marketing Director for the New Media Expo, encourages face-to-face meetings at conferences so that social media relationships can go deeper. While there was a time when some believed that IRL conferences would be replaced by digital conferences, Cole has seen the opposite to be true. When people use social media correctly—to connect with other humans—their real-life meetups at conferences take on a much more robust character.

7. Don’t sweat the cost.

Cole knows that conferences can be expensive, especially when long-distance travel might be involved. However, she looks at the expense in terms of ROI. If the total cost of attending a conference is $5,000, but she meets a new connection that turns into a $50,000 business deal, her ROI is through the roof. In other words, she can’t afford not to attend. Plus, even more than possible financial gain, the relationships she makes and knowledge she gains will likely serve her well for many years to come.

To hear more tips on conference networking, listen to the TechnologyAdvice podcast interview above with Kristin Luna, Steve Harper, and Deb Cole, hosted by Clark Buckner:

5 Tips for Riding the Startup Roller Coaster (Without Tossing Your Cookies)

startup

The startup journey can be a rough ride. One minute, it seems like you’re steadily ticking up a steep hill toward blue skies, then whoosh! Down you go. In the early stages of a business, there’s no stability. Revenue is uncertain. You have no idea whether the customers in your market want what you have — or how to get it to them. It can feel like the best (or worst) roller coaster you’ve ever ridden. Funding struggles can make the startup journey even rougher. Venture-backed startups face intense pressure to consistently grow their revenue, and according to the National Venture Capital Association, an estimated 25 to 30 percent of VC-backed businesses fail. I think the reality is a much higher number than reported. Other startups are funded from the team’s collective back pocket, so when the startup suffers, so does everyone on board. But the startup roller coaster doesn’t have to be a hellish experience. With the right attitude, you can make those highs higher and those lows much more bearable. Here are a few tips for holding down your lunch in the face of pressure and uncertainty:

Think about values, not direction.

Meeting deadlines and milestones are common aggravators in the startup world, and it’s tough to remain optimistic when the obstacles seem insurmountable. But when everybody is so focused on relentless forward motion — instead of doing their best and appreciating the present — it can be destructive to your startup’s progress. By focusing on your core values (e.g., making users happy) instead of where you want to be three months from now, every day of work will become more enjoyable, and you’ll gain unstoppable momentum.

Enjoy the high points.

Another reason startups suffer is blazing through the achievements that make the whole journey worth it. When you experience a “win,” take the time to relish it. This isn’t easy and has been, admittedly, something that I have too often glossed over. Focusing on your high points can help you stay on track when you hit a snag and remind yourself why you started your company in the first place. And if you have lots to look forward to, like social events with your team or celebratory beer breaks for good progress, you’ll be more likely to power through the low points.

Shift your perspective on low points.

If you see the dips in your success as failures, they’ll act like failures, which means slowing you down and stalling your motivation. But if you treat them as valuable parts of your journey — a failed experiment or even as a startup rite of passage— they’ll make you stronger, teach you valuable lessons, and allow you to keep pushing forward with confidence.

Keep lines of communication open.

You often don’t know you have a communication problem until something goes wrong. Then, when a problem arises, everyone starts talking. Emails fly back and forth. People freak out. Keeping lines of communication open when it’s business as usual is great practice for putting out fires. Don’t just communicate when things hit the fan. By then, it’s too late. Collaboration is critical in a startup, but this can only happen when people are communicating honestly with one another.

Practice good karma.

If you focus on keeping your users or customers happy, delivering what they’re looking for, and making their lives easier, they’ll be much more likely to become loyal to your product or service. This kind of good karma can really speed up your journey to success and put money in the bank. By staying focused on your values and your customers, celebrating the highs, appreciating the lows, and constantly practicing good communication, you can ride the startup roller coaster without losing your mind (or your lunch). When you finally crest that hill and get a good view from the top, you’ll be able to remember your humble roots with a smile. If you don’t appreciate the journey, even the best outcome will feel lackluster.

 

Zvi Band is the founder and CEO of Contactually, a relationship-marketing platform that maximizes value and drives greater ROI from personal and professional networks. Zvi frequently participates in thought leadership panels at Tech Cocktail, WordPress DC, DC PHP, and DCRUG events. He loves solving new problems and building new products and services.

Why Entrepreneurs Need To Take Breaks

stevejobs

As an entrepreneur, it can be extremely difficult to take time out and re-calibrate.

Everything you are is focused on bringing your vision come to life, and making all of the stress, personal sacrifice and fatigue worthwhile.

But does it actually increase your chance of success to take a time out? Step back and make sure you’re making the right choices, and there isn’t a great opportunity staring you in the face. It is very easy to miss the obvious when you are buried in growing a company.

You must be willing to go over and above and push yourself more than the average person. No question. But what is rarely talked about are the physical and mental downsides of not taking breaks from your obsession.

Mental Downside Of Being Hyper-Focused

There is a never ending litany of people saying that the only way to be successful is to be focused, give it your all and it will all be worth it. I completely agree with this (and have lived it) but personally feel this needs to be further defined.

Studies show that optimal mental efficiency happens on 7.06 hours of sleep. There is significant decline with less than 6.47 hours or more than 8.03. Since you are making important decisions as a business owner, it is vital you operate at your peak mental ability as much as humanly possible.

Will this be possible all the time? Of course not. Just make sure you keep this reality in the back of your head. The last thing you want to do is make a dumb decision on a lack of sleep!

Physical Downside Of Being Hyper-Focused

I really don’t need to even dive into this. We all know what happens when we work to much and exercise to little, but did you know that stress has a direct impact on your immune system and rate of metabolism?

The hormone cortisol is released as part of your “fight or flight” response to stress. While there are temporary benefits to this, in the long term there is a significant reduction in both your immune system and digestive track. This leads to greater risk of serious diseases in general, and the slow down of your metabilism has been linked to things like diabetes and intestinal blockage.

Another study shows that AGE DOESN’T MATTER in how the body reacts to stress!

Personal Downside Of Being Hyper-Focused

Beating back weight gain, overcoming illness and getting caught up on sleep can usually be accomplished when you’ve either failed miserably or reached the mountain top.

The bad decisions made in business and more importantly your personal life are not so easily vanquished.

Losing clients, friends, significant others, or relationships with your children have serious impact on your mental health. While you may be able to suppress these issues in the short term, they will catch up with you.

There was a study released last year showing that married business owners had a divorce rate of 82%. With a national average of just under 50%, this is to great a coincidence to ignore.

In short, you need to think long and hard about how much these relationships mean to you. Not only can they damage you emotionally in the long term, destruction of your personal life will make business success that much harder.

Taking Breaks Doesn’t Mean Losing Focus

Having experienced almost everything mentioned in this article personally, I want to say that this has not turned off my entrepreneurial fire in the slightest.

It has just made me take the occasional timeout, re-calibrate, make sure the decisions being make are good ones, spend time with my daughter, friends and build great relationships with clients.

If you do the same, it will make those late nights and short term sacrifices easier to deal with and make them more rewarding when you have people to share them with!