How to Invest In Your Talents, Build Your SaaS Team, and Tell Your Startup Story w/ Kristian Andersen

Powderkeg Podcast with Kristian Andersen, Partner at High Alpha

In this episode you’ll learn from Kristian Andersen, serial entrepreneur, investor, and Partner at Venture Studio High Alpha:

  • Kristian Andersen SaaS LeadershipWhy geography is not a factor in the success of your start up. (6:30)
  • Why developing your narrative can mean the difference between success and failure. (22:00)
  • What separates the winners from the losers in terms of mindset.  (27:30)
  • The importance of gratitude. (32:00)
  • How to hire A players into your company. (37:00)


Show notes for this episode are also available on the Powder Keg Podcast Website Here >>

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

Key Business Leaders:

Startup Books:

Key Entrepreneurship and Leadership Quotes:

“Really, really good entrepreneurs are fundamentally really, really good story tellers.”

“Investing in people is a really, really quick way to effectively build your own brand.”

“Talent is the atomic unit of success.”

Powderkeg Podcast Transcript:

KRISTIAN ANDERSEN and MATT HUNCKLER

 

Matt: You have been very integral in helping several different start up and technology communities connect, grow and nurture that progress along the way; and much of that has been through your work with Studio Science – formerly KA+A. And I have been lucky enough to work with you on a handful of projects, several projects, over the years, with different tech companies and fast-growing agencies; and I remember… do you remember the first time we met?

Kristian: I’m embarrassed to tell you that I don’t recall the first time we met. We’ve known each other a long time.

Matt: We have known each other a long time.

Kristian: So I can certainly cite some more pivotal interactions, but tell me: what was the first time we met?

Matt: So I mean obviously I remember this better because I was a nobody at the time.

Kristian: Well, we were almost certainly both nobodies at the time.

Matt: Definitely not true. You still had the same swagger that you have today, and it was clear that you knew your stuff; and I definitely remember that, because I had just sold my company down in Bloomington doing what you do on a large scale, on a very small scale for small companies. And so I listened very intently when I first met you.

Kristian: Was it BlueLock?

Matt: It was with Brian Wolff.

Kristian: Brian Wolff, yeah, right.

Matt: So Brian, who’s an investor in Gravity Ventures with you, was my mentor; and we were able to meet up with you at your old Broad Ripple office, in the corner office.

Kristian: Back in the hood, yeah.

Matt: Yeah. Max Yoder welcomed me as the intern.

Kristian: That’s a pretty good person to have meet you for sure.

Matt: Absolutely; who of course we hired in to do Orr Fellowship a year later. So a lot of connections happened in KA+A.

Kristian: Yeah. He was the big one though. That was a coo for the Orr Fellowship…

Matt: Absolutely.

Kristian: To get Max, and it was a coo for us to get him. He walked in as a wet-behind-the-year, kind of junior. It was interesting; he applied for a design internship position, and was not studying design. We actually couldn’t find any relevant skills that he had that were applicable to our business, but you know, some people just make that big an impact; and he walked out and I said we’ve got to figure out a way to make a place for him.

Matt: Yeah? Absolutely.

Kristian: It was a good decision too.

Matt: I’m glad you did. I don’t think I would have… I wouldn’t have known him prior to the Orr Fellowship hiring process if that wasn’t the case. Same with Cruse

Kristian: Yeah?

Matt: Cruise was an Orr Fellow of that class.

Kristian: Yeah, that was an exceptional vintage.

Matt: Yes.

Kristian: Yeah.

Matt: But that was the year that I met you, and you certainly made an impression on me at that meeting and in the following meeting, which of course was over oysters at Bruges; which is kind of your… it will always stick out in my mind. It was the first time I ever had oysters.

Kristian: Were they mussels or oysters?

Matt: Mussels, of course they were mussels.

Kristian: I just want to represent the brand.

Matt: Way to represent the brand. All right, that’s good. That’s good. Well, you know, one of the things that I immediately noticed about you was what a passion for entrepreneurship you have; and not just here in Indianapolis, but all over the country and all over the world – which is where a lot of your clients are now, is pretty much all over the place. So you’ve built up over the last – what, 11, 12 years with Studio Science?

Kristian: I’m kind of like an ageing movie star at this point. The foreigners, right? We’re not, there’s conflicting reports on when the actual launch date was, but yeah, we’ve been at this for really over 13 years.

Matt: So why is it important, or why do you have such a passion for entrepreneurship and people starting companies outside of Silicon Valley, and outside of New York?

Kristian: Yeah, I mean my passion really isn’t limited to folks that are doing it outside of those geographies, right?

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: I happen to have a deep affection and a lot of respect for folks that are doing it in those geographies as well. I think what I find interesting about entrepreneurship in kind of less visible locales, is that it’s a slightly different game, right? And I’ve always had a penchant for the underdog, I guess. It might stem from a diminutive stature; that’s what my mom says. I’m not sure, but it’s… growing up in Arkansas, which is a really kind of unbalanced, pretty economically repressed and depressed state, right? So it comes in as a solid 49 typically on most meaningful measures of economic vitality. Yet even in a state that, you know, is much maligned for being kind of behind the times, you look at certain pockets of a place like that – and it’s certainly not unique to Arkansas. How you explain the rise of, you know, the largest retailer in the world, right? How do you explain the rise of one of the largest transportation logistics companies?

Matt: Which is Walmart and…?

Kristian: Walmart, JD Hines, Tyson Chicken.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, and Dillard’s Department Stores, Acxiom, which was really kind of the original big data company, right?

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: Came out of Little Rock. And out of really, kind of the most unlikely places – and actually you obviously see that around the world – that necessity is the mother of invention, right? And that success is not limited to zip code, right? But I think most people, specifically kind of aspiring entrepreneurs and people who are still kind of trying to feel their way through kind of their personal ambition levels, feel that they have to move, they have to go somewhere else, they have to locate to what has historically been thought of as the center of power, in order to build a big, meaningful business; and the truth of the matter is that’s not true, and I would argue that it’s never been true. I would say it’s less true today than ever. You know, technology has been such a great democratizer in terms of locale; but kind of observing this and being kind of an amateur student of economic development – specifically outside of kind of tier one cities – it dawned on me that there are really, really big opportunities. I mean in the finance world they would call maybe arbitrage opportunities, right?

Matt: Yes.

Kristian: And rather it be Indiana, or parts of Ohio, or Kentucky, or Oregon; I mean pick your state, right? Not all of California is Northern California, right?

Matt: Absolutely.

Kristian: There’s a lot of areas in the rest of that state that this is true for as well. I really wanted to help carry the torch and tell the story about the power of entrepreneurship, and how it can transform communities, and the economic development prospects of kind of historically depressed economies.

Matt: Well, you’re doing a really good job of carrying the torch here in Indianapolis; and one of the recent articles that you’re quoted in quoted you as saying: ‘We used to feel like we had to apologize for being located in Indianapolis, and that’s not the case anymore.’

Kristian: Yeah.

Matt: Do you talk a little bit about that?

Kristian: Yeah, we say now we think of it as a competitive advantage, right?

Matt: Absolutely.

Kristian: And you know, it’s important to kind of separation the kind of ra ra cheerleading from fact, right? Because there is a dynamic where you do have to kind of fake it till you make it a little bit. You have to do that as a person. My dad used to always say, you know, ‘act as if’. Right? You know, dress for the job you want, right? And there is some of that that is true for individuals, cities, states, and you know, countries, right?

Matt: Is there an entrepreneur that has done that well, that you can think of?

Kristian: Uh, probably all of them. You know what I mean?

Matt: Yeah. Absolutely.

Kristian: Because really, really good entrepreneurs – and I’ve strayed away from your initial question – but really, really good entrepreneurs are fundamentally really, really good story tellers.

Matt: Yes.

Kristian: Right? And it doesn’t mean that they’re telling stories that aren’t true, it means that they are telling the most interesting, most compelling, most articulate story possible. So is there an example of an entrepreneur who faked it till they made it?

Matt: That really stands out to you?

Kristian: Well, the question would be give me an example of a really successful entrepreneur that did not do that? And that’s when I’d have to go do some homework.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: Right? You know, as a general rule, they’re phenomenal story tellers, and they’re having to make a silk purse out of sows ears in most cases, right? They don’t have enough money, they didn’t necessarily go to the right school, or have the right degree. They’re trying to sell a vision for a product that doesn’t exist yet to customers they haven’t found yet. Right? So, no, I think that is actually a critical – and I’m making a very clear distinction between lying and being a good story teller, and being able to cast vision, and being able to get people to follow you. Lying I have zero tolerance for; but telling a good story, being able to craft a vision and articulate that well, and get potential customers or employees or investors excited is an absolutely critical skill. And at the state level – if you look at a state like Indiana – you can’t literally start with nothing. Right? You have to have some raw material, whether it be your brain or deep pocketbooks, or as, you know, Peter Thiel talks about, you’ve got to know a secret that very few other people know. You’ve got to have one or more of those things to really spin things up, and in Indiana we were really blessed by having all the normal stuff; highly educated, you know, workforce, the good old-fashioned – not myth – but kind of fact of the Midwestern work ethic.

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: And a number of businesses that had created kind of micro clusters for us to take advantage of from an entrepreneurial perspective, and that’s why when today I say we used to have to kind of explain away why we’re based in Indi, today we lead with that because in so many parts of the country now this particular city is recognized certainly as being a hotbed of marketing technology. Right? And it’s not limited purely to marketing tech, but certainly that’s kind of the sharp end of the spear.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: We’ve had a lot of success. Certainly a lot of that owed to ExactTarget, but it really transcends ExactTarget, as you know. Many companies before put a dent in the universe here, including Interactive Intelligence and Software Artistry.

Matt: Aprimo.

Kristian: Aprimo, and so on and so forth. And through that we’ve built such a dynamic base of talent, managerial expertise, a large hiring base; it’s why just over the course of the past few months a number of companies that are headquartered out of state have begun opening offices – a pretty rapid clip here, right? To take advantage of that arbitrage.

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it kind of goes to the point of sort of branding your city, and being able to get everyone behind a single message. And sort of that vision casting aspect of entrepreneurship – you’re going to probably cringe when I say this word – is a little bit of developing a personal brand.

Kristian: Yeah. I do cringe a little bit when you say it, yeah. I know exactly what you mean.

Matt: I knew it would, but you know, I don’t know what other phrase… Until you come up with a better phrase than personal branding, you know, I do think that the personal brand of an entrepreneur is very important, and clearly impacts the way the company is branded. Can you talk a little bit about what you coach entrepreneurs – whether they’re young or not – but first time entrepreneurs, as they’re going about vision casting and building their pitch deck, and going out there raising money or building prototypes; what are some of the things that you frequently encourage entrepreneurs, or course correct with entrepreneurs, around branding their start up?

Kristian: Yeah. Well you know, the irony is one of the things that will kind of damage your career early on – if you’re wanting to position yourself as an entrepreneur company building – is to spend too much time and effort trying to figure out how to brand yourself as an entrepreneur or a company building. Right? It’s always… used to be a turn off. Now, the older I get the more empathy I have; but it always struck me as interesting or odd when a 22-year old walk handed me their business card and it would say kind of ‘serial entrepreneur’ or something like that on it. Right? I’m sure there are 22-year olds who are legitimately serial entrepreneurs – there’s not a lot of them. You know, at the end of the day the best marketing is a great product. Right? So this is true for software companies. This is true for automobiles. This is true for cities that are trying to figure out municipal branding. And it’s also true for people.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? So those who are focused on kind of the traditional approach to personal branding, which is all about building your own mission statement and relentlessly being present and visible on social media, and showing up to every conference, and trying to get on the panel…

Matt: Right.

Kristian: And so on, and so forth. If all of that energy was being funneled toward building a product – and I mean in some cases the product being a person. Right?

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: How you create value in the world. Right? I think you would see a lot more success. And I’ll give you just a finite example, right? The way to build a great personal brand is to help people. Right? So that may be the people you work with, it may be the person you work for today, it may be the people who you are trying to hire or attract into your company, it could be people in a non-profit space, people at your church. Whatever the case might be, right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Investing in people is a really, really quick way to effectively build your own brand. If you have a reputation for being somebody who gets stuff done, who when people ask for help delivers that help, that is so much more effective in establishing credibility and boosting your visibility, rather than just being noticed. Right? And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t blog and be active on Twitter and… of course you should, right? But all of that should be, I believe, done through the lens of ‘How am I helping? How am I creating value?’ Right? ‘How am I making the world a better place? How am I advancing the agenda of my organization or the city I live in?’ And I think that’s where people most often go wrong; and I can cite a whole lot of examples – and I won’t bore you with the details – but it seems like a simple truth, but it’s one that people have a hard time grasping.

Matt: Well, lets get a little specific there, because I really like that idea of entrepreneur as a product. Right? Before maybe they even have a product built, and an entrepreneur viewing themselves as a product. So if entrepreneurs out there are viewing themselves as a product, what do you see – at this point in time, 2015 – what are people out there hungry for in terms of a product as it pertains to an entrepreneur as a product? What kind of entrepreneurs does the world need right now?

Kristian: You know, unfortunately what the world needs and what people are hungry for are rarely the same thing.

Matt: That’s a good point.

Kristian: People are not particularly rational, as you know, and have a hard time kind of playing the long game, right? So you know, I fear my answer will be kind of unsatisfactory because it’s so banal and obvious; but the simple version is we need more people doing, and less people pontificating. Right? So, I mean we see this, you know, everywhere; in our business and the companies that we work with and the companies that we’re talking to from an investment perspective. Execution trumps everything, right? Ideas are cheap. You and I meet with people every day that have ideas. I’ve never met anyone that didn’t have at least one hundred million-dollar idea rattling around in their brain.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? Ideas are cheap. You know, in terms of currency, it’s people that actually kind of advance, move the ball forward; and that means rolling up your sleeves and being prepared to face a whole lot of rejection and casting aside any sense of entitlement one might have about what the world owes them, or what they deserve.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Once again, that’s human nature, right? I mean, we are kind of broken people innately, right? And we constantly have to battle selfishness. Right? I want. I deserve. Why me?

Matt: Sure, sure.

Kristian: So on and so forth, and I think the people who end up being most successful are folks that get to work building something that has value that transcends themselves. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: And once again this goes back to how you do personal branding well. I can tell you how to do it wrong. Right? If it’s focused purely on you building your CV, making sure you’re the most visible, brightest light in the room….

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Over time that pays; you may get some pops from it, but it pays diminishing returns over time. Humility is so underrated.

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: It is unbelievable, and people talk about it all the time as if it’s like this core value that everyone shares; and I’ll tell you, true humility is in extraordinarily short supply.

Matt: It’s hard to come by. Hopefully a little less hard to come by here in the Midwest.

Kristian: Yeah. You know what, there’s even this perverse arrogance in the Midwest about their humility; they love to talk about how humble they are.

Matt: It’s true. It’s true.

Kristian: Right?

Matt: Guilty right now.

Kristian: Yeah. Well no, it’s interesting; I was on a road trip with someone the other day and we were kind of comparing the different geographies and what’s true about them, and I was making this case for Midwestern humility, and he was like, ‘You know, even in the Midwest you see humility perverted into vanity, where it becomes this bad…’

Matt: Look how humble I am.

Kristian: Look how humble I am. It’s a little bit like when somebody gets their Oscar and they, you know, any time somebody says, ‘I’m so humbled by…’ they actually mean the exact opposite of that. Right? So it’s another word that is slowly losing its meaning.

Matt: Yeah. That’s true. Well, let’s say that founders out there watching this right now are working on building great product, and they’re building a great team – as best a team they can with whatever money they’re bringing in from their product. There’s still some amount of communication that they need to do in order to continued to attract the right talent, potentially attract investors, and market to clients. What are kind of like – especially in the early stages – what are some of those things, as let’s say a founder’s going out to start the fundraising process; how can they communicate who they are and what they’re about effectively with their brand, or what is to become their brand?

Kristian: I mean once again, I think it goes back to story telling; and I really don’t make a distinction, so I talk about…

Matt: Should there be one story? Should there be many stories?

Kristian: Oh no, there needs to be one story. It certainly can be contextualized for the audience.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: But no, there needs to be, there should only be one story; and that story needs to live in the product.

Matt: Okay.

Kristian: Not exclusively, but I’m not… we tend to fall into this way of thinking where there’s marketing and there’s product; and those are different things. Right? One is, you know, how you fulfil demand, and the other is how you generate demand; and I tend to think that those are not the same thing. Increasingly, as people purchase experiences – not products – you have to think along the lines that the continuum is different. Right?

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: So the retail experience if there is one, the advertising experience if there is one, the product experience – so actually interacting with what I’m paying money for, the services experience that I’m dealing with; if I have a problem or I need to return it, or something broke. I mean, that’s all the product.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: And really the most successful products are stores, right? And I mean, if I said: ‘Hey, name the three most interesting dynamic products on the planet?’ Right? Whether you said the Nest thermostat, or Tesla, or a MacBook Pro, or whatever – those are really kind of like living narratives. Right?

Matt: Yeah. Absolutely.

Kristian: I mean literally. It’s a story, and it’s a story that’s constantly being tuned, and it’s constantly being tweaked. So my first point would be that you need to view your product and that experience of consuming it – buying it, consuming it – as part of that narrative. More specifically, in the fundraising process I like to think of the pitch deck as it’s a novel, right? It is hopefully not a work of fiction, but it’s a book. It’s a story; and it has a plotline. Right?

Matt: Okay.

Kristian: That should be clearly articulated. It has a protagonist.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Right? You’re a product coming to save the day. It has an antagonist; what’s the problem that’s being addressed?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: What’s the great wrong that has to be righted? It has a de noir, it has a climax, right? The climax may be when that problem gets solved for a particular customer. If you’re talking to investors it might be when there’s liquidity in there, that puts money back in the investors pockets; but I think if entrepreneurs would force themselves to think in terms of the narrative, constantly the narrative. Who’s our hero?

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Who’s are enemy? Right? What’s the great quest or challenge that’s been put in front of us? Right? Kind of the hero’s journey.

Matt: Yeah. I like that.

Kristian:  That goes a really, really long way. And that way when you get nervous, or you need other people to help carry the water and tell the story, you know… We might all give slightly different versions of what happened in Star Wars, but in general we’d be able to tell the same story. Right? And it’s the same thing when you’re raising money, and you’ve got a COO, or if you’ve got a co-founder and you’re split up, or you’re in different planes and your pitching different groups. You want to be singing out of the same hymn book. The same things true when you’re selling to customers. The same things true when you’re recruiting. And this is why the idea of story, living inside of the product, living inside your organization, being a culture, is so critical; because if you’ve got a story that’s properly articulated and codified then it’s not just up to you to be able to tell that story.

Matt: Yeah. Let’s get a little more brass tacks; how long should that story be?

Kristian: Once again, I think you’ve got to contextualize it, right? So, if you’re at a launch festival you’ve got two minutes. It should be two minutes long. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, if you’re sitting down, recruiting a VP of Sales, you can take a lot longer to tell that story; but you know, if you want to think of it through the kind of rubric of the investor pitch, right? Obviously, less is more. And you know, 10 to 15 slides, following that plot line of who we are, what we do, here’s the problem, here’s how big the problem is – which is a really critical thing that many entrepreneurs get wrong. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: There are a lot of terrific problems out there, that are real and no one’s going to argue with the fact that they’re real; but if you’re successful in addressing it, in a vacuum it may not be sufficient to build a venture scale business around. One thing, because the one thing that – I’m really on a Peter Thiel kick now, so forgive me – but the one…

Matt: I read Zero to One based on your recommendation.

Kristian: One of the things he points out in that book that I think is critical is that most really, really big ideas, A. seem dumb. Right? Initially.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: And, B. appear to be attacking a problem that’s too small. Right? So you really need to understand how big the opportunity could be. The flip side of that is, folks that are only targeting ten billion dollar minimum total addressable markets I think are missing the boat, because many, many great ideas are great because they actually change consumption habits; they change the way people behave. So trying to size that market before you’ve disrupted it can be an impossibility, and I think if people are too fixated on that it means we’re going to miss out on a lot of great ideas.

Matt: That’s a really good point, and I think that if you can kind of shape that in your story, right? And show… who was it? I don’t remember who was talking about how they did this effectively, but it was literally; in this industry this company did this. In this industry, this company did this. In this industry, no ones done it yet; that’s because we’re doing it. Are there other things that you see that kind of escalate that story to the climax, or sort of the apex moment of the story?

Kristian: Yeah. I mean once again a lot of this is conventional wisdom, but I think we hear it so much that it loses its efficacy.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, another big deal in the story telling process is you really have to… people have to care about you, the individual.

Matt: Right.

Kristian: Before they can care about your product, right? Or even care about the problem that you’re trying to solve.

Matt: How do you make someone care about you.

Kristian: Yeah. That’s a good question. A number of the things that we’ve already touched on, right?

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: So it really comes down to, who do you want to invest in? What are the character traits that exist – and this differs from investor to investor for sure, but there’s some commonality, right? By and large people want to invest in winners, right? Now that seems kind of crass.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: But it’s the absolute fact, and winners have kind of one defining characteristic.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Are you ready for this?

Matt: I’m ready.

Kristian: Okay. Winners believe that they are going to win.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? So losers think they might win if everything goes according to plan and nothing happens, you know? Nobody screws with them from the outside and the market doesn’t get disrupted by a third party. Winners don’t think about that that stuff.

Matt: They don’t have a Plan B, C, D…

Kristian: As soon as the shoes are laced up, they’re out there. They’re not just trying to win; they believe that they are going to win. Right? I mean Ali is like the greatest example, right?

Matt: Sure. There is an example of humility.

Kristian: Yeah. Well you know what’s interesting, there was lots of things that he knew he wasn’t good at.

Matt: It’s very true.

Kristian: Lots of stuff. Right? He happened to be right about the one thing he believed he was good at. Right? And that was whipping people. So don’t confuse humility with fake self-deprecation, or self-flagellation. That’s not what I mean. You can know you’re really good at something…

Matt: Right.

Kristian: And still manage to be humble in the process. And also baked into that is people want to invest in winners, they want to invest in people who they believe are teachable – because nobody knows it all, right? So coming across, somehow striking that balance where you are confident and self-assured is critical, but also that you are flexible, because we know that you are going to need to be, coachable, teachable. And I’ll tell you, you know you can’t read a book on it, in terms of that person. Right? I mean, it’s like everything else; you’ve got to practice those things. You’ve got to practice being confident.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, it’s all about like, at bats. Right? And that’s why constantly pitching, working on a story, interacting with people, refining your method – in many ways talking yourself into what it is you’re trying to talk other people into.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Is so critical. I do believe that there are probably some entrepreneurial genes that are passed along from mother to daughter, or father to son; but as a general rule, most of that is a function of training and learning.

Matt: Well if you’re in America the chances are you have some of those genes in you.

Kristian: Yeah. That’s right, that’s right.

Matt: Well so, those are really good pieces, you know, in terms of the character and bringing out that character in telling that story; your own entrepreneurial character as well as the protagonist and antagonist in your story. You know, as you’re going through and developing a relationship, you know one of the things that I’ve always admired about Studio Science is even though I haven’t always been your biggest client – nor have I probably ever been your biggest client – the care that you take in developing that relationship with just little things, you know; like sending gifts. You know, when I was on the front page of the IBJ, you guys were the first people to send a thank you note. Talk to me a little bit about, 1). Where did you get that trait? Because I know it’s not you writing every card, but it comes from you, the founder of the company.

Kristian: Yeah.

Matt: And can you maybe tell me a little bit about why that’s important?

Kristian: Yeah. Well certainly it’s not – as you noted – that’s the culture of Studio Science, and the culture of gratitude is really strong here; some gratefulness, being grateful. And I think we are all, I know we are all really grateful to have the opportunity to do what we do for a living. I mean it’s a really dreamy job.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know? And we’ve been successful at it, and we’ve been rewarded along those lines, which has been terrific; but that – at the risk of sounding trite – that’s definitely not why we do it, because there are easier ways to make money.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: As they say. I think everyone here is really grateful, and so it’s… when you are yourself satisfied and content and grateful, and acknowledge the fact that you have a lot of stuff that you may not deserve, it makes it really easier… it makes it a lot easier to be happy for other people.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? Gratefulness is the exact opposite of resentfulness. Right?

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: And so what that leads to, is it leads to a culture of celebration, where you not only want to celebrate kind of your own successes, but you naturally just want to celebrate other people’s as well.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? I think it’s one of the reason why we’ve been such an active and prolific cheerleader of this community, is that we’re proud to have played some role in its ascension; but more than anything we’re just happy. We’re happy for the people who live here and work here, we’re happy for the people that have those successes. And you ask where it comes from and, you know, I think that in my case – it certainly doesn’t all come from me here – but in my case I was certainly raised in an environment where I was reminded to be grateful. Right? Where that was part of the culture of my family, to give thanks, and to give thanks religiously – if you’ll pardon the pun. And that spills over into every aspect of your life, right? It does not mean that I am never resentful, it doesn’t mean that I never look at somebody and go, ‘I sure would like a car like that someday.’ But I think it’s sincere, and I think interesting, it’s gratifying to hear you say that about Studio Science. I think that’s something that this team owns, and spends a lot of time trying to be really intentional about.

Matt: Mm hm. What – you know in terms of that being a core value for Studio Science – 1). Do you think that that needs to be a core value for all companies? And then the follow up question is, do all companies need to define what their core values are?

Kristian: I mean the second, the last question is simple. Yes. I mean at some point there needs to be some shared understanding about what’s important.

Matt: At what point is that important? Do you think that’s before you hit the road pitching?

Kristian: Yeah. I think in the beginning, right? I mean – and once again, you know, I’m certainly not saying we’ve always been good at that, and that’s always a process… I believe values can change by the way. Right? And most people would say, ‘No, you set those in stone and those become your guiding lights.’ No. I think things change, people change, and what may be important ten years ago, may not be as important to you. Maybe you achieved that, or maybe you thought that was important to you and you realized over time that it wasn’t; but no, I think you absolutely have to be really proactively engaged in evaluating what’s important.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Documenting that somehow. And this is the role of CEO. Right? Is to establish what is important for that business, and then relentlessly communicate that down to the organization until people are sick and tired of hearing it. In terms of should gratefulness be a core value for all businesses? I mean, I have no idea. Far be it for me to say what should be important to them. So no. It has been important for us; it has served us well. It’s been something that we can galvanize around and rally around, and it’s certainly paid dividends. It’s the kind of quintessential ‘what goes around comes around’ scenario.

Matt: That’s good. We talked a lot about what companies can do to communicate well, and to grow; specifically focusing on product and developing the right messaging around that, at the right times. What are the things that companies… what are those things that growing companies need to avoid? And you know, we obviously touched on some of that too; focusing all of your time and attention on doing the ‘look at me’ side of things. But what are some of the pitfalls you see, especially in fast-growing companies, which you work almost exclusively with fast growing companies?

Kristian: Yeah. I think the biggest thing – I think this is a pretty easy question actually… As we like to say, talent is the atomic unit of success. Right? So that’s kind of the irreducible complexity of success, is who are you working with? You know, you’ve got a crappy product? If you hire the best team they will fix your crappy product. Right? You’ve got bad customer service? You hire the right team; they will fix your bad customer service. Talent can fix anything.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Right? It can fix a bad product. Literally. Right? It can fix a broken sales model. Literally. And so getting the right people on board is so critical; and everyone pays lip service to that, right? Everyone, ‘talent’s our most valuable resource’, or whatever. The reality is that when you’re a hyper growth company, and you’re hiring 50 people a month, or 50 people a week…

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? It can be really difficult, almost impossible, to hire well across the board. Right? So when you’re the size of Studio Science, it’s not easy, but it’s manageable. Right? If we need to slow our role to make sure we’ve got the right folks on the team, we’ll just slow down. Right? If you’re a hyper growth venture backed company that, you know, the wolves are at the door and the competitors are circling and IBM decides to get into the business, you can’t take your foot off the accelerator. So hiring is so critical, and getting that right is so critical, and so difficult; and so knowing that at scale it’s going to be almost impossible to continue to hire A players, building the right type of culture with the right type of values, that are rigorously and religiously conveyed to those inside of the organization, can help smooth out a lot of those rough patches; because the second best thing you can do next to hiring the right person, is firing the wrong person quickly. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: And if you’ve got the right culture in place, and the right values in place, and the right people in place, the host organism will reject. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Folks that are not good fits, folks that are either toxic or not up to the task. It’s not always up to bad people, sometimes they just don’t have the horsepower. Right? And when you’re into the hyper growth curb, especially early on, a couple of bad apples can really muck up the works, you know? I mean this is – once again, this is kind of conventional wisdom – but the interesting thing about A players is A players will hire, and subsequently inspire other A players.

Matt: Right.

Kristian: The problem with letting just one B+ person in the door – and that’s tricky, because B+ people walk like A+ people, and they talk like A+ people; it can be very, very hard to understand the nuance. The minute one of those folks come in the door, the wheels gonna fall off the wagon; because B player hire and inspire C players, and C players hire and inspire D players, and it’s like a virus. Right? A players are so unique in that regard. And I’ll tell you, if you want to know the secret to divining the difference…

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: How do you know an A from a B in the interview process? It’s pretty simple, I think I’ve got it down.

Matt: Let’s hear it.

Kristian: When you ask them the kind of perfunctory question about, ‘Tell me about one of your greatest failures. Like when a project went wrong?’ You know, this is kind of standard interview 101. What you’ll find is that the A player and the B player will both tell you about the failure, and then you’ll say to the A person, ‘Why did that happen?’ Here’s what the A person will say: ‘I failed to do X and then recognize that until two weeks later, and by that point it was too late.’ Or, ‘My manager told me to do X, but I decided to do Y and it failed.’ Or, ‘I slept through my alarm.’ Or whatever the case may be. A B player – the cause will be external. Right? ’Well my boss insisted that we use an offshore development firm, and they didn’t really understand what we were trying to do, and they…’ Or, ‘We had this new sales guy came in, and he sold a bunch of vapor that doesn’t even exist in the product yet. There was no way for me to…’ Right? It’s always going to be some external event, or individual, or set of circumstances, that drove the failure. And I mean to me that has proven itself to be the clearest, cleanest, crispest way to distinguish two parties that on paper look almost identical. How do you know who’s really… who’s got the bandwidth and intellectual horsepower and humility, the leadership to move to the next level? That simple test usually will render that out.

Matt: Do you ask that question too, to entrepreneurs who pitch to you? Or do you have a similar kind of litmus test around character?

Kristian: You know, it’s interesting. The way we deal with someone who’s coming and asking for money, and the way we deal with somebody who is gracious enough to consider coming and joining us – we manage that a little differently. Right? So those are two different… It’s an interesting question, I’ve never thought of it that way; but those are two very different processes. There’s a different set of patterns that I personally am looking for in an entrepreneur. Right? And once again, a lot of this is kind of intuitive, or intuition driven. Some of it is a little more practical and linear. You can ask some questions. And the first thing is to be a great entrepreneur you have to be oriented toward entrepreneurship, right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: And one of the simplest ways to find out the answer to that question is to ask them about their entrepreneurial background. I mean it is shocking… I mean it is really, really shocking how similar the backgrounds of most successful entrepreneurs are. I mean there are a series of very similar… You know, I always ask, ‘Tell me about the first time you remember making money on your own.’ Right? And I mean like clockwork, it’s the same answer. I mean, contextualized a little differently, but they were selling cinnamon toothpicks on the playground, or they were having their mom drop them off at 7-11 and buying lemonheads, and then crossing the street to the elementary school and marking them up 50 percent, or they were selling T-shirts to the sorority girls when they were in college, or they were mowing lawns at the beginning of Summer and by the end of the Summer they were running a crew of five of their friends mowing lawns and they were just counting checks. I mean that cadence of being a starter; being able to execute, being able to build teams – whether it was in third grade selling cinnamon toothpicks, or you know, brokering T-shirt printing to college kids – it’s really, really similar, and as you… Just because you did that does not mean you will be successful. That’s not my point. But those who are successful, by and large, a disproportionate number of them have similar experiences. As a matter of fact, a disproportionate number of them never even had real jobs.

Matt: For those with real jobs, who haven’t already started an entrepreneurial venture; should they stay away from starting something?

Kristian: That’s a good question. So if you have not exhibited the gene historically; are you saying is that enough of a reason to not move into entrepreneurship? I don’t know. That’s a good question.

Matt: It probably doesn’t matter what you say, because the person that’s the right person would start no matter what you said.

Kristian: That is an excellent point. So yeah, for anyone who that would dissuade them – they’re ignoring what I’m saying anyway. So that’s good. And I think the answer is no, because I think that you can come to things late in life. And really that’s certainly… yeah, absolutely. And I also think that the – I’ve used this word several times today, it’s an important one – I think the context of entrepreneurship has changed dramatically, and will continue to change as well. Right? So as we largely continue to move into this kind of free agent nation idea…

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Right? The idea of, ‘Well, I’ve been at the same job for 28-years, I don’t know if I…’ We’re not going to have one of those conversations in the future. Right? So I think that one of the things that’s happening is everybody is having to become, at least at a micro level, entrepreneurial even in their day-to-day jobs. So I don’t know that the cinnamon toothpick test will be as meaningful five years from now as it was five years in the past.

Matt: That’s a good point. Well, Kristian I could probably ask you questions all afternoon if you’d let me.

Kristian: Yeah, we’ll save some.

Matt: But I know you’ve got a lot of stuff to do, and we’ve got another conversation coming up in a couple of days. So, anything else you want to touch on? Or something that you just really wanted to expand on but I cut you off?

Kristian: No. I got it all out of my system.

Matt: Awesome man. Thank you so much.

Kristian: Hey, thank you. A please.

Matt: Likewise.

3 Tips for Nailing Your Startup Pitch and Getting Funded

Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of startup pitches – the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are a million different ways to piece together an effective pitch, but the following are consistent feedback points that I always coach entrepreneurs on when helping prepare them for fundraising. Here are my top three tips for nailing your pitch every single time.

1.) Establish a target for your startup pitch.

Verge

Before you present your startup onstage, introduce yourself at a networking event, or arrive at your potential investor meeting, you need to do a little backward planning to ensure you make the most out of your pitch. Ask yourself – what is my number one desired outcome? What do I want to happen after I deliver my pitch? Regardless of where you’re pitching or who’s hearing your pitch, having the desired outcome – or a target – in mind will help you remember why you’re pitching and zero in on what you came to achieve.

As you’re thinking about your target, specificity is key. There’s a big difference between a target of meeting key contacts and a target of securing three meetings with three investors in the e-commerce industry within the next week. The latter is much more specific and thus, much more effective. To ensure your target is specific, you can use the SMART goals acronym.

S – Specific. Can you define your target using clear, precise language?

M – Measurable. Can you measure the impact of your target in quantifiable criteria?

A – Agreed Upon. Is the rest of your team on board with this target? Does it make sense based on your quarterly and yearly objectives?  

R – Realistic. Is your target reasonable, given your startup’s current traction?

T – Time-Bound. Have you set a time constraint to help hold yourself accountable?

Follow these guidelines and you’ll have a specific, clear target that will keep your pitch on the right path towards success.

2.) Hook your audience of venture capitalists or angel investors.

Verge

There’s a reason clickbait articles get so many clicks, and it’s not rocket science – it’s a hook. Whether you’re writing an article for Buzzfeed or you’re up on stage delivering your pitch, you have one chance and one chance only to grab your audience’s attention, and you do so with a catchy, juicy, irresistible hook.

How do you know if your audience will take the bait? Here are a few key elements of a good hook that you can incorporate into your own pitch.

Effective hooks are…

  • Genuine. Your hook should be catchy, but make sure it’s honest. If you don’t have the numbers you currently want or a highly-emotional story to open with, that’s alright. Find an angle that accurately reflects your startup and go from there. Authenticity is appealing, no matter how it’s delivered.
  • Emotional. Attention – please read the following disclaimer: not all hooks have to be emotional, however, some of the best ones often are. If your startup solves a problem that could be considered more personal for the consumer, rather than professional, consider using an emotionally-charged hook to capture your audience’s attention.
  • Direct. The opening lines of your pitch are not a good place to beat around the bush. Be direct. Don’t waste time introducing yourself and over-explaining your background (at least in the beginning), get started and hook your audience by jumping right into the action.
  • Creative. Some of the catchiest hooks use an out-of-the-box format to break the norm and jar their audience’s perspective. You can do this by asking your audience a question, telling a narrative, using a fun fact or statistic or using second person narration to put your audience (“you”) in your customer’s shoes.

The key to a successful hook is to break the norm. By interrupting your audience’s everyday thought patterns and challenging their assumptions of what a pitch might be, you’ll be able to not only hook their attention, but keep them hanging on your every last word.

3.) Don’t just talk about startup traction, show it.

Verge

Now that you’ve hooked your audience’s attention, your next job is to continue building excitement around your startup. It’s this stage in the pitch where a lot of startups fail, because they simply tell the audience who they are, what they do, and where they’re headed. The best entrepreneurs know, however, that in order to truly get investors on board, they must show how they’re changing the industry and making an impact.

So, how do you show traction in your pitch? There are a few different ways.

  • Social proof. Use testimonials or positive customer feedback to show how you’ve made an impact.
  • Authority. Demonstrate authority in your field by highlighting media attention, certifications, and/or other recognizable awards and achievements.
  • Numbers. Investors want to know every detail about every number in your records before they’ll invest. A few good numbers you might want to highlight in your pitch:
    • Market Size and Value
    • Revenue Projections
    • Profit Projections
    • Funding and Budget Allocations
    • Current Customer/User Base

You don’t have to incorporate all three of these elements—social proof, authority, and numbers — into your pitch in order to be effective. A solid approach is to pick your top three most impactful traction points to highlight in your pitch, and focus on those. A quality over quantity approach is always more memorable when it comes to demonstrating value.

Keep these tips in mind as you’re crafting and practicing delivering your pitch. Get clear on your target, craft a juicy hook, and demonstrate traction to set yourself apart from your competition and deliver a memorable, investment-worthy pitch.

You can apply this method to any field, including open source projects.

Check out one of my favorite pitches of all time on our startup pitch resources page. http://vergehq.com/pitch/

How to Create a Life of Greatness with Lewis Howes

I could barely contain my enthusiasm as I walked into the well-furnished penthouse overlooking the Hollywood hills. But my excitement was justifiable. I was about to have a one of the most real conversations of my life with an ex-pro athlete who turned his life around to become serial entrepreneur, speaker, and author.

Lewis Howes on GreatnessLewis Howes has the ability to connect with anybody. His hit podcast The School of Greatness gets a million downloads a month and is consistently ranked in the Top 100 on itunes overall, and even the Top 5 in the Health and Fitness category. As we took a seat in his home office, Lewis slid an advance copy of his new book across the table to me. I’ve since underlined his book, also named The School of Greatness, dozens of times over and dogeared it front to back —a sign of a book containing true greatness.

Maybe it’s because I’m a frequent listener to The School of Greatness podcast, or maybe it’s Howes’s sheer charisma and ability to connect, but our conversation that afternoon went deeper than I had anticipated. I sat there for nearly an hour, entranced in conversation and surrounded by hundreds of his personal collection of books. I recognize most of the authors—former guests of of his show—including billionaire business leaders, best-selling authors, and professional athletes. With only the room of best-selling paperback as our audience, we dove in…

lewis-howes-greatness

In this interview, Lewis and I talk about some interesting topics like growing profitable businesses online, writing best-selling books, and performance psychology. But my favorite part of this interview is when we get personal and real about some of the challenge of building a life of greatness while building a business.

You’re going to love this…

Listen to Lewis Howes on Greatness:

Selected Links from the Interview:

Show Notes:

  • On starting his first company while living on his sister’s couch [3:40]
  • How to take action and stay motivated [5:15]
  • What to do when you don’t see eye-to-eye with your business partner (and insight into selling your company) [8:05]
  • How to use Periscope to make money and grow your audience [9:00]
  • Creating a unique and differentiated podcast [11:32]
  • How to prepare for any big event with Lewis’s “grounding” technique [13:05]
  • Why you should have a business coach [15:03]
  • What qualities to look for in a good business coach [16:15]
  • The important role of emotions in business [18:10]
  • Dealing with breakups and other emotional trauma while growing your business [21:35]
  • How to feel deeply and remain open to the world [23:00]
  • The journey to writing a best-selling book [26:00]
  • Why it’s important to write a book [31:20]
  • Lewis Howes’s new book The School of Greatness (plus how to get your free copy) [33:00]
  • What does the Greatness mean, and how can we achieve it? [34:15]

More About Lewis Howes:

People Mentioned:

You may also like these interviews:

Did you like this podcast?

What is your motivating force? What’s your purpose and inspiration? Drop a comment below and let us know what you learned from the interview with Lewis Howes.

The first 10 comments will get a free copy of Lewis Howes’s new book, The School of Greatness. PLUS we’ll include you on a private Verge-only call with Lewis, so you can learn from from Lewis live and ask him YOUR questions about greatness.

And hey, I’m feeling generous. Even if you’re not one of the first 10 people to comment, but you still comment within the first week of this post, I’ll hook you up with access to the call if you go out and buy your own copy of the The School of Greatness (just email your receipt to matt [at] VergeHQ [dot] com) Yes, that’s my direct line.

While you’re at it, I would LOVE to know what you thought about this podcast-eque format. It’s something we’re playing with here at Verge and we have some pretty killer interviews lined up. But maybe you prefer a different format. Maybe you prefer a different type of guest. Let me know!

 

Why Startups Should Celebrate Big Wins: The Psychology of Celebration in Entrepreneurship

Frank Gruber bootstrapped Tech.co (formerly Tech Cocktail) to grow organically and profitably. Since raising $2.5 million from Tony Hsieh and moving headquarters to downtown Las Vegas, Tech.co has reached millions of people.

Gruber has interviewed some of the world’s most exceptional entrepreneurs, including Jason Fried of Basecamp, Uber’s Travis Kalanick, and Matt Mullenweg of WordPress. He’s even written a book (Startup Mixology) to capture the most powerful lessons learned along the way. But I recently had a chance to talk with Gruber to dive deep into a couple of counter-intuitive concepts for high-impact entrepreneurship.

Watch (or listen) to the full conversation with Tech.co CEO Frank Gruber below:

Here’s the full audio with Frank Gruber for on-the-go and audiophile Verge friends:

Watch or listen to the full interview to learn:

  • Why entrepreneurs need to celebrate their wins with their team (and families!)
  • Strategies for bootstrapping to a scalable business
  • Stories from the tenches from Tech.co startups around the world

frank gruber tech cocktailFrank Gruber and I also talk about Tech.co’s annual startup conference—Celebrate. I’ll be joining them this year to moderate a powerhouse panel of investors.

Want to join me?

Drop a comment below for a chance to get a FREE pass to Celebrate 2015. Let me know one thing you’ve accomplished in your startup over the past month. We’ll pick our favorite 3, and give an all-access pass to Celebrate 2015.

So… what should you and your startup team celebrate?

How to Find and Attend the Best Conferences to Grow Your Business

Ludovic Ulrich hails from France, but he’s spent more than a decade leading projects at Apple, Microsoft, Salesforce—the goliaths of Silicon Valley. Sure, these companies may dominate the digital world, but they all wield a powerful weapon in engaging their customers and partners. . .

how-to-attend-conferencesConferences.

Sometimes it’s their own user conferences like Dreamforce, and often its partner conferences where they speak, exhibit, or and attend. Through all of his travels and conferences, Ulrich has developed a superpower he’s learned to use to support startups and his own initiatives.

Beyond being the Director of Salesforce for Startups, Ludo is a is the sensei of startup and technology conferences, having spoken at, sponsored, and attended dozens (if not more). In this interview, Ulrich shares exactly how to find the best conferences and how to attend those conferences to yield insane results for your business and career. Watch it here:

Or listen to the audio on how to find and attend conferences here:

I’m going to dive right in. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room . . .

Are conferences a waste of time?  

events a waste of time

Well… Yes. 

The way that most people attend conferences, it’s a complete waste of time. But that’s not you. You’re in the 1% who wants to get the most out of your experiences. So, we’re going to show you have attending conferences can become the most valuable thing you do, mmkay?

“Do your homework,” Ulrich says. “Who are the sponsors? Who are the speakers?” If you’re not seriously curating your list of potential conferences, you’re missing the most important part of developing your event efficiency.

Find the conferences where you know—or are very familiar with—at least one of the speakers, sponsors, or organizers. These people can be your seminar sherpas, blazing the trail for your at conference breakout sessions or on the tradeshow floor. Lean on these people to get to the good stuff, especially if they’ve attended the conference before:

Which after parties are the best for your industry?

Which sessions are the most productive?

Use social media at events to follow the connections and chatter in your industry. Leverage connections with large brands to gain access to the best parts of conferences and learn how to make the most of your visit. Then, go to work on your plan of attack. . .

How do you stand out at conferences?

This ain’t no junior high school dance. So why do so many people play conferences as a lone wolf or around the periphery?

how to attend events

If you’re going to spend the money, and more importantly take the time, to attend an industry conference, you must jump in there and make the most of every minute. You want to be yourself, but you really want to be the best version of yourself. 

Don’t mingle for the sake of mingling. Have 1-3 specific asks in mind before you even go to the conference (for investors, it’s __________ …. for developers, it’s __________ … for the media and bloggers, it’s __________).

Don’t actually take breaks during the break. That’s for suckers or people who drink too much Mountain Dew 🙂 …. But seriously, find the people who you really want to connect with (you probably created this list while doing your pre-conference research).

Don’t be a clingy conference goer. Make your connection, find an opportunity to reconnect later, then move on. No one wants to be latched to someone at the hip for an entire conference. This will inhibit your ability to move around, meet new people, and find new opportunities. So get your ninja uniform on and be the event assassin that I know you are. And yes, I mean that as a metaphor.

You were probably wondering, and the answer is yes, you can go too far. . .

WARNING: Don’t Be This Person at a Conference

Keep an eye out for any behaviors that might group you into one of these conference attendee categories:

  • The eye darter: These are the people who are never fully present in anything. They have so much FOMO (fear of missing out) that they’re constantly looking around for the next best thing—even if they’re already in a conversation.
  • The card pusher: “Here’s my card!” We all know this person. They push their cards on anyone and everyone even if there’s no logical reason to exchange contact info. As a general rule: don’t give out your card unless someone asks you for it.
  • The frat boy/girl: You can always find this person within proximity of the bar. “Open bar, dude!” is the warcry of the conference frat boy or girl. But a conference isn’t a frat party. So just know your limits, and you’ll avoid being grouped into this category.

How do you approach someone at a conference?

Ahhh, now you’re asking the right questions young padawan. This is the most important skill in for a productive conference attendee and there are a couple of important principles to keep in mind.

make friends at conferences

 

First and foremost, be respectful of people’s time. Everyone has ponied up their time and money (or their employer’s money) to be at the conference or tradeshow and there’s a finite amount of time to take it all in. So you need to always be thinking about answering one question:

How can you make it worth someone’s time to talk to you?

There are a couple of strategies here. It’s important to be interesting, so even if you can’t do something to directly help someone or their business, you at least have an engaging exchange and that person remembers (at least in general) what you’re all about. That means you should have a couple of canned anecdotes that bring you and your business to life!

be interesting at eventsAsk your marketing director (or a friend who is a good story teller) how to talk about what you do in a way that makes it interesting. You can find a few ideas here.

And I already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. . . Have a clear ask. Preferably this person will have mentioned something that makes you think they can help, but even if the opportunity doesn’t present itself, you can always go with something along the lines of “You know, I’m working on this facebook ad campaign and it’s really challenging because it’s my first time doing an ad buy… You wouldn’t happen to know anyone with experience with that, would you?”

Not the most tailored approach, but still much much better than “So I heard the Foo Fighters are playing later. That’s pretty cool.”

When in doubt, show that you’ve done your homework. If you don’t know anything about your new conferencemate’s company or industry, you can always create some value by sharing something interesting you learned about the conference during your pre-conference research. Maybe it’s an uber-secret after party, or maybe it’s just a hidden gem of a coffee shop that has great wi-fi and lattes . . . but if you’re generous to conference goers, the conference will be generous right back to you.

Don’t forget to follow up with connections made at conferences (you can do this more easily if you track your conversations along the way) and take notes for next year.

Where can I do more research on conferences and industry events?

Startup SummitI’ll be putting these strategies the Salesforce Startup Summit, a conference produced by Ulrich and his team within the larger Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. If you want to join me, just drop a comment below and I’ll send you a code to get 50% off your Startup Summit registration. Or check out other great conferences in your industry.

I like using Lanyrd when researching and searching for events, but you can also find great stuff on Techmeme and similar information hubs. As you attend more conferences, you may even learn some techniques for getting into events for free. Now, you’ll be the pro. 

What conferences have you attended? What are the most productive parts of events for you?

 

How a Winning Psychology Fueled a $20-million Profitable Tech Company

John Qualls grew up on the West side of Indianapolis—on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak.

“I felt like I was in this situation and I needed to find a way out,” John recalls. “I was a straight-F student in high school and around 15 or 16, I realized I was going absolutely nowhere.”

john-qualls-eleven-fiftyBut in the following years, John would prove to himself that he isn’t the kind of guy who sits around waiting for something to happen. He has a winning psychology. John’s quest has taken him literally around the world and led to him starting a technology company that would end up reaching profitability and $20 million in revenue within its first three years.

In this candid interview with John Qualls, you’ll learn:

  • how he made a million dollars in sales selling out of a bookstore,
  • how John started one of the first cloud hosting companies (BlueLock), and
  • why he’s now leading the charge in software development education at Eleven Fifty
  • …and more!

I was lucky enough to work closely with Qualls at his first startup and can tell you that there’s more substance and life experience in John’s pinky finger than there is in the average startup founder. I’m confident you’ll learn something by watching the full interview here:

On the go? Listen to the whole Winning Psychology Interview Here:

Why a Winning Psychology Drives Success in Startups

I rode shotgun with John Qualls in the early days of BlueLock as we scaled annual revenues north of the million-dollar mark. It was there, riding between sales calls, that I was able to witness first-hand John’s remarkable psychology.

I credit his consecutive successes to three core traits, which you can see from watching our conversation:

Winning Psychology Trait #1: Let Gratitude Give Life to Your Dreams

Winning Psychology

John’s childhood on the West side of Indianapolis didn’t give him a clear path for growth. But despite his limiting circumstances, something told him that there was something more out there, beyond his immediate reality.

This belief in abundance led Qualls to join the Marine Corps, which would establish a strong foundation of skills and habits while exposing him to other areas of the world.

“Living in Japan, I had this tremendous appreciation for what we had in the United States,” John says. As I’ve worked with John through the past five years, it’s become clear to me that his attitude of gratitude has fueled a powerful abundance mentality. These qualities have become John’s startup superpowers to weather the storm of entrepreneurship while allowing him to see opportunity where others do not.

Winning Psychology Trait #2: Let Go of Excuses

“I’ve seen it kill so many companies and so many people’s career,” says Qualls. The cancer that has killed so many ambitious dreams is something that John calls the “Can’t, sir.”

As in, “I’m sorry, I can’t, sir.

John Qualls - Winning PsychologyAnd John doesn’t let any such language infect his mind. That’s because this kind of self talk limits creativity, ambition and ultimately, potential.

“Why can’t you do that?” was John’s attitude while making moves in his first professional role after returning to the United States. And while John humbly credits his success to naivete, it’s clear that it’s the lack of perceived limits that allowed John to think big—and swing big.

By letting go of excuses, John found early success in sales, selling more than a million dollars in contracts out of a bookstore by simply approaching people who picked up books from the “computers and programming” section of the shelves. That same lack of limits gave John the ambition to pursue an RFP in the early days of BlueLock, which would turn out to be a pivotal multi-million-dollar contract with Lehman Brothers.

Winning Psychology Trait #3: Stop Playing to Not Lose. Play to Win!

“It literally about killed me. I was sleeping 8 hours total each week for about 8 months straight,” John recalls of the days following the signing of the Lehman Brothers contract at BlueLock.

And John credits his success to this focus on moving towards a goal, as opposed to focusing on avoiding negative results. He calls this paradigm shift playing not to lose vs. playing to win.

This relentless pursuit of positive goals has empowered Qualls to make difficult decisions, like replacing himself as CEO of his own company after three years of consistent growth. But it continues to drive his efforts today, as John continues to elevate the level of talent in his home state of Indiana.

“It’s about finding your passions and getting involved with people,” John says. As the President of Eleven Fifty Coding Academy, Qualls is working to help people learn to code. He’s attracting and training the best people and companies to grow their tech businesses in Indiana—something he refers to as “brain gain.”

(Tweet this story, or your own growth story with the hashtag #BrainGainIN)

How can you invest in these three psychological traits for yourself? We all have these qualities within ourselves. The question is…

Will you continue to invest in them? Will you continue to invest in you?

 

How Monthly Investor Updates Scored $10 Million in Funding for WedPics

Before Justin Miller’s mobile company had 2.5+ million users, he was working out of a basement, searching for an industry where his tech company could thrive.

Miller has since been kicked out of that basement office, threatened by large-scale companies, and faced several funding crunches. But Miller’s startup, WedPics now powers personalized photo-sharing for 10,000 weddings per weekend, with monthly uploads in the millions. Watch Justin Miller’s candid interview from Verge North Carolina and learn the real story behind how he grew WedPics (and exactly WHY monthly investor updates are so important):

WedPics CEO and Co-founder Justin Miller didn’t have prior expertise or experience in launching or growing a tech startup. But the team’s resourcefulness made creative use of the resources available in the growing tech hub of the Triangle area of North Carolina (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel-Hill).

justin-miller-monthly-investor-updates“This was everybody’s first startup,” says Miller. “But we were just driven and had the determination to figure out how to make things happen.”

Miller believes in his team and the startup community in North Carolina. He is a graduate of North Carolina State (NC State) University and veteran of IBM, where he spent 7 years honing his skills before launching WedPics (then named deja mi, inc) in 2011.

WedPics has $9.9 million in 5 rounds of funding, according to CrunchBase. Investors include the likes of well-known thought leader and investor Brad Feld and “Shark Tank” star Barbara Corcoran.

“None of us knew anything about the wedding space,” said Miller. But the team has prevailed through effective user acquisition, tech development, and communication. The co-founder attributes the WedPics investment success to one key CEO habit:

Write Monthly Investor Updates

“I needed to figure out a way to stay at the top of everybody’s radar,” said Miller. “[Doing monthly investor updates] is one of the best things I’ve ever done.” Here’s what Miller did with his WedPics investor and partner updates:

  • Send at the beginning of every month
  • Give overview of how we did the previous month
  • Provide cumulative overview of how we’ve been performing to date

“That is one of the best things we’ve ever done,” says Miller. Several investors and investor groups have explained why monthly investor reports are important and have even provided investor update templates for founders to use. But Miller shares which qualities made the WedPics updates so valuable:

5 Keys to Effective Investor Updates

  1. WedPics-investor-updateStay relevant (share only the information relevant to company’s current direction).
  2. Show traction.
  3. Make it a quick read (Pro Tip: use charts where it’s helpful).
  4. Be transparent.
  5. Don’t expect responses (people are busy, so be consistent even if updates don’t immediately spark a dialogue).

Even if your tech company doesn’t have investors, you can use monthly investor updates to form and direct your thinking, keep your team on the same page, and facilitate partner opportunities. WedPics not only shared with investors and potential investors, but used the monthly investors reports to keep potential partners, acquirers, and acquisition targets updated on their team’s progress.

Side note: social sharing app Buffer does a great job of sharing their monthly investor updates. Read through their past updates here. I also really like the notes on investor updates from Groove CEO Alex Turnbull: read his advice here.

Watch the Full WedPics Interview to Learn More About Investor Updates AND:

  • WedPics User Growth Strategy
  • Why Sharing Personally is Important for Founders
  • Why WedPics is Still Taking Risks
  • How North Carolina is Supporting Startup Growth

Watch the WedPics interview …or…. leave a comment below! Are you currently sending regular investor updates? What benefits (or even negative side effects) have you experienced as a result?

From Broke to Breakthrough: Peter Voogd and 6 Months to 6 Figures

I recently listened to the audiobook of 6 Months to 6 Figures by Peter Voogd, and his perspective really resonated with me. And not just because we have a shared past of door-to-door sales (I sold vacuum cleaners, he sold Cutco knives). Voogd went from broke to a game changer who practically defines the word “hustle.” In his book, and in this interview, he shares keys to success for fellow entrepreneurs.

“You only know how strong you really are until being strong is the only option you have. ”

-Peter Voogd, Author of the Best Seller 6 Months to 6 Figure

Watch the full interview with Peter Voogd:

On the go? Listen to the whole interview here:

Inspiration vs. Habits.

A lot of us entrepreneurs are inspired, which helps us drive action, but Voogd emphasized the importance of productive habits: “Inspiration is short-term and feels good in the moment, but it’s hard to sustain because you don’t have the habits.” One recipe for success he described was the habit of asking himself “What did I do well? What can I do better?” after every single meeting or presentation.

Circle of Influence.

Voogd further explained how taking it upon yourself to figure out these effective habits is unnecessary: “It takes people so much longer to get to an end result than they would’ve got if they actually reached out to people that are already playing the game at a higher level. They will tell you what the best habits are.” Identify the top five people in your industry and reach out to them. Stop making excuses and, as Nike advises, just do it. You’ll probably be surprised by how easy it is to get a hold of even famous people, who can then help you drastically shorten your learning curve. Watch Voogd explain his circle of influence epiphany →

“You have to realize that everyone who has a network now once didn’t. The first step is increasing your level of certainty that you can connect with people like that, whether you have anything to offer or not.”

-Peter Voogd, Author of the Best Seller 6 Months to 6 Figures

“The Unrequired Things.”

6monthsto6figuresAlong with establishing effective habits, Voogd spoke about how going above and beyond is the key. One way to go the extra mile is having utter confidence in selling yourself: “You have to believe wholeheartedly that the product is better for [your customer], and they are better off having it than if they don’t.”

The second unrequired thing is writing down the internal reasons that drive you to do what you do. You might come up with 20 to 30 reasons, then boil them down to four or five core ones. Voogd underscored that reasons come first, results come second: “Too many people just go after results, without having strong enough reasons, and if they go through challenges, they don’t have any reasons to pull them through the challenge.”

The Million Dollar Question.

A great story Voogd shared was from when he was a sales manager in his early 20s, striving to hit a $1 million sales goal that was thought to be unattainable. You can probably guess the outcome, but don’t miss how he did it →

“Anything is possible to those who value their goals, their dreams, and their visions over their current excuses or reality.”

-Peter Voogd, Author of the Best Seller 6 Months to 6 Figure

The One-Page Productivity Planner

Voogd shared the details of his one-page productivity planner. The exercise here is to simplify and focus on what really matters. Get the gist below, download his template here, or watch him explain it 

  1. Brief vision-statement. What’s your ideal outcome in six months?
  2. Your BIG 5 Goals for the next 12 months.
  3. Your Top Five Reasons, the most powerful ones that drive you the most.
  4. Your Key Values, to connect to what’s most important to you. For example, a few of Voogd’s are are flexibility, autonomy, and impact.

Download the 1-Page Productivity Sheet >>

Talk about impact! The Game Changers Academy Voogd founded has trained and inspired over 4,500 entrepreneurs, and his podcasts, videos, websites and social media reach over 200,000 people monthly.

Want to learn even more from outstanding young entrepreneurs?

On July 30th, I’ll take the stage with Santiago Jaramillo, one of Inc Magazine’s “30 Under 30” for a special launch event in the brand new offices of his growing mobile tech company, Bluebridge. Get your tickets now!

Peter Voogd Interview Transcript show

Midwest Vs. Silicon Valley: Tech Talent and Lifestyle

“We’ve got great talent,” says voicemail inventor Scott Jones. “We just need more of it. And frankly,” Scott continued, “I think many would say the same in Silicon Valley.”

Watch the interview here:


“I hear a lot of complaints from people on the coasts,” Jones laments. The cost of living and other inconveniences of cities like San Francisco have left many yearning for more. This makes areas like the Midwest not only more attractive to employees, but to business owners as well.

Scott Jones on Silicon Valley“Once you find people, they stay put longer here,” Jones says. And with growing entrepreneurial ecosystems outside of Silicon Valley, there are more and more resources to grow a tech startups beyond San Francisco.

“They can never find enough of the great talent,” says Jones. “And that’s what we want to create here at Eleven Fifty.

Scott Jones is the co-founder of Eleven Fifty coding academy based in Indianapolis, Indiana. We’re excited to announce that Eleven Fifty is now an official sponsor of Verge HQ in Indiana, offering exclusive access and unique opportunities to its members. Use code “VERGEhigh5 at registration to save on your next coding course.

Cost of living San Francisco

Why Learn Coding? w/ Scott Voicemail Inventor Scott Jones [VIDEO]

I sat down into the red velvet seats of one of the greatest home theaters in the world. But I wasn’t in New York or Los Angeles.

Voicemail inventor Scott Jones recently made his home (read: mansion) into one of the most ambitious undertakings in the field of education. With the unveiling of Eleven Fifty coding academy, Jones launched a new approach to learning to code software. Full disclosure: Eleven Fifty is a sponsor of Verge. And there are very good reasons why we decided to partner up…

Watch the video below to see Scott’s answer to the question “Why learn coding?” and maybe even more intriguingly… Why Indiana?

So, why learn coding?

C’mon! Are you living under a rock?

I know I’m not the only one getting hit up dozens of times a week asking if I know anyone who “knows how to build iPhone apps” or someone in search of a “technical co-founder.” Coding skills are in high demand.

It doesn’t matter if you know the latest language or not, it’s the underlying principles and thinking strategies of software development that lay the foundation to build great software–whether you want to build the next enterprisey software death star… or just annoy your friends with a new app that will be hotter than Flappy Bird.

Why learn coding in Indiana?

scott-jonesWell, besides the fact that the Indiana startup community’s got it going on, there’s one critical aspect that sets Indiana apart. . .

Immersion.

By hosting their intensive coding courses in the home of voicemail inventor Scott Jones, Eleven Fifty has crafted an immersive approach to learning to code. Walking through the halls (and the sick home theater, and indoor basketball court, and commercial kitchen…), you can feel the knowledge being pumped into the brains of students as they develop real-life apps with hands-on guidance from some of the most talented trainers in software.

There are also several great developer communities and new organizations that are working relentlessly to help more people become more technically proficient.

Why learn coding now?

It seriously has never been easier. If you want to learn to code but haven’t written your first line yet, it’s just because you’re lazy.

Hey, I won’t hold it against you. Just get started. Like… now.

If you want to get a taste of this immersive approach to learning to code, we’ve got something special for you. . .

Use the discount code below for 40% off the Security course

May 28th and 29th. Get the deets and get registered for the course here:

https://elevenfifty.com/course/security/

Code: verge@efa
The code can be entered at the checkout! So… check. it. out. (sorry, I had to)

If you’re within driving distance of the academy, I hope you’ll join us for our May 28th Evolution of Code event at Eleven Fifty. You can register here (while tickets are still available):

evolution-of-code.eventbrite.com

So, let me know where you’re at. . . Are you learning some coding basics? Or wanting to take your technical game to the next level? Let me know in the comments below or shoot me a tweet!