3 Lessons Your Startup Can Learn From John Green

Last week, Verge community members gathered at the Indianapolis Convention Center to see New York Times Best Selling Author, John Green, present at the 2014 Connections Conference. As the nation’s premiere conference for digital marketers, Connections played host to some of the best and brightest minds in the nation, but none resonated with the crowd quite like John Green. His Keynote, much like his TEDx talk below, featured a delightful mix of humor and geekiness, but that pales in comparison to his biggest strength… Communication skills.

What struck me about his keynote is that, despite claiming he doesn’t get marketing, John Green has marketed himself more effectively than 90% of the marketers in the room last week. John understands content creation at a level I can only dream of, and this is evident in everything he does. It doesn’t matter if it’s a crash course on YouTube that gets over a million hits or a novel that sells over a million copies, John Green’s stuff sells.

If your startup could sell half as well as John Green’s content, you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Instead, you’d be jet-setting to the Caymans and asking your assistant to summarize it for you.

[Side note - Is it conceited of me to think that if you were a billionaire, you would still want to know what I have to say, but you'd make your executive assistant read it for you? Yes? Okay, good to know.]

So what can your startup be working on to learn to market yourself like John? Here are three lessons I learned that can be applied to your startup.

1. Understand Yourself

John talked about how, growing up, people told him to “be himself,” and that always seemed like a peculiar request. “Am I not being myself right now?” he would ask. It wasn’t until much later that he got his arms around what they meant. He started to understand that this ever-changing and ever-evolving person is him, no version less authentic than the last. He dropped this nugget of wisdom, which was extremely applicable to the entrepreneurs in the house.

“As you learn, grow, and change, ask yourself what your new self looks like. Become yourself over and over. ”

I don’t care if you’re starting a software company or a soft serve company, you’re probably going to pivot at one point or another. Don’t be afraid of that, lean into it. Continue to “become yourself” at every turn. Many entrepreneurs embrace that from a practical perspective – “Okay, let’s do this because we can make more money” – but few embrace the messaging behind it – “This is who we are now.” Only by knowing and understanding yourself can you truly know and understand how to communicate your message effectively.

2. Understand Your Target Market

“We have to understand others complexly. We can’t view people as merely 18-34 year old  males with  a choice to make when buying deodorant”

This gem was aimed at marketers, but it’s equally true for entrepreneurs. You need to understand your target market at a deep level. If you’re working on building effective marketing for your startup, it’s not enough to know your customer’s pain points… you need to know them, inside and out. You need to know what media they consume, what their worldview is, and where they

John’s example of this is his online video presence. He manages multiple YouTube channels, all of which are designed to be educational. Awhile back, he made a video on giraffe sex that saw twice the traffic of his other videos. Following the data, you would think he would make more videos about giraffe sex. Clearly, that’s what his target demographic wants!

He went the other route. He knew that his audience loved his educational material, so he continued making videos like this:

Today, his online presence continues to grow rapidly, and only a small minority of that audience is giraffe-ophiles

3. Understand Your Community

As someone who is heavily invested in this startup community, this hit close to home.

“What’s good for your community is always good for your business and what’s bad for your community is always bad for your business.”

I think we can all attest to the fact that giving back to our community is one of the most valuable thing your business can do. Time and time again, entrepreneurs have spoken on the Verge stage about the benefit they see from giving back to their community, but I want to hear from you.

Drop a comment and tell me about a time when giving to your community helped your business.

Don’t forget to read more about Connections 2014 here!

3 Reasons to Get Stoked on #CNX14 Morning

Photo Credit: @Scott_Thomas_ET

Photo Credit: @Scott_Thomas_ET

Ring the bell, Indy! It’s finally here. At long last, ExactTarget’s Connections Week is upon us. This week, the best and brightest in the marketing tech industry are going to converge on the Circle City  to put their moxy and know-how on center stage.

This event gets better every year and as the city turns orange, we’ll all be turning to the Convention Center for lessons learned.

“But Tim! I’m a startup! I don’t have the time or money to go to Connections!”

Good observation, rhetorical device! I totally get that. That’s why I’ve decided to give you a quick preview of what you can expect this year, plus a super cool offer that can help you grow your business without leaving your couch.

Here are the three reasons I’m so stoked today:

Mindy Kaling, Comedy Icon

As some of you may know, I have a comedy background and I think this can be overlooked in a marketing setting. That’s why it’s so encouraging to me to see a comedy icon giving the closing keynote at this year’s event.

You may know Mindy from her performances on The Office or The Mindy Project, but if you’re in the content marketing world, you should know her for her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? It’s no secret that Mindy is a hilarious actress and comedian, but her skill as a writer trumps even her funniest moments. Mindy’s ability to combine humor with thoughtful opinion, all wrapped under the sassy bow that is her own personal voice, is an inspiration to me as a content producer.

This interview on her struggles in Hollywood is a great illustration of her wit.

If you take yourself seriously as a content writer, I’d encourage you to study the voice behind Mindy’s writing. Don’t forget, a ticket to this week’s Verge event also buys your way into Connections to see Mindy! Get yours before they run out!

Let’s Workshop That

Conferences are all about self-improvement. Say hello to my theme song this week:

This year’s workshop lineup is great as always and I’m luck enough to have a full pass to this year’s conference. That’s why I’m thrilled to offer a great deal to anyone who’s interested.

If you can’t make the workshops or keynotes, I’m going to take some SUPER GOOD notes and send them out to anyone who’s interested! If you want my personal notes from this year’s workshops, or you just want to be my friend, let me know here!

Will.I.Am (L-L-Let the Beat Rock)

Hi, my name is Tim and I’m an early-2000′s junkie. I still remember bumping some Black Eyed Peas, driving to good ol’ Roncalli High School here in Indianapolis (I know, I know… I’m young.)

Anyway, as great as Will.I.Am is as an entertainer, you don’t get to where he is in life without some business savvy. I’m excited to hear the lessons that he learned from the music business that can be applied not just to marketing, but to the startup community as a whole.

Also, I’m so 3008, you’re so 2000 and late.

This year’s Connections conference is going to be bumping, and I hope to see you there! If you’re going, let me know! If not, drop a comment and let me know what workshop notes you’d like to see!

I’m stoked for this year’s Connections conference, and I hope you are, too. If you want to bum some notes off me, let me know here or follow me on Twitter and I’ll see you at this week’s event!

 

Using Data to Change an Industry: The felix + iris Story

felix-and-irisWe live in an era where “big data” is more of a buzzword than a business tool, especially for a small or medium-sized team. Solving problems with data is a noble, if cumbersome, task and many teams just aren’t up for it.

The team at One Click Ventures, however, isn’t built like most teams.

As the founders of the online retailer, Randy and Angie Stocklin saw a problem. They were providing world-class eye wear to their customers, but their customers weren’t nearly as satisfied as Randy and Angie wanted. It was extremely difficult to ensure that customers were getting the exact right fit. They were providing a world-class product, but they weren’t providing a world-class experience.

Data to the rescue.

Introducing The felix + iris Brand

The problem that Randy and Angie were really observing is a lack of specificity. If I, a 20-something kid with great vision and impeccable sense of style, went to their product page, I’d see the exact same results that my sister, aunt, or mom would see. Sure, you can have customers self-select their product page based on a number of criteria, including gender and product type, but how can you get them to self-select their product page based on face shape or lifestyle?

felix + iris was introduced to solve this problem.

Their team built an online “Fit Profile.” This short quiz uses customer-specific data to create a customized online store for each individual user. So when I go to shop at felix + iris, I’d see a product page filled with glasses like this:

eyeglasses

If Hunckler went to shop at felix + iris, however, he’d probably see a product page filled with glasses like this:

dorky-eyeglasses

This is the future of E-Commerce. A lot of E-Commerce sites already use browsing, search, or social data to market, but few are customizing the entire customer view. This is a solution.

Using Data to Solve Customer Problems

This really fits under a general theme. How do you use data to solve customer problems? What can your startup learn from felix + iris? Here are a few tips on how any business can replicate this approach:

Collect a Lot of Data

You can’t know solve problems with data unless you’re willing to collect it first. Whether it’s a survey, buying patterns, website flow, or demographic data, make sure you’re collecting as much data as you can get your hands on. The more systematic the approach is, the better.

Take an Objective Look at Your Customer’s Process

Randy and Angie had a world-class product. A bad ownership team would stop there. Randy and Angie didn’t settle for this, however. For them, they wanted a world-class buying experience, and that can be much more difficult to achieve. Don’t get blinded by your own biases. Make sure you understand the weaknesses in your offerings inside and out.

Start Small if Necessary

Not everyone needs a customized web store for each individual customers. Don’t think that you need to build something great and extravagant on day one. Use the lean startup approach and build something with what you have, even if it isn’t Earth shattering.

This Sounds Interesting, I Want To Learn More!

What a coincidence, you’re in luck!

We’ve already announced our big September event with Connections. What we haven’t announced is our big October event and what makes it so special.

As a premier brand for fashion eye wear, felix + iris is going to be launching in New York City for Fashion Week, but after talking to Randy and Angie, they want to take that magic and bring it back home to Indy. This October, One Click Ventures is going to be rolling out felix + iris on the Verge stage and teaching the community about solving consumer problems with data.  Between all the data nerds, fashionistas, and the awesome, secret downtown location this party is going to be bumping and you won’t want to miss it!

Mark your calendars for Wednesday, October 29th. More info to come.

In the meantime, tickets are going live for our September event this week! Keep an eye on your inbox. You won’t want to miss your Verge Connections Experience!

Save the Date: Verge Wants You to Get Connected

Connections13It feels like every month, there’s another big acquisition in the Indianapolis tech community. Hell, most times it’s a member of the Verge community getting acquired. As a tech entrepreneur, you can’t help but think about what that negotiation looks like. Personally, I do mock buy-out talks every morning in the shower.

I think if you look at the numbers, you’ll see that conditioner’s ability to restore hair and add volume could really help shampoo engage with new markets.

That’s why I’m so excited for this month’s event.

This month, we get the opportunity to learn first-hand lessons from a company that has been on both sides of the negotiation table. As a staple in the Indianapolis tech community, this company acquired Pardot, an Atlanta-based marketing automation company for over $95M and an Indy-based company (and former Verge pitch), iGoDigital for $21M. They also were acquired by Salesforce for $2.5 Billion.

You know who I’m talking about, right? If not, take a look downtown. They’re painting the whole place orange.

Every year, ExactTarget throws the world’s largest interactive marketing conference right here in Indianapolis. Connections is attended by the best and brightest in both marketing and technology from all around the world, and we get to host it in our back yard. This year, they’ve brought in a great lineup that is determined to educate, inform, and entertain the nearly sold out conference. This year’s event includes keynotes from:

  • Mark Benioff, Salesforce CEO
  • Scott McCorkle, ExactTarget CEO
  • Gabriel Stricker, Twitter CMO
  • Will.I.Am, Musician and Entrepreneur
  • John Green, Best Selling Author
  • Mindy Kaling, Actress, Comedian, and Tim Hickle’s celebrity crush
  • and MANY more!

“Right, but aren’t tickets to that thing like a bajillion dollars?”

No, rhetorical device, they’re not. In fact, we’re giving all Verge members a chance to attend the last day of the conference for free!

Save the Date: Thursday, September 25th

Verge is teaming up with Connections to bring you a Verge event unlike any you’ve seen before. We’ll start our day at Connections to catch two incredible keynotes. We’ll then be heading to an awesome location that’s been known to host bad ass Verge events in the past. Here we’ll be doing Verge over lunch, featuring a couple of awesome pitches that you’ll hear a lot more about next week and a fireside that will be the perfect capstone to our Connections experience.

Our last event sold out in less than a week, and these tickets are set to move a lot faster. Between free access to Connections and a Verge lunch, this is going to be an all-morning, hard-hitting event that no one in the tech space is going to want to miss.

Keep an eye on your inbox next week!

Tickets will be going live and we have a very fixed capacity. Occasionally we’re able to open up events to sell more tickets, but this is not one of those times, so it’s extra important that you get your tickets EARLY! 

I’ll also be sharing more about our pitches and fireside chat on the blog, and you won’t want to miss that. Can’t wait to see you all downtown!

connections_2013_stage3

If you want to learn more about pitching without sounding sales-y, check out this awesome blog by Hunckler!

Three Essential Items Every Startup Needs to Value

chris palmer discusses startup values at Verge West LafayetteIf you’re in the loop with the Verge Startup family, you’ve probably gotten to know our buddy, Chris Palmer, pretty well. In addition to pitching on the Verge Indy stage and his presence at the Innovation Showcase, Chris won the Startup Chile pitch competition and was just named Techpoint’s “2014 Rising Star.”

Between Foxio and BoxFox, Chris has become a grizzly startup veteran, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots. Chris recently visited Verge West Lafayette to impart some wisdom to the young entrepreneurs in the crowd. After witnessing three student pitches, Chris delivered a  fireside chat that  nailed a few things that every entrepreneur should be focusing on when trying to build a company that will last. Here are three things that every startup needs to learn how to truly value, whether they’re in their initial stages or their IPO.

Valuing True Mentors

It’s easy to get caught up in the myth that young entrepreneurs can do it alone. Many young founders make the mistake of believing that, because they’re more well-versed in today’s technology than the next guy, they’re destined to succeed. This is patently false. Today’s technology will come and go, the underlying principles behind the technology – and more importantly, the business – will live forever. These are things that can only be learned through true mentorship from those who have been through the obstacle course of entrepreneurship before.

“The best mentorship is not an official relationship, it’s a more casual curiosity about what older generations have done before you.”

- Chris Palmer

By recognizing and embracing the value of true mentorship, you’re granting yourself access to a time machine. This is the only way that you can have access to advice from entrepreneurs just like you 5, 10, or 15 years in the future. This can help you mitigate risk and navigate the minefield that is entrepreneurship.

Chris’ Quick Tips For Finding Awesome Mentors

  • Meet a lot of people: Like Chris said above, the best mentors don’t come in the form of formal mentorship setups. They often more closely resemble friends than colleagues. When looking for mentors, you’re really just looking for friends who are immensely smarter than you. Approach meeting mentors the same way you’d approach meeting new friends.
  • Don’t come on too strong: Once again, this relationship doesn’t need to be official. Unless you really hit it off, it’s highly unlikely that the founder you met for the first time at the last Verge event is going to be stoked about you asking “Will you mentor me???” Take it slow. Treat it like a date. It’s easier to ask someone out to a networking event or for beer than it is to ask for some long-term commitment.

Valuing Collaboration

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. While some solo-preneurs have been successful, in Chris’ experience, they’re the minority. It’s far more common to see partnerships or teams of founders succeed. The reason behind this is simple, collaboration only makes you better. Differing and dissenting perspectives are essential in building a product that people will actually care about.

This isn’t limited to your founding team, though. When trying to get out there and find help, be it in the form of investment or talent, it’s essential that you don’t hide your idea under a bushel basket.

“Being vocal about your ideas really helps. The more you tell that story, the more your idea will spread.”

- Chris Palmer

At the end of the day, no one at a networking event is going to steal your idea. Even if they did, ideas are worth nothing. Ideas aren’t special, execution is. Collaboration and open discussion about your ideas can help vet the good ones so you know where you should be focusing your attention, allowing you to execute more effectively.

student entrepreneurs at the matchbox learn about core values for their startup

Valuing a Dollar

I don’t care whether you raised a $50M seed round or are bootstrapping, money is important. If your revenue model isn’t solid or your valuation is a house of cards, you should be concerned. At the end of the day, you’re building a business and a business’ only job is to make money. What most tech entrepreneurs overlook, however, is that the traditional approach of “I’ll build an audience and eventually, someone will pay me for access to it in the form of advertising!” is unlikely at best and misguided at worst. With many startups, the challenge is how can you generate revenue today – even if it won’t pay the bills – as a proof of concept?

“The biggest factor in our success has been flipping the traditional model of startup success on its head. I used to think that I’d just sit there and a big money idea would come to me and that would be it. What I’ve found is that the best way to go about entrepreneurship is to find ways to make small amounts of money. Eventually, you’ll learn how to take that and turn it into larger amounts of money.”

- Chris Palmer

That’s one thing that I personally have found to be remarkable about Indianapolis startups in general. The reason so many investors are hot on Indy right now is because of the massive movement in the midwest to build revenue-centric, no nonsense businesses as opposed to trying to chase short-term technology trends.

To learn more about other awesome Verge community members doing awesome things, make sure to check out this piece on how the community is focusing on reinvesting in Midwest startups.

WATCH: Verge Organizer Jordan Updike Discusses Indiana’s Growth on IIB

jordan

Last week, Verge organizer and all around stud Jordan Updike made a visit to Inside Indiana Business to chat with Gerry Dick and Ike Willett about the growth of Indiana’s tech sector and the new capital the Circle City is seeing because of it.

“The beautiful thing is we’re starting to get a reputation as an area that’s putting out quality companies and quality work.”

- Jordan Updike

Perhaps the greatest evidence of this comes from the Innovation Showcase. In the past six years, this event has grown from a small, niche event to a startup spectacle that attracts tech companies from across the country. This year, we had a record number of exhibitor applications, a record number of sponsors, and tomorrow we will be awarding a record number of cash and prizes to our winners.

This year’s event is one you definitely won’t want to miss. This year, we’ll be hearing 60 second pitches from over 80 companies, all of whom are vying for north of $120k in prizes and funding. The showcase is tomorrow at the Dallara IndyCar Factory, and space is going to be limited so get your tickets now!

BREAKING: Verge Tickets Go Live – “Perfecting Your Pitch”

DeveloperTown-Arial

Tickets are officially live for June’s Verge event and we’re extremely excited for you to see what we have in store.

With the Innovation Showcase less than a month away, it’s time for over 80 entrepreneurs to hone their pitching skills. That’s why the Verge team is putting together an event that’s designed to help every entrepreneur perfect their pitch.

We’ve covered many investor tips in the past on how to craft a killer pitch, but we haven’t talked much about how to craft the story of your company and articulate it in a way that can sell. That’s why we’re so excited for our…

Fireside Chat with Public Speaker Extrodionaire, Thaddeus Rex

Thaddeus Rex is an extremely well respected public speaker and consultant. Today he works with marketers and salespeople across the country on building and leveraging world-class brands.

This month, he’s hanging out with the Verge crew to teach you how to appeal to dual audiences when you pitch so you can sell like a rockstar. We sat down with him recently and were blown away with his knowledge on crafting winning messages for your brand. You won’t want to miss him!

Also: Awesome Pitches from Book-A-Coach and Arke Apps

If you’re familiar with the Speakeasy, you probably have heard of Book-A-Coach. They are currently operating out of the Speakeasy and killing it. They’ve been featured in Mashable, USA Today, and the Washington Post, and now they’re taking to the Verge stage to share the latest developments in their awesome platform.

We also have a newcomer to the startup tech community. Arke Apps is an app development company specializing in creating custom apps for celebrities and influencers. They may only a few months old, but they have already signed deals with some major names and been in talks with many more. Everyone from pop stars to influencers in the sports world have sought out this development team, and we’re excited to hear about their progress!

Plus: 

• Your Chance to See 80+ Innovation Showcase Founders Before They Pitch!

• An introduction to Indy’s newest rockstars, the Indy Xterns

• Beer from our friends at Upland and pizza from Marcos!

Get Your Tickets Now

We’ve heard a lot of interest in this event from entrepreneurs and investors alike, so if you’re looking to improve your pitching skills, get your tickets while you still can We can’t wait to see you there!

Grown Up Lessons For Your Startup’s Next Pitch

startup pitching lessons from thaddeus rexAs they gear up for this year’s Innovation Showcase, over 80 founders from across the nation are honing their investment pitches. They have read every book, every blog, and consulted a half dozen mentors, but this month, Verge is bringing in an incredible resource for honing your pitching skills who has a surprising background.

Thaddeus Rex is an extremely well respected public speaker and consultant. Today he works with marketers and salespeople across the country on building and leveraging world-class brands. Sounds cool, right? He must have spent his youth hopping from Madison Avenue Ad Agency to Madison Avenue Ad Agency, learning the biz better than anyone in the world.

Not quite.

Thaddeus didn’t start off as an advertiser or a sales guru. In fact, he got his start as a children’s singer. Thaddeus began his career as a musician on PBS followed by a decade’s worth of touring performing for schools and family groups.

So what could this possibly have to do with crafting an investment pitch? Thaddeus sat down with the Verge crew for a Google Hangout to chat more about the lessons he’s learned about crafting brilliant presentations and building winning brands.

The Magic to a Perfect Pitch? Appealing to Dual Audiences

It’s extremely easy to get caught up in the minutiae of a pitch deck. To Thaddeus, it’s all about understanding who your audience is (and why only thinking about one audience is never enough.)

“If you’re writing songs for kids, you’re really writing songs for parents. It’s about appealing to two audiences.”

So how do you apply that to a startup pitch? When you’re pitching to an end user, it can be extremely easy to forget about the business and focus on the features and benefits. When you’re pitching to an investor, discussions of market cap and revenue streams may clutter what the product actually does. To hone your pitch, you need to choose a defined target audience and put investors in those shoes. Make sure that your investors can see the end user experience while still appealing to their pocketbook.

If you’re pitching in the Innovation Showcase, you may be wondering “How do I fit all this in 60 seconds?!” Thaddeus has a quick three-step solution to taking this solution and fitting it in a tight time frame.

1. Develop intrigue and connection and immediately by highlighting an issue and making them feel a part of that problem.

2. Help them imagine the solution to that problem.

3. Surprise them! You have the solution.

Want Your Brand to Tell a Better Story? Give It Vocal Lessons

The biggest challenge brands face can be trying to take a product that no one really cares about and giving it value. Because of this, many marketers go on and on about brands telling a story.

“A story is important, but a song is linear, a song has a theme.”

Thaddeus Rex – Your Brand is Like a Song (a Rainmakers’ “Sparks Talk” event) from Thaddeus Rex on Vimeo.

It’s Time To Sharpen Your Ax

We’ve all heard the Lincoln-ism “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.” Well if you’re going to be looking for funding any time soon, this month’s Verge event is your time to sharpen your ax. With all of the investor insights we’ve given you in the past, Verge has never provided such a great resource in the art of public speaking and honing your message.

On top of that, we’ve got two killer pitches, one from a well-known neighbor to many of our friends at the Speakeasy and another from a newcomer to the Indy startup scene who is already working with some SERIOUSLY big name clients! You also have the opportunity to meet the Hoosiers vying for over $100k in funding at this year’s Innovation Showcase and meet Indianapolis’ newest superstars, the Indy Xterns. 

KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR INBOX. Tickets are going live tomorrow AM (Wednesday, June 18th) and with the interest we’ve seen from founders and investors alike, they won’t be open for long. In the mean time, beware! Dinosaurs are everywhere!

thaddeus-rex

What’s the Verge Community Up To?

With so many awesome people involved with so many awesome projects, it can be hard to keep track of what everyone in the Verge community is up to. That’s why we want to make an effort every weekend to provide updates from the Verge community. If you want to share an update with the Verge community about what you’re working on, just fill out this form!

rich

Rich Cunningham

Reward Dragon is refer-a-friend software for local businesses (and part of this year’s Innovation Showcase). We are looking for a few more Founding Members to get early feedback. Ideal members are businesses that cater to consumers, e.g. veterinary and pet grooming, boutiques, interior design, craft breweries, etc.

brianBrian Schuster

I’m looking for an opportunity to work with a company in Natural Language Processing or Machine Learning. I have found one organization that works in NLP (http://www.wordsentry.com/) out of Indy, but I’d like to make more connections with people in this field.

jaysonJayson Manship

inSourceCode has officially launched the Fight For Small Kickstarter to validate our idea of building a community that connects local businesses with consumers.

We want to leverage our WordPress skills to build an online conversation platform. This website will empower users to blog about whatever their hearts desire and will offer never-before-seen exposure to local businesses. We believe that helping small businesses understand the importance of the Internet starts with showing them how online conversations can help them. So, step one is to create a place for that conversation. To build an online community for our community.

digitaDigitalRelevance

Indianapolis-based Digital Relevance just launched their new online publication about content promotion, Relevance.com. The new Relevance.com has brought together the sharpest minds in marketing to share the latest content promotion news and insights. It’s the first publication solely dedicated to helping marketing and communications executives solve their online content visibility challenges. Check it out here.

 

What have you been up to? Drop a comment to let us know what you’re working on and what we can do to help!

Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone For Completely Comfortable Idiots

how to get out of your comfort zone as an entrepreneurIt was a cold mid-January night my Junior year at Indiana. I was sitting on my back porch with my best friend and roommate, Hank. I had spent the past year of my life trying to get one of the governing student bodies at IU to sponsor my passion project, the IU Campus Comedy Festival, to no avail. I knew if we could get funding, we could build an incredible festival with the potential to run for years, but finding someone in power that shared my vision proved difficult.

“Just do it, Timmy. You don’t need funding.”

“…But Hank…” I insisted.

“Can you do this or not?”

“Yes, but it would be better with…”

“I don’t care,” he interrupted, “just do it and they’ll come.”

Hank was forcibly evicting me from my comfort zone and I was terrified. He was shutting down the safe road and detouring me through the unknown. I didn’t know it then, but one thing I’ve learned since is that…

Your Comfort Zone is Your Idea Graveyard

Most interesting things in life happen just on the other side of your comfort zone.

- Michael Hyatt

Plain and simple, your comfort zone is where good ideas go to die. In this zone, the creative gives way to the status quo. If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re comfortable, it’s likely that you’re not pushing yourself or your business fast enough.

Outside of our comfort zone is where we start to find magic. As the saying goes, “If you want to keep getting what you’re getting, keep doing what you’re doing.” Once we break out of the comfortable, we find that rarefied air where great things can happen. One step outside of our comfort zone is were ideas have sex and we find success.

The Problem: None of This is New Information

If this is the first you’re hearing about the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone, you’ve been under a rock. This is the topic of far too many books, speeches, blog posts. I’m pretty sure that, every Spring, hundreds of commencement speakers fill out a Mad Libs about this exact topic so that a group of hungover college grads can ignore them and Snapchat their friends stupid selfies.

The real question is what are we doing about it? For most of us, we respond by retreating right back to a place of comfort, but if you know me at all, you know that I live in a place of discomfort. So if you’re looking to break out of your comfort zone, I have found the recipe that is guaranteed to do it for you.

How To Break Out of Your Comfort Zone in Three Weeks

Comedians tend to find a comfort zone and stay there and do lamer versions of themselves for the rest of their career.

- Chris Rock

Week 1 – Start Small

In my years of wavering in and out of my comfort zone, I’ve found that half the battle is breaking the monotony. In week one, we start small. For seven days, I want you to take a different route every time you get in your car. Going to work? Take a new route every day. Need to pick up milk? Pick a new store. Going to get the kids from soccer practice? Take someone else’s kids.  Edit – I’ve been informed by our lawyers that this is a felony. Please do not take anyone else’s children. Although prison would also be an interesting venture outside of your comfort zone.

The whole point of this week is to prove that you don’t have to do the same things over and over again. You can always choose to do something new. You’re training your brain to seek novelty rather than comfort, which takes us into my favorite part of the process:

Week 2 – Embrace Failure

how to break out of your comfort zone - accept yourself

Even Super Heroes need to air their dirty laundry.

We all fail daily. This week, embrace that. Don’t hide, don’t make any excuses. Think about your faults and repeat after me.

I love myself and accept myself fully.

Now insert a fault you have and repeat again.

I struggle to communicate effectively with members of my team, but I still love myself and accept myself fully.

Rinse and repeat. Do this every day in the mirror. Repeat each phrase three times. It sounds hokey and new agey, but it works. Most importantly, it leads into my favorite week…

Week 3 – Make a Complete Ass of Yourself

You know that saying “There’s nowhere to go but up from here?” We really embrace that this week. I’ve done this exercise with dozens of public speakers, comedians, and actors looking to get comfortable in their own skin and I’ve seen it work at a perfect clip, but it requires a big dose of humility.

Can you put your ego aside long enough to completely embarrass yourself?

If the answer is no, then thanks for playing, but you’re never going to truly make it out of your comfort zone. You need to lean into that discomfort if you want to succeed. One of my favorite examples of this principle in motion:

7 Guaranteed Ways to Get You Out of Your Comfort Zone For Good 

  1. Learn all the words to a shitty 90′s song. Serenade your friends.
  2. Buy 10 sweatbands. Wear them all to the gym. Grunt loudly while you curl 5 pound dumbbells.
  3. Go to a bowling alley alone. Tell the attendant you need to get a lane on the end for some privacy because you’re a semi-professional bowler who needs to get some practice in before the PBA Tournament coming up in Cleveland. Bowl a 45.
  4. Dance naked in the mirror for 15 minutes. No more, no less. Nothing you do for the rest of the day will embarrass you.
  5. Flirt with old women. I’m talking like… 80 years old… If you don’t have any old women in your life, go to MCL Cafeteria. An old woman will be provided for you.
  6. Go to a popular area for joggers and high five passer-bys. Run after people who don’t high five you back.
  7. Attempt to spend an entire day communicating exclusively with song lyrics. See how far you can get. For an added degree of difficulty, narrow it down to a genre or artist.

All of Life’s Best Opportunities Start From a Place of Sheer Terror

Everything I’m truly proud of in this life has been a terrifying prospect to me.

-Charlie Day

Remember my friend Hank who told me to forget about getting funding and just make things happen?

He was right.

After I built the comedy festival myself, funding options started coming at me from all angles. We were able to bring in the world famous Upright Citizen’s Brigade from New York and I was proud to return to Bloomington this past April for the 3rd Annual IU Campus Comedy Festival.

That’s my proudest moment. I witnessed a community come together and continue a tradition that would never have started if it wasn’t for my best friend getting fed up and forcing me out of my comfort zone.

Now I want to hear your stories. Hunckler is traveling the world to get out of his comfort zone, what are you doing right now that’s outside of your comfort zone? What do you wish you could do that’s currently outside of your comfort zone?

Drop a comment or shoot me an email to share your stories!