Entrepreneurs Answer: What’s the Best Startup Lesson You Learned?

What did I learn from that?

This question is a powerful follow-up to every major action you take building a new product or business. But it’s not often that we slow down enough to ask this of ourselves.

We recently asked a handful of entrepreneurs in the Verge community what was the most important lesson they learned in the last year. Luckily, they were able to slow their roll enough to share some thoughtful responses:

It’s a tough question to answer because it often requires humbling introspection. It means giving ourselves a good hard look in the mirror and taking ownership of where we are with our business. And we may not always like what we see.

The lessons are there, but they’re often shrouded by emotion and ego. So, here’s strategy for cutting through the head trash and getting to the good stuff:

1.) List your wins.

What did your business do that you are really proud of? It’s OK to brag here. This exercise is just for you. Make a list. (pro tip: caffeine, moderate alcohol, or even physical activity can be a productive catalyst here).

2.) List what’s wounded.

What did your business do that you are ashamed of or embarrassed by? Oh, c’mon… humble yourself here. You know your business screwed some things up this past year. Find your battle scars and business wounds, and make a nice long list. (pro tip: if you are prone to depression, maybe don’t drink alcohol while you do this). Get through it, and then move on to the next step . . .

Why Start a Business

3.) Ask yourself a simple question.

What was the main decision that led to this outcome? This question works for both wounds and wins. What you’re searching for here is the immediate action that led to the wound or win outcome.

Depending on how large your business is, this may not have been your direct action. Trace it back to the exact who and what of the action that produced your specific outcome.

4.) Keep asking that question.

Now that you’ve identified the direct action that produced your outcome, trace that momentum back a step further. What action or thought process was made by your business that produced your final outcome-producing action? When you find the answer, ask the question again:

What was the main decision that led to this outcome? Boil it down until you trace your steps back to your original entrepreneurial decision.

5.) Write down your answers.

You can map this thought process in a mind map. Or you can write it down as a short story, narrative, or whatever really brings this to life for you. But write the full sequence or strategy down for each big outcome. This ensures that you soak up and synthesize the knowledge that’s been lurking beneath the hustle and bustle of running your business.

When you get all of this out of your head and onto paper, it’s easier to remove the ego and emotion from your business wins and wounds. That’s an important step because emotion and ego have a tendency to distort your perception and prevent you from understanding the larger forces at play.

Once you have your winning strategies and wounding sequences identified, you can take action on your new insight. Develop new habits and business systems that based on these strategies and sequences. Like the entrepreneurs who shared their big wins and wounds from the past year, you can leverage your experiences to build a stronger business.

Make this next year the best one yet!

Entrepreneurs Answer: What’s the Best Startup Lesson You Learned?

What did I learn from that?

This question is a powerful follow-up to every major action you take building a new product or business. But it’s not often that we slow down enough to ask this of ourselves.

We recently asked a handful of entrepreneurs in the Verge community what was the most important lesson they learned in the last year. Luckily, they were able to slow their roll enough to share some thoughtful responses:

It’s a tough question to answer because it often requires humbling introspection. It means giving ourselves a good hard look in the mirror and taking ownership of where we are with our business. And we may not always like what we see.

The lessons are there, but they’re often shrouded by emotion and ego. So, here’s strategy for cutting through the head trash and getting to the good stuff:

1.) List your wins.

What did your business do that you are really proud of? It’s OK to brag here. This exercise is just for you. Make a list. (pro tip: caffeine, moderate alcohol, or even physical activity can be a productive catalyst here).

2.) List what’s wounded.

What did your business do that you are ashamed of or embarrassed by? Oh, c’mon… humble yourself here. You know your business screwed some things up this past year. Find your battle scars and business wounds, and make a nice long list. (pro tip: if you are prone to depression, maybe don’t drink alcohol while you do this). Get through it, and then move on to the next step . . .

Why Start a Business

3.) Ask yourself a simple question.

What was the main decision that led to this outcome? This question works for both wounds and wins. What you’re searching for here is the immediate action that led to the wound or win outcome.

Depending on how large your business is, this may not have been your direct action. Trace it back to the exact who and what of the action that produced your specific outcome.

4.) Keep asking that question.

Now that you’ve identified the direct action that produced your outcome, trace that momentum back a step further. What action or thought process was made by your business that produced your final outcome-producing action? When you find the answer, ask the question again:

What was the main decision that led to this outcome? Boil it down until you trace your steps back to your original entrepreneurial decision.

5.) Write down your answers.

You can map this thought process in a mind map. Or you can write it down as a short story, narrative, or whatever really brings this to life for you. But write the full sequence or strategy down for each big outcome. This ensures that you soak up and synthesize the knowledge that’s been lurking beneath the hustle and bustle of running your business.

When you get all of this out of your head and onto paper, it’s easier to remove the ego and emotion from your business wins and wounds. That’s an important step because emotion and ego have a tendency to distort your perception and prevent you from understanding the larger forces at play.

Once you have your winning strategies and wounding sequences identified, you can take action on your new insight. Develop new habits and business systems that based on these strategies and sequences. Like the entrepreneurs who shared their big wins and wounds from the past year, you can leverage your experiences to build a stronger business.

Make this next year the best one yet!

Before You Start, Ask Yourself….

work hardHow bad do you want it?

Whether you’re building a business, writing software, or writing a book—you have no idea what your limits are until you push them. You only know how badly you want it until you look back and see.

You’re consistent.

You keep building the thing that only you can see on the horizon. It’s that image on the back of the napkin that keeps you going. It’s the release of a deep breath you’ll feel when you finally solve the problem, create the value, build the thing.

You know you can see the future, so you keep chipping away at it.

But inevitably, things don’t take shape in the way you anticipate. There’s an obstacle that jolts you as it hits your body, interrupts your groove, and challenges your vision.

Doubt creeps in.

But you’re consistent.

doubt-creeps-in

You go back to what you know. You remember why you started. You find the energy to continue your groove or tweak your approach.

It feels right to have your tools in your hands. And so you keep chipping away at it. Every day. Building.

If you pick up your head and see how far you have to go, it can paralyze you. So instead, you look at how far you’ve come—today, this week, this year.

The fear is always there. So you starve it of oxygen.

With a vision as big as yours, there will be times when you feel like you’re going to crack. There are more splinters out there waiting to snag you.

So, how bad do you want it? Badly enough to be consistent?

Learn this Sales Secret from the Philippines to Earn More (and be happier!)

Philippines street vendor sales

Me haggling for my first taste of balut (don’t google that if you have a weak stomach)

“Salamat, po!”

That’s what the street vendors say here in the Philippines after they close a sale. I’m in heaven over here in Manila, where I get to practice my negotiating skills. Something fresh stimulates my brain each time I buy something in this haggling environment.

Whether you sell services, software or other products in your business, there’s in a hidden secret in Filipino culture.

You see, “Salamat” means “thank you.” But more importantly, “po” is a term of respect that does something interesting to the sales process.

It’s like saying “sir” or “ma’am” back in The States. Now, obviously that would feel kind of weird to go around to business meetings back home saying “Yes, sir” and “Hello, ma’am” (annoying and disingenuous). But, honestly…

There’s power in politeness.

Here in the Philippines, I’ve found myself smiling more. Sure, I’m flat-out happy to be here in the tropics. But, I’m confident that a lot of my smiles are reciprocating the happy Filipino faces who smile at me—in the market, on the street, in the elevator—everywhere.

What I was doing was involuntary.

It’s called mirroring and it’s works like magic (when used appropriately).

filipino smile

Smile first.

Mirroring isn’t just reflecting the physical mannerisms of the person with whom you’re communicating. It’s matching people’s phrases and inflections, their tempo, and tone.

Usually when entrepreneurs and sales leaders discuss the phenomena of mirroring, they focus on how to become the mirror. But, I’m telling you…

Sometimes it’s best to set the tone.

When people smile at you, what do you do?

Nine times out of ten you smile back, right? Well, it’s the same thing with your tone and respect. It can be the key to a new relationship or opportunity.

You can build mutual respect by being the first to show respect. You can build trust by showing you trust the other person. Be bold by bringing enthusiastic respect into your business.

But you won’t unlock any benefit if you don’t make it a priority.

So, see if you can try it out today.

Just try it with a close friend or colleague. Be the first to smile. Be extra respectful, energetic, or optimistic. It’s based on the same principles we discussed in “How to Get Seed Funding.”

If you get called out on it—good. Just tell the other person you’re trying something new that you hope will help you build deeper relationships (business and personal).

Register for Verge at DeveloperTown

Register now for Verge at DeveloperTown >>

Then, up the experience level and dive in. These tests will only do good things for you and your business.

More than 50 people registered yesterday for next Thursday’s Verge event. So, today there will still be space for you to RSVP and test your tone-setting and mirroring skills in the deep end.

Unfortunately, I won’t make it back for the festivities. But you’d better bet I’ll be watching the livestream of 2 excellent startup pitches and a fireside chat with Thaddeus Rex, who will show you another dimension of sales.

Register HERE if you can be in Indy next Thursday. Or stay tuned to the livestream and conversation at #VergeHQ on twitter.

So, where else could you try out setting the tone this week? Let me know what you’re thinking down in the comments…

Salamat, po!

 

How to Get Seed Funding: Do This First

relationship-2Want to get seed funding for your startup? You won’t get very far if you spend all of your time developing your pitch.

“Too many founders put all of the focus on pitching their project and not on building a relationship,” says Gerry Hays, co-founder and managing partner of Slane Capital. And I hate to say it, but I was one of those people.

Most investors don’t have time for your un-calibrated seed funding pitch.

When I first met Gerry, I wasn’t seeking seed funding. I was a senior at Indiana University (IU) in his non-traditional venture capital class who frequently abused his office hours to gain insight for my own business.

I was working on building my outsourcing and web development business. And Gerry was nice enough to help me find my way through a slow build (and eventual sale) of my business.

But Gerry isn’t your average seed investor. As an associate professor at IU, Gerry has a sense of moral obligation to help first-time student founders. Well, that and he’s just a genuine guy who wants to help. The harsh reality for entrepreneurs is that your pitch likely won’t find the patient ears of a Gerry Hays.

Most seed investors won’t give a damn.

And they shouldn’t. Since starting Verge nearly five years ago, I’ve heard literally thousands of pitches to active investors. Most founders forget the most important thing.

A pitch is a conversation.

If your pitch is script or a static series of slides, you’re doing it wrong. Even if the format of your pitch opportunity doesn’t allow for open dialogue, there’s a conversation going on between the ears of your listeners. And that conversation is built on the foundation of your relationship with that audience.

get-seed-fundingSo if you want that conversation to come to life, give it some oxygen.

You won’t accomplish this by suffocating your audience with stats, features, and projected financials.

Find out what gets your prospective investor excited. I’m sure you’ve already done your homework on what kinds of deals your prospect invests in (right?). And you’ve probably already tailored your presentation to appeal to the goals of their seed fund or angel goals.

But who is Johnny Angel when he’s not coaching entrepreneurs or writing checks?

If I hadn’t eventually gotten to know Gerry Hays outside the classroom, I don’t know if I would have ever sold that business. And Gerry has helped me in more ways than as a mentor.

A good seed-funding conversation doesn’t have an end.

How can you help your potential seed investor?

seed-investor-relationshipPeople will always have problems that keep them up at night. Yes, even investors. So as an entrepreneur, it’s your job to care enough to help them sleep a little easier.

Good seed-stage investors also give seed funding to founders they want to genuinely want to help. And if you’re going to bring on active investors, you’d better be a good mentee.

Ask for help and follow up with frequent updates. Make your investor a part of your story and your relationship will grow along with your business.

Gerry and I are still friends. We’ve collaborated on a few projects and have grown the Verge community together over the years. But it’s the relationship that is the most valuable piece of our history (and it was essential for any business to take place).

So, next time you reach into your pocket for the the clicker to start advancing your pitch deck, ask yourself:

How can I build a relationship?

 

Why Your Business will Insanely Benefit from Entrepreneurial Travel

I hit publish on this post from Terminal A in the Indianapolis International Airport. My sleepless night filled my suitcase and prepped my place for sublet (thanks, Airbnb).

PhilippinesNow that the journey has officially begun, let me tell you how I came to be venturing off to the tropics for two months.

“I’m thinking about spending my 25th birthday in the Philippines. Want to come?”

Nadalie’s big brown eyes flattened out as a grin to swept across her face. The silent close. My girlfriend used the silent close on me!

And it worked.

That’s how it all started earlier this year. As spontaneous as it sounds, this Southeast Asian adventure is more than a half-decade overdue.

Reward work ethic

“Once I get to the end of this product launch,” we tell ourselves, “then I’ll give myself a break.”

Hi, I’m Matt Hunckler. And I’m a chronic goal setter.

Goal setting has become a powerful part of my daily, weekly, and quarterly routines. It’s kind of disgusting, really.

Over the decade or so of my professional career, I’ve gotten better about setting realistic targets and consistently hit them. But like many people who love the things they’re building with their businesses, I’m just plain bad at following through on the rewards I promise myself for when I hit those goals.

So, what happens to us? Why don’t we have our cake?

As we cross that finish line, our brains give us a hit of dopamine and that gets us excited. Excited enough that we start thinking about where we can get our next fix. So, we dangle the carrot out a little further.

Nadalie helped me cut the thread. And this voyage is an unrealized carrot for a number of my big goals over the past 5 years: selling my first company, complete my full entrepreneurial fellowship, stick it out through two turbulent startups (1 success, 1 failure), launch a new multi-day conference… you get the picture.

I finally found the right way—and more importantly, made the time—to celebrate these milestones.

Anchor a shared experience

Life is about creating shared experiences with people we care about. At least, that’s my take on things.

That’s why building a business can be so meaningful. And despite what our history of time allocation might tell you, life is about more than business.

ManilaSo, I’m creating some new shared experiences in the Philippines for the next two months. Tomorrow night, Nadalie and I will land in Manila, a fast-paced business region of about 12 million people.

Whoa, hold on!

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. But I’ll be immersing myself in a new culture with my girlfriend, who was born less than 17 kilometers from what we’ll be calling home base for the next sixty days.

While I’ll still be checking in with the team, this is an experiment in turning off the screens. We do have a handful of meetings set up with some great entrepreneurs who have build successful tech companies in the Philippines. But we’ll also be exploring many of the 7,000+ islands in that small area of the Pacific.

I’m not sharing this to brag. But rather in hopes that it might inspire a reader or two to put down the work-ohol for a minute and consider the benefits.

Shift perspectives

Last night, eighteen of our core entrepreneurial community filled the front yard of Verge HQ inside DeveloperTown. The table talk got me excited about the opportunity ahead of me.

Verge Team Dinner

Travel gives you space—especially non-business travel. And space gives you a chance to really breathe.

Distance from the daily grind gives you perspective to bring back to your team, your projects, and your community. And while I will do some remote working, I think the real value I’ll bring back to my businesses will be the ability to shift perspectives.

Does this sound crazy to you? If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?

 

When to Quit: Why It’s Good to Live Life Like a Lean Startup

Six months ago, I quietly left my role leading product and marketing at a startup.

Social Reactor received most of my energy, focus, and time in 2013. And it’s taken the past half of a year to find the perspective on what made it an exceptional learning experience and why parting ways was the right decision. high-school-bball

Back in high school, my basketball coach used to shout like a maniac during the end of the fourth quarter, “Leave it all on the floor!”

It’s easy to find the energy right after tip-off, but when do you dig deep and give it everything you’ve got? The isolation of entrepreneurship, late nights, and ramen meals can leave us feeling empty if there isn’t a big “win” at the end of the game.

Despite building some beta software with the team and building strong partnerships with incredible clients, I wasn’t able to get Social Reactor to where I wanted to see the business by the fourth quarter. But I never questioned myself: “Did I leave it all on the floor?”

There’s only one way I’ve found to be that confident in a decision. And in some ways, it’s like living your life like a Lean Startup.

Build, measure, learn.

That simple phrase has evolved from my startup mantra to my life mantra.

Define your hypothesis and why you think taking a specific action will ultimately help you reach your life goals. You should know why you’re doing it and how you’re keeping score.

If you’re not checking in regularly with yourself, you’re missing the measurement part. So, define check-in points. I like to do this quarterly because it gives me the freedom to keep my eye on the ball during sprints. But it also ensures that I’m always learning and getting better.

Pivot (when necessary).

When I laced up and got into my last game, I knew what it would take to win. I also knew that, as with any business, there was no guarantee of victory.

But, I defined the rules by which I’d play and what I would do if initial assumptions weren’t validated. During my time with Social Reactor, we had a lot of variables to manage. But we still found ways to work together to run our tests by eliminating uncertainty. We tried new plays and reviewed game tape frequently.

But ultimately, pivoting is about overcoming obstacles, getting around the defender, and finding a lane to the hoop. It takes a whole team and an entire playbook to consistently put points on the board.

Fail faster.

You shouldn’t always wait until the end of a quarter to changeup your strategy. There are a lot of reasons you might need to call a timeout, for instance when you start seeing most or all of these happen:

  • when you don’t feel confident enough to recruit the best people and partners you’ve worked with
  • when you’re wasting time fighting the wrong wars internally
  • when the team is no longer behind the vision and you don’t have the energy to get people running in the same direction again
  • when you start spending time worrying about investors losing their money or your team wasting their time
  • when it feels hard all the time

That last one is important because it should feel easy when you’re winning. If you never feel like you’re winning, you’re probably doing something wrong. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to continue down a lane. So, call a time out when you need it. Photo Credit: Indianapolis Monthly

Silicon Valley glorifies failure. But I assure you, it is not glamorous.

When the buzzer went off for me, I was burnt out.

I was lucky to have the chance to learn directly from the inventor of voicemail and play the game of business with an all-star team. I’m so lucky that my friends, family, and business relationships supported my leap back into the venture-backed business arena. Because it really takes a whole program (fans and all) to win championships.

Last year, I left it all on the floor, giving my all for a startup that I believed in. Not only did I learn a ton about social media and content, but I got valuable perspective in product leadership and building a business with a vision.

I stayed under the radar to give myself time to reflect and to define the next game I want to play. I’m excited about the momentum we’re building with Verge and the successes we’ve already seen this year in our community.

And for tomorrow’s post, I’ll share with you what game we’re winning and why it’s taking me half way around the world.

How Do You Balance the “Infinite Task” of Entrepreneurship?

“It’s an infinite task,” Miles said.

I reflected on my own work experience as I sat across from Mark Miles, CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. And I could relate.

There’s no “going home at the end of the day,” for most entrepreneurs. Our brain never fully shuts off and lets us rest.

But rest is so important to the productivity (and growth) of a business. While checking our email and working on “vacations” make us feel important, it can be a dangerous addiction.

Entrepreneurial EnergyStudies show that the more we relax, the more productive we’ll be. So, how do you find freedom from our business when we need it?

Mark Miles found ways to bring his family with him during his travels around the world. He also got comfortable with delegating more and more of his tasks as he built his team.

These were only a few of the strategies Miles used to maintain his energy and build momentum in his organizations. And many of us still battle with shutting down at the end of the day.

How do you manage your energy when entrepreneurship is an infinite task? How do you unplug?

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!

What Can We Learn from 500 Leaders and Their Four Days in Downtown Las Vegas?

Last week I let all of my calls go to voicemail and checked my inbox at a record-low once per day.

That’s how I got myself free to have a series of freak experiences at the largest gathering of startup community leaders on the planet—the UP Summit, presented by UP Global. With more than 500 leaders from 75 countries around the world, I would have been paralyzed by the magnitude if I hadn’t found a 1-2 combo that unlocked the event’s full potential.

1. Go Up

google-at-up-summit

I woke up each day and promptly punched my inner wuss in the face. Rolling out of bed in Vegas is hard enough on it’s own, but when you put yourself out there to learn something or meet someone new, your first instinct is to flinch.

It’s totally rational. As founders and instigators, we’re probably already balancing more projects than is healthy for a human being. The prospect of adding more action items and followups to the ever-growing to-do lists doesn’t get most entrepreneurs giddy. And breaking ground on a conversation with someone new can be a little scary.

Luckily, the UP Summit organizers facilitated in a few of the conference tracks that helped give some conversations a push. And Downtown Las Vegas delivered on its mission to foster connectedness, collisions, and co-learning.

It almost seems counter intuitive.

Sometimes, you just have to get the courage to walk up and ask, “Um… excuse me, sir, but I noticed you’re dressed as a banana. Why is that?”

OK, most times you won’t have an alley-oop approach like that. So, don’t give yourself any more than 2 seconds to think about whether or not you should talk to someone new. Make like an overused advertising slogan and just do it, because it’s the collisions that make the difference in building a community or a business.

Pro Tip: If you’re as exhausted by the “So what do you do?” line of questioning as 99.99% of the world (that’s a true stat I just made up), go for something relevant like the speaker in the previous session or the funky socks that your new friend is rocking.

2. Go Deep

up-summit-closing

Photo credit: @FrankGruber

There’s no value or meaning to creating small talk or collecting business cards. If you’re going to go up to someone new, go deep.

This one’s tough because every brain cell between our ears screams at us to stay in our happy place—that grotesquely mediocre zone of comfort.

The real happiness can be found in the quality beneath the surface.

At the UP Summit, the leaders in attendance converged upon Vegas from such a variety of cultures that we didn’t have as many how-about-the-weather, or did-you-see-that-game discussions. Without the crutch, we had to lean in (boom, Sheryl Sandberg reference).

up-summit-friendsThe quality-over-quantity theme was threaded through every minute of time with the UP Global crew. Strong relationships sprouted from each event that catered to serendipitous connections. The deepest growth was rooted in scheduled blocks of time that allowed for potential collaboration.

If I hadn’t taken a swing at going up to new people at the UP Summit, I never would have met the dozen new friends from around the world. I wouldn’t have learned about new programs that I’m now planning on bringing back to my hometown. And I wouldn’t have found those new partnerships that will more deeply connect my startup community with what’s happening around the world.

If I hadn’t dared to go deep in my conversations I wouldn’t have learned from the best conversation I’ve ever had about how to grow a successful relationship while running startup. I wouldn’t have a startup friend to visit when I go to the Philippines this summer. And, most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned about what all of the inspiring people in the UP community are building.

So, my question is, why don’t we build intention around creating these kinds of experiences back at home? How can we keep the momentum going by going up and going deep?