I just came back from Big Omaha this past week, which is pretty much the best conference in the country for entrepreneurs. The event is thrown by a truly spectacular team, and it is evident the moment you walk in to a Big Series event that they really care about creating an unforgettable event experience for everyone who attends one of their events. Check out the in-depth coverage of the event, and stay up to date on Big Omaha news.
I had the privilege of interviewing some incredible entrepreneurs and investors during the conference, including: Tony Conrad, Dave McClure, Marc Ecko, and Gentry Underwood.
I learned an enormous amount from each one of them about investing, startups, building a brand, and human centered design. In the coming weeks, those full interviews will be rolling out on Technori.com.
But, as is often the case, when I’m interviewing someone for a story, sometimes it’s not the words they say that impress or teach me the most.
It’s often the set of intangibles:
- How thoroughly they answer questions
- How open and vulnerable they are willing to be with me
- How generous they are with their time and energy
Every single one of them gave me the best of all of the things on the list above. Here are seven of the specific lessons I learned about those intangibles—and on a top-level, about becoming an incredible starter:
1. Those “famous” entrepreneurs and investors? They are just people.
A lot of folks are star struck when they walk up to a guy like Marc Ecko. But Marc is just a normal guy who’s had the courage to live a phenomenal story. If you want to have a great conversation with a popular entrepreneur or investor, treat him or her like a regular human being. Be prepared with great questions. Soak up as much as you can. Don’t let your irrational fear about going up to someone “famous” get in the way of you running with the opportunity to connect with and learn from them.
2. You have to be yourself.
This is one of those age-old sentiments that is lost on many because the advice is given so frequently. And that’s a shame, because it’s so important. What I noticed about all of the speakers I interviewed is that they were very confident in themselves, flaws and all. They all had an exceptional level of candor, honesty, and vulnerability. You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to be like anyone else. You just need to be you. Do that really well, and others will be infectiously drawn to that.
3. Yeah, it’s important to hustle. But it’s also important to cultivate relationships.
Stop going up to investors and asking for money. Honestly, don’t do that shit. If you want to tell someone passionately about your business, DO IT. ABSOLUTELY. Impress them with your passion. Impress them with your confidence and your story. But, use it as a way to get to know them so they’ll remember you when you follow up. And then, build out that relationship over time. Be valuable to that investor before you ask for money or a meeting. Because if you flat out ask for a meeting, you might get one, and it might be good or bad. But, if you get to know them and build personal rapport, when the time is right, you’ll get that meeting and the investor will be more interested, attentive, and, well, invested in what you have to say.
Relationships are everything. So yeah, go hustle and make incredible shit happen. But remember that, as with any kind of investment, you’re more likely to get someone’s time, money, energy, and respect when you’ve proven that you deserve it more than the thousands of others asking for the same things.
4. Entrepreneurship is fucking hard.
Every single person I interviewed shared this sentiment. It’s really, really, really, really hard to build a company. If you’ve got hopes of being a successful entrepreneur, brace yourself now. There will be excruciatingly hard moments ahead. It will not always be fun. You will not always love your job every single day. You’ll deal with crises and conflicts and problems bigger than you could ever image. You’ll be told “no” more times than you ever thought possible. Do it anyway. If you’re in love with a dream, and you’ve figured out how to make that dream real at the intersection of your passion and talent, go make it happen. DO NOT STOP. Anything worth doing is fucking hard. Prepare for it.
5. You have to be okay with the potential reality that people will hate on you.
When you put stuff out into the world, whether it’s a product, a service, an investment, a presentation—whatever—people are going to notice. And when people notice, they are going to have an opinion. Sometimes, those opinions won’t be favorable. Sometimes, they’ll be mean, unfounded, or downright untrue. You have to get used to the idea that people are going to find reasons to hate you and what you’re building. And you have to get over the focus on the 10% of things that go wrong.
The truth is, if you’re building something with all of your heart and soul, more people will love it than hate it. You will make a much bigger positive impact than you could ever imagine. Ignore the haters. Separate the external feedback from your personal sense of self and faith in your startup.
6. Don’t be an asshole. Treat people really well.
In the process of meeting great people, you’ll inevitably come across some very cocky, arrogant, horrible ones. Don’t get caught up in it. Let it go and realize it’s their own insecurity and drama, not yours. If someone doesn’t want to give you the time of day, don’t waste much time wondering why. It’s not worth it. They’re not worth it. Spend the time instead on making sure you treat everyone else you meet exceptionally well.
No matter how busy you get, how many emails you need to answer, how long your to-do list is, you have to remember this: you’re no more or less important than everyone else on this planet. Everybody has a story to tell. Everyone is fighting a hard battle. Everyone is building something—whether it’s a company, a product, a family, a dream, etc. We have to start treating one another better. You must always keep in mind that, while your startup feels like the most important thing in the world, no one will ever care about it as much as you do (at least, no one ever should). Keep things in perspective.
It’s much, much more important to be kind than it is to be self-important. Give the people you meet—especially those who champion you in your inner circle—all of the love, energy, patience, and kindness you can muster. In the long run, it makes all the difference in the world.
7. Learn how to be 100% present.
Wherever you are, be there. Be 100% there. As an entrepreneur, you’re likely going through a TON. You’ve got a lot on your plate. You’re working really hard. You have to make big decisions. You’re probably stressed, and overly busy, and anxious. When you walk in the door at an event, meeting, etc., leave it at the door. Let it go. Take the time to really be present with people. Give them everything you’ve got.
Let people know their stories matter to you.
And remember that every story is important—Tony Conrad‘s, Dave McClure‘s, Marc Ecko‘s, and Gentry Underwood‘s….