Friday, April 25, 2014








             Last week I had the privilege of sitting on a panel with two extremely successful serial entrepreneurs (Sam Yagan – founder of OkCupid and now CEO of and Chuck Templeton – founder of Open Table and now MD of the ImpactEngine accelerator at 1871) which was moderated by my good friend, Rob Wolcott, who runs the Kellogg Innovation Network (KIN). The title of the panel was slightly longer than the typical length of my blog posts (so I don’t want to repeat it here) and no good entrepreneur stays on point anyway - so let’s just say that it was an evening of quips and networking tips from a bunch of very smart and experienced people.  I learned and laughed a lot (and caught a few things that were new ideas to me as well) and I thought I’d share a couple of the highlights.

(1)   Walk the Walk and Wear the T-Shirt

                        I’m usually the most under-dressed guy at grown-up events like this, but Sam Yagan was wearing a t-shirt under his jacket so, from a sartorial splendor standpoint, it was pretty much a draw. The more important point was what Sam said about why he was wearing the shirt and what wearing the shirt says about Sam. He said that, as the CEO, he’s always selling and promoting the business and that it’s a critical part of that process that everyone he meets knows that he’s all-in, fully-committed, and sincerely does believe that will change your life for the better and, if you’ve got the time, he’ll tell you how and why.

                        My friend Slava Rubin who co-founded Indiegogo (and is now the CEO) always wears a company t-shirt when he travels. He’s plenty proud of the business he’s built too and it shows the minute you meet him and you’ll miss your plane for sure if he gets started talking about the company and the latest and greatest crowd funding successes that they’ve helped to make happen. He says, of course, that his shirt’s a comfy way to roll, but the real reason is that he knows he’s going to pass a bunch of people on the trip and it’s the cheapest form of subliminal advertising he’s come up with so far which also saves him a bundle on marketing.          

           It’s all about authenticity, believing in your business and yourself and walking the walk. Leaders lead by example or they don’t really lead at all. The day you’re not comfortable in your role, in the business, or in the company t-shirt, is the day you should find another place to be. If you’re not excited about what you’re doing and proud of the place you doing it, do something else. This stuff (building new businesses and changing the world) is just too hard and life’s too short to go to work every day without a spring in your step and a smile on your face. Not everything will ever be fun and easy, but as long as it matters and you’re making a difference, there’s no better place to be.

(2)   You Never Know Who’s Going to Bring You Your Future

            Rob Wolcott likes to say that at KIN he tries to never leave serendipity to chance, but Chuck Templeton told the audience two different ways that – in the early days of his business - he manufactured and mined his own serendipity. One was a process and one was an attitude and they both helped him build his earliest networks of supporters and sponsors and also – crucially – helped him fill in the gaps in his knowledge and experience by reaching out to others for help.

             The process was pretty simple. He’d read every issue of what - for a few minutes back then - was more or less the hot tech industry magazine (The Industry Standard) – which he described as an early version of WIRED (although the fact is that WIRED was started about 5 years before it) and when he read about people doing things that seemed interesting and relevant to his business, he would reach out to them and ask them for a few minutes of their time to answer his questions. Not only did he learn a lot about stuff, but he said that he also learned a lot about how many people were so generous with their time and how they would actually take the time to help a total stranger. The morale of the story was pretty simple – it never hurts to ask – and it can often turn into a real opportunity and it’s always an education.

        The attitude was also pretty straightforward. He said that you should always keep an open mind when you meet people and that you should never underestimate them because you really just never know who’s going to turn out to have the keys to the kingdom. Or as I like to say: you never know who’s going to bring you your future. Every encounter, every meeting, every conversation is a chance to learn and also to build and extend your network. Everyone’s an example – some to emulate and some to avoid like the plague – but you’ll never know which ones are which if you don’t invest the time to explore the possibilities and have the right attitude while you’re at it. 

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