Disrespecting a Team Member is Never Acceptable

I was two years in as a full-time entrepreneur and we were meeting a potential customer in a small nondescript building less than a mile from our office. Our startup was still struggling and I, as an eager first-time entrepreneur, was chasing any opportunity regardless of fit. Helping me that day at our sales meeting was our lead engineer, and after a few pleasantries, we started talking shop with the prospect.

Quickly, as the conversation turned technical regarding product capabilities, our lead engineer dove in regaling all the details. Only I, as a sales-oriented entrepreneur, thought our lead engineer was focused too much on the minutia and not enough on tying the functionality back to the customer’s needs. So, in an expression of poor leadership, I interrupted him mid sentence and took the conversation a different direction.

Another topic with the prospect, another detailed comment from our engineer, another poor interruption from me going a different direction — on and on it repeated.

Only after the meeting, as we got into the car, the lead engineer shared with me how little he felt. How I had unprofessionally talked over him. How poorly I had reflected our company in front of the prospect. How miserable I was in the setting.

It was all true.

Now, 16 years later, I still remember this lesson. I did an unacceptable job setting expectations with the lead engineer before the meeting. I did an unacceptable job showing respect to the lead engineer in the meeting. I did not lead, I trampled.

Disrespecting a team member is never acceptable.

The next time you have the urge to talk over someone, let them finish. Hear them out. Reflect on their position. Treat them with respect — it’s always the right thing to do.

Limiting Beliefs, Stop Holding Yourself Back

Growing up in a small town in Florida, I didn’t know any software entrepreneurs. Not only did I not know any personally, I didn’t know of any at all in my town — not a single one. Of course, I read about famous ones in different magazines and online, but they weren’t relatable. While it’s inspiring to read about someone doing great things a 1,000 miles away, it’s significantly more impactful to see someone doing great things in your town or even neighborhood.

For me, I let myself down early in life with limiting beliefs. I let myself be a product of my surroundings.

If I only had X, I could be more successful.

If I only lived in Y, I could be more successful.

If I only knew Z, I could be more successful.

Only limiting beliefs are exactly that: limiting.

One of the best things an entrepreneur can do is realize that every successful entrepreneur is just another regular person, eating, sleeping, and living life like everyone else. Maybe they were a little luckier. Maybe they tried a little harder. Yet, all are human. All have 24 hours in the day. All have challenges.

The next time a limiting belief enters your mind, fight back. Recognize it for what it is and override it. Don’t let yourself limit yourself.

They Said I Wasn’t Good Enough

The year was 2009. We pitched Pardot to VCs all over the country. 29 of them to be exact. Rejection after rejection. You’re based in a second tier city. Your market isn’t big enough. Your network effects aren’t strong. You’ve never done this before.

They said they didn’t want to invest.

They said I wasn’t good enough.

Today, as part of Salesforce.com, Pardot is worth billions of dollars of market cap.

Last week I was reminded of this personal experience when an entrepreneur shared he performs best when there’s a chip on his shoulder. When his back is against the wall, he fights hardest. When things look bleak, he grinds more.

Most entrepreneurs are the underdog. Society is averse to change. Companies are averse to change. People are averse to change. Yet, the only constant is change.

Entrepreneurs must recognize the challenge, embrace it, and overcome it. Use adversity for motivation. Find value in having a chip on the shoulder.

Just because they said I wasn’t good enough didn’t make it true.

Most Startups are Self-Funded

With all the talk about startup financing rounds, it’s easy to forget that most startups are self-funded. Self funding ranges from personal savings to credit cards to consulting with one common theme: resourceful entrepreneurs working through adversity to achieve their goals.

Just last week, I met with an entrepreneur who’s been working on her startup for several years while still having a day job. She identified a valuable, urgent problem (hair on fire!) and was able to get the future customer to fund development of the product while she retained the intellectual property. Customer-funded startups are often the best.

Locally, I know an entrepreneur that drove Uber on nights and weekends, especially during concerts and events for surge pricing, so as to work full-time on his startup. After doing this for a year, and getting some initial traction, he then raised money from investors. Traction first, investors second.

Of course, the best known local success story is self-funded: MailChimp. In the early days, MailChimp was a web consulting firm before morphing to an email marketing platform after a few years. Now, MailChimp will do over $600 million in revenue this year and is one of the most valuable tech companies in the country.

The next time an entrepreneur laments a lack of funding, make sure they know that funding isn’t a pre-requisite for success. The main pre-requisite for success: grit.

24 One-on-One Meetings in a Day

Last week I was catching up with an entrepreneur and he shared that he just did 24 one-on-one meetings with his customer success team in a single day. Wow! Each meeting was face-to-face for 15 minutes with a focus on learning about both the business and the person. Time with team members, especially focused, in-person time with people that aren’t on your direct team, is one of the best ways to learn and connect, regardless of size.

While regular one-on-one meetings with direct reports is a popular best practice, rarely does it extend to skip-level meetings or entire days with whole departments. Staying close to the customer, and close to the culture, are two of the most important things an entrepreneur needs to do. High velocity one-on-one meetings is a great tactic to help with the latter.

Entrepreneurs should schedule one day per month for high velocity one-on-ones with team members they don’t normally interact with. There’s no substitute for direct, focused communication with people throughout the organization.

Podcasts on Startups and Entrepreneurship

Two years ago, after all the buzz around podcasts, I jumped on the bandwagon and have really enjoyed the content and experience. Like any medium with no marginal cost and a potentially infinite audience (hello blogs!), there’s been an explosion of podcasts of varying quality. After snacking on a number of different ones, here are my favorites:

  • Naval – Thoughtful. Intellectual. I really enjoy Naval’s thinking. It’s more general philosophy around life and business, and less startup specific, although readily applicable.
  • Twenty Minute VC – Crisp. Fast paced. Harry has interviewed thousands of people in the VC and tech entrepreneurship world. Highly recommended.
    Bonus: Harry also runs the excellent SaaStr podcast.
  • Y Combinator – Extensive. Deep. YC’s content is excellent, covering a number of different topics.
  • EntreLeadership – Broad. High quality. EntreLeadership has a number of well-known guests sharing their entrepreneurial journeys.

For me, podcasts have slotted in nicely when I want something interesting in the background to ponder while driving, walking, etc. If you haven’t tried a podcast or two, I’d highly recommend it.

What else? What are some other favorites around startups and entrepreneurship?

The Entrepreneurial Thrill of Fresh Ideas

As an entrepreneur, one of the things I get most excited about is fresh ideas. Ideas could come in the form of entirely new businesses, ways to do something better, or just a different take on a scenario I’ve seen before. Because of this, I enjoy reading blogs and books looking for other peoples’ ideas to find ones that I can commandeer for my own use. Within the YPO and EO circles, a favorite question is “what’s a great book or article you’ve read lately?” Ideas act as a currency of coolness, ready to be exchanged at a moment’s notice.

Just this week I was meeting with a startup and a simple, yet valuable idea, came up. This startup has been in business for 7-8 years and has been venture-backed half that time. For most of it’s existence, banks paid almost no interest on the savings (cash on the balance sheet). And, as part of the “package” from the bank, the current interest rate was 1% on the savings. Well, the startup raised a large round of funding in the last year and casually asked for better terms. The bank now pays 2.25% interest on the savings, but wouldn’t have changed if someone didn’t ask. Because of the large sum of the financing, this has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of interest income — found money. Have cash or working capital for the startup? Ask the bank for a better rate!

After last week’s post on Continuous Employee Feedback, an entrepreneur shared with me how much they love Emplify to continuously measure employee engagement. A fresh idea! Historically, employee engagement has been an afterthought for most organizations. Now, with modern technologies, it’s easy and seamless. Of course, the tools are only going to point out the challenges and it’s up to the leaders to figure out how to improve them, but knowing where to focus is immensely valuable. Writing, and simply sharing ideas with the world, is another great avenue for learning about fresh ideas.

Entrepreneurs would do well to develop a system that generates fresh ideas as they go on their startup journey. Whether by reading, writing, peer groups, or other method, the steady flow of ideas is key.

What else? What are some more ways to generate fresh ideas?