Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
It’s not you, it’s me.
These clichés were ringing in the back of my mind during one of our recent evening sessions at the Sandbox.
There were two gentlemen seated at the front of the room. They were entrerpreneurs with startup businesses in the Boston area. They each introduced themselves and described their individual paths to success.
These were the first two speakers we were meeting from outside the Sandbox community, so naturally I was intrigued.
Who were these two men?
My interest was also piqued by the fact that they were also the first two presenters to offer themselves to us without any fancy equipment or accoutrements.
I am not against PowerPoint or whiteboards or tangible objects being used during presentations. I have begun using an instrument as part of my own business pitch and product demonstration.
However, as an interpreter, I prefer the power of engaging with my audience through direction interaction. I want the audience to connect to me and listen to what I have to say. I want to hear what they have to say. The fewer distractions, the better.
So here we were, all sitting around the table at 5:30pm, most of us having worked a full day already.
Our presenters, Josh and Brendan, sat informally in two chairs before us.
They looked normal. No business suits, no bravado, no air of arrogance. It could just have easily have been one of us Sandboxers sitting up there (and maybe, someday soon it will be).
One at a time, they introduced themselves and told us about their path to creating startup companies.
Their stories were humble. Their presentation style was informal. I was in love and inspired!
Being a successful presenter is a skill. I find that my own presentation style derives from awareness of the style that I respond to best. A person who gets up and presents themselves as the topmost expert, superhuman entrepreneur is less likely to get my vote or attention and even less likely to inspire confidence in me that I can be a successful entrepreneur.
I also do not respond well to intimidation and fear tactics.
This does not mean that I need or want to be coddled or have my hand held and be told, everything will be all right. I am not that sensitive or naïve.
I just want people to be real, open, and honest. If they can be friendly and offer constructive feedback in a way that does not completely fire up my inner critic and make me want to jump off a bridge with all of the other failing startup companies, I consider that a plus.
From my years as an interpreter, I have found that the more I am able to present myself as a person just like the people in the audience I am speaking to, the better I am able to connect with my audience. This is, consequently, the way I feel a connection when I am a member of an audience listening to a speaker.
I found this session helpful and inspiring in part because our presenters were very real and open.
The following represents some of the wisdom they shared:
v People buy my products because it imbues them with a sense of self-worth.
v You cannot be friends with everyone in the business world.
v We are inconsequential. There are big companies out there.
v It is very helpful to have a business partner.
v It is important to split things 50/50 with your partner.
v Don’t expect to make an income as a startup for a long time.
v Expect long days and to be very tired.
v Create healthy boundaries (healthy for you) with regard to checking emails, returning calls, etc.
v In the beginning, you might bend over backwards, but as soon as possible, try to hire someone or divide tasks with your partner
v A startup company owner wears a lot of hats.
v Don’t give away that you are the founder or co-founder if you think people might take advantage of you.
v Everyone will try to take advantage of you.
v Seek out the advice of people whose opinions you trust and who have a variety of backgrounds.
v Make an effort to talk to other startup companies, similar in size, etc. to ask questions.
v It is important not to take yourself too seriously, but pretend from the get go that you are a Fortune 500. Conduct yourself as a professional because people will respond to whatever you tell them you are.
v And recognize that you are always learning.
v Co-working space is a great idea!
v It helps to have people to talk to, flesh out ideas, help each other share knowledge.
v It helps to have a strong support network during the first few years.
There was a brief moment when they started to talk about SEOs and SEMs and I heard a voice starting to scream in my head (this realm of business is way out of my knowledge zone).
The presentation became instantly more interesting for me when I asked a question that drew everyone from the class into an engaging dialogue.
The question: Should I quit my day job? And if so, when?
As you might imagine, this was a topic of great interest for the presenters and my fellow classmates. Many perspectives were shared, warnings, and words of hope. No final decisions were made for anyone in the room who was reflecting on that very issue.
It was clear that there were similar tactics that people had taken for trying to figure out if and when to make that leap of faith, for leap of faith it would be regardless of all the calculating and considerations.
One presenter said that he had done many calculations with the idea, “If I sell this much, then I can quit my job.”
But what if the product wound up falling flat after initial success?
What if x happened?
And what if y?
There were many risks involved, especially when friends and family were included in the number of people who would be affected by these choices.
One message rang loud and clear. Do not quit your day job until you are ready, really ready. And ready for one person might be something entirely different for another. Being ready is something we must each figure out on own.
I appreciated their honesty and admittance that they don’t have all the answers. Yes, they have made the calculations and projections for possible financial futures, but they are still fearful of risks. They have people who depend on them—business partners, employees, family.
I have my cats and my self to feed, which is not quite commensurate to having a newborn child but is all I have to compare to. It is my world and my family.
As usual after a Sandbox session, I left feeling inspired, humbled, and full of ideas.