Fake it ’til you make it

I went to an extra Sandbox session this morning. I went into the session thinking that it was about fundraising, but the more appropriate title would be “Pitch Practice and Ego Destroyer.”

I came home with a hopeless feeling in my heart, heaviness in my chest, and a lump in my throat.

You will feel better if you make something to eat, came a voice inside.

So I started heating up some food.

I put in a load of laundry. Cleaning always helps me feel better, like I have accomplished something, however futile.

But I still felt crummy.

Criticism can be painful, especially criticism that cuts to the very heart of problems you know you possess.

I know that I have low self-esteem. It doesn’t seem to matter that countless people have told me I am brilliant, beautiful, and have no idea of the powerful effect my presence has on the people I meet.

I still struggle to truly believe it.

Friends, family, and colleagues have told me that I should be more confident, but I just cannot seem to hold onto the feeling or project it on a regular basis. I have confident moments, but they are fleeting at best.

For crying out loud, I have earned a doctorate. What more do I have to do to prove to myself that I am capable?

Confidence for me is like body image, which I have also struggled with for most of my life. No amount of feedback from other people can make me believe I am beautiful. I have to choose to believe it for myself and to cultivate that belief from within for me to learn to walk and talk as a person who believes they are beautiful.

I have been learning that low self-esteem is not a helpful quality to possess for an entrepreneur. This morning’s session was a clear reminder.

Low self-esteem and entrepreneurship not blending well would seem like a no brainer. It does not come as a surprise to me. I mean, Duh. Why would someone give their money to someone who is not confident they are going to be able to succeed?

But how about a little context about the morning.

At the Sandbox, my fellow classmates and I sit around a bunch of tables that have been formed in a square. The rpesenters always sit or stand in front.

At this morning’s session, the presenters sat at the tables, so we were all in one, big square.

Each presenter introduced themselves and shared a little of their background. These were individuals who had spent decades working with entrepreneurs and startup companies.

I was, as usual, intimidated. In fact, since the beginning of the Sandbox Accelerator program, I have hardly even spoken with one of our instructors (who I adore) because I am pretty much completely intimidated by him.

Yes, I am ridiculous. And yes, I am learning and practicing and doing my best to come out of my shell with each passing week.

The presenters were very upfront that this was not going to be an easy session and to be prepared to be ripped apart.

I felt like I was in the show “American Idol” or another popular series that people have talked about called “Shark Tank.” Of course, I have never really watched any of these shows because I have been living without a television for over a decade, but the scene felt akin to my imaginings of these scenarious.

As the scene was set by our presenters, there immediately began an inward battle of voices.

“Uh oh, came a voice. You better grow some thick skin and fast.”

“Oh stop,” another voice chimed in. “You can take it. You are used to being on the fringe, and you are doing something you believe in. You will be fine.”

We each went around the table and gave a brief pitch of our business.

And then, the presenters proceeded to rip us apart.

I jotted down notes of things I thought I should say in my pitch.

I gave my pitch last, so my entire being was on edge. Butterflies the size and weight on sci fi beasts were ricocheting off the inner lining of my stomach.

Why was I so nervous? This was supposed to be fun. I was learning. I like learning.

I tried incorporating new information into my pitch that I hadn’t used before by sharing my background and why I was qualified to do this job; the response I had received each time I demonstrated my product; and the kinds of products I was currently offering.

I did not share specific financial projections or even mention that I had three paying customers, though all of this was in my notes of things to touch on. Three minutes goes by fast, and every time I watched the judges turn their attention from me to the paper in front of them, I sensed that I had lost their interest and desperately tried to think of something to say to draw them back in.

Sometimes, it worked; sometimes, it didn’t.

I ended my pitch and looked at the presenters.

The beginning of the feedback was very positive.

One presenter told me that I had done a good job and that I had sold him within the first 45 seconds.

It pretty much devolved from there.

He continued, “I don’t like what you are doing. Stop making jokes. Take your business seriously. The more you talk about why your product is important and continue to go on and on and on, the less I want to buy it.”

The other presenter suggested that I create a character for my pitches. This character is confident and knows just what to say to investors.

I liked this idea.

“State that you are an artist,” she said. “You are doing your art, and your product speaks to people. You are finding a way to make your passion for storytelling through song your profession.

Their feedback was exceptional. Much of it was not new, but it served as a reminder of what I need to do to hook potential customers and investors and maintain their interest.

Lessons learned:

Take myself seriously.

Speak with confidence, even if I do not feel confident.

Be succinct.

Include business elements that demonstrate a viable business model. Show that I am already experiencing the beginnings of financial success with people who are approaching you to pay for your product.

My business is not just a pipe dream. It is real, and I am doing it.

My fellow Sandboxers gave me hugs and tips after and offered to coach me before the final pitch so that I would be sure to include business specifics and not focus too much on the products.

They told me I was loved.

I know that I am entering a competitive, thankless, and often loveless business world.

I know what I need to work on.

And I am trying.

I just need to try harder.

To survive in this world, I need to separate critique about my presentation style from critique about me as a person (i.e, I need to get way less sensitive and fast).

5 Comments Add yours

  1. M says:

    Maybe if *you* critique S2S, you’ll be able to separate it more easily from yourself. Btw nice website

  2. dan macneil says:

    Many most? of the start up people i know are very insecure.

    It would kinda be crazy not to b.


    1. marieke says:

      I think you are spot on, Dan. Part of why I write is to process and create something from what I am feeling. Another reason is the hope that it might speak to other people who are experiencing or have felt something similar. I am certain I am not the only insecure entrepreneur out there, but it helps to share what I am going through with others. Thanks for your comment!

  3. brooksofmaine says:

    Well, maybe the presentation didn’t go the way you hoped, but your storytelling of it was gripping to me. And I think that you’re right that our presentation style, until we decide to create ourselves (actor Michael Caine’s words), tends to be whatever speaking, dressing, and walking mannerisms we picked up while growing up. The styles we picked up while growing up are not us. Us is something deeper.

    1. marieke says:

      Thank you, Malcolm. I try to be as honest in my writing and in my interaction with the world as possible. I do like the idea of creating a character for ourselves that embodies who we want to be. In some ways, this is the practice I have been cultivating these past few years as I have searched for ways to create a more sustainable life. I am glad you are a part of my journey!

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