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The nature of work is changing--we all know that. You're required to be a lot more entrepreneurial, which requires you to build your own networks in order to get customers and collaborators, since these functions won't be under the roof of a big company anymore.
You'll need to be more mobile, nimble, and able to go where the work is. You'll need to think globally.
You will need to be a continuous learner, willing to pick up new skills as the world changes around you--meaning that your sources of education won't necessarily be accredited academic institutions.
This is all pretty obvious, and has been for a while, right?
So how does this respond to how we seem to be teaching our kids?
Well, for starters, each generation seems to be facing a shrinking, not growing world. Below is a graphic from a DailyMail article that shows how far kids in a family were allowed to roam as eight year olds.
Could you imagine letting an eight year old roam eight miles away these days? You'd probably get arrested for child neglect. However, how prepared was that kid for the rest of life after making those trips, compared to kids today that rarely ever leave the house on their own? How prepared are kids today to face a global world when they can't walk off of their own block.
How likely are they to become lifelong learners when we've never had more emphasis on standardized testing, and therefore standardized learning? The school we create for kids now makes them want to be done with school as soon as possible.
It's like when people ask me how to get into venture capital. They're always asking about the right way to do it, how to get an interview--all these very structured ways of approaching a system. When I tell them stuff about adding value to the community, creating a personal brand, etc., it just doesn't compute. Nothing that I ever did to get where I am in venture was difficult or special--but none of it was anything you really learn in a classroom.
The world we're heading into requires a highly visible, highly network, flexible risk taker with a global perspective. Yet, it feels like the US is churning out kids who never venture outside of their suburban housing development on their own who look for authoritative structures to fit themselves into and are taught to fear strangers, domestic and abroad.
Because, you know, who doesn't love a good startup list.
1) Figure out who has written about companies like yours and reach out--when you don't need something.
Think about who else is in your space--other wearables companies, companies also focused on the smart home, you name it. Those are going to be the reporters who are most likely willing to write about you. When you've got that list together, just individually e-mail as many of them as you can. Just introduce yourself and offer yourself up as a resource.
"Hi, I just wanted to thank you for covering this space. I like the angle you took on this particular article/I appreciate that you've taken the time to highlight what all these companies are doing because others aren't/something nice about the reporter's effort. I know all of these companies and a lot of others that are popping up because I have X expertise and experience, so if I can ever be a resource to you, even on background, please do feel free to contact me. I've included a short list below of a few 1-2 sentence thoughts, predictions, or generally crazy ideas that I don't think are shared by my peers about where the space is going to give you a sense of what my perspective is.
I'm actually starting a company/have started a company in this space and don't have anything to share at the moment, but will at some point would love to be able to share our funding news, product launches, or maybe collaborate with other companies on trend pieces in the space."
This way, the journalists most interested in what you're up to reveal themselves by engaging with you based on that note--and you've given them a reason to contact you. Maybe the fact that you think that Amazon will get into Cleantech for some crazy reason or that phone numbers will eventually disappear in favor of just connecting to people or companies will strike a chord--or maybe even inspire a future article.
2) Follow journalists on Twitter and Instagram
These folks are real humans as well and they have interests outside of tech. If they're a sports fan, also like stand up paddling or just took an amazing trip to a place you love, note it in your interaction with them. Find other reasons to connect with them. They'll remember you as the other long suffering Mets fan and you'll have a reason to connect up that doesn't involve them covering your funding announcement. Plus, they'll see you as the reasonable/fun/kind/positive/whatever kind of person you are and be more willing to help you out versus assuming you're just some spoiled millennial that WANTS COVERAGE NOWWWWWW because you're special. Brat.
3) Split up the story.
Your launch isn't just a launch. It's eight different things.
It's a story of a mechanical engineer turned startup entrepreneur who has seen how NYC actually works (and built a company to help it run smooth) from as deep undergroud as the East Side Access Project under Grand Central and as high as the roof of the NY Times building. (See Mike Brown from Logcheck.)
It's the story of your customers--the ice cream shop owner and dog groomer who now use your technology to gain new customers, because tech savvy small business people could be interesting when they have quirky businesses.
It's the story of your particular view on hiring your tech co-founder and how it paid off.
It's how the future of TV is in your phone and why they'll stop making remotes one day in favor of apps, like your app.
Bounce ideas off of others try to figure out all of the different ways that your company is interesting, so that you can divide and conquer. If the only story is that you got funded, that's not as interesting for 25 reporters to cover versus each of them covering something uniquely crafted for their audience and interest.
4) Collaborate with other startups.
Journalists love when news fits a trend. A trend, in case you don't know, is when something doesn't just have to do with your cruddy little startup but when eight other cruddy little startups are all doing something the same way that is new, or assumes a new behavior from customers, or is reflective of something new in the industry. Work with other companies to share contact lists, introduce each other to other reporters, and to pitch things together. You can't get a story just about you in the press everyday, but a reporter has to write something every day--so how can you help them fit your news in a context and have something to write about when they're not writing about you.
5) Create an editorial schedule.
You had a great launch. Now what? What is anyone going to say about you for the next six months week in and week out. If you don't plan it out, it's not going to happen that way. Think about what you want people saying about you and what is reasonable to say about you over time. Sometimes, often times, that means you'll be the one saying it--through blog posts, videos, etc... but it needs to be a story arc about your company so that you don't front load everything for the week that some internet CEO gets tragically crushed by a stack of servers.Save & Close
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a founder that I backed and he was telling me how excited he was about his company. He said the path was so clear that he could literally see it--and that's the way he's always been since I met him. He has a quiet confidence and he's excited to talk about his company--and he could go on and on if you let him.
It's a stark contrast to people who beg for "just five minutes" of my time. I understand that fundraising is hard, but if you do you best to leverage your network to connect to a bunch of investors, and you can't even get a first meeting, you may have to rethink what you're up to. When you ask for just a few minutes, it sounds like you're having a lot of trouble getting meetings. That's a signal the market is giving to you. VCs may only do 1-2% of the deals that come their way, but I'd say they probably take about 20% of the requests for first meetings.
Think about that for a second. If they only actually invest 1% of the time or less, and even half of those companies go out of business, then when you can't even get a meeting you're outside of the top 20%, and you need to be in the top 0.5%. That's not even close.
On the other hand, maybe you're just acting like you're not even close. When you approach investors as if they're taking mercy on you by talking with you about their company, they're going to assume that something's up. Imagine being on a date where someone says "Oh, thank god you actually showed up!!"
You might wonder whether you're both dating out of your league--with you being on the short end of that stick.
If you're working in a big enough market, you're the right person to be working on something, and you've made some headway doing what you're doing, you should have no problem getting investor meetings. Nothing ever gets done in just 5 minutes, so if someone says no to a meeting, either take that as market feedback or just move on to someone who is interested.
And trust me, a demo never makes a difference. If you can't tell me what you're doing and get me excited about a first meeting, I'm just not going to get there on it.
So be confident enough to ask for your due time, to move on if I say no, but smart enough to actually listen if no is what everyone says, even just for a first meeting.
Yesterday, I took my 96 year old Nana to Atlantic City.
As you can see from the photo, she didn't win, but I did. Almost $200. Still, she had an awesome time and was thrilled to go. Protip: Don't bother with the valet at the Taj Mahal. By the time they get to you, you could have walked over, gotten your car yourself and come back to the front.
Just this morning, someone on a rec sports team that I play on just told me that they lost their job and couldn't pay for softball anymore. This season costs about $100. House money, as far as I'm concerned. I told him to consider himself covered by Donald Trump. I didn't hesitate because a) Eh, money comes, money goes, b) I like this person and want to play with them, and c) karma always comes back to you.
It made me think of something I heard on a podcast the other day--about how leaders get help. I've gotten a lot of help from a lot of people over the years, but I realize that's because of the investments I've made in helping others. What I've seen is that if I make it a regular part of my investments in time to help others, when I do really need something, I've got a huge store of willing effort to tap. That's extremely valuable. It's not why I do it, but I'm also not oblivious either. Like a good Pavlovian dog, I continue to give my time and help to others when that happens.
On the other hand, if I never do anything for others, I'm creating a lonely island for myself where I'll need to rely on just myself to get anywhere. That would not only suck, it would hurt the trajectory of my career and my firm's efforts.
You cannot do it all alone.
So, while it feels good to help others, it should also be a part of any leadership strategy. It's a bit like insurance. Squirrell away a little bit of karma each week by doing something for someone else, because one day you're definitely going to need help to get pushed over the top.
Still, I see selfish founders who don't treat others well. It's a hard thing to do when you have a lot of your own pressing priorities, but it's going to catch up with you for sure. I really do believe that the people who make it are the ones who are able to get help from others--and that well runs dry if you don't ever return the favor.
Do well by others because it's the right thing to do, but don't ignore the fact that it also has the nice effect of helping your career.
No one wants to be *that* founder--the non-technical founder poking around developer meetups asking for a unicorn with a Github account. It's not that there aren't great technical people willing to take a lot of risk to join a small team--it's just that there are *so many* people out there looking for them that it's hard to figure out who to take seriously.
This is where a good technical advisor can help. They can help vet what you're building, give you credibility in the hiring process and help assess candidates.
Go find someone technical you could probably never hire. Maybe they're locked up in golden handcuffs post-acquisition of their startup. Maybe they're coding at Google and at a point in their life where they'd rather make $300k than rough it at a startup.
What you can offer is interestingness, a thoughtful challenge, and a little bit of equity. Working with young companies is cool and it gets the juices flowing. Plus, from the advisor side, it might be a good way to build up a little portfolio of startup equity without having to put up angel cash.
Here are the three things I would ask a technical advisor to do for you:
1) Help you build a high level tech spec of what you need to build, so that you know that the product you're working on can reasonably be built given a) the current stage of technology and b) your resources and timeline. They're going to tell you why an elevator to the moon is hard and why a stepladder might be a better place to start if you only have $50 and a carpenter with a hammer and a saw.
2) They can be your advocate in technical circles. It's a much stronger pitch when a software developer reaches out to another software developer and says "Hey, I saw your profile and it might be a very good fit with this company I'm advising" than when you do it and you look like the masses of MBAs looking for code monkees. Plus, it gives you some street cred if at least one software developer thinks that what you are building should and could be built. Ask them to add the fact that they're advising you to their various profiles if they can.
3) They can help you vet candidates as they come in--the first line of defense.
What may wind up happening is that they can help get that first developer in, potentially mentor them a bit and join your company when you get enough revenue or funding to be a little more de-risked. Or, they just move on to the next company to sherpa a bit.
This happens all the time on the funding and business side--where someone experienced in business helps two developers figure out a funding or revenue strategy, intros them to customers, etc. I haven't seen it done much on the technical side, but there's a huge opportunity out there to help promising ideas connect to the technical community.