Who is your hero? (In business, life, or both.)
In business and in life, my hero is none other than the Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. His energy and passion for equality is infectious and inspirational. He speaks plainly and candidly, qualities I think are extremely important. Bernie Sanders is the epitome of a contrarian, and in business, being a contrarian is crucial to success. Bernie refused to back down when everyone was telling him to sit down and shut up.
Bernie is a marketing genius. He successfully identified a niche where there was a huge demand and virtually no supply and he seized the initiative to launch his campaign. Against all odds, he quite nearly succeeded. I find his story to be truly heart-warming.
What’s the single best piece of business advice (unorthodox tips welcome!) that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
“No one cares about you.”
Most of us are raised and instilled with the idea that we are unique and special. It felt like a slap in the face the first time I heard: “No one cares about you.” But this advice is what has carried me this far.
No one cares about what you want or what’s good for you. When you’re trying to sell a product, it’s natural to think you would like to sell X units in Y time-frame. However, the only way you’ll get any sales in the real world is to figure out what the question is that your product answers and what your customer’s needs are and how your product addresses them.
No one cares about the things that make you anxious or scared. If you’re like me, networking events can be pretty frightening. How will a room full of strangers judge me? What if my joke falls flat and everything thinks I’m a fool? The truth is, everyone else is in the same position as you. They are all too busy worrying about their own perceived image to be wasting energy thinking about and judging you. So shake off your fears, think some happy thoughts and go get ‘em.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
My biggest mistake was not quitting my day job sooner. When I launched the online store for NeuEve.com, I was working a job as a senior software engineer at a tech startup. Over a year ago, my income from selling NeuEve online surpassed my salary from my day job.
In my brain, it made financial sense to focus on NeuEve.com. But in my heart, there were a number of obstacles holding me back. I didn’t want to abandon my friends at my job and I was embarrassed to be known as “the female viagra guy.” “Tech startup guy” was much more familiar and comfortable to me.
I hemmed and I hawed with indecision for a year. Finally I forced myself to quit by giving a three month’s notice and booking a trip and tickets to The International, a worldwide DoTA tournament I had always wanted to attend.
However, by the time I had quit, many new competitors had entered our space with very similar products. The price I paid for hemming and hawing was losing our lead in the market.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I work at home, so it’s super important for me to start the day off right. I first make a kale, spinach, frozen blueberry protein powder smoothie. Then I process payments and shipping information for our customers that came in from the last 24 hours, and I send the orders to ShipBob, our fulfillment partner. Next I check my emails. Then I make a short list of goals for the day. Finally, I bike to Brooklyn Boulders, a rock-climbing gym, which is where I work for the day.
What’s your best financial/cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Brace yourself for repeated rejections and failures while you figure out your pitch and your product-market fit. It’s a marathon. Knowing how to handle your emotions in a mature, productive manner are the difference between success and failure.
I’ve worked with entrepreneurs who had a great product and some initial success. However, they freaked out at every single minor failure and perceived setback. This is business: there will be rude customers, crook suppliers, disappearing shipments and ruthless competitors. Those are the table stakes. In the words of the wise Big Sean, “last night you took an L, but tonight you’ll bounce back.”
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Read up on Virginia Satir’s five stress response strategies. It will only take five minutes, I promise. Then think about which strategies you commonly employ, and which strategies your business partners employ. Are you generally blaming, placating, computing, distracting or leveling?
I personally have a tendency to use a lot of placating and distracting, which stems from prioritizing other’s happiness above all else. While this results in people liking me as a person, it very difficult for me to challenge or persuade others.
A lot of conflicts and arguments in your team can be much better understood using this framework to understand what’s happening. The best and healthiest ideal is to use leveling, which means taking your emotions, other emotions and the full gravity of the situation into account. Honesty means speaking the truth, good or bad. Good business requires honesty.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
Success is not about money, status or power. It’s so easy these days with social media to compare your averages with others’ highlights. Everyone has their own challenges to overcome. It’s just that some of the challenges are visible than others. Success is taking it one day at a time, forgiving yourself, and trying to just be a little bit better than the day before.
OK, now that the preaching section is over. It’s my dream to own a castle and have my best friend own a castle too. When we’re bored on a summer weekend, we can lay siege to each other’s castles with trebuchets and catapults.
My alternative way to demonstrate that I’ve succeeded is by purchasing a professional sports team and renaming it to something that promotes and glorifies science and math, so that us nerds will finally be considered cool by the athletes.