A friend of mine asked me recently if I thought spending a summer as an intern for TechStars was a good idea. Here was my response -
Best idea ever.
Depending on the level of your involvement, you could potentially walk away from this internship with experience in starting 11 companies, going through dozens of pivots, chasing the minimum viable product multiple times in multiple industries, developing pricing models for 11 companies products, the hiring and firing and team building as well as all other nuances related to human resource drama that come in the startup world, drilling through messaging problems multiple times with each company, mastering pitch strategies, walk through financing these companies with VCs and Angels, the multiple stock scenarios that all have to be worked through, and on and on and on.
Seeing that many ideas walk the maze of failure to reach that eventual success has given me more confidence and skill than I could ever have curated on my own one or two projects, assuming I could have made meaningful progress on those one or two projects, working alone in the allotted 90 day time frame. The way to approach it is to think down the road three months and ask yourself if you’d regret spending a measly three months gaining that much experience? I promise you there is no better way to spend that time.
Not to mention the immense network of mentors, friends, and new best friends that all come from the program which I will lean heavily on for the rest of my career.
Breaking it down it looks like this
Rent — $1800
Chewy chips ahoy — $80
Chocolate milk — $150
Broken arm with no insurance — $3000
The ability to reach into the upper echelons of the technology industry with a network of mentors, supporters, and 40 brilliant new friends who have seen your work ethic and would go to bat for you without reservation — Priceless
Stick that in your Discover commercial.
Such a great summer.
I couldn’t decide if this should be called “Silence is Golden” or “You Talk to Much” but this is another lesson that has been highlighted through my experience at TechStars, namely that you need to know when to quit talking.
One of the things you pick up on really quickly as you observe people who have achieved real / meaningful success is that they can state a question and wait for an answer, and if an answer doesn’t come, they wait longer and at most offer to explain the question if it’s not understood, then wait longer. They are not afraid of silence.
New entrepreneurs or up and coming professionals out of college (or a lot of other business folk) have a tendency to fear silence. So in a similar situation, where they ask a question, before they even let people answer it, they’ll explain it again, then one more time, then wait for an answer, and if the answer doesn’t come, they fill that space with more explaining. Your audience will learn if they just hold out, you’ll give them the answer you want from them. If you’re afraid of the awkward space where no one is talking you are forfeiting one of the greatest tools in business in my opinion – silence.
The thought here is often your audience may not realize you’re asking a question, particularly in a presentation where the tendency is to zone out, so the pause is imperative to snap people out of that. Also it exudes confidence in your question, but this only works if you are confident that you are asking good, well thought-out questions.
I’ve also noticed that we are victim to the same insecurities when we are answering questions – we talk too much. I once ran an exercise where we sat around a table, I would ask a question and then stop people as soon as they reached an answer. It was funny because often the answer would come in their “warm up”. Particularly in entrepreneurship, we feel like no one can understand our ideas, so we should answer, then restate the answer, then bring those two answers together, then finish with a cute cliché phrase, then be done. Imagine stopping after you give the first answer then letting the person asking the question dig deeper and ask more specific questions. It portrays a confidence in your answer when you only have to state your answer one way, it’s short, concise, and people will love you for it. The rolling the eyes bit in meetings, I know for me that mostly comes when a simple question is asked –
“What did you have for breakfast?”
And someone answers
“I had lucky charms… you know the ‘magically delicious’ lucky charms…. It’s the cereal with the marshmallows AND the crunchy cereal bits…. It’s from General Mills it think… so lucky charms cereal… yup, that’s what I had…. I had cereal”
They could have stopped with any one of those iterations of an answer but they went through all of them, sure that to be properly understood, everyone should listen to them talk around the fact that they had cereal. It changes the tone of the meeting completely when you can answer “I had cereal” or at most “I had lucky charms cereal” then if they want to know more they can ask, and it’s those questions that give you real data about the person asking them. What are they interested in, how technical do they want to get, etc. You forfeit all of that data when you fill the space yourself.
So one of the things I do with the companies here at TechStars is I sit in on mentor meetings with them and take notes. My notes have 3 parts, and the first part is “Questions following your pitch” and I’ll make a list of normally 6-10 questions they answer, with the intent that they can go back and build concise answers to each question that they regularly get from people. It takes you from excited entrepreneur who maybe has a good idea | to guy who knows his stuff and has already done the research. Plus here, a mentor can certainly appreciate someone who can give a direct answer and not waste time – because time is a scarce commodity here.
1) Don’t be afraid of silence. Think of your questions before you go into a meeting, ask them, and let people answer. Often we’re just thinking of what we want to say, so give us a minute.
2) Don’t speak around the answer, just give the answer. Practice with a partner, have them ask you a question, then let you explain it back and have them stop you once you get to an answer. Then have your business partner start kicking your leg in meetings when you hit that same point.
If you do this, your meetings will be better, your contacts and network will respect you more, and gosh darnit people will like you.