Are you getting your message across? Pitch your story

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been running career workshops again – with INSEAD in Fontainebleau and Singapore and, for the first time, with Science Po in Paris. So, after a long hiatus, I’m inspired once again to write – this time about how to put together your job search ‘story’ and pitch it effectively.

In one of my workshops, a student kindly volunteered to share his pitch with the group for us to dismantle and discuss. His pitch went along the lines of:
“My name is… I have a lot of diverse skills… I want to apply them in your organisation…”

He was not convincing. Why? 1) He presented himself as diverse, rather than distinctive. (Which was quite surprising because he actually had a very distinctive background!) 2) He wasn’t able to build a vision of how he could fit in the company – leaving his audience to figure it out. 3) It wasn’t clear what he wanted or how his target audience could help him.

He told his story, but he didn’t pitch it. To pitch it, you need to know what you want and lead the person to it by being relevant, convincing and clear. Create a connection with the person and get them interested in knowing more.

Here is the exercise they go through in the workshop:

Think about a situation in which you need to win over someone: To give you a job? To buy your services? To fund your venture? To participate in an event you are running? There are some key elements of your message that are useful to prepare before your conversation.

  • Think about your target audience. How do you know them? What makes them the right audience for your pitch? What can they do for you? Assuming they are the right audience, now give some thought to their needs and how your request/offer addresses those needs. What matters to them? What gets them interested? What is their pain? What are their options? Find ways to check your assumptions so that you are targeting appropriately.
  • Now why does it make sense for them to be interested in what you are offering or requesting? What is your fit with what they need? What is the compelling reason? Why should they choose /help you? What makes you stand out compared to their other choices? Make it connect to something meaningful or urgent to them. Remember, it isn’t just rational argumentation. You may be more effective to make an emotional connection.
  • What is the background information they need to know about your request/offer? Think about what is really relevant to your argumentation. This can be the tricky part – less is more. You have lots of background information you could share but what is the key information that links to the ‘why you have a great offer’ statement? Think about what you are asking from them and only share the information that is core to the request.
  • What do you want from them now? If your audience really is hooked, what would you want them to agree to as the next step? Usually there are many steps between the pitch and the purchase/hire. Where are you at in the process? What specific call-to-action can you make?

Putting it all together:
You want to be brief and build connection with your audience. Here is a simple mental structure that can keep your message focused:

PitchStructure

Start by clarifying your objective of the conversation. Your overall objective may be ‘to be hired’ or ‘to sell your product’ but the objective you want to express here is why you are reaching out to this person in pursuit of that larger objective. For example, “I am contacting you in application for…” or “My colleague Joe advised me that you are the best source of information on…”.

Choose the right tone for your audience. Should you have high energy or quiet confidence? Be the cool professional or more personal? Be detailed and factual, or visionary and passionate? What can build the emotional connection and credibility with your audience so that they want to follow-up on your request?

State the background information that connects your objective to your offer. Watch your target as you deliver this message to gauge where you are having impact. Your introduction becomes the groundwork of your discussion. Ignite the interest in your audience so they further build your case, not you.

Offer something: a compelling explanation or vision for how you will be able to serve your target audience. Even if your suggestion does not fit what they need, having a suggestion gives them something tangible to discuss.

To close, be sure that there is a clear and specific action that your audience can take to move things forward.

Making an effective pitch can have as much to do with what you don’t say, as what you do say. It doesn’t communicate everything your audience needs to know; rather, it should communicate just enough to get someone wanting to learn more about what you are offering.

Here are some key tips to keep in mind:
1. Be clear on your objective.
2. Be confident about what you are offering.
3. Understand your audience, check assumptions.
4. Choose the right time, right place, right messenger.
5. Appeal to their values not yours.
6. Choose relevant and accurate facts.
7. Don’t state opinion as fact.
8. Don’t assign emotions to the other person.
9. Respect their power to say yes or no.
10. Make them feel good about saying yes!

The more you deliver it, the clearer your story becomes. As one student said when I asked to think about his target audience, he said he would first target 4 or 5 people who were friends or ‘plan B’ contacts  – to try out his message and hone it for when it really counts. Sound advice.  Practice and feedback. That’s how it will come together.

What are your thoughts/experiences on pitching your story?

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If at first you don’t succeed…

I wrote in earlier posts about career choice and setting direction. This post is about how to make it happen.  You may have decided what you want to do, but getting an employer to hire you is your next challenge.   Recruiters are busy. The recruiter likely has more than one qualified and interested candidate.  How do you stand out and get chosen?

You know the routine for applying for jobs, but maybe you need to up your game.  If at first you don’t succeed, how do you try, try again in a more effective way?

1. BE PROACTIVE

   Basic Applying: Scan the job ads.

   Really Trying:

  • Network to get ideas and access open positions that don’t get advertised. Use LinkedIn or your alumni network to find people who you can contact for information.  Talk to the people with whom you network about your career orientation and ask for further contacts.
  • Identify some companies that you find interesting and join their talent pool – more and more companies have Facebook/LinkedIn pages, Twitter feeds and even dedicated apps just for job search. You can follow them online and be among the first to know when there are opportunities.
  • Participate in the industry community.  Go to industry events to be up on the issues, contribute to industry blogs, share articles and ideas on Twitter – all of these activities give you visibility to more contacts outside of your network and show your commitment
2.  BE PREPARED

   Basic Applying: Read the job description.

   Really Trying:

  • Get background information about the company and more context of the job – not just facts and figures on the company website but see what you can learn about their culture and the current issues they face:
  • Find articles about the organisation and its industry.  Find out who their competitors are and what they are doing.
  • Check online sources. Nowadays, companies are spoonfeeding us information about themselves in their blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube channels and LinkedIn and social network pages.
  • Talk to people who know. You can probably reach an employee of the target company or their competitor within 2 or 3 degrees of separation on LinkedIn to try to get more information or support.
3. BE UNDERSTOOD

   Basic Applying: Send a CV that lists off your past responsibilities.

   Really Trying:

  • The recruiter wants to understand the context of your responsibilities, the achievements and the skills and knowledge you can now bring to the new job.  Explain your experiences using the STAR method: not just your responsibilities but the Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
  • Your CV is your marketing document.  Are you getting your message across about what you are ‘selling’?  For example, if you say “Managed a team of 3 to rollout a new haircare product across Europe”, what are you asking them to conclude about you? That you know the European haircare market? That you can negotiate, organise tasks, work cross-culturally?  What does this experience mean? Tell them the ‘so what’.  When you leave it to their imagination, you risk them coming to the wrong conclusions.
  • Be sure that you use terms and references that are commonly understood outside of your former company or industry.
4. BE RELEVANT

   Basic Applying: Attach a cover letter that explains all about you and why you want the job.

   Really Trying:

  • Your cv shows the range of experiences and interests you have but the cover letter should highlight ONLY the things the recruiter cares about, not the things you find interesting about you.
  • Check your assumptions about what is relevant.  I remember I would get letters from candidates saying “I’ve done x, y z and therefore I’d be perfect for you.” And I would be thinking, “If you think that’s perfect, then clearly you don’t understand the job.”
  • Write about what you want to contribute to the employer, not why the job would be good for you
  • If you’ve been ‘really trying’ as above, use the letter to highlight the efforts you have made and show your passion and commitment: “I talked to Bob in your organisation and…”; “I recently attended an industry event where…”; “I follow your company online and see that recently…”
  • As guru Daniel Porot always says – your cover letter should address YOU-ME-WE – in the first part: write about the organisation and the job (YOU); in the second part:  write about how your experience is relevant (ME); in the third part (WE): build the vision of your potential contribution to the job and the organisation.
5. BE SEEN

   Basic Applying: Send in your written application and wait for a reply.

   Really Trying:

  • Try to contact the recruiter or others in the organisation before sending in your application. Get more information, show your interest.  When they receive your written application, you want them to recognise you and take an interest in reading it.
  • Recruiters have their processes and will get back to you when they are ready but it is still good to follow up, to reiterate your interest and to provide additional information, respectfully and with enthusiasm.
  • In addition to your cv and cover letter, find other ways for them to see you – online, at events, through mutual contacts. By following up and contacting others in an organisation, it shows your persistence, your interest, your passion to make it happen.
6. BE APPLYING!

   Basic Applying: Apply to a job and wait to see how it goes before moving on to the next one.

   Really Trying:

  • Even when things are looking good, keep casting out lines for new opportunities.  You need to be confident about your candidacy, but not over-confident about being the selected candidate.  Being selected is not just about whether you fit, but how you stack up against the other candidates. Even if you seem perfect for the job and the interview went really well, don’t wait around to see if things work out before applying to the next opportunity. It creates stress while you wait and even more stress if it doesn’t work out.
  • When you focus on job searching, rather than getting a particular job, you focus on the part of the process that is in your control.

So, if at first you don’t succeed,think about how you can ‘really try’ again.  Maybe you weren’t targeting your message correctly. Or they didn’t quite see what you had to offer. Or maybe they had too much email that day. Or maybe you weren’t the right person for the job.   Where and how you make the effort in your job search can make a big difference.  That’s a message that many job searchers don’t want to hear:  What can you be doing to get a better result?

I’d love to hear any stories or ideas about your job search experiences and the different things you’ve tried.  What has worked for you?

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Finding Direction for your Job Search

How do you approach job search?  Finding direction can help you be purposeful in your actions and have a clear message for others; but more often than not, the rush to be decisive about direction comes from a desire to avoid the doubt, confusion and stuckness of the job search process.   As Timothy Butler asserts in Getting Unstuck, there is much to gain from that period of uncertainty if you can take time to develop awareness and allow a vision to emerge that is true to where you can thrive.

When I ask people about how they are directing their job search, I often hear it framed in one of two ways: Either they know the qualities of what they want – like developing people or having an innovative culture – but aren’t clear on the actual jobs that would be possible; or they have some specific targets in mind – like clean tech or marketing –but haven’t articulated the qualitative aspects that would help them sort through the opportunities.  It is important to understand both frames in order to drive the necessary awareness for an effective job search:

The conventional advice is you need focus for an effective job search. As such, many people tend to focus around specific Destinations.  That approach may make it easy to implement but can lack the flexibility to make sense of and adapt to what you learn in the process.

Jack Welch said, (with reference to Moltke the Elder, one of the great military strategists in history):

“Strategy is not a lengthy action plan. It is the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances.”  (Thanks Paul for the quote!)

If you focus your job search strategy around your Orientation, it can serve as the central idea that allows you to discover new possibilities in the market and in yourself, and deal effectively with changing information.  You must regularly re-evaluate what is important to you and check your assumptions.

Figuring out your Orientation is a dance of introspection and deduction.  You can reflect on what is important to you and come up with one set of criteria; and you can analyse the choices you really make, which might reveal another set of criteria.  You can start by looking at what choices might interest you, and making sense of why.

Brainstorming Destinations

In Herminia Ibarra’s Working Identity, she talks about Possible Selves – (defined by Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius as: “the selves we hope to become, think we should become, or even fear becoming in the future”).  How do we come up with the ideas of our possible selves?  In many cases, we just stumble along them based on the exposure we have had to others – through personal interactions with friends and family; or professional interactions with colleagues, clients or suppliers.  Since you get your ideas based on exposure, then to expand the possibilities you are considering, arguably you need to expand your exposure.  You can do that either passively – through blogs, stories, magazines, news and other media; or actively –  through professional networking, increased social activity, hobbies and interests.

I attended a webinar years ago (that I see is still offered in fact) by Neisendorf & Associates about career ‘serendipity’ – creating your own career good luck. Among their various pearls of wisdom, they emphasised how getting involved beyond your job and having life experiences outside of work can be key to making discoveries and opening opportunities.  This had really resonated with me at the time because when I started off as a facilitator and coach, many of my client leads had in fact come from my activities as a singer (lots of people to meet in a choir!).  The critical thing in brainstorming Destinations is to look for inspiration, not just job postings. Allow yourself to be surprised where you might find it.

Clarifying your Orientation

Take your list of tempting Destinations and use that information to articulate and test your assumptions about your Orientation. Look at each possibility and think what it is about that opportunity that interests you.  If you map these qualities on to the Triple-E venn diagram (in my article on Career Choice), you can check if you are taking all of the dimensions into account: What is the expertise you want to be using and developing? What are the values and interests you want to honour? What are the professional and personal conditions you want to meet?   It is an iterative process that requires curiosity, not conviction; testing, not assuming.

Deriving your orientation from the possibilities that interest you can help you identify those key themes – not based on an ‘ideal’ of how you wish you were, but grounded in the clarity of what is really important to you – the enthusiasm, expertise and external factors that come together to make you thrive.

As an example, if you were to focus on Consulting for your job search, you might apply to any job in the category.  But do your interests lie in a category? There are many differences from one role to the next or within the same role at different companies.   If what interests you about Consulting is doing analytical work and having a variety of projects then focusing on that qualitative Orientation will better ensure you are creating the right options and will allow you to look beyond the category.  Sure there are tradeoffs when faced with the reality of job options but by centring your search around the ‘dream’, you are more likely to land close to the mark.

Discovering through Action

  1. Signal your Network. By communicating to others in your network the key attributes of where you want to go next in your career, they can help you expand your knowledge of possible destinations.  If you tell people, “I’m looking for a job in Banking”, they make their own associations about what that means and often recommend options that don’t match what interest you.  If you tell them you are looking for a finance job in which you are negotiating deals, working in a high pressure environment, with a team of dedicated professionals they are more likely to come back with relevant leads and ideas.
  2. Craft Experiments.  In Working Identity, Ibarra shows the iterative process of testing and learning through the crafting of experiments to try out possible identities.  Whether you are trying to reinvent yourself or just looking for positive change in your career, crafting experiments can help you discover untried interests and expand your network.  This can be through courses, activities, and temporary assignments. Social media has opened up new ways to dabble, through Twitter, blogs and online communities.
  3. Create Options. I encounter many a job searcher stressed about Destination choices at an early stage in the process, when those choices are not even real options in the form of a job offer.  Being overly decisive about your Destinations can paint yourself into a corner where you have to start all over again if things don’t work out as planned.  Focusing your job search around your Orientation puts the emphasis on creating options, constantly revealing new possibilities while staying true to your goal.  Just get started and see what you find.

Becoming You

Destinations come and go but Orientations endure.   As Butler observed in ‘Getting Unstuck’:

Each of us has a “pattern in the carpet”. Certain recurring themes signal what is vital for us. From these themes we can discern the types of activities, work environment, and close relationships that make our lives most satisfying.  As we grow, we more easily see these patterns and make better choices for ourselves.”

When I started as a facilitator 10 years ago, in lieu of my title on my business card I had put:

Facilitating idea generation and evaluation

Since that time I taught business simulations; trained as a coach for careers, teams and leadership;  provided experiential learning in executive programmes; and have now created an online platform to enable educators and coaches to enhance learning through feedback and review.  Each of these activities have been different Destinations on my career path but as I look back, I see that they all share, somewhat unwittingly at the time, the central idea of my original Orientation: Facilitating idea generation and evaluation.

How has a central idea emerged (or been planned) in your career and how has it helped you evolve?

Career Choice Dismantled

Inspired by providing career coaching these past few weeks for the latest batch of MBAs at INSEAD, I’d like to dedicate this post to the challenges of career choice.  In our modern society, we have great freedom to choose our path, which can create great stress for people who want to make the ‘right’ choices.  The problem is there are no ‘right’ choices.  There are too many variables at stake – too much we don’t know and too much we can’t know.

That being said, although we can’t plan, we can still manage our careers.  There are decisions to be made – and if we want to be satisfied with our professional lives, then the decisions must be made as much by our hearts as our heads.  That requires a good deal of self-awareness, as well as awareness of the possibilities around us. We can’t rely on other people’s advice because it comes from the lens of what they value.  To make a choice that allows you to thrive, you need to understand what you value.

What drives your career choices?

Each person has his/her own constellation of wants and needs when it comes to a career.  Some pieces of the puzzle we know consciously, while others are more intuitive.  So, when I ask people about the factors that influence their career choices, of course I hear many different things.  The broad range of criteria, however, seem to converge around three themes:

Some talk about the money, the perks or prestige; the lifestyle or family considerations, or the network they will gain from the job. I call these ‘external’ drivers for a career.  Although they are the most often cited reasons for choosing between options, our success and fulfilment are usually not driven by these factors that come from outside of us.

Some talk about the nature of the work responsibilities they enjoy having or would like to have. For example, they were trained as engineers but no longer want to be in engineering; they want to learn about financial management or marketing consumer products. They want to be managing people or defining strategy.  I put these in the ‘expertise’ bucket – the skills and knowledge they have or want to build.

Some talk about the goal of being satisfied and happy, being in a job that honours their values and where they can do things that interest them at work. I call these the ‘enthusiasm’ drivers.  Feeling positive and in ‘flow’ in our professional life becomes more and more important over our careers especially for those who focused on jumping through the hoops set by the outside world and realise that something is still missing.

How can you choose a career in which you thrive?

Here is what I have observed over the years, it’s not sustainable to focus on only one or two of the dimensions. Think about the person who is good at his well-paid job but is miserable every day (satisfying expertise and external but not enthusiasm); or the keen entrepreneur who makes a technically brilliant product but can’t drum up demand (satisfying enthusiasm and expertise but not external); or the person who gets the promotion into an exciting new area that is way out of his depth (satisfying enthusiasm and external but not expertise).

‘Thriving’ happens when you honour all three dimensions:

  • Enthusiasm – honour your values at work and do things that interest you
  • Expertise – develop the skills and knowledge that allow you to be really good at what you do
  • External – have enough opportunities and rewards both professionally and personally

It is indeed hard to get all three – and that is probably why many people are not thriving in their professional lives.   The framework is not intended to be a yardstick by which all job postings are measured, rather a way to notice our blind spots and remind us to bring to consciousness a more complete understanding of what brings us balance.

Can you find your Triple-E Spot?

Think about where you stand on each of these dimensions today.  Have you only been building on one or two of the dimensions?   What changes can you make that will bring you closer to the centre?  By identifying the factors that are most important to you across all of the dimensions, it can allow you to make sense of where things aren’t working and where you need to refine and make adjustments.

You can begin by some introspection about what you value in different possibilities for yourself.  Check your assumptions to strip away the things you think you ‘should’ value, and stick with the things that really do make you thrive.  Make small forays to try out the missing dimensions in your life and see what you can learn about yourself and your possibilities.  Finding your ‘triple E’ spot can be elusive and impermanent, but it is the process of searching that can put you on the right path.

I’ll be exploring these career transition topics in the next few posts.  I’d love to hear about how these dimensions have played a role in your career decisions.

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Lessons from my first year as an internet entrepreneur

A year ago today I launched my first internet venture. It’s been quite a year, with much learning.  I have tried to bring together my key learnings here for posterity.

As a bit of background, I had been coaching business school students for many years and in Dec 2010 had just finished a thesis on “Creating Effective Space for Learning”.  I was inspired to work with a colleague to develop a ‘space’ online for a very specific kind of learning: elevator pitches.  We launched GetPitch.com to help people improve their pitch by practising it on video and getting feedback from experts or the social network.  Once we launched the beta site, we were approached by a professor to create a customised solution for student multimedia submissions and review.  We began talking to different people in our network about how our technology could be used more broadly for education, candidate selection and community sharing.  Within six months we re-branded as Amphi Media and since then created several bespoke platforms serving customers in these different ways with implementations in Singapore, India, Sweden and France.

Looking back, here is what I have learned from the year:

On defining the business:

  • Start with what you know. Address a need you experience firsthand.  When we came up with the idea of GetPitch.com, I had seen it as addressing my clients’ need to practice their pitch.  What I later realised was that the technology was also solving my need as a coach/trainer to have an online tool to work with my clients to help with their professional development.  The market of coaches and trainers was something I understood better than managing an online site for end users. To manage a “B2C” product was a daunting task of mass-marketing and mass cost, whereas I knew lots of potential “B2B” customers like me, for whom we could bring the technological solution without having to worry about generating the audience to use it.  Starting with clients with whom we can relate has allowed us to build a solid foundation from which to expand to other customer segments.
  • Adapt to your market while staying true to your goal.  Yes we need focus when creating a new venture but I’ve seen many entrepreneurs fail by focusing on a misguided original vision of their product or service, rather than being open to see how the market uses it.  Our original idea had been to have the pitch practice site, but my underlying goal was to help people learn through the use of video, self-reflection and feedback.  By working with clients in the context of our goal, we could test and learn what features they needed and build for purpose. After trying out different solutions for different customers we are now in a good position to invest in a new version of the product with the features and user interface that better address customer needs while still serving the goal of enabling multimedia submissions and review.
  • Don’t wait to feel ‘ready’.  Just put yourself out there.  Six months after our launch, we were still trying to figure out our business direction but nonetheless participated in an international entrepreneurship competition (Biz Barcelona).  At the time our strategy was oscillating between developing the market for our B2C pitch practice site or creating bespoke platforms for managing video submissions in a variety of ways. So what was our business? Who were we becoming? Did we need to change the name from GetPitch? We had to decide quickly because we had put a stake in the ground to attend the competition and pitch to investors.  That event helped us focus and deliver on our message.  Pitching together with my business partner also helped us ensure we were on the same page about what our business was and what it was becoming.  We participated in more events throughout the year including the i7 Summit, LeWeb and various events at INSEAD business school.  By attending these events, we met great people who helped us develop.   Every encounter gave us new learning – not just about what was out there but also about what we wanted to be.

On conditions for success:

  • Be in a nurturing environment. I rent an office beside several other entrepreneurs at a corporate university called CEDEP, situated on the corner of the campus of INSEAD business school where I have been providing coaching and training for some time. Having informal contact on a daily basis with the other entrepreneurs allowed the idea for our venture to spark and flourish. Also being in regular close proximity to institutions where we had lots of contacts and lots of potential projects allowed for the repeated and diverse conversations that helped us define and test our products.  To start our venture, the location played an instrumentally positive role.  Moving forward, I can also see the limitations that this location may bring as we try to grow – making it a hurdle to branch out beyond the immediate circle of contact. That will be the key challenge in the second year.
  • Have a partner with a shared vision and a different perspective.  As we began this venture, my vision for a learning platform fit my co-founder’s vision for the development of technology.  We were very much in sync on our direction, and remained flexible on how to work toward it.  With our different experiences and different perspectives we could balance each other out on product decisions and matters of execution.  As the business has gathered momentum in the development of customised education products, however, it has become less and less in line with my partner’s vision for the technology delivery.  As we head into year 2, we need to make decisions on how to bring together a team that shares the motivation for the market space we are managing to develop.
  • Have a good lead client.  The first professor for whom we developed a platform had a specific and complex need that set a high bar for our development and delivery.  It allowed us to test our product under demanding conditions, forcing us to learn quickly, while benefiting from the support our client provided as a partner in the development.  From that experience, we could be more confident about the robustness of our product and had a strong testimonial for building future business.

On execution:

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel.  With the number of products and services available on the internet, it doesn’t seem to me that the first movers have the advantage.  The transparency of internet businesses allows us to see how other people are marketing, pricing and delivering their businesses.  It is a treasure trove of ideas to help inspire choices for our own business, saving us time and money.
  • Have technology skills in-house but build redundancy.  My business partner was capable of doing all of the coding this past year, so we did all of the development in-house.  Looking back, it was incredibly helpful to have that flexibility and expertise because we weren’t clear enough on our initial product to define specs for an outside supplier with service level agreements, etc.  We would have likely over-engineered with a lot of mis-directed effort and cost.  As the business began to take form however, being dependent on only one person to deliver added stress and risk when there were tight deadlines or unexpected problems.  To create a sustainable business, we need more people involved in development and customer support, bringing in a more diverse expertise and finding an effective way to coordinate the activities.
  • It’s never perfect. Enjoy the journey. Launch day for an internet business can be deflating.  On this day last year, we had worked and worked to get the product functional but launch day of a B2C site was not like opening a store and inviting all of your friends to buy.  It was the beginning of a period of marketing promotion while questioning, fixing and adjusting.  (The great thing about a web business though is when we find problems, we can make the fixes immediately available to our customers.)  Happily I enjoy the tinkering of the site, but putting a product out there before it feels ‘perfect’ is still hard for me.  I can imagine so many possibilities for our product but have had to learn to go step-by-step, accepting the limitations of each version and building for the next one.

Closing thoughts:

Don’t stop believing.  What I love about internet entrepreneurship is that there are no ‘gatekeepers’. If one customer isn’t interested, move on to the next one.  There are an unlimited number of doors to knock on when you can deliver anywhere in the world from anywhere in the world.

It has been very useful for me to take this time to make sense of what I have learned from this past year. Please add your comments with any stories or insights you may have.  Looking forward to seeing what we make possible in 2012.

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Entrepreneurs, unite! Lessons from LeWeb 2011

I have just returned from three days at LeWeb 2011, a three-day conference in Paris for the world’s internet glitterazzi and the thousands of hopeful entrepreneurs and investors who hope to be among them in the future.  Being at the event has provided new contacts, new energy and new ideas but it has also given me a critical insight that has inspired me to start this blog and share it with others.

The theme of the conference, as with the current trends of internet business today, was So-Lo-Mo (Social, Local, Mobile).  The event exemplified those three elements, bringing us all together in one location with much mobility in our social interactions.  We were ‘social’ but were we connecting?  There were thousands of entrepreneurs at the conference, each desiring to pursue his/her dreams, yet seeming to lack creating linkages with other people’s dreams to make them be stronger together.

Sean Parker on Day 3 of the conference shared his insights, which to me zeroed in on that feeling that had been bubbling within me over the event:  Too many entrepreneurs are able to stay working in their ineffective silos because it is easy for them to get angel funding.  He called out that people with good ideas and talent are not coming together to form great companies. They are pursuing their ideas in isolation, with the help of angel investors, missing critical ingredients in the set of skills to execute well on their plan.  Such ventures eventually fizzle out because their founders don’t figure out how to collaborate with others and adapt.

This fits with something that JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist at Salesforce.com said in extolling the virtues of the larger enterprise:  We can do things as enterprises because we have multi-disciplinary talent pulled together in a collective consciousness.

The average entrepreneur tends to revel in doing his/her own thing.  What the successful entrepreneurs were reminding us is, in order to survive and thrive we must not act in isolation.  We need to bring together diverse, collaborative talent to execute, and be flexible in the realisation of our vision.

My experience at LeWeb was much like being on the web: talking to many people each for just a little while; connecting with the person who happens to be around me at the coffee machine; floating in and out of presentations that interested me. Social Local Mobile indeed.   Now, post-conference, is the hard work of making it real – re-connecting with potential partners, investors, developers and making things happen together instead of just talking about it.

I have been working on my internet venture for the past year with many beta clients and am in the midst of development of the 1.0 launchable product.  I was grateful to have been sponsored by Silicon Valley Bank and Lepe Partners to attend the conference as part of their ‘Adopt-an-Entrepreneur’ program.  In my pitch, I said I wanted to attend so I could learn how to make our launch work the best way possible.  LeWeb has been an incredible way to open minds, open doors, see what is possible.  We have revelled in the bubble of our ideas and dreams. The gauntlet has been thrown for us get real and make it happen now.  Continue to build the team and together we can be stronger.

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