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  1. 4 Ways to Leave an Impression as a Founder

    Your business becomes more memorable as you do too. The impressions you cultivate are a significant part of making sure you develop and maintain relevance to your customers and community.

    As you start down the path of growing a huge company that enters all sorts of markets successfully, you’re going to be thinking about all sorts of things – different roadblocks within your products, how to communicate important info to your investors, where you want to be three months to a year down the road, what your customers want most… and the list goes on. You’ll find yourself vacillating across the range of small and large things.

     

    An important piece of the startup puzzle is to spend time thinking about and practicing how you impress yourself upon others. I mean that quite literally. How do you leave a mark? How do you press yourself more deeply into someone’s mind and emotions? Whether this current startup works or the next one or you move onto something else entirely, you need to pay conscious attention to how you convey yourself. It may feel like extra work now but will reap rewards down the road. I was having a few conversations about this while in San Francisco this last month, and kept coming back to a Fortune article about Jawbone and founder Hosain Rahman. The article was about a 16-year-old startup in the midst of an issue about unicorns, or billion dollar companies, often less than half that age. How did that get written? Much less, land at eight pages in length in a print magazine? My contention (and the author’s, it seems) is that it’s because Hosain is visible and takes time on the developing an impression.

     

    I think this is so important that I’m going to outline four ways I think you can get better at raising your awareness of how you come across to others as well as improve that impression you leave behind. Oh, and these are meant generally for the casual context because you need to get away from the computer and interact, with other human beings – even ones you may not know.

     

    Show up and appear accessible

    There are only 168 hours in every week, and some of those you need to use for sleep, working and a few other things, so I know you think about networking events and social media in a very tactical manner. However, don’t lose sight that the appearance of accessibility is critical. Posting something to a personal Twitter handle or checking into FourSquare may seem extraneous in the immediate moment but all these short posts and pictures become a vehicle for others to pull together a virtual flavor of your character and partnership or employer potential. Additionally, sparks of creative solutions or new directions for your products come from all sorts of engagements. Don’t underestimate the value of standing at one of those circular bar tables and chuckling with that guy about the appetizers being served.  There’s a real possibility that person may lead you to your next CFO or supply chain partner.

     

    What makes you memorable?

    Passionate about citrus. Let loose with the trivia.

    Passionate about citrus? Let loose with the trivia.

    What makes you stand out in a sea of faces or people? Is it your love of all things citrus or that weird anchor tattoo on your forearm? Reporters get pitched a few dozen story angles every day, if not more. They get pitches every day about one software changing the world through satellite big data being projected back and unscrambled and a consumer messaging platform that is revolutionizing how millennials connect. Meh.

     

    First, those angles are often way too general for a reporter to cover. And secondly, they aren’t nearly as interested as that founder they met at Zero Zero in San Francisco after Dreamforce. That founder had the anchor tattoo on her forearm because two years ago she thought to develop a software that helps tugboat operators and coast guards communicate better to port authorities together. What? Sounded weird but interesting, right? Totally, 100% made up story but you were starting to picture a woman sitting at a bar having a Pilsner and stroking the tattoo of an anchor on her forearm while she was talking to our reporter friend, huh? Pick something to highlight to others that is a strong part of your brand, that is meaningful and different. Ideally, it connects to the passion you’re working on in the form of a startup. Think about what your picture would be in a magazine cover story (besides your face, of course). Matt Galligan of Circa is amazing at this. Everyone knows how obsessed he is about drinking a good cup of coffee, which pairs beautifully with… your morning news, of course.

     

    Important addition for the Israeli entrepreneurs out there, most reporters already know the army story or that you’re likely from 8200. You need another, more personal story that makes sense. Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey have a great shared story that is authentic and makes them stand out as the obvious founders of a collaborative working community. Before founding WeWork, the two had childhood experiences on a kibbutz in Israel and a commune in Oregon, respectively. They both had early experiences thriving in and building upon shared economies that are now gaining traction across our broader societies.

     

    Be a good date

    If you break down a good date, it generally comes down to some level of attraction, good conversation, lots of questions aimed at you (if you’re the one walking away smiling) and both of you being engaged. Same goes for networking and developing good connections. Though, I’d argue, that the level of attraction can be heavily manipulated by the other two factors. So, focus on those latter two items and the chemistry will follow. Of note, it’s good to have an objective in both forms of interaction but don’t be so focused that you don’t let the other person lead you down a different path. Think of yourself more as a good interviewer and less as someone who’s out to pitch or impress someone. On dates, those people always flop because you can just feel how hard they’re trying, right? You will leave a more lasting mark by being more of the former. Keep your cool. Drop a few hints about what you’re working on but mainly ask a lot of questions – you may be surprised at what you learn and you’ll be much more prepared to impress your new friend when he comes back asking for a meeting.

     

    Don’t go alone

    Bring your wingperson. You'll help each other in conversations and maybe even get to know your colleagues better.

    Bring your wingperson. You’ll help each other in conversations and maybe even get to know your colleagues better.

    Here’s the thing. I go back and forth on this a lot because I actually like going to functions by myself and randomly inserting myself into conversations. It’s fun for me. But in reality everyone should have a wingman or wingwoman. Here’s why – you’ll have an easier time inserting yourself into conversations or pulling others into yours. Bring someone of the opposite sex. You’ll be more approachable to others and likely have a more dynamic conversation. By bringing someone with you, you’ll also be able to steer conversations more effectively and remember any follow-ups or reactions your new friends had to different topics. Also, it’s much easier to have someone you know extract your foot from your mouth or come up with a new topic before you start going down a rabbit hole. Trust me. In addition, if you’re an Israeli entrepreneur uncomfortable with small talk or baseball analogies, find a wingman or wingwoman who is a local. They’ll likely have more of a network in the room coming into it and be able to warm your new friends up with some sports or weather conversations before you dive into deeper conversations.

     

    You may think that there’s an exception to these suggestions. What if you’re as brilliant as Elizabeth Holmes? Shouldn’t you just keep your nose to the grindstone and keep plugging away at growing your business. Well folks, even Elizabeth has a way of standing out to those around her in a simple and meaningful way. She regularly wears black turtlenecks as an homage to her hero, Steve Jobs. Does that make you think she’s focused and will be successful in building a huge, meaningful company? Coincidence? Not likely.

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