Entrepreneurship, Leadership

The Key to Startup Success?

A friend of mine recently asked me what I thought the key to a successful startup was. Even though I’m involved in the entrepreneurship community and have heard many others speak on this topic, I wanted to make sure I gave him a thoughtful answer. I kept thinking of everything I’ve learned over my number of years engaged in entrepreneurship from both an operator and facilitator standpoint: Business Model Canvas, Learn Canvas, the importance of customer development, user experience design, etc. The one thing that kept sticking in my mind, however, is the need for great people. What I mean by this is leaders who have complementary skills with the ability to productively work in concert to accomplish a goal. There are several important parts of this definition:

Leaders – individuals who can inspire and enable the success of others. This includes the recruiting, training, and retaining of employees and cofounders.

Complimentary Skills – See previous post.

Productively Work in Concert – This doesn’t mean that founders have to cover favorite bands at the local coffee shop every night, but teams should have compatible working styles.

To Accomplish a Goal – Your end goal will change along the journey but whatever it changes to, the team must still work together to reach it.

Want your startup to have the best chance of success? Have the best team possible. You need only read the latest startup news in your favorite tech publications to see the impact this can have. By the way, this doesn’t just apply to the startup world: in any size corporation, the most fundamentally important asset is great people. Tweet at me with #startuphire, and tell me whether you agree or disagree!

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Community, Entrepreneurship

A Facilitator’s Journey: Startup Weekend Lancaster

That was quite the drive. But after hours of road time through the back hills of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I have arrived at the small city of Lancaster. As preparation to facilitate the Startup Weekend event this weekend, I learned how to correctly pronounce the city’s name. This is one of the smallest events I have been to with less than 40 people attending. The experience is great, just the same, though. Friday night pitches were creative, and I heard some fantastic ideas: everything from 3D printed coffee-top designs to a ride sharing app.

As of the time of this writing, the teams have coalesced into four (maybe five) teams, and are working hard to flush out their ideas and start some software and customer development. I am continuously impressed by the level of passion individuals bring to their work at Startup Weekend events, even if the idea isn’t originally theirs. Can’t wait for Sunday night presentations!

Follow some of the action on Twitter, and be sure to tweet at me with #startups. Go teams!

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Community, Leadership

Stop What You’re Doing and Listen…

Screen shot 2014-02-17 at 12.22.53 PM… to yourself. When was the last time you paused from your daily routine to do a little self-reflection? There has been a plethora of research done on the chemistry of creativity, and there are practical benefits to self-reflection. As a leader, your self-reflection can mean the difference between your team’s success and failure. These are a few steps I take when I consciously self-reflect, though each person’s experience is unique and you should identify your own process:

1. Get in a comfortable and relaxing environment. Concentration requires a particular type of environment, so make sure you’re in it before self-reflecting. It could be something as simple as a quiet room alone, or as complex as lying down in bed at precisely 11:15pm with your favorite song on.

2. Allow your mind to wander and allow issues to rise to the top. Remember all those times you tried to remember where you left your wallet or tried to remember if you actually locked your car on your way in to the store, only to remember later when you were doing something totally unrelated? In your relaxed state, let your mind bring the most pressing matters to you. Don’t force an issue that isn’t coming to you immediately.

3. Obtain clarity on an issue and ask focused questions. Once you begin to reflect on something in particular, ask pointed questions: “Why did they react that way? What information did we miss? What are possible next steps?” This is the core of your self-reflection. But you still have on more step to go.

4. Ask, “So What?” Now that you have the answers to these questions about a particular topic, what are you going to do about it? What actions do you need to take as a result of this realization? Write it down, and actually do something about it!

How has self-reflection helped you? Tweet at me with #reflect, and let me know!

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Community

How Improv Made Me a Better Leader

tumblr_lp4dydSfV51qg0le2o1_500It has been a while, but when I was a young student I did both comedic and dramatic improvisational acting. Not to say I no longer like improv; if Dick Costolo started a new improv group, I would join in a heartbeat, #IPOWhosLaughingNow. I can say, without a doubt, that my experience helped make me a better leader, and here’s how:

Using Emotions Effectively

Improv is a form of acting, and there are many styles of it (one having been popularized by an older and newer television series). No matter the style, however, it is important for an actor to understand when, and when not, to be emotional in his/her delivery and to what degree. The same can be said for people leadership. When conveying your vision or debating with others, your emotional degree at any given moment can mean the difference between getting team buy-in and dealing with team mutiny.

Not Taking Myself Too Seriously

In comedy improv, you quickly learn to make fun of yourself and your surroundings. After all, there are few things more acceptably funny that your own shortcomings. When you are a leader, by definition, a group of people are looking to you for direction. Understanding for yourself and declaring to others that you are human and imperfect, and celebrating that fact, will only help you better relate to your team.

Instincts + Intelligence = Gold

In popular forms of improv, there is not a lot of time for actors to think about “what’s next.” Proper training, decent smarts, and quick thinking can lead to excellent results. The same can be said for leadership. Being able to make intelligent decisions while trusting your gut usually leads to excellent results.

Support the Team, Even in the Unknown

One of the central rules of improv is to never disagree with the direction of your partner(s), the reason being that conflict, unless intentional to the method, rarely looks good. Trusting your partner(s) instincts and direction is usually good for everyone involved. Your team (with their experience, instinct, and education) should be trusted in the same way. A leader is not a dictator, and when members of your team may have unique experiences that lend themselves to the task at hand, enabling the success of those individuals can lead to the team’s success.

Have some great improv stories, a favorite Whose Line sketch, or any critiques? Tweet at me with #improv, and let me know!

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