You. The most memorable story.
My dear friends from the Eleven accelerator asked me to give a short talk for their startup founders. Especially as our Edgar is part of the Eleven family, or one of 11, as they say. Vessy asked me to tell the guys how to reveal their personal story and how to be more memorable. As apparently I’m one of the most memorable founders. Well, I’ll take it as a compliment.
And here’s my short talk broken into key takeaways for the young entrepreneurs.
In the early days of a startup or any company, it’s often about the founders. Or a single founder even. As a founder you are the brand. You are your startup. Especially in the eyes of VCs, partners, or your clients. So it is important that you as a person have a memorable presence and that you give people a reason to remember you.
Why? Because remembering is the prerequisite to helping in the future. And you will want help in one form or another.
Even as a geeky, genius tech founder you need to be memorable. People see hundreds of brands, VCs hear dozens of pitches every day. So make sure they remember yours. And believe me, it’s rarely the pitch or your idea. It’s all you. And it’s not you being flashy and crying for attention, it’s you being cool, smart and trustworthy. If the world is a jungle, you want to be the Mowgli, not the grumpy tiger.
Sadly, there’s no universal recipe as everyone is unique and has their own strengths and weaknesses. So do you. But here’s some advice I learned in the past 15 years working with numerous brands and individuals.
As generic as it sounds, it’s the most important thing. Be you. Don’t copy Steve Jobs. Or god forbid Johnny Ive. I’ve seen so many people trying to mimic those two. People even buy turtlenecks to look like Steve. But they don’t know that people remember Steve Jobs for much more than his turtleneck. And another thing about Steve; nothing about him was random. I would even say, he was not really authentic. The only authentic thing about him was his perfectionism, which also made him memorable.
So, don’t be Steve. Or in general pretend to be something you are not. As you WILL fail. And embarrass yourself. Instead find what makes you unique, why do people believe in you? And hopefully, the tips that follow will help you find what’s authentic about you and help you be more memorable.
First things first. In order to get your story out and make people remember you, you need to engage the conversation first. You’re nervous, you say? You don’t speak perfect English? I hear you. But so what! Use this as a way to break the ice between you and your audience.
Remember that first impression is everything. So if you screw the beginning… well, you’re toasted. Malcolm Gladwell and several scholars say that people will judge you in less than 5 seconds. And if those 5 seconds find you stumbling, there’s nothing that can save you. Gladwell calls this the “Blink”.
So make sure you practice the introductions on your friends, on cab drivers, on you mom (Mom test anyone?). Just be ready to respond in the most awkward of situations. I would not advice you to go with a “trademark” line, but be ready to properly open any conversation with a simple pickup line. Yes, hustling works exactly the same way as wooing the ladies. And it’s all about making a good first impression and connecting.
Connecting is the mother of them all. Back to dating… the girls will always say that there’s the “chemistry,” the “connection.” Or there is none. And they would also say that it’s something that “just happens.” Well, I strongly disagree. Sometimes a relationship simply needs a bit more time before the connection happens. And yes, you can work for it to happen.
An example. You’re meeting a big fish at the telecom partner you so much desire to have in your distribution pipeline. If you meet them in their HQ, why not start the conversation with: “Darn, the internet here’s really crappy. Who’s your ISP?”
Or when you see that a VC you meet is into Terry Pratchett as much as you are (his bookshelf in the office is full of Terry’s books). Start the conversation with a snarky remark from one of the Discworld novels and you’ll connect. Forever.
If you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett than you’re already well off. But even if you’re not (though, you should be!) remember one of the most important things: always tell a story. Sounds obvious, but still, I see so many people bore others to death. Or pitch their idea in the most pushy of ways.
Instead of that, you should entertain, engage and… well, tell your story. Remember Aristotle and Freitag, you should have the beginning (where you break the ice and connect), the peak and the end. The latter should be equipped with a clear call to action.
An example: You’re a founder of a health startup talking to a potential distribution partner at a fair. Start by charming the lady by telling her how cool their booth is. Or how you almost missed the flight here. It’s now time to engage her in your story. Once you got her attention, tell her how your product could be a good match for them. Nothing too pushy, just give her a bone to chew on. Before you leave, just ask her if she has time for a coffee to talk things over.
Just as the lady at the booth, everybody likes to connect on a personal note first. Then it’s business time. All the investors will tell you they invest in people, often because they like the founders. And you know what, it’s actually true.
People love to hear your personal story and WHY you do what you do. Unless you make it sound extremely boring. Simon Sinek started what is now a fanatical movement called “Start with Why.” So, do communicate your Why and show how passionate you are. And people will remember you and your company. Not because you’re an egoistic prick but because you love your work. Some call it vision, but it’s more about the Why, the reason that drives you.
An example: Again, you own a pretty boring health startup, changing the way surgeries are done. Why not tell the personal story behind. That it was when you were in hospital, lying on the surgical table when a surgeon started laughing: “Hey, you’re a computer science PhD. Why do you guys make such complicated tech, eh?”
The most memorable companies that I know, especially startups, are the ones with passionate founders. The ones that scratched their own itch with their venture. The founders are so interconnected with the company that they become the extension of the company. Or vice versa.
For people to buy into your story and remember you for it, your story has to be consistent. Your tone of voice while on stage, on Twitter or in email replies is consistent. Best advice is again to find what is your authentic voice and stick to it. If you think you’re not snarky, quirky or memorable enough, then create your own tone of voice guide. This does not mean you need to change your behaviour, it’s just a guide to help you in the beginning.
For example, I’m always a bit quirky and childish — even when replying to VCs. It’s tricky, but this is my voice. It also means I would never wear a suit and a tie on stage, and I would always wear something colourful. And people who follow me on Twitter know it’s perfectly normal of me sharing some random stuff of no value.
Having a red watch or wearing a trademark hat might help you be more memorable and authentic. Or funky glasses. Yes, everybody likes those. Mostly, it’s not the real hat, but a metaphorical hat — a simple feat that helps you be more memorable.
For example, this is what Vessy would tell someone before meeting in person: “I’m the short girl with short hair jumping around the venue.” The “hat” can be the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you pitch on the stage. It’s simply way easier if people have something else besides your smartly delivered presentation to remember you for. Funny fact is that geeky, nerdy people have it easier to be memorable as the world has seen enough of well-polished, copy-pasted people.
An example: I have a dear friend who started a tech company in a really niche industry. He’s a nerdy dude with no extra feats. But once, he spontaneously started singing while on stage pitching their startup. From then on, he WILL be remembered.
Let’s stay with the hat and the funky glasses. You should never ever, ever, put on the hat for the hat’s sake. It looks weird if you use one feat just for the sake of being memorable. And then when the same people see you on street they see a different person. It’s like trying to be hipster-ish just because you have to impress the Berlin folks. Or wear Allstars although you hated them since… ever. Remember, people will notice!
Wearing a silly hat can get you attention and people will even remember you. But do you really want to be remembered as the fony dude posing on stage. You simply don’t want to be the person stealing the show or, god forbid, making the show. The secret is in balancing the “you” time. Your main goal should always be to engage and entertain others, but not to fill the room with your ego.
So, my dear memorable friend, a word of advice: Don’t be the drama queen (Paris Hilton, anyone?), don’t pose, and keep your cool. Shine only when needed. But when you need to, make sure it’s super bright.
In the years talking to thousands of people, I started to see patterns. And telling jokes is one of the oldest and most proved communication starters. But still, I would strongly advice against telling jokes. Why? It’s generic, it’s not sophisticated and you simply don’t want to be remembered as the guy who tells good jokes. Or? I thought so. You want to be the person remembered for the wits and expertise.
A joke is OK when it’s a smart one, when it’s a snarky comment on current affairs for example. It’s also OK, when the shit hits the fan. Really bad. When things are far south already, then it’s time for drastic measures.
Another way to be the elephant in the room is to be the smart ass and kill the conversation with arguments. Yes, you’ll be remembered for life, but also win the award for the most awkward interlocutor.
If you’re smart, it does not mean you need to make everyone else look stupid. And remember that intelligence is a very subjective mistress. So, don’t kill the conversation before it has even begun. This happens especially to techy guys who by default go on the defence and defend their ground before the battle.
As an entrepreneur or a tech founder, you will often talk to people who have no idea about your business. They will talk nonsense, you will want to laugh out loud. But you do not. You simply listen and learn. Then be quiet. Then respond.
My final piece of advice is true especially for the entrepreneurs in my beloved Eastern Europe. Entrepreneurs like myself, who more often than not lack confidence and the guts to come out of the post-Communism closet.
As chauvinistic as it sounds, it can be easily applied to businesses. I’ve seen so many (me included) entrepreneurs start the conversation, get the attention and then forget the most important thing: the ask. The clear call to action. So many of us think it’s something that will get you in the bad books, but it’s completely the opposite.