Lessons Big Companies Should Learn from Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs often lament big companies, but most of us hope we’ll create just that. It’s hard to fully appreciate the complexity of keeping an organization with thousands of employees moving forward. Add in public company demands, lawsuit targets, & millions of customers to continually satisfy, and you have to have great respect for those doing it well. But that doesn’t mean that they have it all figured out. Along the way many big companies lose much of the grit and guts that made them so successful in the first place. There’s a lot more the big folks can learn from the millions of entrepreneurs hustling each day, building something amazing from scratch. I’m on my fourth startup now with Comparably. After selling my last company in 2013, I was part of Intuit, one of the better-run large companies. I’ve been advising and consulting large organizations for many years now, and here is the advice I share with them, from the perspective of a serial entrepreneur.   There’s Not Enough Focus on the Product – New companies are obsessive about product-market fit, because it’s their lifeblood. At scale, product differentiation is taken for granted. Strategic conversations become dominated by budget forecasting, brand consistency, & market positioning. When product is focused on, it’s often groupthink committee decisions leading to the most boring and predictable of changes. A smaller set of stakeholders should be empowered to make bolder decisions held accountable by customers instead of surveys. You Take Ridiculously Too Long to Make Decisions – The thoughtfulness of needing to act deliberately, get’s mutated into decision paralysis. Decisions that take entrepreneurs an hour, often take months at large companies. Yes, these organizations have much more to consider and lose, and should be more thoughtful especially when any serious risks are at hand. Unfortunately that sometimes-necessary-process then gets applied to all decisions. Consensus becomes the enemy of completion. Tepid No’s Replace Committed Yes’s – There’s a scene at the end of Casino where the elderly bosses are determining the fate of their consigliore (Alan King), & they all say they trust their long time loyal confidant. But the final boss demurely says “why take a chance”, in the next scene the consigliore is shot in the head walking to his car. Nine out of ten leaders in big companies can be on board for an initiative, but often it only takes that super minority tepid veto to kill the plan. Big company execs have perfected the politics of “that wasn’t my idea”. Compare that to entrepreneurs who are often the sole Yes in a sea of No’s. Neither style is ideal, but only one is driven by conviction. Agencies are Used as a Perpetual Crutch– Large companies spend an ungodly amount of money outsourcing everything. Many times this is a great use of capital resources.   However, this is a huge mistake when overpriced and underperforming 3rd party agencies supplant core competencies and skills that need to be developed internally. Company leaders that need to be subject matter experts on marketing, product and technology become ineffectual without their outsourcing to lean on, and in turn are beholden to ridiculously expensive firms charging them 10 times what it would cost to do in house. Comparison Syndrome – Large companies often have a public superiority complex, and private inferiority complex. I’m all for having a healthy respect for competition, but large company employees are often childishly obsessed about what their counterparts are doing. So much time and energy is wasted either lamenting how dumb their competitors are or self-flagellating their own perceived shortcomings. Entrepreneurs blindly forge ahead, often not knowing enough about the competition. Many times it serves them well, and leads to original fresh approaches. Culture is Not Posters or Perks, it’s People – When an entrepreneur starts a company, the culture is a reflection of her personality. And in it’s formative years Culture is simply a function of those early employees. Fast forward and large organizations try and make culture a pyramid of ideas that fit on posters and an arms race of perks vs their competitors. But those are paper & plastic symbols. Culture is always people. It’s the values, work habits & personalities of the people servicing the product and customers. Not All Talent is Equal – Large companies love their employee bands. Outside the executive ranks compensation & upward mobility is often determined by formulas and classifications.   In efforts to simplify HR and appear equal, large companies often homogenize the rewards incentives for their mid and lower level employees. But the biggest gains typically come from a small portion of overachieving contributors. It’s company a leader’s job to find these gems, challenge them and reward them appropriately. You’re Biggest Expense is Your Working Dead – Nothing is more expensive to an organization as unmotivated and unproductive team members. You’re biggest cost are employees that seem like they’re working, but who are actually mindlessly going throughout their day just hoping not to get caught. The context of startups helps to weed this out because the pace is so face & each team member is doing the job of multiple people. But as the pace of organizations slow and demands become less pressing, we’re all challenged with how to be as productive. What percent of your team’s efforts meaningfully improves the trajectory of the company? If You Don’t Disrupt You, Someone Else Will – The trapping of success is assuming you’re going to keep being successful. I’m always surprised at how defiant, slow moving, & scared large companies are when faced with the necessity of evolving to survive. Start-up businesses are constantly working to disrupt them. Large companies should fear small companies, not the other way around. Every large enterprise is eventually overtaken by a startup. The best companies disrupt & evolve themselves before their competition does. This post original appeared on Fortune Magazine: http://fortune.com/2016/05/09/advice-big-companies-entrepreneur/

Management Philosophy: Owners vs CEOs

Owner Management Do Whatever Needs to Be Done – We are responsible for everything. There can’t be any hubris or ego about a job too small.  Growing up I saw my father work as a bookkeeper, handyman, salesman, broker, financer and even pretend manager of his own apartment buildings.  Whatever needs to get done, we do. Negotiate Everything – When my father goes to Rite Aid, he’ll try and negotiate the price of his prescription drugs, and sometimes he gets a discount.  Every dollar matters when you’re growing a business.  Never accept the first offer or price.  By mastering negotiation you’ll always have more resources to accomplish your goals.
 Cash is King: Protect Your Downside Risk – Cash is the lifeblood of your business.  Don’t risk your capital where the upside potential isn’t proportional to the downside risk.  Success comes to those who are able to stay in the game the longest.
Nobody Else Will Figure it Out for You – Nobody else will get your customers, or figure out the toughest business challenges for you.  In 2007 when we were about to launch Docstoc I attempted to outsource our PR and social marketing to no avail.  Eventually I committed to take care of it myself, and on the day we launched 30,000 people visited our website.
Personality Matters – Personality can be your most valuable asset.  People are often willing to do business with you just because they like you.  Before you have money or notoriety, you always have likability as currency to trade to your advantage.  My dad has the biggest personality I know, and often reminds me “you have to know how to talk to people Jason.” Fortune Favors the Bold – My father is fond of driving me around Los Angeles pointing out all the buildings he could have owned.  But for an immigrant with limited education, he did an amazing job of piecing together the smallest of savings to start buying real estate decades ago.  If you want to reap the fruits of success you have to take your shot.  No one ever hit a game winner from the sidelines. Nothing is Ever Quite Good Enough – On occasion I’ll share what I think is an important accomplishment with my father, and he’ll often reply “Congratulations Jason, I’ll give you a sh-t medal.” High standards matter, and sometimes they should be impossibly high.  If you ever feel too satisfied with you business, it will likely lead to very unsatisfactory results. What Are You Waiting For: Do It Now – A very dear man and mentor to me, Mike Schuminsky, had a very special way of managing folks.  Once he decided something, he wanted you to get it done that very instant.  Great business owners have a keen intuitive sense of the most important items to work on, and a heightened sense of urgency to complete them right away. Build Something to Pass On – When you birth and grow a company, at some point you inevitably think about its legacy.  And whether it’s a family business or business brand like Intuit, owners think about building companies that stand the test of time.  You’re driven by more than monetary outcomes, you want to create something built to last, that you’re proud to pass on.   CEO Management Don’t Do Work; Delegate Everything – I once had an extremely hard working board member tell me, “your job as CEO Jason is not to do anything.”  It was a hard lesson at the time to comprehend. But as the CEO if you’re responsible for executing functional areas, the growth of the company can be bottlenecked by one person’s individual capacity.  (TIP: read The E-Myth) Always Be Recruiting & Fundraising – Two of the most important jobs of a CEO are to recruit great talent and to make sure their company has ample access to capital.  You should be spending up to 50% of your time on this.  (TIP: read “What a CEO Does by Fred Wilson” Hire Talent Better Than You and Pay Up – Great CEOs hire people more talented than them (Jim Jonassen first told me that).  If you hire folks whom you believe you can do a significantly better job than, you’re making a huge mistake.  Paying 25% more for the best talent can lead to 200% better results (major props to Marissa Mayer and her hiring standards). Define Objectives, Provide Resources & Step Aside – Define your company’s goals in terms of customers, quality, revenue and growth.  Provide your team with the resources they need to accomplish these goals: money, talent, vendors and time.  Then step aside.  Agree on required resources and results, but don’t tell your team how to get there. Hold Others Accountable for Results, but Encourage Mistakes –You’re responsible to hold your team accountable for their commitments.  But instead of punishing inevitable mistakes, turn them into lessons.  When I was 23 I was sure I was going to get fired for a major blunder, instead the CEO told me it was my mess to clean up.  We should encourage mistakes as opportunities to build growth and ownership. Give Praise, Share Credit, Encourage Critique – Employees feed off of your positive reinforcement and recognition.  Credit for accomplishments should be shared with your team.  Be overly generous in these areas, and constantly ask your team “what can we, and I be doing better?” (TIP: take Ben Horowitz’s advice: Get Made & Master the Unnatural) Cultivate Culture – A company culture always exists.  You’re either going to consciously mold it in a desired direction, or it may become a current flowing against your growth.  Decide what values are most important to your business, and build a team and environment that supports them (we have a superhero culture at Docstoc). Coaching & Cheerleading vs. Doing & Directing – Early on in Docstoc, a CEO coach told me that I was spending way too much time doing and directing vs. coaching and cheerleading.  As businesses grow, it’s vital that we spend the majority of our time mentoring and encouraging others to better execute the efforts we were previously responsible for. Have a Big Vision: Plan Out the Next 5-10 Years – What is the big picture? Start with the end in mind.  You should be able to communicate a compelling vision of your company 5 years out that inspires and motivates your team to execute passionately on the tasks & goals in front of them. Here is a recent keynote I did for the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, where I presented on this topic: <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/SA0qgVkw-3o" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> This piece originally appeared in Forbes:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonnazar/2013/06/26/owner-vs-ceo-management/#7bcc7a8a4ddf

Raising Money from VC’s: The Art of the Pitch

The most surefire way to raise money is to have a great team, build a great product and get meaningful traction. Yet, I always get asked: “What’s the secret to win over investors in pitch meetings?” These are the pitch techniques the best entrepreneurs employ to raise billions in capital. None of this can substitute for the business fundamentals, but it never hurts to be the best pitch person in the room. Don’t Slow Play It. Think of the first three minutes of your pitch as a movie trailer; showcase the best highlights right away. If you have a team member who was an early employee at Facebook, say that right up front. If you’ve been getting 25% week-over-week growth, lead with that stat. If you’ve got half of your round committed from Google Ventures, say so. You probably have 2-3 minutes to get the investors leaning in, or you’ve likely lost their attention and interest for good. Get all the great points out first and fast. Forget Your Slides. Put your deck away. Why have investors focused on your computer instead of you? You’re looking to build a relationship; you want investors engaged in an organic, authentic conversation. Have your slides there, reference the key points as needed, but keep the focus on each other — not a slideshow. Expect to Be Interrupted. There are no awards for the best-prepared speech. In fact, you should expect to be cut off within the first two minutes of meeting. Too many entrepreneurs get thrown off because they can’t go through their pitch the way they practice it. Be prepared for the conversation to take any direction. Investors will probe to see how well you understand your market and business.

Read what other startup mentors have to say about attracting investor attention.

Don’t Get Defensive. It’s very hard to not come off as defensive. Investors will give you all sorts of reasons why the business you’re so passionate about, and have worked so hard on, won’t work. In these moments of critical feedback, listen intently. Many times investors are testing to see how you will respond. Focus on “Ands” not “Buts”. A “but” statement negates everything that came before it, giving the impression that you’re blowing off the feedback. An “and” statement is a joiner. “You make good points, and here’s how I would tackle that issue…” This approach will stroke the ego of your investors and help you come off as thoughtful and mature. Convey Inevitability. You need to subtly convey that your deal is going to get done regardless of their investment. Don’t come from a place of need, which we all naturally repel. Create scarcity; let them know that this funding round is closing soon and we’re really here to see if we’re the right fit for each other. Every investor wants to invest in a confident team. Having that certainty of closing helps you walk the line between confident and cocky. Talk Up Your Team. Investors are foremost looking to invest in people. You have to first sell yourself. Investors want to see that you’re a cohesive team that work fantastic together and are a bonded unit. Prop each other up in the pitch meeting. It’s awkward to talk about yourself and all of the great things you’ve done. It’s very powerful when others are praising your great strengths and traits. Showcase Your Key Performance Indicators. Demonstrate the potential of your product through 5-6 KPIs. They should include stats like your growth rate (more important than your aggregate users), your cost per acquisition, user engagement and any early signs of conversion and monetization. Investors want to see that (a) this business is growing at a compounding rate; (b) that people love the product and service; and (c) that there’s a meaningful monetization opportunity. Communicate these metrics in the first five minutes of your meeting. Speak the Investors’ Language. You have to think like them. Investors aren’t in the risk business — if they were, they’d be entrepreneurs. And they more often than not follow the crowd of what other investors are doing. You need to “de-risk” your venture with social validation. What are the external indicators showing that your deal will be a success? Focus on the Five Ps that all investors care about: people, product, progress, passion and persistence. Show how you’re in the plus column in each of these areas. Tell a Grand Story. When I first started pitching investors, I tried to come off as a realistic, objective entrepreneur who understood the risks of my deal. That was a huge mistake. The best thing you can do in a pitch meeting is paint a big vision of something that should seem audacious and even outlandish. Venture investors are well aware of the risks of building billion-dollar companies, much more so than the entrepreneur. Your job is to get them excited about a massive opportunity. Paint the grandest vision for what your business will become. This piece originally appeared in the WSJ: http://blogs.wsj.com/accelerators/2014/10/22/jason-nazar-the-art-of-the-pitch/

My Advice for 20 Yr Olds

This piece originally appeared in Forbes:  It was one of the most popular articles I've ever written with over 5M views.  It was featured on the Today Show & tweeted out by Oprah and Jack Welsh.  It clearly struck a cord with many people and I've received a great deal of feedback on what people love & hate about it.  http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonnazar/2013/07/23/20-things-20-year-olds-dont-get/#78ec14075644 .  I started Docstoc in my 20’s, made the cover of one of those cliché “20 Under 20” lists, and today I employ an amazing group of 20-somethings.  Call me a curmudgeon, but at 34, how I came up seems so different from what this millennial generation expects.  I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I see this generation making their own.  In response, here are my 20 Things 20-Year-Olds Don’t Get. Time is Not a Limitless Commodity – I so rarely find young professionals that have a heightened sense of urgency to get to the next level.  In our 20s we think we have all the time in the world to A) figure it out and B) get what we want.  Time is the only treasure we start off with in abundance, and can never get back.  Make the most of the opportunities you have today, because there will be a time when you have no more of it. You’re Talented, But Talent is Overrated - Congratulations, you may be the most capable, creative, knowledgeable & multi-tasking generation yet.  As my father says, “I’ll Give You a Sh-t Medal.”  Unrefined raw materials (no matter how valuable) are simply wasted potential.  There’s no prize for talent, just results.  Even the most seemingly gifted folks methodically and painfully worked their way to success.  (Tip: read “Talent is Overrated”)
We’re More Productive in the Morning – During my first 2 years at Docstoc (while I was still in my 20’s) I prided myself on staying at the office until 3am on a regular basis.  I thought I got so much work done in those hours long after everyone else was gone.  But in retrospect I got more menial, task-based items done, not the more complicated strategic planning, phone calls or meetings that needed to happen during business hours.  Now I stress an office-wide early start time because I know, for the most part, we’re more productive as a team in those early hours of the day.
Social Media is Not a Career – These job titles won’t exist in 5 years. Social media is simply a function of marketing; it helps support branding, ROI or both.  Social media is a means to get more awareness, more users or more revenue.  It’s not an end in itself.  I’d strongly caution against pegging your career trajectory solely to a social media job title.
Pick Up the Phone – Stop hiding behind your computer. Business gets done on the phone and in person.  It should be your first instinct, not last, to talk to a real person and source business opportunities.  And when the Internet goes down… stop looking so befuddled and don’t ask to go home.  Don’t be a pansy, pick up the phone. Be the First In & Last to Leave ­– I give this advice to everyone starting a new job or still in the formative stages of their professional career.  You have more ground to make up than everyone else around you, and you do have something to prove.  There’s only one sure-fire way to get ahead, and that’s to work harder than all of your peers. Don’t Wait to Be Told What to Do – You can’t have a sense of entitlement without a sense of responsibility.  You’ll never get ahead by waiting for someone to tell you what to do.  Saying “nobody asked me to do this” is a guaranteed recipe for failure.  Err on the side of doing too much, not too little.  (Watch: Millennials in the Workplace Training Video) Take Responsibility for Your Mistakes – You should be making lots of mistakes when you’re early on in your career.  But you shouldn’t be defensive about errors in judgment or execution.  Stop trying to justify your F-ups.  You’re only going to grow by embracing the lessons learned from your mistakes, and committing to learn from those experiences. You Should Be Getting Your Butt Kicked – Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” would be the most valuable boss you could possibly have.  This is the most impressionable, malleable and formative stage of your professional career.  Working for someone that demands excellence and pushes your limits every day will build the most solid foundation for your ongoing professional success. A New Job a Year Isn’t a Good Thing ­­– 1-year stints don’t tell me that you’re so talented that you keep outgrowing your company.  It tells me that you don’t have the discipline to see your own learning curve through to completion.  It takes about 2-3 years to master any new critical skill, give yourself at least that much time before you jump ship.  Otherwise your resume reads as a series of red flags on why not to be hired. People Matter More Than Perks – It’s so trendy to pick the company that offers the most flex time, unlimited meals, company massages, game rooms and team outings.  Those should all matter, but not as much as the character of your founders and managers. Great leaders will mentor you and will be a loyal source of employment long after you’ve left.  Make a conscious bet on the folks you’re going to work for and your commitment to them will pay off much more than those fluffy perks. Map Effort to Your Professional Gain – You’re going to be asked to do things you don’t like to do.  Keep your eye on the prize.   Connect what you’re doing today, with where you want to be tomorrow.  That should be all the incentive you need. If you can’t map your future success to your current responsibilities, then it’s time to find a new opportunity. (See: How To Know When It’s Time To Quit) Speak Up, Not Out – We’re raising a generation of sh-t talkers.  In your workplace this is a cancer.  If you have issues with management, culture or your role & responsibilities, SPEAK UP.  Don’t take those complaints and trash-talk the company or co-workers on lunch breaks and anonymous chat boards.  If you can effectively communicate what needs to be improved, you have the ability to shape your surroundings and professional destiny. You HAVE to Build Your Technical Chops – Adding “Proficient in Microsoft Office” at the bottom of your resume under Skills, is not going to cut it anymore.  I immediately give preference to candidates who are ninjas in: Photoshop, HTML/CSS, iOS, WordPress, Adwords, MySQL, Balsamiq, advanced Excel, Final Cut Pro – regardless of their job position.  If you plan to stay gainfully employed, you better complement that humanities degree with some applicable technical chops. Both the Size and Quality of Your Network Matter – It’s who you know more than what you know, that gets you ahead in business.  Knowing a small group of folks very well, or a huge smattering of contacts superficially, just won’t cut it.  Meet and stay connected to lots of folks, and invest your time developing as many of those relationships as possible. (TIP: Here is myNetworking Advice) You Need At Least 3 Professional Mentors – The most guaranteed path to success is to emulate those who’ve achieved what you seek.  You should always have at least 3 people you call mentors who are where you want to be.  Their free guidance and counsel will be the most priceless gift you can receive.  (TIP:  “The Secret to Finding and Keeping Mentors”) Pick an Idol & Act “As If” – You may not know what to do, but your professional idol does.  I often coach my employees to pick the businessperson they most admire, and act “as if.”  If you were (fill in the blank) how would he or she carry themselves, make decisions, organize his/her day, accomplish goals?  You’ve got to fake it until you make it, so it’s better to fake it as the most accomplished person you could imagine.   (Shout out to Tony Robbinsfor the tip) Read More Books, Fewer Tweets/Texts – Your generation consumes information in headlines and 140 characters:  all breadth and no depth.  Creativity, thoughtfulness and thinking skills are freed when you’re forced to read a full book cover to cover.  All the keys to your future success, lay in the past experience of others.  Make sure to read a book a month  (fiction or non-fiction) and your career will blossom. Spend 25% Less Than You Make – When your material needs meet or exceed your income, you’re sabotaging your ability to really make it big.  Don’t shackle yourself with golden handcuffs (a fancy car or an expensive apartment).  Be willing and able to take 20% less in the short term, if it could mean 200% more earning potential.  You’re nothing more than penny wise and pound-foolish if you pass up an amazing new career opportunity to keep an extra little bit of income.  No matter how much money you make, spend 25% less to support your life.  It’s a guaranteed formula to be less stressed and to always have the flexibility to pursue your dreams. Your Reputation is Priceless, Don’t Damage It – Over time, your reputation is the most valuable currency you have in business.  It’s the invisible key that either opens or closes doors of professional opportunity.  Especially in an age where everything is forever recorded and accessible, your reputation has to be guarded like the most sacred treasure.  It’s the one item that, once lost, you can never get back.

How to Persuade People: My 21 Rules

How is it that certain people are so incredibly persuasive? Can we all harness those skills?  After  studying the most influential political, social, business and religious leaders, and trying countless techniques out myself, these are the 21 critical lessons I’ve identified to persuading people. This is an overview from a talk I’ve been giving to thousands of entrepreneurs for a few years now on “How to Persuade People.” More detailed examples are explained in the links below. THE BASICS
1. Persuasion is not Manipulation - Manipulation is coercion through force to get someone to do something that is not in their own interest.  Persuasion is the art of getting people to do things that are in their own best interest that also benefit you. 2. Persuade the Persuadable -  Everyone can be persuaded, given the right timing and context, but not necessarily in the short term.  Political campaigns focus their time and money on a small set of swing voters who decide elections.  The first step of persuasion is always to identify those people that at a given time are persuadable to your point of view and focus your energy and attention on them. 3. Context and Timing - The basics building blocks of persuasion are context and timing.  Context creates a relative standard of what’s acceptable.  For example the Stanford Prisoner Experiment proved that overachieving students could be molded into dictatorial prison guards.  Timing dictates what we want from others and life.  We chose to marry a different type of person than we date when we’re younger, because what we want changes.
4. You have to be Interested to be Persuaded  -  You can never persuade somebody who’s not interested in what you’re saying.  We are all most interested in ourselves, and spend most of our time thinking about either money, love or health.  The first art of persuasion is learning how to consistently talk to people about them; if you do that then you’ll always have their captive attention. GENERAL RULES 5.  Reciprocity Compels  –  When I do something for you, you feel compelled to do something for me.  It is part of our evolutionary DNA to help each other out to survive as a species.  More importantly, you can leverage reciprocity disproportionately in your favor.   By providing small gestures of consideration to others, you can ask for more back in return which others will happily provide.   (TIP: read  ”Influence” by Robert Cialdini)
6.  Persistence Pays - The person who is willing to keep asking for what they want, and keeps demonstrating value, is ultimately the most persuasive.  The way that so many historical figures have ultimately persuaded masses of people is by staying persistent in their endeavors and message.  Consider Abraham Lincoln, who lost his mother, three sons, a sister, his girlfriend,  failed in business and lost eight separate elections before he was electedpresident of the United States.
7.  Compliment Sincerely  - We are all so positively affected by compliments, and we’re more apt to trust people for whom we have good feelings.  Try complimenting people sincerely and often for things they aren’t typically complimented for, it’s the easiest thing you can do to persuade others that doesn’t cost anything but a moment of thought. 8.  Set Expectations - Much of persuasion is managing other’s expectations to trust in your judgment.  The CEO who promises a 20% increase in sales and delivers a 30% increase is rewarded, while the same CEO who promises a 40%  increase and delivers 35% is punished. Persuasion is simply about understanding and over-delivering on other’s expectations. 9.  Don’t Assume   - Don’t ever assume what someone needs, always offer your value.  In sales we’ll often hold back from offering our products/services because we assume others don’t have the money or interest.  Don’t assume what others might want or not want, offer what you can provide and leave the choice to them. 10.  Create Scarcity  – Besides the necessities to survive, almost everything has value on a relative scale.  We want things because other people want these things.  If you want somebody to want what you have, you have to make that object scarce, even if that object is yourself. 11.  Create Urgency  –  You have to be able to instill a sense of urgency in people to want to act right away. If we’re not motivated enough to want something right now, it’s unlikely we’ll find that motivation in the future.  We have to persuade people in the present, and urgency is our most valuable card to play. 12.  Images Matter  – What we see is more potent that what we hear.  It may be why pharma companies are now so forthcoming with the potentially horrible side effects of their drugs, when set to a background of folks enjoying a sunset in Hawaii. Perfect your first impressions.  And master the ability to paint an image for others, in their minds eye, of a future experience you can provide for them. 13.  Truth-Tell  – Sometimes the most effective way to persuade somebody, is by telling them the things about themselves that nobody else is willing to say.  Facing the hard truths are the most piercing, meaningful events that happen in our lives.  Truth-tell without judgement or agenda, and you’ll often find others’ responses quite surprising. 14.  Build Rapport - We like people who we are like.  This extends beyond our conscious decisions to our unconscious behaviors.  By Mirroring and Matching others habitual behaviors (body language, cadence, language patterns, etc.) you can build a sense of rapport where people feel more comfortable with you and become more open to your suggestions. PERSONAL SKILLS 15.  Behavioral Flexibility - It’s the person with the most flexibility, not necessarily the most power, who’s in control.  Children are often so persuasive because they’re wiling to go through a litany of behaviors to get what they want (pouting, crying, bargaining, pleading, charming), while parents are stuck with the single response of “No.”  The larger your repertoire of behaviors, the more persuasive you’ll be. 16.  Learn to Transfer Energy - Some people drain us of our energy, while others infuse us with it.  The most persuasive people know how to transfer their energy to others, to motivate and invigorate them.  Sometimes it’s as straightforward as eye contact, physical touch, laughter, excitement in verbal responses, or even just active listening. 17.  Communicating Clearly is Key - If you can’t explain your concept or point of view to an 8th grader, such that they could explain it with sufficient clarity to another adult, it’s too complicated.  The art of persuasion lies in simplifying something down to its core, and communicating to others what they really care about. 18.  Being Prepared Gives you the Advantage - Your starting point should always be to know more about the people and situations around you.  Meticulous preparation allows for effective persuasion.  For example, you dramatically improve your odds in a job interview being completely versed in the company’s products, services, and background. 19.  Detach and Stay Calm in Conflict - Nobody is more effective when they are “On Tilt.”  In situations of heightened emotion, you’ll always have the most leverage by staying calm, detached and unemotional.  In conflict, people turn to those in control of their emotions, and trust them in those moments to lead them. 20.  Use Anger Purposefully - Most people are uncomfortable with conflict.  If you’re willing escalate a situation to a heightened level of tension and conflict, in many cases others will back down.  Use this sparingly, and don’t do it from an emotional place or due to a loss of self control.  But do remember, you can use anger purposefully for your advantage. 21.  Confidence and Certainty - There is no quality as compelling, intoxicating and attractive as certainty.  It is the person who has an unbridled sense of certainty that will always be able to persuade others.  If you really believe in what you do, you will always be able to persuade others to do what’s right for them, while getting what you want in return.

My Favorite Questions: they might change your life…

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” – Voltaire “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.” – Carl Sagan “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand As I turn 35 and think of my life so far and what’s to come, I realize how much I’m shaped by the questions I ask.  I’ve always been insatiably curious.  These are the 35 questions that have made the biggest impact on my life. Self-Awareness What are you pretending not to know? This was perhaps the most powerful question I was ever asked (by my best friend @bengleib).  All possibilities open up when we stop deceiving ourselves.
Why don’t you do the things you know you should be doing? Life isn’t about figuring out what to do.  The real challenge is (not so) simply doing the things we know we should be doing. What are your values and are you being true to them? Write down the 3 most important aspects of each of these areas: family, romantic relationships, friends, work, health, sex and spirituality.  These are your values.  When we don’t act congruently with what we value, symptoms of discomfort arise.
What don’t you know, that you don’t know? It’s always the obstacles that we don’t even see coming that are the biggest challenges in life.  Get in the habit of asking people that have been there and done it before for guidance. Happiness / Peace of Mind Are your “shoulds” getting in the way of your happiness? The desires of our ego are often in conflict with the emotions of our heart.  You’ll always have what you want, if you want what you have. If you achieved all of your life’s goals how would you feel? How can you feel that along the way? The discipline of delayed gratification is one of the most powerful habits of successful individuals. But most actions we take are meant to elicit an emotion in the now.  We’re happier striving for our goals when we let ourselves feel that which we want to feel when our outcome is achieved. What did I learn today? Who did I love? What made me laugh? I try and ask myself these 3 questions at the end of each day.  Regardless of anything else that happens, if you learned something new, loved a good person and got to laugh heartily, it was a day worth having and remembering. Perspective If you weren’t scared what would you do? Use the rocking chair test.  What would your 90-year-old self, looking back on your own life, advise you to do in the moment?   If you were dying, would you worry about this?  We so easily lose perspective on what takes up our energy and focus.  We’re all dying.  Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of this to enjoy living.  (TIP: Read “The Last Lecture” and “Tuesdays with Morrie”) Should you be focused on today or tomorrow? Savor the present but don’t forget your future.  Life is a balance of knowing when to enjoy the moment vs. when to plant seeds for tomorrow’s harvest. Influence / Achievement Why not?  What would happen if…? Don’t accept that things just are the way they are.  Question why something can’t be done.  And when you get pushback to these questions, reframe the negative answers with possibilities. (TIP: Watch “Steve Job’s Vision of the World”) What/Who did you make better today? The way to measure your worth may just be to give more than you take.  Asking what/who you made better each day is a simple litmus test we can all measure ourselves by. What do you want your life to be in 5 years? If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there – Lewis Carroll.  Write down 5-year goals.  They’re close enough to grasp for, yet far off enough to achieve almost anything. What can you do today to improve? Consistent, incremental improvement is the secret to achieving the greatest of feats. Business / Entrepreneurship What’s your WHY? If you have a big enough WHY you’ll always figure out the What and the How.  If you don’t have a BIG WHY, you’ll always use the What and the How as an excuse for not doing that thing you said you were going to do.  (Watch “What’s Your Why”) What’s the one most important thing to get done today/ this week/month? Write this down on a Post-it note at the beginning of each day/week, and hold yourself accountable for completing this above all other Stuff To Do. What questions must you consider before starting a business? See my list by watching “The 10 Questions” or reading the document.   What’s the potential upside? What’s the effort involved? What’s the likelihood of success? What’s the strategic value? This is the framework I came up with 3 years ago on “How to Make the Right Business Decisions”.  Whenever there is an opportunity cost, I have my team go through this exercise. What are we talking about? What problem are we solving? I try to start off every meeting by putting this on the whiteboard.  In group settings we too often we find ourselves having completely different conversations.  Sometimes when answers are difficult to come by, it’s helpful to question if we’re solving for the right problem. Can you get it done now? If something is important or urgent and you can get it done now, do it.  (TIP: Read “Getting Things Done” from the productivity guru David Allen) What do you need to make it happen? This is one of my favorite questions to ask as a manager.  It creates ownership to make sure the goals will be achieved.  And it creates a shared responsibility to provide the resources required (time, money, talent, etc.) to achieve those goals. If we could wave a magic wand and do anything together, what would that look like?  I use this question all the time with potential business partners.  By removing the perceived constraints that bind us and focusing on mutually desired outcomes, we often discover new pathways of possibility. How would your role models act and carry themselves? Act as if.  Act as if you have the experience, wisdom and swagger of your role model, and you’ll often find even the most unchartered of situations more navigable. When can we meet? We’re often this one question away from engaging with someone who can open up limitless avenues of possibility.   The most important aspect of business is still to always get it done in person.  (TIP: Read “Business Development Advice”)  Will you be my mentor? It’s one question that, when asked in earnest, almost nobody will turn down.  Reach out to a person in a position and industry you admire, and ask them if you can take them to coffee and hear about how they got there. What will I only know about you after we’ve worked together for a year? This interview question comes from the awesome Wendy Lea (CEO,GetSatisfaction).  This may be the best interview question I’ve ever heard.  (Watch “Fireside Chat with Wendy Lea” and check out my previous 8 Awesome Interview Questions) What would get you interested in our product/service? Selling is the art of asking good questions, listening, and matching your value to people’s needs.  Sales is very easy when others explain what they want and need from you.  (Watch “The 5 Step Sales Process”) Catch-All What else? Such a simple but powerful question with so may applications.   This piece originally appears in Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonnazar/2013/09/05/35-questions-that-will-change-your-life/#86c474b44d88

Grading Entrepreneurs: Here’s my checklist…

The following checklist is my comprehensive criteria for how to grade entrepreneurs.  I’ve developed it over the years by running Docstoc and helping thousands of folks start and grow their businesses. As I was once told in grammar school, the following exercise will test “your ability to follow directions.”  I, like many entrepreneurs, never followed directions that well.  But sometimes there’s a great deal of value inBeginning with the End in Mind. Vision / Strategy 1. See opportunity where others see issues (watch: You’ll See it When You Believe It) 2. Have a discipline for making decisions among various opportunity costs (watch: How to Make the Right Business Decisions)
3. Rapidly double down on something when it starts to work and blow it out to its full potential (via Matt Coffin) 4. Balance “gut decisions” with of a love of data-driven decisions 5. Focus on the one most important thing 6. Stay attached to the problem they are trying to solve, but be flexible in the solutions to solve it (watch: The Entrepreneur’s Dilemma)
7. Know when to apply a Reality Distortion Field 8. Protect their downside and prevent the organization from being put at risk   Leadership / Management  9. Communicate expectations clearly, build buy-in and hold everyone accountable (most of all themselves) 10. Encourage open feedback on what they can improve 11. Put others in positions to make critical decisions and drive key initiatives forward (watchFind the Leader in Every Employee) 12. Prefer to give credit than to take credit 13. Do, or have done, what they ask others to do 14. Remain organized and disciplined in any work habits that affect others 15. Seek out and follow the council of advisors in and outside of the business (watchcourt mentors) 16. Balance “Coaching and Cheerleading” vs. “Doing and Directing” (via Bob Walters) 17. Know when to set unrealistic goals 18. Regularly thank and appreciate others for a job well done (thanks to my co-founder Alon Shwartz for reminding me) 19. Make themselves consistently accessible to their team 20. Are honest and ethical in all their dealings Recruiting / Culture 21. At least 20% of their time goes towards recruiting top talent (tip: some say 50% via Vinod Khosla) 22. Build a team of A vs. B players 23. Define the most important qualities for hiring (watch: my 3 rules) 24. Counter-balance their weaknesses by hiring people better than them 25. Hire Fast & Fire Fast (via Mark Suster) 26. Define what the culture should be (the master Tony Hseih on culture viaKissMetrics) 27. Create an ingrained culture, not one of platitudes (tip: read “The Four Obsessions of Extraordinary Executives) 28. Make the culture about something bigger than business (watch: 10 Lessons Startups Can Learn From Superheroes) 29. Build ownership and accountability across the entire organization (watch:How to Address Problems in the Workplace) Fundraising / Capital 30. Put in their own capital before they ask others to put in theirs 31. They sell ether, sell the dream 32. Have mastered the investor pitch process 33. They first sell themself 34. Understand “People, Product, Progress, Passion, Persistence” (watch: The 5 P’s to Fundraising) 35. Always ensure the business is properly capitalized (read: How Much Should You Raise) 36. Treat investor’s capital like a borrowed treasure to be protected and returned Product / Customer Evangelist 37. Know their product better than anyone else 38. Regularly talk with customers to see what can be improved 39. Have a vision for the product that gets translated across the organization 40. Make their product different and better than the competition 41. Build lean products iteratively and ship expeditiously (tip: read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries) 42. Genuinely care about the interests of the customer more than their personal financial gain (watch: The Value of a 100% Money Back Guarantee) 43. Focus on execution over ideas Sales / BD 44. Participate in key sales functions and deals (watch: The 5 Step Sales Process) 45. Spend enough time courting key relationships that move the business forward 46. Great at generating PR and buzz for the company (ppt: Marketing and Publicity for Startups) 47. Listen more than they talk (watch: 10 Tips for Better BD) Intangibles 48. Stay scrappy as they grow (watch: The 9 Ways to Stay Scrappy) 49. Have a strong sense of demand and how to extract it (watch: put your big rocks in first) 50. Self aware, willing to admit mistakes and take responsibility 51. Fierce competitiveness, hate to lose 52. Extreme sense of urgency and intense work ethic 53. Have a big WHY (tip: watch this great Ted Talk by Simon Sinek) 54. Can sell the dream Now Disregard Everything on the Checklist Except… 55.) Do they get results with integrity?  That is the only standard by which entrepreneurs are eventually judged.  Everything else is just a test; grades don’t matter, but results do.   This piece originally appeared in Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonnazar/2013/04/02/55-point-checklist-to-grade-entrepreneurs/#63acac373006

Super Successful People Do These Uncommon Things

You’re always going to get the same results, doing what everyone else does.  Sometimes you have to know when to zig where others zag.  These are some of the counterintuitive lessons I’ve learned and applied from the most successful folks I’ve met.   Pick Fights – to test others’ resolve in their own beliefs.  In business you can’t turn over the reins to someone who doesn’t know how to defend their own ideas and plans. Isolate Yourself – to reenergize.  Many seemingly extroverts are introverts.  If you recharge when by yourself, you need to seek out isolation from time to time. Purposefully Offend – sometimes the only way to get someone’s attention is to call him or her out.  But, you can always positively turn the relationship around with persistence and some mea culpa.  Tech entrepreneur Jason Calacanis is a master of this. Hyper Self-Critical – of your own standards and choices.  I once watched George Carlin berate himself on stage, in a rehearsal standup performance, for missing the timing of one of his jokes by a few seconds.  He nailed the follow-up HBO special. Peacock – don’t give others the option not to see you or hear your message.  The pick-up lesson from “The Game” applies to business as well.  Nobody buys a product they’ve never seen.  (TIP: more of my thoughts on marketing and publicity). Repeat Mistakes – enough times until you really learn the lesson.  Sometimes, mistakes do need to be repeated if the payoff is big enough.  We hardly ever learn anything truly worthwhile after one try. Seek Out Rejection – to get desensitized to the fear of it.   Once we lose the fear of rejection we more easily go after what we want, and thus get more of it.  (TIP: more details in the 5 Steps Sales Process) Ignore Consensus – when your own data and foresight is convincingly contrary to the wisdom of the crowd (like Jobs, MLK, Gandhi).  Consensus bonds us together and creates harmony, but it rarely moves us forward.  Progress sometimes has to come at the hands of an individual’s decisive disruption. Expect Nothing – in return for helping your peers. Karma points are dispersed unexpectedly over decades, not in a scorecard of dollars. Quit – those endeavors you’ll never win at, and take a new swing at the plate.  Don’t double down on a losing effort by not knowing when to walk away.   (TIP: watch How to Make the Right Business Decisions) Play Possum – with your competitors.  Don’t be so eager to show off your strengths until it’s the perfect time to strike.   If rope-a-dope worked for The Champ, it will for you too. Get C’s instead of A’s – if you excel in non-traditional environments (like entrepreneurs) & can justify the opportunity cost of your time.  Oddly enough, more of the C students I went to school with, employ our A student classmates, than vice versa.  (TIP: I explain this point in more detail in video here) Become Indifferent to Slights – because time and energy are too valuable to waste on petty matters.  Attention being paid to wounds of our ego is precious energy diverted from achieving our goals.  You can win the argument, or win the game.  I know what I’d choose. Self-Sabotage – yourself when you find yourself mired in complacency.  Don’t ever get too comfortable with the status quo, always be willing to blow it up and start all over again to truly create something better. Abstain from Work – which others can do for you.  Delegate every task that others can do 80% as well as you, and focus on those items that only you can achieve that have big payoffs.   (TIP: focus on The One Most Important Thing) Plot & Scheme – your next couple moves ahead.  If you don’t see the whole landscape of the playing field, you’re bound to get sideswiped.  Know where you’re going far in advance of making your first move. Underestimate Demand – for your products and services.  Don’t ever assume people want what you got, and you’ll always have the appropriate amount of urgency and hustle to validate what you’re trying to achieve.  (TIP: don’t fall into the trap of the #1 Reason Why Businesses Fail)   This piece originally appeared in Forbes http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonnazar/2013/03/19/17-counterintuitive-things-the-most-successful-people-do/#d2cf62e22d71

Find Your Mentor: Here’s How…

I was an infamously odd student in business school and law school. I never bought books, rarely went to class, and hardly studied for exams. But I did spent those four years starting businesses and courting many mentors to help me along the way. Instead of studying for my classes, I’d set up new meet & greet meetings with successful alums. At the end of every meeting, I’d ask, “Would you consider being my mentor?” — and every time, I got the same response. Ignorance is Blasphemy: Why You Need a Mentor in the First Place. It’s not about what you know or don’t know; the biggest challenges you’ll face in business are the things you don’t know that you don’t know. Mentors will help identify areas of opportunity or risk that weren’t even on your radar. Plus the quickest path to success is to simply model the person who has already achieved what you want to. Identify step by step how they achieved their goals, and you have a proven pathway to your own success. A valuable mentor will provide you this roadmap and a lot of sage wisdom along the way. Machiavelli vs. Mother Teresa: Choosing a Mentor. Who should you pick as your mentor? I’d personally recommend the smartest person who’s also going to answer your emails/calls and be the hardest on you. The value of a mentor is not to give you an ego boost or save your feelings from getting hurt. You want someone who’s going to push you to be the absolute best professional you can be, and call you out when you’re not living up to your potential. Consider whose advice will ring most true to you; it may be Shpigler the Sharkor the ever-positive Matt Cutts, but pick the person whose points will pop with you personally. You’ll Have to Put Out: Getting the Most From Mentors. Mark Suster aptly puts it, you have better chance of getting struck by lightning than having an amazing mentor find you. You need to ask folks for help directly. To find them, start with personal relationships and identify people in your sphere of influence who have some sentimental or personal (and nonfinancial) incentive to help you. Once you find that mentor, it’s your responsibility to continuously seek out their advice and build that relationship. Their counsel is only as valuable as the time you put in to seek it out. (Here are some of my networking tips for entrepreneurs.) I Did It My Way: When to Follow/Ignore Mentor’s Counsel. There’s no 11th commandment, “Thou Shalt Always Follow Thy Mentors Advice.” It’s up to you to take the input and counsel from a lot of data points and make the best decisions you can. If you’re constantly going against the counsel of your mentors, you may want to question your stubbornness. However, if you blindly follow what you mentors tell you to do, you’ll have to question your backbone. Think of mentors’ advice as a set of ingredients you can pick and chose from — it’s up to you to make the main course. Lincoln may have built a Team of Rivals, but he was resolute in making the final decision he thought best. In those 6 years since grad school, I’ve built Docstoc into one of the most popular websites in the world to help grow startups and small businesses. And I’ve achieved this in large part not because I’m smarter or more talented than the average entrepreneur, but because I’ve made it habit of seeking out and relying on the counsel of mentors much smarter and more successful than myself. In fact, I have a secret to share: since those days at grad school I’ve probably asked over 50 people to be my mentor, and nobody has turned me down yet.   This piece originally appeared in the WSJ: http://blogs.wsj.com/accelerators/2013/05/24/jason-nazar-the-secret-to-getting-and-keeping-mentors/

How to Make the Right Business Decisions

How do we make the right business decisions?  There are 4 factors to consider whenever we have opportunity cost. 1.) Potential Upside     2.) Likelihood of Success     3.) Effort Involved     4.) Strategic Value. See the full presentation & slides below: [slideshare id=63882763&doc=howtomaketherightbusinessdecisions-160710102141] Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 10.13.33 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 10.13.49 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 10.13.59 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 10.14.13 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 10.14.28 AM Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 10.14.39 AM