We’re back from the long weekend and we begin the week with a tech fail: 5 minutes of “can you hear me” on skype while we try to start a call with our social media guru, Ian Cleary, fellow writer and kickboxer.
I’m especially excited for the session, because I’ve had a love/hate relationship with social media for the last couple of years. I’m the kind of person that gets depressed looking at posts on Facebook and ends up closing her Instagram account after realizing the damage her self-esteem was taking. At the same time, I love Twitter and wouldn’t even consider closing my Facebook account as it’s the one link I have at this point to many of my friends, especially the distance-stranded ones.
So how does it translate into business?
I obsess over followers and totally lose it when one of the posts in my startup’s Facebook profile gets likes in single digits. Terribly, ridiculously, embarrassingly basic.
Which is why I’m so relieved with how Ian begins the conversation.
“It’s not about following – It’s about relationships. If you get the content and relationships right, that’s going to generate your following. And it’s not even about how good I am at writing content, it’s about the relationships you develop with people.”
So that’s what it boils down to – people. You need to identify not only your audience, but also the people who your audience currently listens to. Can you reach out to them? Get them involved in your content? “Write a piece of content better than anybody else,” says Ian, “and promote it better than anybody else. Involve the influencers, put them all in a blog post and then tell them they’re there!”
Now, if you have any ounce of insecurity (or a generous serving, like yours truly) you might be asking yourself: Am I supposed to ridicule myself by writing a random blog post and then calling upon the greatest personality of my field saying yo, look where you’re featured?
“Consider yourself a thought leader” was Ian’s advice. “And tell yourself: As a thought leader, I will come up with thought leading pieces.”
So how motivating was the talk? Well. 10 minutes before it was over I was buying my domain name, and about two hours later I had a website up with most of my articles, some key talks and my professional experience.
Honestly – this whole thing has been about speed, so I don’t know why I expected my personal branding experience to be anything but vertiginously fast.
The next few days are spent in key workshops on arid subjects. It’s hard to get excited about accounting, but at the same time it’s either knowing how to do it or having everything fall apart because you were too lazy to make an effort to understand it.
Taxes, though. I don’t think I’ll ever get taxes outside of my jurisdiction, mainly because they seem ridiculously frightening. And it’s such a local thing, too. How long until we get universal taxation?
Actually, scratch that. That would be terrible.
We have IP and Cap table sessions and the office smells like burnt neurons by the end of the week. There are a few freak outs but they’re mainly contained and framed as new opportunities to learn. As I mentioned – this is vertiginously fast, and a lot is expected of us. But at the same time, you can see yourself moving forward and suddenly there’s a road laid in front of you and for a brief, beautiful moment, you know what to do.
I’ll trade hours of sleep for that assuredness every time I can. I’m here to learn to be as much as I can.
There’s a short session with Rhona Togher, and one of the things she says finishing her talk resonates with me. “We are young women in deep tech, all female group. These are metrics VCs in our area are not used to.” So how do you counteract it? “Play to the system, cover your bases. Surround yourself with the beards and the PHDs and the money.”
I might open Beard auditions for Kaitek.
In what honestly seems like an adorable interval, Bobby does rounds asking us how he can help each and every one of us. I mention my fear regarding selling what I see as an unfinished product, and he gives me a simple metric. “Go to your potential clients directly and just ask. What would make you pay for this?”
All these sort of things – both the small ones like Bobby reaching out and the big ones like established workshop sessions – contribute to an environment where I honestly feel like I could ask for anything.
So I try to give back as well, and end up hosting a bastardized version of office hours for pitch training. People legit come to me and ask me for advice on their pitch and I feel incredibly appreciated. My inner coach comes out and it’s well received and luckily it isn’t that hard to keep my ego in check because tough love is a common thing here and feedback is rough, tough and direct.
Friday comes with a new pitch session. A couple of the class had joked about me comparing us to scared deer for last week’s session, and I’m proud to say the deerness is now almost completely gone. There’s still nerves, of course, but now we actually know how this is going to play out.
And it plays out well. The improvement you can see in a matter of just a week is honestly amazing. Some of the stories the people in the class have are downright tearjerkers, the real, raw kind, and you can see their presence emerging and their eyes finally shining instead of shying away when they talk about their passion project. Some are still growing, and some might be just beginning. Bill tells us that after experiencing something, we build a narrative around it. We generally use the start, the surprises and the finish.
We’ve had some surprises to remember already, as well as some beginning missteps and more than one late bloomer. We will probably collect some more missteps along the way too. But hopefully it won’t matter if by the time this is over, we all manage to get to an ending that makes everything worth it.