Why We Need Startups

startup

As consultants, it’s in our job description that we are there to help; to guide our clients through thick and thin, to weather out the storm. It’s our job to guide the startups.

But what do startups provide us with? More 20 year old God-Complex “CEOs” who think they know how to run a company? Not necessarily, although that may be a true stereotype to some extent. Startups provide us with the groundbreaking innovation and discovery other companies are afraid to embark on because of the riskiness involved. For instance, just today California ruled that Uber’s contractors are really employees. There’s no doubt that a verdict such as this one will spin the ride-sharing industry in a direction we’re not quite sure of.

Think of startups like Wall Street during the internet and housing bubbles – it rocked from an economic standpoint. Of course, we are disregarding the moral hazard, the copious amounts of narcotics, and the fact that greed overpowered most of the influential individuals on the Street. Keeping this analogy as puritan as possible, you can see where I’m coming from.

Startups are the future of today.

And that is quite bluntly why we need to guide the startups: because we need the startups. The future of our economy, of our country, of our world – it all depends upon these innovative and edgy companies with nothing to lose. Sure, 98% of all businesses fail within the first year of starting up, but that 2% fuels us on an astronomical level.

Now imagine if we could get more than 2% of startups to succeed within the first year? Maybe 4%?

We’re talking about doubling innovation and startup ingenuity – an increasing of VC efficiency and allocation of all funds. As a startup consultant, my experience has lent to me the following principle:

Companies succeed with the right guidance. Likewise the opposite.

Companies succeed with the right guidance, and companies fail without the right guidance. This is where having a startup consultant becomes absolutely critical. Many startups and their owners tend to think in the “I am everything” mentality – they are the founder, the president, the CEO, the marketer, the support, the CFO, the sales trainer, and so on. Even I admit that I get into that cycle sometimes, and it’s quite a steep drop down into that rabbit hole.

Therefore, I want to address how startup consultants come to save the day. As a startup, you only know your company and who you want to sell your company to (consumers, investors, etc..). You might have woken up in the middle of the night, thought of a brilliant app idea, and forgot to go back to sleep. The adrenaline is pumping through your veins, the ideas are flowing, the fantasies of success and fortune are on the horizon. And yet you haven’t gotten yourself anywhere but into your shower to get ready for your 9-5 job. Which you’re not that thrilled about.

That’s where we come in – the awesome consultants who are budget friendly and fly a red-eye just to make it to your investor pitch. And speaking of pitches, that’s where this one comes in.

The CSC Institute is an organization which began its infancy back in January of this year. The organization prides itself on taking the first step into becoming a larger presence in the startup industry as a means of credentialing startup consultants – sorting the best from the rest. I had the privilege of getting involved with such a movement during that infancy, and now having established a CSC presence in the Northeast Region (Greater New York Area), good things are happening. The website for the Institute is still up and coming, but there’s a handful of information readily available. I’m actually working with everyone closely on the back-end, and things are going quite smoothly.

So what is the “Institute” and what do they do? Specifically, the CSC Institute strives to provide quality certification for professional individuals in the startup & small business industry. They put candidates through a challenging application process (from the initial preliminary application, to a resume/CV screen, to a phone screen, to an in-person interview) and based upon those evaluations they make the decision to award the individual with the Certified Startup Consultant designation (CSC). As you will notice on my LinkedIn profile, I finally got the designation as of this month. (Yay!)

Now that I’m done with this whole pitch, what’s the point?

My point is that, in a world full of individuals claiming that they understand the process behind startups and the plethora of strategies involved, the startups are actually suffering. Go ahead, ask any one of your entrepreneur friends and see if they ever had to deal with a flaky consultant or developer – there’s a good chance they did, and there’s even a better chance that those flaky individuals knew they couldn’t perform the work required.

Now, if there were a way to filter through all this nonsense and headache of flaky consultants and only identify the real, true hard-working individuals who have the education, the experience, the personality, and the willpower to exceed at helping you succeed…

That’s the exact reason for why I am getting involved with the CSC Institute movement, and why every other startup consultant out there should do the same. Understandably I have moved into a branding niche as of this past year, I still stay true to my roots. We need startups – good startups – because with our support and guidance, these startups will change the world.

Why You Need a Strong Personal Brand

Let’s get one thing straight.

You don’t need to be an entrepreneur, a business, or a celebrity to have a personal brand.

Everyone has a personal brand. A lot of people, however, choose to ignore their brand and let others form that brand for them. As your parents may have told you while growing up, “Be a leader, not a follower.” Well the same concept applies here. And from that concept, we derive one painstaking truth.

No one is going to hire a follower. In fact, genuine leaders are largely in short supply. Today we see it more than ever – with outsourcing on the rise and technology overtaking more and more jobs, we need to ask ourselves: how do I set myself apart? The answer is in how strongly you represent your personal brand. It’s not easy, let me tell you. I’ve actually flip-flopped my own personal brand several times in the past few years – from technical to business to branding. It’s never an easy journey, but it can be incredibly rewarding.

So what do we define as a “personal brand”? A brand is what encompasses the very nature of the product it represents (in this case, yourself). A brand must fully express in utmost brevity the exact reason for why someone should partake in mutual business. You may be asking yourself, how does one do this?

There’s a simple 3-step process which I follow each and every day. It goes like this:

1. Market

2. Network

3. Perform

While I could definitely come up with a silly acronym for this process (MNP, PNM, PMN), it does no justice. Remembering these three words will be key in the success of yourself and your brand. Therefore, let me explain each one in detail.

1. Market

Always take the opportunity to casually talk yourself up. You’re a web developer? If you strike up a conversation with a local handyman, give him a tip or two on expanding his local presence online, and mention that you specialize in that area. Don’t be pushy, but hey, if you have a business card, now is the time to shine. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Network

Make sure that you take advantage of networking events. These include meetups, pro bono work, conferences, and professional events. Networking is what I believe to be my specialty. My networking skills have led me to have conversations with Fortune 500 CEOs, top C-suite exec’s for a number of tech & insurance companies, and successful entrepreneurs. Networking is the art of getting to know someone on a first name basis.

3. Perform

This is absolutely critical in addition to the first two steps in the process. Performing by under promising and over delivering is the key to success as a professional in any field. Think a project might take a few days? Tell the client it will take until the end of the week. Chances are you will not meet that deadline as soon as you think, because life can creep up on you in unimaginable ways. That way, when you deliver the project Thursday morning, the client will be impressed and you will have a greater chance of being rehired in the future. Likewise, there may be a detail that you missed, and providing the client with extra time to review the project will reduce stress on both ends.

 

But how does an employed professional use these skills to excel within the 9-5 workplace? My response: how does one not use these skills? If you take this process for what it is – Market, Network, Perform – you will realize that not only should you be doing this in your occupation already, but it should encompass the very progress of your average work day.

Take time out in the morning to converse with upper management, maybe mention a project or account you are working on. Make the move to invite fellow co-workers or co-workers from another department to a round of golf on the weekend. Or maybe you can crunch those numbers a little faster or close that sale a bit sooner and impress your boss! Taking initiative on these little things can lead to a greater impact on your career later on. That means potential promotions, raises, bonuses and recognition. Who doesn’t love that?!

All in all, follow this process and DO NOT think for a moment that a personal brand is something left for the better half of the professional world. Your brand only starts when you begin to take it seriously. So start today.

“Branding demands commitment; commitment to continual re-invention; striking chords with people to stir their emotions; and commitment to imagination. It is easy to be cynical about such things, much harder to be successful.” Sir Richard Branson, CEO Virgin

Committing to Your Brand

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

-Aristotle

 

And commitment is that habit. Hopefully everyone has began settling into the impending summer heat with their lawn chairs and mixed drinks on the beach. I’m pretty sure that’s something everyone can commit themselves to. But what becomes a struggle for many is the art of committing to excellence – to excel one’s brand to the highest point possible, and then some. I’d like to address that.

It isn’t uncommon to find those who amplify zeal for themselves or their product, as entrepreneurs possess this passionate quality. The key though is to understand how to unlock that potential, how to obtain such a passion that it becomes obsessive in and of itself.

Well that’s the key: obsession.

As it was so aptly put by Justine Musk in this Quora posting, the key to success, excellence, and all other things considered, is obsession. You must live and breathe the very nature of your brand. You must always have it on your mind, because your brand is always evolving and creating new opportunities. Try this on for size:

Brand Tip #394 – If you frequent a certain coffee shop or public area, safely tape a business card or apply a sticker to the top of your laptop. This gives onlookers the knowledge of who you are and what your brand is without actually telling them.

This can be done quite easily, and the reward of striking up a conversation with someone you might have otherwise never encountered is unmatched. Although you will want to make sure that your business card / sticker is catchy yet simple, in order to avoid any confusion for the onlooker. Make it easy, and you’ll reel them in.

How else can you advance your brand and cultivate your obsession? For starters, always have several pitches ready for every possible type of encounter, and continually edit these pitches in your head. In the same checkout line as a potential investor? Unleash a quick 20 second pitch. Stuck waiting in line for coffee and you strike up a conversation? Keep it casual and don’t get too attached – they really only came here for the coffee, believe it or not.

Ultimately, what’s the best way for you to stay obsessed?

Think. Always be thinking.

Thinking is what made this guy famous, and it can get you close to it! Rid your mind of any doubts or concerns and solely work up creative concepts for advancing your brand. Train yourself using “what-if” scenarios from the moment you wake up, and condition your conversational responses as you look into the mirror while brushing your hair. All of this boils down to what Aristotle said: Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Act on it, make it a habit, and only then will you truly be able to commit to your brand.