Ambiguity is an Entrepreneur’s Worst Enemy

Photo cred: luv life

Photo cred: luv life

Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” – Peter Drucker

I despise ambiguity.

Every time it shows its stinking, snarling face, I have to use all my strength to face it head on and avoid curling up into a ball in the corner.  Luckily, since starting Feast I’ve been able to count a great deal on my cofounder which makes life a lot easier.

It’s easy to make decisions based on morality or when there’s a clear choice.  It’s when there isn’t a clear choice that the darkness creeps in and you stop dead in your tracks.

Ambiguity will paralyze you. You can’t make a logical decision about something that doesn’t have a clear right answer, right?

“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide. ” –Napoleon Bonaparte

Not making a decision is infinitely worse than making the wrong decision.

The alternative to making no decision is just guessing.  It’s taking a shot in the dark. But if you’re like me, guessing isn’t something you’re really wired to do.  I like making decisions based on gut feelings or data, and that’s it.

The worst news is that ambiguity is inevitable for an entrepreneur.  You will run into crossroads with no signs.  I promise.

The ability to make decisions during these times of ambiguity is vital.  If you don’t, you die.  It’s probably the most important learning I’ve had in my career as an entrepreneur.

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s Not About Fear

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve already overcome huge battles with fear.

You probably have no problem trying crazy new things and you might even embrace failure.  But ambiguity presents a different battle.  Your lack of movement isn’t a result of fear.  It’s a result of choice.

Sometimes you just have to make the choice to close your eyes and swing.

Don’t strike out looking.  You have to keep moving, whether right or the wrong, YOU HAVE TO KEEP MOVING.  

There’s no such thing as the wrong direction.

The only way to figure out the right answer is to act.  If you’re right, then great keep doing that.  If you’re wrong, now you know that and you can adapt.

“It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions.” -Jim Rohn

 

It’s taken me a long time to be able to face ambiguity in my career.  It’s something I battle with every single day.

A few tips I’ve picked up for battling ambiguity:

1. Ask others.

Asking other people can help, sometimes.  They may be able to provide a perspective that you hadn’t thought.

Ask your cofounders.  Ask your team.  Ask your mentors.  Sometimes the answer can reveal itself by talking to random people with fresh perspectives.

2. Look to examples of success.

Can’t figure an answer out for yourself?  Look at what others have done before you.  There’s a reason they chose that route.  It might just work for you too.

3. Get into the habit of testing.

If you’re planning to test everything you do, then it becomes less of an issue which way you choose because you know you’ll find the answer out quickly.

Even if you think you’re making the right decision, always test.  Compare.  Challenge your assumptions.  You can only learn from your mistakes if you’re able to identify them as mistakes.

I think part of the reason we avoid making decisions is because we’re afraid that it will take a long time to learn whether we were right or wrong.  Which gets to the next point…

4. Realize that nothing is permanent.

At Feast, we’ve changed our product and business model at least 6 times in 6 months.  We’re learning at such a rapid pace that individual decisions at this point aren’t actually that important.  What’s important is that we’re making them, and learning.

5. Acknowledge your ambiguity.

The scariest thing about ambiguity is it doesn’t feel tangible.  It’s this dark abyss. It’s a vague status quo that consumes you, causing you to procrastinate without really knowing why.  You might blame it on not being motivated.  But it’s not motivation that’s your problem.  It’s the discomfort of indecision that we naturally try to avoid.

Acknowledge your ambiguity when it happens.  Call it out and then beat it.

When you have to make a choice and you don’t make it, that itself is a choice. – William James

What have you done to overcome ambiguity?  Please share your experience, because it’s something I think we all face regularly.

How to Network Without Shaking Hands

Think about the last blog post you’ve read about networking.

It probably tells you about using social media, going to networking events, maybe some tricks to get people to remember who you are and how to follow up efficiently.

Now think about how many relationships you’ve actually built that way.

Here’s how you can actually build a strong network:

1. Build something awesome.

Too many people network for the sake of networking.  They think that if they get successful/popular people to know who they are, that they will then become successful.

The single best way to network is to start working on something.  Yes, you in your dark room by yourself hustling away at building something will result in a much bigger, stronger network than if you went to 50 networking events.

Why?

Because people want to get to know people who build things.  You will become sought out instead of always doing the seeking.  People will have a reason to want to talk to you.

“Popular” people are also much more likely to give you their time if they believe in what you’re doing.  If you’re just some random lady asking for coffee for no apparent reason, you’ll never get to know the right people.

2. Write.

Again, by creating something that people become aware of, you become sought out instead of always doing the seeking.

Start writing.  Start creating.  People will read your stuff.  If it’s good and you build credibility, it may even reach the “big shots” you gawked over at the last networking event.

3. Help people, every chance you get.

Give.  All the time.  And never ask for anything return unless you really have to.  Build up that bank of trust.

I keep a spreadsheet of all the amazing people I know who are looking for jobs and all of the amazing jobs I hear about.  I love making introductions and helping people find each other.  It’s extremely rewarding for me, and people genuinely appreciate it.

I also get on the phone and chat with 2-3 companies every week who have questions about community management.  It’s an area that I can bring some insight to in most occasions and I love to do it.

This isn’t a “favor for a favor” thing.  It’s being a good person.  When you truly help people every chance you get, that reputation will get around and people will be more inclined to help you down the line.

So here’s your summary:

Build something, share your experiences and be a good person.

You’ll have a massive network in no time and you’ll never have to exchange a business card again.

Is the Lack of Women in Tech a Problem?

Photo cred: Dima Mirkin

There are a lot more men in the tech and startup space than there are women.  I think we need to ask…  is the ratio of men to women in the tech space a problem that needs fixing?

Are we seeking balance just for the sake of balance?  It’s ONLY a problem, if women aren’t given the same opportunities as men to thrive in the tech space.

In his post Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Blaming the Men, Michael Arrington makes the point that women actually have more opportunities than men in tech, they’re just not as interested in it. He writes:

The problem isn’t that Silicon Valley is keeping women down, or not doing enough to encourage female entrepreneurs. The opposite is true. No, the problem is that not enough women want to become entrepreneurs.

My friends Danny Brown and Geoff Livingston see it differently. In their post Why Tech Already Has Women (And Why They’re Better Than Arrington) they said:

In spite of the statistical advantages of women in tech, negative trends towards male speakers and executive leadership continue. Worse, reading this negative enforcement of sexism in tech has been a damn shame. Working with great women in tech — Susan MurphyBeth Kanter,  Kami HuyseAllyson KapinAmber MacArthurSarah PrevetteLisa Kalandjian and Cali Lewis to name a few this year — has been a phenomenal experience for both of us, and they demonstrate every day how brilliant and capable they are.

Danny and Geoff make some great points and cite some very interesting stats in their post, but I wish they didn’t put so much focus on Arrington. He’s not the issue here.  The stats they provide also don’t tell the whole story.

From my experience, there are clearly less women starting businesses in tech than there are men.

Arrington’s points weren’t attacking women, they were defending against those that say it’s men’s fault that women aren’t as present in the tech space.  It was actually in support of women doing great things and it made a call for more to rise to the opportunities.

I, like Danny and Geoff, have seen many women do amazing things in the tech space.

In the NYC tech scene, I see more and more women thriving. At New Work City, an amazing developer and entrepreneur named Sara Chipps runs [edited] Girl Develop It, a web development class that’s packed every week. Girls in Tech is growing rapidly, providing educational workshops, networking functions, conferences, social engagements, and recruitment events all for women.

Are there as many women as there are men at most NYC tech events?  No, but it’s getting closer.

So I go back to my question… is this really a problem?  If women were being prevented from getting involved in the startup and tech space, that’s one thing.  Clearly, as we have seen so many rise to do amazing things in the tech space, they’re not being held back.

The opportunities are there.  The only thing I see holding women back is this notion that “tech is for men”.  That’s no one’s fault, and it will change with time.  It’s dying as we speak.

To this point, it’s just been a space that tends to appeal more to males.  Teaching and PR tends to appeal more to females.  It happens.  Why does it happen?  Who knows…

In the end, the best person for the opportunity should be the one to get it, regardless of gender.  Just make sure you’re not overlooking the amazing women that are out there making shit happen.

"You, Inc." a New Way To Look At Your Personal Brand

Photo cred: Thomas Hawk

Do you get emotionally affected when someone criticizes your professional work?

Do you get depressed when business doesn’t go your way?

I’m reading the War of Art (affil) by Steven Pressfield and he discusses a concept he calls “Me, Inc.”  It may be more relevant to the self employed, but it really has me thinking…

Pressfield separates himself from his work by looking at himself as two different entities: Him as a Person and him as a Corporation.

“Making yourself a corporation (or just thinking of yourself in that way) reinforces the idea of professionalism because it separates the artist-doing-the-work from the will-and-consciousness-running-the-show.  No matter how much abuse is heaped on the head of the former, the latter takes it in stride and keeps on trucking…

If we think of ourselves as a corporation, it gives us a healthy distance on ourselves.  We’re less subjective.  We don’t take blows as personally.  We’re more cold-blooded; we can price our wares more realistically.”

Then this really resonated with me…

“Sometimes, as Joe Blow himself, I’m too mild-mannered to go out and sell.  But as Joe Blow, Inc., I can pimp the hell out of myself.  I’m not me anymore.  I’m Me, Inc.”

Is this the same as what we call “personal branding”? Are you the same as the personal brand you’ve created?  Or is your personal brand a separate entity from yourself, created to distance your emotionally driven personal self (You) from your professionally driven corporate self (You, Inc.)?

I think if you separate yourself in this way, personal branding, the way we understand it, becomes more acceptable.  You’re not promoting yourself, you’re promoting “You, Inc.”  Because really, that’s why we’re here right?  To build our careers or corporations.

Sure the personal and professional lifestyles are become intertwined, but that doesn’t mean they’re one and the same.

What do you think?

The Forgotten Art of Research

Photo cred: Troy Holden

Research.

It’s an art.  One that we practice for many years, but forcefully forget.

It’s something that was drilled into us since the first day of school.  If we wanted to learn something, we had to read about it in a boring, overpriced textbook.  We would then have to take a test, write a paper, or do something to prove that we actually did the research.

It sucked.

It sucked so much that the second that diploma is handed to you, you feel a huge sigh of relief knowing that you’ll never be forced to study again.  You can now spend the rest of your days reading what you want, and learn by doing.

Research is still valuable long after you graduate but you avoid it because it feels like homework.

The professionals and entrepreneurs that really go far are the ones taking in as much information as possible related to their topic.  If you want to be great at your job, you have to research the crap out of it.  Read books, blog posts, case studies…do anything you can to make yourself more savvy and get an edge.

BUT…relying on blogs or twitter to learn everything won’t cut it.

Bloggers don’t dig deep enough…and twitter lacks any depth whatsoever.  Google the term “research”.  The number 1 result is Wikipedia.  Wikipedia is the cliff notes for the cliff notes.  They can all be great research tools but will only teach you so much.

Don’t forget about research.  It takes time and commitment.  It’s not easy to find the right information.  In the end though, it will pay off.

When was the last time you really researched something?  Has the art of research been forgotten?

If you have any good research tools or practices, share them in the comments.