What were you doing at 16 years old? Chances are you weren’t speaking in front of a group at a former US President’s Global Initiative, trying to raise half a million dollars in funding or cramming 4 years of high school into 2. But these things are exactly what Zak Kukoff of TruantToday is doing.
As a recent graduate of the grueling TechStars program in Boulder, Colorado, Kukoff has formed some incredibly actionable pieces of advice that apply to any entrepreneur, not just ones that haven’t yet gotten a driver’s license. I had the chance to talk with Kukoff for TNW Sessions (listen in to the interview here) and when we were done I asked him to share with us 5 things that you can start doing today to make you a better entrepreneur.
These are, as Kukoff puts it, 5 things that he wishes he had known when he was just getting started. Comments from Kukoff are italicized, the rest is my own explanation for each tip.
Get Good at Email
Love it or hate it, email is the way that we communicate right now. If you’re going to run a business then you need to be exceptionally good at managing it. The influx of email might seem overwhelming so make sure that you’re using every weapon in your arsenal to handle the deluge (we have some great tips listed here).
Most importantly, make sure that you’re replying to email and don’t take 48 hours to respond. Even if it’s something as simple as “Hi, I got your message and I want to take the time to give you a full reply soon. For now, please know that it’s on my mind.” Don’t let opportunities pass you by simply because you were too lazy (busy?) to reply to someone’s message.
Ask People To Be Mentors
This is something that was so simple that I was floored by hearing it – you have to ask people to be mentors. Don’t expect them to step up. Some people might but more often than not you’ll never get what you don’t ask for. By and large, most entrepreneurs understand that helping others will help themselves at the same point. As such, most entrepreneurs are incredibly willing to step up when asked so don’t be afraid to say the words.
Practice Your Pitch Every Day
The amount of practice that you need to pull off a good demo day or even an elevator pitch is crazy. Don’t wait until the last month before you are approaching a pitch day, start on day 1. We waited until the last 30 days and in those 30 days we did the pitch to anyone who would listen, maybe 100 times total and it still wasn’t enough.
This is one I can’t stress enough. Not only is it important to practice your pitch until it comes off completely natural, it’s vitally important to remember that different audiences need different pitches. You’ll want to have one that you can do in about 15-30 seconds, another that goes for around 3 minutes, one for around 6 minutes and then a media pitch that you can fit into 2 or 3 sentences. This isn’t only a skill, there’s a certain art to it, so if you aren’t comfortable pitching, find a mentor who can help you to craft a better on.
Cultivate Relationships from Day 1
It’s never too early to start cultivating relationships with investors. Even if your plan is to bootstrap, start talking to people and building relationships with the ones who can help you if things don’t go as you intended. Kukoff relates that he and his team were fortunate in that they got to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative and that helped them to build relationships early. If you’re not speaking at an event like that, reach out on Twitter and other networks.
As you’re building those relationships, build them into an advisory network. Keep track of who knows what and who has offered what in order to be able to refer to that information when you need help. We codified that engagement into an executive advisory board of the biggest influencers who were the most valuable to us. They in turn became our biggest evangelizers because they were excited about what we were doing.
Call People Every Day
Not email – call them. Call reporters if it’s important to get your story out there. Call the CEO when the secretary is going to be out of the office. Call early, call late, just be relentless. If building relationships is the basis of a good business then making sure that you’re voice to voice with the right people is paramount.
There’s one piece of advice that I’ll add here, though – Be careful that you don’t go from relentless to annoying. There’s a fine line and you have to tread it carefully. Nothing lands a person onto permanent ignore status faster than being annoying.