Go Outside and Ask

Even though you may be surrounded by people in your start-up, you as the founder may feel a bit lonely. Here’s an apt metaphor for a founder’s situation. Think of you, the founder, at the neck of an hourglass; you have the board of directors above you and your team below you. However you tilt the hourglass, the only perspective you get is the “insider” perspective. But, despite all this top down and bottom up discussion, you still may have doubts and questions about next steps and you want to make the right decisions.

Founders need to ask for help from “outsiders” − mentors, experts, customers and potential customers. Instead of playing the “I’ve got all the answers!” charade, muster up your courage and reach out to key people for feedback and advice. Your investors have greater confidence in a founder who is unafraid and open to seeking clarity and advice from knowledgeable outsiders.

Here’s a way to request a meeting.  Email your outsider expert (subject: “Request your advice” or “Referred by Jim Z”) or leave a voice mail message with a simple request:  Hello Ms. X, I am the CEO of Y business and I learned (from Jim Z) that you have much experience in this area. I would very much appreciate your opinion regarding a major initiative I’m looking to implement. Would you have 30 minutes to talk with me by phone or over a cup of coffee in the next couple weeks? If that is possible, please let me know what days and times work best for you. 

( if email) Best regards,

your name (include your credentials and website address)

If you get a positive response, agree to a time and place and thank them.To keep good mentors, prepare your questions and possible solutions before the meeting. Be on time. Encourage your outsiders to be critical and direct; you want to know what you may be missing. Don’t try to sell them anything, nor ask them to do any work for you. Do not expect them to meet with you on a regular basis either. Be ready to wrap up the discussion at or before the 30 minute mark. If they want to extend the conversation, let them know you appreciate the extra time. If you found their advice helpful, and if they appeared to enjoy the conversation, you might ask if they wouldn’t mind talking again sometime after you have implemented their advice. Whether they agree or remain cool to your request, immediately after the encounter, show your appreciation with a modest gift card or a thank you note.

Don’t be shy, “get the answer to the test” as I like to say. If you need help with difficult conversations, ask me at Rebecca@mindfulcommunication.com

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