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9 Startup Lessons You Can Learn From Canva – Melanie Perkins

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It seems that everywhere I go people can’t stop saying how they think Canva will be the next billion-dollar company and how everyone loves their online design platform. Canva Co-Founders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obercht have been able to convince the likes of Bill Tai, Lars Rasmussen and Guy Kawasaki to join their vision for a revolution in online design technology.

Canva only launched on the 26th of August 2013 and they now boast some amazing stats like:

Over 5 million users who have created more than 30 million designs,

– Nothing but word of mouth marketing (until recently)

600k of unique visitors to the site monthly

– Over 14,000 blogs have written about Canva

– More than 2000 videos have been made about the product

If that was not impressive enough, Canva has raised $12.6M USD to date and has gone from 2 million users to 5 million users in just 4 months. The reason Canva has been so successful comes down to a number of points, which Melanie shared with me in a recent interview.

The whole philosophy of Canva is best described by their Chief Evangelist Guy Kawasaki (former Apple Evangelist), who says that they are democratising design the same way Google democratised search.

The fundamental point that I drill into with Melanie is how an earth they were able to convince influential people to support them even when they hadn’t even built a product and Canva was nothing more than a cool idea.

Below are the nine startup lessons that Melanie taught me about Canva’s journey when I interviewed her.

 

1. You must have determination and guts

The strongest attribute Melanie has is determination. It takes a long time to create a company and there is a lot of rejection, failure and times where it would be a reasonable thing to give up. A great example of determination is the fact that it took Melanie three years from meeting their first investor to actually landing the first investment.

Let’s face it, most startup founders would give up after 12 months, but if you keep an eye on what you are trying to achieve and really keep focused on the vision (the vision is what people will rally behind in time), you will eventually break through and come to the right solution.

Canva Melanie and Bill Tai
Not only do you need to have determination but you also need to have guts. Melanie spoke to lots of people about Canva long before a product even existed, which takes real guts and belief in what you’re doing. VISION VISION VSION !!!

 

2. Influence one lighthouse person (the butterfly effect)

One of the sole reasons Canva has been a big success is that Melanie focused in the early days on finding one highly influential person in their space and getting them to help with their startup – stop trying to meet hundreds of people and just concentrate on a few big names.

The first person that Melanie was able to connect with was the very well-known venture capitalist Bill Tai. She met him in 2011 when he was in Perth for an event called inventor of the year and he told her to look him up when she came to San Francisco.

Like any clever entrepreneur, Melanie took action and six months later she arrived in San Fran where she planned to stay for two weeks. After meeting Bill there, Melanie ended up staying for three months. Bill told Melanie that for him to invest in Canva she must find a technical team to build the product because at this stage it was no more than an idea.

After raising the problem, he then introduced Melanie to Lars Rasmussen, who agreed to help find the technical team. One year later they had a technical co-founder that Lars referred to them. The beauty of this whole process was that Melanie was able to get some amazing people to buy into her vision even before she had any product at all.

Canva Investors Bill Tai And Lars Rasmussen

Left: Bill Tai Right: Lars Rasmussen

When I asked Melanie how she was able to influence so many high profile people, she said to me that she has a diagram, which she calls the butterfly effect. The diagram shows once she was able to influence one powerhouse person like Bill, her network followed a butterfly effect and she met everyone else through some sort of link to Bill.

Every single step along the way you could say “if that didn’t happen nothing would have happened” – that’s the butterfly effect. You don’t know what could have happened or would have happened. How do you find people like Bill? The same way everyone else does; through conferences, LinkedIn, email, telephone, along with persistence.

 

3. You don’t have to be a coder

Many startup founders have a limiting belief that you must be a coder of some sort to be a founder of a tech company. First of all, every new startup can be considered a tech startup because almost every product will be connected to the internet in some way.

Secondly, Canva Founders Melanie and Cliff had no coding experience what so ever. With their first startup Fusion Books, they outsourced all the technical part of their business to another company.

This was a great lesson for them because it allowed them to focus on learning how the technology works, educating themselves on product management, and it even helped them to develop project management skills.

They learnt on their second startup Canva that because the product was heavily reliant on technology they would require a technical co-founder. The genius of their startup was that they had a highly skilled person, Lars Rasmussen that was doing the hiring of software engineers.

This resulted in only the best engineers being hired and allowing both founders to focus on their strengths because the technical side was taken care of. When they eventually brought in a technical co-founder, they had someone who had equity in the company and who was then motivated to see the business succeed.

Also, keep in mind that highly skilled engineers are attracted to things that are very challenging and have never been done before so if you’re startup’s vision aligns with this, the odds are stacked in your favour.

 

4. Having a startup track record helps

If you’re attempting to convince investors to invest in you before you have a product, Melanie recommends that it’s preferable that you have some sort of track record in business beforehand. When Melanie and Cliff were searching for investment for Canva before they had a product, they were able to show a track record through their first startup Fusion Books that had already had success.

The beauty of Fusion Books was that Melanie and Cliff were able to start with a small niche, prove their skills, and then go wider with Canva. This is great advice for any startup that is in the early stages of executing on an idea.

Bill Tai wanted to invest in Canva even though there wasn’t a product yet because he was very surprised that Melanie and Cliff were able to build a profitable company beforehand (this is extremely rare). He also loved the vision, which is why he chose to help.

 

5. Don’t be obsessed with the drug called Venture Capital

A lot of startups suffer from the drug that can be venture capital funding. They become obsessed with raising capital and it becomes what they use to benchmark whether they are successful or not. Melanie explained that venture capital funding can be like a time bomb, once you raise, your startup must grow like crazy otherwise if it doesn’t, you will very quickly have no company at all.

The benchmark you should be using to measure your startup’s success is when customers give you their money, which is also a much better way to raise capital. This demonstrates that people other than yourself believe in your startups solution and that it’s solving a real world problem.

If you decide that you must raise venture capital then you should only do so when you know roughly how many people you need, you have a clear execution plan, you know what steps you need to take, and you have a product market fit.

 

6. The problem you solve must be ambitious

A factor that helped Canva stand out from other startups was that their solution was ambitious. The reality is that highly successful people are attracted to ambitious, challenging and world transforming ideas.

Guy Kawasaki Canva Investor And Chief Evangelist (Apple)

Guy Kawasaki

If you want to attract amazing people like Guy Kawasaki to your startup, then your startup must meet this criteria and that’s exactly what Canva did, which is why they attracted great talent. This great talent then attracted more great talent and the success cycle compounded again and again.

Ambitious problems take time to solve and take a long time to build momentum, but when you do solve these types of problems, there will be no shortage of successful people desperate to help you with your vision.

“Solve customer’s problems and make sure that the customer is representative of a large market and then you will have a pretty good formula”

 

7. The pitch deck needs to be all about the problem

Part of the journey whenever you are trying to sell your startup idea to people is to be able to use a quality pitch deck. Given the number of times Melanie had to pitch to investors, I asked her what advice she would give other startups when putting together a pitch deck.

Melanie explained to me that before Canva’s first investment, they had revised their pitch deck over one hundred times. The feedback that Melanie got consistently was that investors didn’t know much about the design landscape so this had to be addressed in the deck.

It’s a good idea to address anything that is tricky or confusing about your product right up front. When you are putting together your pitch deck, you need to start from a macro perspective and begin with the problem you are solving first. You need to be spending 80% of the deck on the problem and only 20% on the solution.

Your pitch deck needs to explain to investors the huge opportunity that exists, the large market for your solution and the macro landscape that exists. Instead of telling your solution right up front, focus on demonstrating its importance first. The other key point is to make sure your solution is a problem that people care about and want to be solved.

“Anyone can have a solution but if no one cares about it, unfortunately, you are not going to have a very big company”

 

8. Understand the risk appetite of the person your pitching

One of the most powerful lessons Melanie taught me is around knowing when to pitch to certain investors based on your startup’s life cycle. Different investors have different risk appetites so as your startup hits each milestone, different investors barriers to risk are removed.

If we look at Canva’s life cycle, they started with a strong vision, then they had a skilled team, then they had a great product, then they had a highly engaged community, then they had very strong performance graphs and now they have a strong monetisation model (thanks to Canva for work).

As Canva hit each milestone, Melanie said that different types of investors wanted to be a part of their vision. In the early stages, the only box that Canva ticked was a great vision and so this didn’t meet many investors risk appetite, although it did interest a few.

The Canva pitch to investors was rejected many times but what Melanie realised was that when investors said no, what the investor was really saying was that the current phase of their startup didn’t meet his or hers individual risk appetite.

“The rejection is often not because of the reasons you think they are rejecting you”

 

9. Regular contact after the pitch is crucial

I think that anyone can get in contact with an influential person at least once, but to keep in touch with someone who is high profile, takes real skill. When I presented this challenge to Melanie, she described how she was able to overcome this.

She explained to me that after the initial contact with an influential person, she would tell them what the next milestone was that Canva was going to achieve, and then when they achieved it, she would let them know.

In-between key milestones she would send influential people a copy of any Canva press to help keep her startup front of mind. The key Melanie says is that when you tell someone you are going to do something then just do it.

If you continue to do what you say you’re going to do, and you’re persistent, it will build up your credibility over time with the influential person. The other key trick is to send updates of your startup every few months – don’t overdo it with weekly updates.

 

***Melanie’s Recommendations***

Favourite Book – Designing the obvious (product design book) – Robert Jr Hoekman

Best Venture Capital Advice – The Venture Hacks Bible (Melanie used this PDF to learn what was involved in raising capital)

Favourite Quote – “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony” – Gandhi

Favourite Startup Tool – UserTesting.com (understand how users are using your site)

Melanie Perkins Canva Founder - Addicted2Success Picture Quote

If you have any of your own startup tips then please comment below and make sure you visit Melanie’s latest creation Canva For Work here.

Tim is best known as a long-time contributor on Addicted2Success. Tim's content has been shared millions of times and he has written multiple viral posts all around personal development and entrepreneurship. You can connect with Tim through his website www.timdenning.net

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Esther Mellar

    Oct 2, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Hi Tim,

    What strike me is the following:
    ‘The Canva pitch to investors was rejected many times but what Melanie realised was that when investors said no, what the investor was really saying was that the current phase of their startup didn’t meet his or hers individual risk appetite.
    “The rejection is often not because of the reasons you think they are rejecting you”’
    Do you know Tim, did she actually ask for clarification/guidance, or it was only her positive attitude and belief in herself and her product?
    Thank you!

    • Tim Denning

      Oct 19, 2015 at 11:33 pm

      Esther, Melanie asked for feedback but it was mainly her belief in what she was doing that drove her. Melanie and her co-founder Cliff both had success with their first startup Fusion Books so that helped them have the optimism they needed. None the less, all entrepreneurs need to be able to visualise their vision before it’s real – Melanie did this beautifully.

  2. Lawrence Berry

    Sep 30, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    I love stories where other people kept pursing their dreams until it eventually paid off, and one thing that I have learned is that almost everyone who never gave up on their dream eventually made them come true. You learn from your failures and plant enough seeds over the years, you will eventually plant a fruitful seed. I love this young lady’s advice and her story.

    I agree with her statement that you don’t have to be a coder in order to achieve success with something techy, but you do need to know how to delegate tasks. You want to learn how to hand off the jobs that you don’t know, or are not the best at, but keep this vision intact. This vision and plan will make help you achieve success.

    • Tim Denning

      Sep 30, 2015 at 9:42 pm

      I love these stories too Lawrence. It’s so cool that they didn’t even have a product yet they were able to convince one of the most well-known venture capitalists to invest in them. This just shows you how important a compelling vision is.

  3. denny

    Sep 30, 2015 at 12:36 am

    Great insight on a contemporary path to wild startup success. I suppose identifying a short list of key industry influencers should be a part of early startup planning. Likewise, a focus on clearly communicating the market, the need and the vision to meet that need are all first steps – prior to technical design.

    • Tim Denning

      Sep 30, 2015 at 7:50 am

      Thanks Denny and appreciate you sharing your startup tips with us.

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Startups

No One Would Hire Me — Nothing Lasts Forever, Though.

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In 2011, I was down and out. I was defeated and felt like I’d never amount to anything.

This story is going to inspire you if you’ve ever faced a similar situation or felt defeated.

I’d finished working at the startup I founded with my brother and things didn’t look good. I had a dream at that time to utilize my digital marketing skills and work for an advertising agency where I could grow my skills.

Every job I applied for I was turned down.

Even though I’d had digital marketing experience and built a multi-million dollar business using that talent, it wasn’t formal learning or advertising agency experience.

So, I ended up taking a job in finance which I also knew nothing about. I took a junior role and a large pay cut and started my career at a bank. For seven years, on the side, I worked on my passion for social media and online marketing.

Two days ago, I was hired to run the digital marketing team for a well-known tech company with 900 staff. Against all the odds, I won the long game.

Here’s what you can learn:


No one can stop you.

Even with all the no’s and people that laughed at me in 2011, I didn’t stop.

I went into hiding for a while and built my skills. I started with blogging, then SEO, then pay per click and eventually landed in social media.

Just because someone won’t hire you today based on your skills, attitude and experience, doesn’t mean they won’t tomorrow.

In fact, without sounding cocky, people now have been bending over backwards to hire me as a consultant to help them with social media and digital marketing.

“The same people that said no to me now want to work with me”

You decide whether you stop based on rejection — nobody else. Keep going no matter the odds.


Be prepared to wait a few years.

Patience was what made the last two days feel incredible. It took seven years to get what I wanted and I had to be damn patient.

The mistake many of you make who are reading this is that you’re not prepared to wait years to get what you want.

When you accept that it takes years to achieve your goals, you work differently. You prepare yourself in a totally different way.

Wanting things too quickly forces you to sacrifice for the short-term and mess up the long-term. Slow down. Relax. You’ve got time.


It’s your attitude that counts.

When no one will hire you, it’s your attitude that counts.

If you walk into an interview or coffee catchup with an attitude problem, then your career dream is going to continue to be a problem.

You see it on those TV talent shows when a guy/girl walks out onto the stage and has been trying for a long time to make it as a musician. They have this sense of entitlement and their bad attitude is written all over their face.

Don’t be one of these people. Fix your attitude.

You’re only entitled to what you earn. Walk into interviews and face opportunities with a sense of humbleness.

Let humbleness be your dominant attitude and eventually you’ll have more opportunities than you could ever hope for.


Nothing lasts forever.

The no’s I got in 2011 lasted a few years.

The point is they didn’t last forever.
Just because you’re getting no’s today and being laughed at, doesn’t mean that will last forever. Nothing lasts forever including you.

“Keep going until the people that said no to you come around and are half-way towards a yes”

No one can deny you forever. People will admire you if you keep going and learn along the way.

Sometimes we can feel like we’ll always be rejected. That’s how I felt in 2011. I thought to myself “I’ve worked five years in digital marketing and built up a pretty successful business and people are still saying no to me. If not now, when?”

Now let me be honest for a second. I didn’t have the intelligence in 2011 to keep going. I was too dumb and too obsessed with myself. It was basically blind faith that kept me going. I wish I’d known back then that nothing lasts forever and believed it.

There were no mentors, advisors or as much self-help advice as there is now to tell me that the way I was thinking was madness.

You have the opportunity to learn from this lesson. Nothing. Lasts. Forever.


Push through.

When every obstacle there is, is standing in your way, sometimes all you need to do is keep pushing.

The way I did this was to keep writing. No one was paying attention to my advice, but that didn’t matter.

The only strategy I had at the time was to keep doing what felt fun to me and I believed I’d figure out the detail later or just never get paid to do what I liked doing.

Pushing through is about continuing to do the work even when the results don’t show.


Eventually, the odds will change if you change.

So what was missing in 2011? Why was I getting rejected even though I had the skills and experience?

I needed to change.

I was an arrogant, selfish, entitled son of a bitch who wouldn’t give a dime out of a dollar to anyone. I had to change myself.

I had to:

  1. Develop empowering beliefs
  2. Change my attitude
  3. Adopt a never say die mindset
  4. Learn abundance
  5. Give more to strangers
  6. Create value for people first via the internet
  7. Be grateful for what I have instead of always wanting more

Your odds of success won’t change until you change.

“You’re the problem and that’s the hardest advice to swallow”


Final thought.

It’s been a big few days. I’ve waited seven years to get what I want. The hardest thing about getting what you want is that it will feel good for a few weeks, and then you’ll want more.

That’s the crack addiction that comes with personal development.

I’m trying to detox from this addiction and be happy with what I’ve achieved to date.

Maybe no one will hire you today.

Maybe your life sucks right now.

Maybe you’ve dealt with a lot this year.

It’s all okay. Your odds of success will change when you change.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

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Startups

10 Lessons for Bootstrapping Your Startup to $1M Annual Revenue

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bootstrapping
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In an entrepreneurial landscape dominated by headlines of unicorn startups and billion-dollar acquisitions, getting a company to $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) may sound like small change. Let’s be real, though, hitting $1 million ARR is an aspirational milestone most young companies can relate to. And it’s not that easy, especially if you’ve secured modest investments or no investment at all.

The software-as-a-service (SaaS) company I work for falls in the latter category. We’ve never raised a single investment dollar, and it took us four years to reach the $1 million ARR threshold. It was a wild four years. Frustrating, fun, scary: you name the emotion, and we’ve felt it.

But more than anything, it was an instructive four years. We learned so much, and we want to share a few helpful tidbits with our peers out there in the trenches, scratching and clawing your way to your next big milestone.

Here are 10 things we think are most important that you can use in your own start-up journey:

1. Don’t quit

Steve Jobs famously said that the difference between those who make it and those who don’t is perseverance. At one point I remember hearing “Folks, I don’t know if we’re going to be here next month.”

It’s frightening not to know where you’re going to be next month, but you have to continuously figure out how to get a few more customers and extend your runway. You can’t “make it” or succeed if you don’t exist, so you can’t quit.

2. Give your customers everything

At the company I work for, Text Request, we spent hours with our customers. We built whatever they asked for (if it fit with our goals and other customers could use it too). We also gave away a lot of free software.

If you want to grow and gain customers, you have to create a needed product that solves your target customers’ problems. Determine who your target customers are, ask them what they need, and then tailor your solutions for them.

3. Try everything you can think of

The book Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares covers 19 sales and marketing channels for startups to test. We tried all of them. We went to events. We advertised. We started a referral program.

For us, cold calls and cold emails worked surprisingly well. We took an industry, looked for companies in a given city, and reached out to set up product demos. Organic search has increasingly helped our sales funnel, too.

Either of those could be the best plan for you, or it could be advertising in a particular channel. Every startup is different and targets a different niche, but you’ll only find successful strategies and channels for growth by testing all your options.

4. Focus on the basics

When you focus on doing the basics, opportunities open up. When you commit to SEO basics, your targets will find you online, and a big fish will occasionally swim by. When you provide fantastic customer service, a few users will leave reviews and tell their friends. When you keep your head down and do the work, eventually you’ll look up and have hit a big milestone.

5. Get the right people on your bus

This is one of the critical lessons from Jim Collins’ Good to Great. Thankfully, our small team had the right people from the beginning. Brian and Jamey Elrod, our husband and wife co-founders, had already started a successful company from scratch (Educational Outfitters). Our third co-founder Rob Reagan has created software for twenty years and published a book last year on building apps for global scale.

Rob brought a couple of top-notch developers with him, and the rest of us showed up determined to figure the business out. If you’re going to take a company from $0 to $1 million, every member of your team has to be dedicated to working together for the long-term benefit of the company over self-interest.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

There’s always something that keeps entrepreneurs up at night, but you can put the questions below to rest:

1. How do you build it fast enough?

In the early days, we worried about losing a customer because we didn’t have [X]. It was stressful knowing that So-and-So would move on to the next option if we couldn’t deliver fast enough, and many times they did. But that doesn’t matter.

Losing one customer isn’t worth pushing out a faulty product. Despite the pervasive Lean Startup mindset, it’s more important to your customers that you create needed features (read: solutions) that work great the first time. They have to trust that you’ll give them the tools they need to accomplish their goals, or they’ll leave.

2. How do you keep customers longer?

Our support is perhaps our #1 competitive advantage. One of the things we’ve learned is that a lower price, and sometimes even new features, won’t keep customers around longer.

To keep your customers from churning, you’ve got to do two things: First, provide a smooth onboarding process that immediately teaches customers how to gain value (solve their problems) with your product. Otherwise, they won’t pick it up, and they’ll eventually leave.

Second, always be there with kind words and helpful content whenever a customer needs help. If you aren’t, they’ll get frustrated and find someone else to help them.

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Teddy Roosevelt

3. How do you get people to your website?

Advertising might be a good option, but if targets aren’t already thinking about what you can do for them, they probably won’t care about your ad or purchase. Instead, create content to educate viewers and help them solve their problems.

Focus on growing your organic traffic, becoming a trustworthy source, and honing your brand’s voice before spending lots of money on ads.

4. Do you need investment money?

When you’re floating in the middle of the ocean, you’ll do anything for a ship to pick you up. But sometimes you just need to swim. We chose to swim, and you might want to do the same.

When every dollar spent has to fight to prove its worth, you’re inevitably going to build something more valuable and more sustainable. Plus, bootstrapping gives you more control over what decisions you do make to grow your company.

5. How do you pursue 10X growth?

A growth hack is not going to propel you from 100 customers to 10,000 overnight. It doesn’t take one trick, but lots of little and big things working together to create exponential growth. It also takes time.

Instead of looking for a golden goose, create complete and actionable strategies. Those, and a little patience, will help you achieve exponential growth.

Growing your startup to $1 million ARR is not easy, but it’s possible – even without investors lining up to give you money. Put the 10 lessons above into practice, and, with a little time and a lot of work, you’ll get there.

Is there a business you’d like to start or have started? Share your ideas and suggestions for our readers!

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Startups

10 Things The Corporate World *Didn’t* Teach Me

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I’ve just left the corporate world. It’s been seven years and I don’t regret a single second of it.

You’d think I would have learned everything there is to know about business in the corporate world. I didn’t.

There were a lot of gaps which I luckily was able to fill in during my entrepreneur days.

Here’s what the corporate world didn’t teach me:


1. How to think for myself

In the corporate world, you’re often told what to do.

If you don’t have the answer then some smart person, in some department will probably have the answer for you. The answer may not be the latest and greatest strategy, but it will be based on some prior knowledge.

As an entrepreneur, none of this was available to me. I’d roll up to the old Milkbar that was our office, and I’d start stacking boxes into the little van we had. More boxes of soft drink and chips meant more gold coins in our vending machines.

Gold coins could be banked at our local branch at the end of the day and that’s how petrol, electricity, uniforms and the occasional Macca’s dinner was paid for. No one told me how to do that.

I either collected the gold coins, or I didn’t. No gold coins meant game over. As an entrepreneur, that meant failure and during your 20’s that’s often the last thing you want.

Thinking for myself wasn’t taught to me it was a survival tactic. I took this tactic with me to the corporate world and people were surprised.

As my former colleague said to me the other day You don’t overthink Tim youjust get shit done while everybody else is scratching their head.


2. Time management

The corporate world is full of big companies with lots of resources.

With an abundance of anything you always have wastage. The corporate world definitely didn’t tell me how to manage time.

What could have been a five-minute phone conversation often ended up in huge email chains. It was a bit of a game.

“Every email involved another person or persons being cc’d. The ultimate trick was to blind cc people within your company. Like magic, bombs start going off and no one can work out who did what. That’s the power of BCC”

None of this was good for time management though. Lot’s of time was spent trying to communicate with one another. Meetings are a thing in the corporate world.

Every problem that exists must have a meeting. Even if it’s about whether we call the shared folder “Sales” or “Customer Files” a meeting had to be held.

Meetings in the corporate world not only suck up time but are also a fashion parade where all the biggest egos can strut their stuff.

“I’m more important and have a better job title.”

“No, I’m more important!”

This dialogue goes on for days and sometimes months. Understanding the politics is often more critical than understanding the business. Still, none of this is good for time.

The time wasted is used by the tech startup opposition to improve a bug, rethink the customer experience or out-market corporates using social media.


3. A passion for what you love

Passion in the corporate world can often be lacking. Working at a corporate for many is a way to pay the bills rather than do their life’s work.

Passion can often be traded for money, bonuses and even more impressive job titles — all of which leave you feeling more empty”

It’s not all full of zero passion, though. There are a few people that are insanely passionate and those folk shine through.

The corporate world taught me to put my passion on hold rather than use it to WOW customers with the very thing that sets me apart.


4. What people are really buying

Working at a corporate taught me that it’s all about marketing.

I knew, though, from the startup world that this very idea was wrong.

People are buying you. They’re buying the people they deal with and what those people stand for.

No client in my corporate career ever gave a damn about the commoditized products I was selling. All of my clients gave a damn about my obsession to inspire the world through personal development and entrepreneurship. They were intrigued by my five years as an entrepreneur and what I learned.

This led to customers becoming friends as opposed to people that bought widgets from me and had the money they laid tracked in a CRM as ‘revenue.’

Not once in my corporate career did I have something to sell that couldn’t be bought from somewhere else, at a lower price or with better product features. The product feature my clients bought was me


5. The power of an audience

People are often too afraid to be vulnerable in the corporate world.

I never learned the power of an audience during my career working in corporates. All of that was learned between 6 pm and 8 pm every night when I was at home from work posting on LinkedIn.

Social media is not so prominent in the corporate world because it requires you to remove the corporate mask and show your flaws. Fakeness on social channels like LinkedIn just doesn’t work. People don’t engage.

Many people told me that the audience I was building on social media was career suicide. I ignored every one of them and I’m so glad I did.

These same people that warned me to stay off social media are the same ones asking me now to help them with their own social accounts.

With an audience, you can test ideas.

With an audience, you can inspire.

With an audience, you can recruit people to your team.

With an audience, you derive meaning for your life.


6. Doing the important vs. the mediocre

In corporate business, there’s a lot of noise.

Everything looks important. Everything looks like it could become a lawsuit (especially for a corporate). Everything looks like it could become a PR scandal. Everything looks risky to that next job promotion and to the business.

That’s where mediocrity thrives. With so much noise it’s easy to spend your days filing bits of paper or moving widgets from Point A to Point B without having any clue of why you’re doing it or how it contributes to humankind.

I didn’t learn the discipline of doing the important work in corporate life.

Doing the important came out of the entrepreneurial trait of problem-solving through a vision. It came from wanting to see things better than they are.

Doing the important was fuelled by a desire to achieve a goal that everybody said wasn’t possible. It’s a rebellious philosophy that pushes mediocrity the hell out of the way.


7. The way to have a meeting (ideally no meeting)

Running a meeting in corporate life follows a formula.

This formula will put almost all attendees to sleep. It’s why when you walk into a corporate board meeting, most of the execs are looking at their phone rather than paying attention to who’s speaking.

The formula goes like this:

  • Introduce everybody in the meeting (most don’t need to be there)
  • Pretend there’s an agenda (it will get hijacked…guaranteed)
  • Pretend to solve the problem by agreeing to invite more people to a future meeting
  • Pass ownership around of the problem whilst ignoring the potential solutions
  • Assigning action items which everybody ignores (thus triggering another meeting)

“The best way to have a meeting is not to have a meeting”

Meetings are needed in the corporate world because of a lack of trust and having too many cooks in the kitchen.

Have only the people that can solve the problem in the meeting, make it short and trust in the outcome and vision you’re trying to achieve.

That very philosophy makes meetings for the most part irrelevant.


8. How to make better PowerPoint presentations

You’d think with all the PowerPoints you have to do in the corporate world to educate internal stakeholders, you’d be a freaking expert at doing them.

Quite the opposite is true.

Because of the number of PowerPoint decks you have to do in the corporate world, you get worse at them.

The decks get longer, filled with more words, more acronyms and more promises to take more action.

It’s like for every year in the corporate world you add another acronym to the sentence you’re currently writing.

The belief in the corporate world is that all problems must first begin their life in a PowerPoint.

No problem can be solved without a PowerPoint. I once tried to do a presentation with only one slide. Once I explained the one slide I had prepared with a simple diagram that a four-year-old watching Peppa Pig could understand, I then blacked out the screen.

I wanted the attention on what I was saying instead of some Times New Roman, white slide, with Size 12 Font that nobody could read.

Death by PowerPoint is a real cause of death in the corporate world. It kills dreams, ideas, free speech and the will to live.


9. The way to treat people

The corporate world taught me nothing about how to treat people.

Treating people well came from my eBay days where I learned that if you give someone on eBay the thing they want, and do what you say, you’ll get what you want.

This philosophy didn’t translate into corporate life. I was told to treat people well based on what they could do for me. If they couldn’t do anything for me then what’s the point of knowing them? Right?

Wrong.

The people I treated well who seemed to have no benefit to me ended up becoming the Managers, General Managers and Inspiring Leaders five years down the road.

By not asking for stuff all the time, by treating these future leaders with respect and by being as close to a good human being as I could be, I got all the promotions and all the hard to reach opportunities.

My career in the corporate world looked like it was entirely built by luck. It wasn’t. My corporate career was built on respect, honesty and treating people well because it makes sense in the long run.


10. The true meaning of startup buzzwords

Lean startup. Agile. Disruptive. Act like a startup. Minimum viable product.

We hear these words every day in the startup and tech world. Every corporate is trying to adopt them as their own. I didn’t see any of these buzzwords in my corporate career ever be used successfully.

Lean startup meant Throw seven figures at it and see if it swims. If not, kill it fast!”

Agile meant plan the next five years of a new product, try to deal with every possible situation in the beginning and invite some management consultants.

Act like a startup meant adopt the word but still be a corporate because a sizeable business always knows best.

Minimum viable product meant fix every customer pain point in existence and build the mother of all solutions that’s going to take years to build and leave all competitors for dead. Let’s not fix one thing when we can fix everything thus fixing nothing in the process.


So what can you learn from the corporate world?

It’s not all bad. Park my humor for just one second. You can learn plenty in the corporate world and it’s not all bad.

The corporate world can teach you:

1. Leadership fundamentals

2. Corporate decision-making

3. Community values

4. The rate of technology disruption

The corporate world in some ways shows you what the past looks like so you can build the future. It shows you that size does not necessarily mean better results or more improved solutions.

What I’ve outlined above comes from dealing with hundreds of corporates over the last seven years and the commonalities around how they think.


The grass is not greener.

The corporate world sure has its problems. So does the startup world. So does medium sized business as well.

All business just has a different set of problems to solve.

The way to deal with this conundrum is to become an expert problem solver who enjoys the challenge. It’s not always easy to do.

The business world can get you down and suck the life out of you.

That’s why you need to take a break and get some perspective. Try small, medium and big business for yourself and make your own assessment.

The grass may be longer, shorter or in need of a mow but it’s definitely not greener.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

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How to Change Your Bad Habits for the Benefit of Your Business

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If you are like most people, you probably like to complain from time to time about the economy, about the markets, about how things are changing too fast or how you don’t get enough time. Moan moan moan!

However, moaning doesn’t solve problems. Instead, you can follow the “No BCD” theory and avoid blaming, complaining and defensiveness. This way you will have a totally different outlook, handle situations a lot better, and take control over your destiny. A really practical way to do this is to develop better habits.

What are the bad habits you have?

Everyone has different bad habits, but when it comes to business here are the 4 most common ones:

  • Lack of focus: Every single day, there are going to be things you intend to do and then you “run out of time” or succumb to distractions. But if you’re honest, you had the time and there was a way – you just lacked focus.
  • You’re too kind: How many times have you taken on a project which wasn’t profitable, because you “felt sorry for them”. Not only does this actually hurt you, but it also in many ways hurts the relationship you have with that client or customer.
  • Promising and not delivering: Whether it’s something you said to your team, your clients, or your suppliers, if you’re not matching your words with your actions, over time others will believe you less and less.
  • Leaving opportunities on the table: So often people complain in business they don’t have enough (money/sales/support), when actually they do – they just didn’t ask for it. Within your existing network there is probably everything you need, you just have to ask.

“Successful people are simply those with successful habits.” – Brian Tracy

Think about it. You can look at each of these bad habits and replace them with new and better ones. Imagine…

  • If you created habits that made you focus better: you’d be more productive, with the same amount of time.
  • If you learned good ways to set boundaries: you’d have a better time delivering your services or products, and you’d feel more rewarded.
  • If you kept better track of your promises: You’d feel less stressed and overwhelmed.
  • If you picked up on more of those opportunities: You’d make more money, and inject welcome energy into those who are ready and willing to work with you. The side effect would be that you could delegate things you don’t love and aren’t good at to others more capable, and replace those activities with the things you love!

Breaking those bad habits

Over the years, I have managed to create more boundaries and space for me to be efficient and effective in my work. There are ways to do that  – some habits I have learned from others who have experienced and overcome similar issues, and some are the product of my own experiments. See below!

1. Sprints (for productivity)

I have to say this is so effective. I meet at least one other person at a coffee shop or members club – if it’s not in my office with my fellow team members. We plan to do 30 or 45 minutes of work and do between 3-5 sprints in a session. Blocking out 4 hours together I find works well.

We each say what we will work on and then we get going. No talking allowed, focusing only on the task we talked about. When the timer rings we stop, compare notes on progress, have a mini break and do another one. It’s honestly my most productive time, and it makes you realise how much time we waste on distractions and even moaning about having too much work on!

“A bad habit never disappears miraculously. It’s an undo-it-yourself project.” – Abigail Van Buren

2. A tiny assignment (for motivation to break a bad habit)

I have done this now twice with 2 different friends. We talk about the bad habits we each have, whatever they might be. We give each other a new rule or habit to follow over a two week period. It has to be a “SMART” goal assignment – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

3. Low hanging fruit (for grabbing opportunities)

You simply make a list of people you already know who:

  • Fit into your target market but don’t work with you yet
  • Fit into your target market but haven’t worked with you for a while
  • Experience problems you know you can solve
  • Have their own network of contacts or audience which is very similar to the people you want to talk about
  • Have the expertise in things you find challenging, and very likely the answers to your current challenges

Once you have this list, you come up with some drafted initial outreach scripts for either text, email or phone calls and then you work through your list – sending out the requests, hellos, questions, etc. If you draft your communication well, considering the mindset of the people who are receiving these outreach messages, you will find each conversation will be at the very least a learning opportunity and would certainly lead to more “yeses” than if you didn’t do this exercise.

4. The minimum criteria (for setting boundaries)

If you find that your bad habits involve you saying “yes” too often when you should be saying “no” – then this one works great. You just need to write a specific list of criteria to answer the question “Any time I will do this, I need the following things to be true first”.

For example, you only take on a client who pays less than a certain minimum threshold, who has made a written commitment that they will comply with your specific set of guidelines for their responsibilities during the project. There are so many ways you can use the “minimum criteria” technique and you can share your rules with friends and colleagues to hold yourself accountable.

Now, with all this insight I hope you feel more motivated and you can’t even remember your excuses anymore!

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Are Your SMART Goals Keeping You Stuck in Mediocrity?

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SMART Goals – they are often seen as the gospel in the personal and professional development industry for goal setting, but are they doing more harm than good? For the most part, I can appreciate the motivation behind setting SMART goals. Do we need goals that are specific, measurable, actionable and time based? Absolutely! My sticking point, however, comes to the “realistic” part. (more…)

Tiffany Toombs is a mindset coach, trainer, and presenter that specializes in helping people rewire their brains to overcome self-sabotage and limiting beliefs that stop them from finding success. Tiffany runs courses and workshops all over the world to empower people to take control of their lives and their minds so they can achieve their true potential in life. She believes that everyone has a message to share and helps her clients reconnect with themselves to find their passion and purpose. Tiffany has a range of valuable resources for people to understand their minds and how to access the power of their unconscious minds on YouTube or in her eBook “Unlocking The Secrets To The Unconscious Mind”.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Esther Mellar

    Oct 2, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Hi Tim,

    What strike me is the following:
    ‘The Canva pitch to investors was rejected many times but what Melanie realised was that when investors said no, what the investor was really saying was that the current phase of their startup didn’t meet his or hers individual risk appetite.
    “The rejection is often not because of the reasons you think they are rejecting you”’
    Do you know Tim, did she actually ask for clarification/guidance, or it was only her positive attitude and belief in herself and her product?
    Thank you!

    • Tim Denning

      Oct 19, 2015 at 11:33 pm

      Esther, Melanie asked for feedback but it was mainly her belief in what she was doing that drove her. Melanie and her co-founder Cliff both had success with their first startup Fusion Books so that helped them have the optimism they needed. None the less, all entrepreneurs need to be able to visualise their vision before it’s real – Melanie did this beautifully.

  2. Lawrence Berry

    Sep 30, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    I love stories where other people kept pursing their dreams until it eventually paid off, and one thing that I have learned is that almost everyone who never gave up on their dream eventually made them come true. You learn from your failures and plant enough seeds over the years, you will eventually plant a fruitful seed. I love this young lady’s advice and her story.

    I agree with her statement that you don’t have to be a coder in order to achieve success with something techy, but you do need to know how to delegate tasks. You want to learn how to hand off the jobs that you don’t know, or are not the best at, but keep this vision intact. This vision and plan will make help you achieve success.

    • Tim Denning

      Sep 30, 2015 at 9:42 pm

      I love these stories too Lawrence. It’s so cool that they didn’t even have a product yet they were able to convince one of the most well-known venture capitalists to invest in them. This just shows you how important a compelling vision is.

  3. denny

    Sep 30, 2015 at 12:36 am

    Great insight on a contemporary path to wild startup success. I suppose identifying a short list of key industry influencers should be a part of early startup planning. Likewise, a focus on clearly communicating the market, the need and the vision to meet that need are all first steps – prior to technical design.

    • Tim Denning

      Sep 30, 2015 at 7:50 am

      Thanks Denny and appreciate you sharing your startup tips with us.

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Startups

No One Would Hire Me — Nothing Lasts Forever, Though.

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In 2011, I was down and out. I was defeated and felt like I’d never amount to anything.

This story is going to inspire you if you’ve ever faced a similar situation or felt defeated.

I’d finished working at the startup I founded with my brother and things didn’t look good. I had a dream at that time to utilize my digital marketing skills and work for an advertising agency where I could grow my skills.

Every job I applied for I was turned down.

Even though I’d had digital marketing experience and built a multi-million dollar business using that talent, it wasn’t formal learning or advertising agency experience.

So, I ended up taking a job in finance which I also knew nothing about. I took a junior role and a large pay cut and started my career at a bank. For seven years, on the side, I worked on my passion for social media and online marketing.

Two days ago, I was hired to run the digital marketing team for a well-known tech company with 900 staff. Against all the odds, I won the long game.

Here’s what you can learn:


No one can stop you.

Even with all the no’s and people that laughed at me in 2011, I didn’t stop.

I went into hiding for a while and built my skills. I started with blogging, then SEO, then pay per click and eventually landed in social media.

Just because someone won’t hire you today based on your skills, attitude and experience, doesn’t mean they won’t tomorrow.

In fact, without sounding cocky, people now have been bending over backwards to hire me as a consultant to help them with social media and digital marketing.

“The same people that said no to me now want to work with me”

You decide whether you stop based on rejection — nobody else. Keep going no matter the odds.


Be prepared to wait a few years.

Patience was what made the last two days feel incredible. It took seven years to get what I wanted and I had to be damn patient.

The mistake many of you make who are reading this is that you’re not prepared to wait years to get what you want.

When you accept that it takes years to achieve your goals, you work differently. You prepare yourself in a totally different way.

Wanting things too quickly forces you to sacrifice for the short-term and mess up the long-term. Slow down. Relax. You’ve got time.


It’s your attitude that counts.

When no one will hire you, it’s your attitude that counts.

If you walk into an interview or coffee catchup with an attitude problem, then your career dream is going to continue to be a problem.

You see it on those TV talent shows when a guy/girl walks out onto the stage and has been trying for a long time to make it as a musician. They have this sense of entitlement and their bad attitude is written all over their face.

Don’t be one of these people. Fix your attitude.

You’re only entitled to what you earn. Walk into interviews and face opportunities with a sense of humbleness.

Let humbleness be your dominant attitude and eventually you’ll have more opportunities than you could ever hope for.


Nothing lasts forever.

The no’s I got in 2011 lasted a few years.

The point is they didn’t last forever.
Just because you’re getting no’s today and being laughed at, doesn’t mean that will last forever. Nothing lasts forever including you.

“Keep going until the people that said no to you come around and are half-way towards a yes”

No one can deny you forever. People will admire you if you keep going and learn along the way.

Sometimes we can feel like we’ll always be rejected. That’s how I felt in 2011. I thought to myself “I’ve worked five years in digital marketing and built up a pretty successful business and people are still saying no to me. If not now, when?”

Now let me be honest for a second. I didn’t have the intelligence in 2011 to keep going. I was too dumb and too obsessed with myself. It was basically blind faith that kept me going. I wish I’d known back then that nothing lasts forever and believed it.

There were no mentors, advisors or as much self-help advice as there is now to tell me that the way I was thinking was madness.

You have the opportunity to learn from this lesson. Nothing. Lasts. Forever.


Push through.

When every obstacle there is, is standing in your way, sometimes all you need to do is keep pushing.

The way I did this was to keep writing. No one was paying attention to my advice, but that didn’t matter.

The only strategy I had at the time was to keep doing what felt fun to me and I believed I’d figure out the detail later or just never get paid to do what I liked doing.

Pushing through is about continuing to do the work even when the results don’t show.


Eventually, the odds will change if you change.

So what was missing in 2011? Why was I getting rejected even though I had the skills and experience?

I needed to change.

I was an arrogant, selfish, entitled son of a bitch who wouldn’t give a dime out of a dollar to anyone. I had to change myself.

I had to:

  1. Develop empowering beliefs
  2. Change my attitude
  3. Adopt a never say die mindset
  4. Learn abundance
  5. Give more to strangers
  6. Create value for people first via the internet
  7. Be grateful for what I have instead of always wanting more

Your odds of success won’t change until you change.

“You’re the problem and that’s the hardest advice to swallow”


Final thought.

It’s been a big few days. I’ve waited seven years to get what I want. The hardest thing about getting what you want is that it will feel good for a few weeks, and then you’ll want more.

That’s the crack addiction that comes with personal development.

I’m trying to detox from this addiction and be happy with what I’ve achieved to date.

Maybe no one will hire you today.

Maybe your life sucks right now.

Maybe you’ve dealt with a lot this year.

It’s all okay. Your odds of success will change when you change.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

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10 Lessons for Bootstrapping Your Startup to $1M Annual Revenue

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In an entrepreneurial landscape dominated by headlines of unicorn startups and billion-dollar acquisitions, getting a company to $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) may sound like small change. Let’s be real, though, hitting $1 million ARR is an aspirational milestone most young companies can relate to. And it’s not that easy, especially if you’ve secured modest investments or no investment at all.

The software-as-a-service (SaaS) company I work for falls in the latter category. We’ve never raised a single investment dollar, and it took us four years to reach the $1 million ARR threshold. It was a wild four years. Frustrating, fun, scary: you name the emotion, and we’ve felt it.

But more than anything, it was an instructive four years. We learned so much, and we want to share a few helpful tidbits with our peers out there in the trenches, scratching and clawing your way to your next big milestone.

Here are 10 things we think are most important that you can use in your own start-up journey:

1. Don’t quit

Steve Jobs famously said that the difference between those who make it and those who don’t is perseverance. At one point I remember hearing “Folks, I don’t know if we’re going to be here next month.”

It’s frightening not to know where you’re going to be next month, but you have to continuously figure out how to get a few more customers and extend your runway. You can’t “make it” or succeed if you don’t exist, so you can’t quit.

2. Give your customers everything

At the company I work for, Text Request, we spent hours with our customers. We built whatever they asked for (if it fit with our goals and other customers could use it too). We also gave away a lot of free software.

If you want to grow and gain customers, you have to create a needed product that solves your target customers’ problems. Determine who your target customers are, ask them what they need, and then tailor your solutions for them.

3. Try everything you can think of

The book Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares covers 19 sales and marketing channels for startups to test. We tried all of them. We went to events. We advertised. We started a referral program.

For us, cold calls and cold emails worked surprisingly well. We took an industry, looked for companies in a given city, and reached out to set up product demos. Organic search has increasingly helped our sales funnel, too.

Either of those could be the best plan for you, or it could be advertising in a particular channel. Every startup is different and targets a different niche, but you’ll only find successful strategies and channels for growth by testing all your options.

4. Focus on the basics

When you focus on doing the basics, opportunities open up. When you commit to SEO basics, your targets will find you online, and a big fish will occasionally swim by. When you provide fantastic customer service, a few users will leave reviews and tell their friends. When you keep your head down and do the work, eventually you’ll look up and have hit a big milestone.

5. Get the right people on your bus

This is one of the critical lessons from Jim Collins’ Good to Great. Thankfully, our small team had the right people from the beginning. Brian and Jamey Elrod, our husband and wife co-founders, had already started a successful company from scratch (Educational Outfitters). Our third co-founder Rob Reagan has created software for twenty years and published a book last year on building apps for global scale.

Rob brought a couple of top-notch developers with him, and the rest of us showed up determined to figure the business out. If you’re going to take a company from $0 to $1 million, every member of your team has to be dedicated to working together for the long-term benefit of the company over self-interest.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

There’s always something that keeps entrepreneurs up at night, but you can put the questions below to rest:

1. How do you build it fast enough?

In the early days, we worried about losing a customer because we didn’t have [X]. It was stressful knowing that So-and-So would move on to the next option if we couldn’t deliver fast enough, and many times they did. But that doesn’t matter.

Losing one customer isn’t worth pushing out a faulty product. Despite the pervasive Lean Startup mindset, it’s more important to your customers that you create needed features (read: solutions) that work great the first time. They have to trust that you’ll give them the tools they need to accomplish their goals, or they’ll leave.

2. How do you keep customers longer?

Our support is perhaps our #1 competitive advantage. One of the things we’ve learned is that a lower price, and sometimes even new features, won’t keep customers around longer.

To keep your customers from churning, you’ve got to do two things: First, provide a smooth onboarding process that immediately teaches customers how to gain value (solve their problems) with your product. Otherwise, they won’t pick it up, and they’ll eventually leave.

Second, always be there with kind words and helpful content whenever a customer needs help. If you aren’t, they’ll get frustrated and find someone else to help them.

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Teddy Roosevelt

3. How do you get people to your website?

Advertising might be a good option, but if targets aren’t already thinking about what you can do for them, they probably won’t care about your ad or purchase. Instead, create content to educate viewers and help them solve their problems.

Focus on growing your organic traffic, becoming a trustworthy source, and honing your brand’s voice before spending lots of money on ads.

4. Do you need investment money?

When you’re floating in the middle of the ocean, you’ll do anything for a ship to pick you up. But sometimes you just need to swim. We chose to swim, and you might want to do the same.

When every dollar spent has to fight to prove its worth, you’re inevitably going to build something more valuable and more sustainable. Plus, bootstrapping gives you more control over what decisions you do make to grow your company.

5. How do you pursue 10X growth?

A growth hack is not going to propel you from 100 customers to 10,000 overnight. It doesn’t take one trick, but lots of little and big things working together to create exponential growth. It also takes time.

Instead of looking for a golden goose, create complete and actionable strategies. Those, and a little patience, will help you achieve exponential growth.

Growing your startup to $1 million ARR is not easy, but it’s possible – even without investors lining up to give you money. Put the 10 lessons above into practice, and, with a little time and a lot of work, you’ll get there.

Is there a business you’d like to start or have started? Share your ideas and suggestions for our readers!

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10 Things The Corporate World *Didn’t* Teach Me

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I’ve just left the corporate world. It’s been seven years and I don’t regret a single second of it.

You’d think I would have learned everything there is to know about business in the corporate world. I didn’t.

There were a lot of gaps which I luckily was able to fill in during my entrepreneur days.

Here’s what the corporate world didn’t teach me:


1. How to think for myself

In the corporate world, you’re often told what to do.

If you don’t have the answer then some smart person, in some department will probably have the answer for you. The answer may not be the latest and greatest strategy, but it will be based on some prior knowledge.

As an entrepreneur, none of this was available to me. I’d roll up to the old Milkbar that was our office, and I’d start stacking boxes into the little van we had. More boxes of soft drink and chips meant more gold coins in our vending machines.

Gold coins could be banked at our local branch at the end of the day and that’s how petrol, electricity, uniforms and the occasional Macca’s dinner was paid for. No one told me how to do that.

I either collected the gold coins, or I didn’t. No gold coins meant game over. As an entrepreneur, that meant failure and during your 20’s that’s often the last thing you want.

Thinking for myself wasn’t taught to me it was a survival tactic. I took this tactic with me to the corporate world and people were surprised.

As my former colleague said to me the other day You don’t overthink Tim youjust get shit done while everybody else is scratching their head.


2. Time management

The corporate world is full of big companies with lots of resources.

With an abundance of anything you always have wastage. The corporate world definitely didn’t tell me how to manage time.

What could have been a five-minute phone conversation often ended up in huge email chains. It was a bit of a game.

“Every email involved another person or persons being cc’d. The ultimate trick was to blind cc people within your company. Like magic, bombs start going off and no one can work out who did what. That’s the power of BCC”

None of this was good for time management though. Lot’s of time was spent trying to communicate with one another. Meetings are a thing in the corporate world.

Every problem that exists must have a meeting. Even if it’s about whether we call the shared folder “Sales” or “Customer Files” a meeting had to be held.

Meetings in the corporate world not only suck up time but are also a fashion parade where all the biggest egos can strut their stuff.

“I’m more important and have a better job title.”

“No, I’m more important!”

This dialogue goes on for days and sometimes months. Understanding the politics is often more critical than understanding the business. Still, none of this is good for time.

The time wasted is used by the tech startup opposition to improve a bug, rethink the customer experience or out-market corporates using social media.


3. A passion for what you love

Passion in the corporate world can often be lacking. Working at a corporate for many is a way to pay the bills rather than do their life’s work.

Passion can often be traded for money, bonuses and even more impressive job titles — all of which leave you feeling more empty”

It’s not all full of zero passion, though. There are a few people that are insanely passionate and those folk shine through.

The corporate world taught me to put my passion on hold rather than use it to WOW customers with the very thing that sets me apart.


4. What people are really buying

Working at a corporate taught me that it’s all about marketing.

I knew, though, from the startup world that this very idea was wrong.

People are buying you. They’re buying the people they deal with and what those people stand for.

No client in my corporate career ever gave a damn about the commoditized products I was selling. All of my clients gave a damn about my obsession to inspire the world through personal development and entrepreneurship. They were intrigued by my five years as an entrepreneur and what I learned.

This led to customers becoming friends as opposed to people that bought widgets from me and had the money they laid tracked in a CRM as ‘revenue.’

Not once in my corporate career did I have something to sell that couldn’t be bought from somewhere else, at a lower price or with better product features. The product feature my clients bought was me


5. The power of an audience

People are often too afraid to be vulnerable in the corporate world.

I never learned the power of an audience during my career working in corporates. All of that was learned between 6 pm and 8 pm every night when I was at home from work posting on LinkedIn.

Social media is not so prominent in the corporate world because it requires you to remove the corporate mask and show your flaws. Fakeness on social channels like LinkedIn just doesn’t work. People don’t engage.

Many people told me that the audience I was building on social media was career suicide. I ignored every one of them and I’m so glad I did.

These same people that warned me to stay off social media are the same ones asking me now to help them with their own social accounts.

With an audience, you can test ideas.

With an audience, you can inspire.

With an audience, you can recruit people to your team.

With an audience, you derive meaning for your life.


6. Doing the important vs. the mediocre

In corporate business, there’s a lot of noise.

Everything looks important. Everything looks like it could become a lawsuit (especially for a corporate). Everything looks like it could become a PR scandal. Everything looks risky to that next job promotion and to the business.

That’s where mediocrity thrives. With so much noise it’s easy to spend your days filing bits of paper or moving widgets from Point A to Point B without having any clue of why you’re doing it or how it contributes to humankind.

I didn’t learn the discipline of doing the important work in corporate life.

Doing the important came out of the entrepreneurial trait of problem-solving through a vision. It came from wanting to see things better than they are.

Doing the important was fuelled by a desire to achieve a goal that everybody said wasn’t possible. It’s a rebellious philosophy that pushes mediocrity the hell out of the way.


7. The way to have a meeting (ideally no meeting)

Running a meeting in corporate life follows a formula.

This formula will put almost all attendees to sleep. It’s why when you walk into a corporate board meeting, most of the execs are looking at their phone rather than paying attention to who’s speaking.

The formula goes like this:

  • Introduce everybody in the meeting (most don’t need to be there)
  • Pretend there’s an agenda (it will get hijacked…guaranteed)
  • Pretend to solve the problem by agreeing to invite more people to a future meeting
  • Pass ownership around of the problem whilst ignoring the potential solutions
  • Assigning action items which everybody ignores (thus triggering another meeting)

“The best way to have a meeting is not to have a meeting”

Meetings are needed in the corporate world because of a lack of trust and having too many cooks in the kitchen.

Have only the people that can solve the problem in the meeting, make it short and trust in the outcome and vision you’re trying to achieve.

That very philosophy makes meetings for the most part irrelevant.


8. How to make better PowerPoint presentations

You’d think with all the PowerPoints you have to do in the corporate world to educate internal stakeholders, you’d be a freaking expert at doing them.

Quite the opposite is true.

Because of the number of PowerPoint decks you have to do in the corporate world, you get worse at them.

The decks get longer, filled with more words, more acronyms and more promises to take more action.

It’s like for every year in the corporate world you add another acronym to the sentence you’re currently writing.

The belief in the corporate world is that all problems must first begin their life in a PowerPoint.

No problem can be solved without a PowerPoint. I once tried to do a presentation with only one slide. Once I explained the one slide I had prepared with a simple diagram that a four-year-old watching Peppa Pig could understand, I then blacked out the screen.

I wanted the attention on what I was saying instead of some Times New Roman, white slide, with Size 12 Font that nobody could read.

Death by PowerPoint is a real cause of death in the corporate world. It kills dreams, ideas, free speech and the will to live.


9. The way to treat people

The corporate world taught me nothing about how to treat people.

Treating people well came from my eBay days where I learned that if you give someone on eBay the thing they want, and do what you say, you’ll get what you want.

This philosophy didn’t translate into corporate life. I was told to treat people well based on what they could do for me. If they couldn’t do anything for me then what’s the point of knowing them? Right?

Wrong.

The people I treated well who seemed to have no benefit to me ended up becoming the Managers, General Managers and Inspiring Leaders five years down the road.

By not asking for stuff all the time, by treating these future leaders with respect and by being as close to a good human being as I could be, I got all the promotions and all the hard to reach opportunities.

My career in the corporate world looked like it was entirely built by luck. It wasn’t. My corporate career was built on respect, honesty and treating people well because it makes sense in the long run.


10. The true meaning of startup buzzwords

Lean startup. Agile. Disruptive. Act like a startup. Minimum viable product.

We hear these words every day in the startup and tech world. Every corporate is trying to adopt them as their own. I didn’t see any of these buzzwords in my corporate career ever be used successfully.

Lean startup meant Throw seven figures at it and see if it swims. If not, kill it fast!”

Agile meant plan the next five years of a new product, try to deal with every possible situation in the beginning and invite some management consultants.

Act like a startup meant adopt the word but still be a corporate because a sizeable business always knows best.

Minimum viable product meant fix every customer pain point in existence and build the mother of all solutions that’s going to take years to build and leave all competitors for dead. Let’s not fix one thing when we can fix everything thus fixing nothing in the process.


So what can you learn from the corporate world?

It’s not all bad. Park my humor for just one second. You can learn plenty in the corporate world and it’s not all bad.

The corporate world can teach you:

1. Leadership fundamentals

2. Corporate decision-making

3. Community values

4. The rate of technology disruption

The corporate world in some ways shows you what the past looks like so you can build the future. It shows you that size does not necessarily mean better results or more improved solutions.

What I’ve outlined above comes from dealing with hundreds of corporates over the last seven years and the commonalities around how they think.


The grass is not greener.

The corporate world sure has its problems. So does the startup world. So does medium sized business as well.

All business just has a different set of problems to solve.

The way to deal with this conundrum is to become an expert problem solver who enjoys the challenge. It’s not always easy to do.

The business world can get you down and suck the life out of you.

That’s why you need to take a break and get some perspective. Try small, medium and big business for yourself and make your own assessment.

The grass may be longer, shorter or in need of a mow but it’s definitely not greener.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

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How to Change Your Bad Habits for the Benefit of Your Business

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If you are like most people, you probably like to complain from time to time about the economy, about the markets, about how things are changing too fast or how you don’t get enough time. Moan moan moan!

However, moaning doesn’t solve problems. Instead, you can follow the “No BCD” theory and avoid blaming, complaining and defensiveness. This way you will have a totally different outlook, handle situations a lot better, and take control over your destiny. A really practical way to do this is to develop better habits.

What are the bad habits you have?

Everyone has different bad habits, but when it comes to business here are the 4 most common ones:

  • Lack of focus: Every single day, there are going to be things you intend to do and then you “run out of time” or succumb to distractions. But if you’re honest, you had the time and there was a way – you just lacked focus.
  • You’re too kind: How many times have you taken on a project which wasn’t profitable, because you “felt sorry for them”. Not only does this actually hurt you, but it also in many ways hurts the relationship you have with that client or customer.
  • Promising and not delivering: Whether it’s something you said to your team, your clients, or your suppliers, if you’re not matching your words with your actions, over time others will believe you less and less.
  • Leaving opportunities on the table: So often people complain in business they don’t have enough (money/sales/support), when actually they do – they just didn’t ask for it. Within your existing network there is probably everything you need, you just have to ask.

“Successful people are simply those with successful habits.” – Brian Tracy

Think about it. You can look at each of these bad habits and replace them with new and better ones. Imagine…

  • If you created habits that made you focus better: you’d be more productive, with the same amount of time.
  • If you learned good ways to set boundaries: you’d have a better time delivering your services or products, and you’d feel more rewarded.
  • If you kept better track of your promises: You’d feel less stressed and overwhelmed.
  • If you picked up on more of those opportunities: You’d make more money, and inject welcome energy into those who are ready and willing to work with you. The side effect would be that you could delegate things you don’t love and aren’t good at to others more capable, and replace those activities with the things you love!

Breaking those bad habits

Over the years, I have managed to create more boundaries and space for me to be efficient and effective in my work. There are ways to do that  – some habits I have learned from others who have experienced and overcome similar issues, and some are the product of my own experiments. See below!

1. Sprints (for productivity)

I have to say this is so effective. I meet at least one other person at a coffee shop or members club – if it’s not in my office with my fellow team members. We plan to do 30 or 45 minutes of work and do between 3-5 sprints in a session. Blocking out 4 hours together I find works well.

We each say what we will work on and then we get going. No talking allowed, focusing only on the task we talked about. When the timer rings we stop, compare notes on progress, have a mini break and do another one. It’s honestly my most productive time, and it makes you realise how much time we waste on distractions and even moaning about having too much work on!

“A bad habit never disappears miraculously. It’s an undo-it-yourself project.” – Abigail Van Buren

2. A tiny assignment (for motivation to break a bad habit)

I have done this now twice with 2 different friends. We talk about the bad habits we each have, whatever they might be. We give each other a new rule or habit to follow over a two week period. It has to be a “SMART” goal assignment – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

3. Low hanging fruit (for grabbing opportunities)

You simply make a list of people you already know who:

  • Fit into your target market but don’t work with you yet
  • Fit into your target market but haven’t worked with you for a while
  • Experience problems you know you can solve
  • Have their own network of contacts or audience which is very similar to the people you want to talk about
  • Have the expertise in things you find challenging, and very likely the answers to your current challenges

Once you have this list, you come up with some drafted initial outreach scripts for either text, email or phone calls and then you work through your list – sending out the requests, hellos, questions, etc. If you draft your communication well, considering the mindset of the people who are receiving these outreach messages, you will find each conversation will be at the very least a learning opportunity and would certainly lead to more “yeses” than if you didn’t do this exercise.

4. The minimum criteria (for setting boundaries)

If you find that your bad habits involve you saying “yes” too often when you should be saying “no” – then this one works great. You just need to write a specific list of criteria to answer the question “Any time I will do this, I need the following things to be true first”.

For example, you only take on a client who pays less than a certain minimum threshold, who has made a written commitment that they will comply with your specific set of guidelines for their responsibilities during the project. There are so many ways you can use the “minimum criteria” technique and you can share your rules with friends and colleagues to hold yourself accountable.

Now, with all this insight I hope you feel more motivated and you can’t even remember your excuses anymore!

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