Last fall, Uber asked me to vet 25 start-up pitches from local entrepreneurs (all women) competing with others in select cities for a chance at $150,000 in tech funding in its “Fueling the Growth” initiative called UberPITCH. I spent the better part of an afternoon in an Uber car listening to these bright CEOs give back-to-back pitches for 5 minutes each. As a tech investor and headhunter, I came to recognize that these CEOs represent what the next decade is going to be all about: entrepreneurial and disruptive thinking. More importantly, the following three critical components driving their success are so important that my clients in the Fortune 1000 will benefit from these insights, too. Let’s move the needle for C-suite leadership both at the start-up level and in iconic corporate companies.
1. Creating Communities of Friction
This is the truth – we need friction in business to evolve. From upper echelon corporate America to entrepreneurial start-ups, companies need friction to grow. Start-up CEOs consume ideas as friction to ignite and require communities of friction for sustainability. Big, established companies require disruption and fresh perspective from the outside because it is increasingly harder to move beyond one’s comfort zone as a CEO. Comfort zones insulate us and can prevent forward thinking and the friction that comes with it.
Wall Street titans like GE boast the importance of this theme themselves. Beth Comstock, Vice Chair of GE, recently said at a Boston Club Event, “We need to innovate our way forward now in the emergent era. The new isn’t scaled and the future still awaits its founding. In this emergent era, it is easy to dismiss ideas as crazy and chaotic.” The new new companies and Smart Cities are emerging where friction is a daily collaboration. Listen up Corporate America. If we can create communities of collaborative friction, we will all birth the ideas of the future.
2. Going Further with Brilliant Friends & Advisors
When you have no money as an entrepreneur, it’s critical you surround yourself with brilliance via team members, investors, strategic consultants, colleagues, board members and otherwise. After all, it is far more valuable to have an A team with a B idea than a B team with an A idea. Think about these true “friends” of the business as the blueprint for a start-up’s success. Your team will build you up, challenge you and have your back. Interestingly enough, those corporate executives who surround themselves with A players will generate more success for themselves and their businesses as well.
The UberPITCH process reminded me that the trajectory of a successful start-up is driven further by the team because great unique ideas are simply not enough. Engaged and enlightened teams go the furthest. What exactly do I mean? Only half of the equation is hiring above your weight class; then, the hard work begins. Founders and CEOs are hard-pressed to find enough time to sleep, fundraise, dream and care-take, let alone provide quality team engagement and envisionment (yes, this is a new word for 2017). My advice to both Corporate America and the start-up crowd is to surround yourself with the brilliant company you want to keep, because the others will only drag you down. Find the brilliance, and do it now.
3. Emanating the CEO Founder’s Buzz
If you want to make it as a founder and entrepreneur, you need to dig deep and decide if you truly have what it takes. Effective C-suite leaders in Corporate America have proven this throughout their careers on their path to the top. Looking back at the pitch deck from this Uber event and remembering the 25 start-up founders I met in person, it was clear that some had the so called “founder’s buzz” and some did not. My three criteria for this buzz are grit, genuineness and a compelling story.
First, I need to know that the start-up CEO will not give up — that she or he will use every bit of grit and determination to survive. Next, I must see evidence of a truthful and genuine individual. If there isn’t truth behind those tired eyes, what else is there? As a frequent investment team and board member, I’ve come to learn that speaking the truth is paramount for entrepreneurial success. Finally, engage me with your story. At our Perfect the Pitch rally, Lee Stiegemeier, co-founder of Circle Sideways and co-sponsor of the event, reminded us, “When you start a business, or even start up the next chapter in your executive career, it’s generally the ‘why’ of who you are that captivates and compels others to be your champion and one of your business.” I couldn’t agree more.
Corporate CEOs take note — those who continue to show evidence of grit and genuineness while at the top, and who understand how to leverage a company story to connect with stakeholders, will be those who differentiate themselves and lead the way in the years to come. The millennial workforce needs your CEO founder’s buzz just as much as start-ups do.
The UberPITCH was a thrilling ride – full of friction, friends and founder’s buzz. In addition to establishing new relationships with incredible CEOs who are working tirelessly to solidify success in their start-ups, I had the pleasure of being reminded of how exciting the next decade will be. To all of those CEOs out there (both new and seasoned) striving to do just that, keep refining and keep at it. Your dreams are within reach and your entrepreneurial thinking is the primary driver for the greatest innovation.