Listen

Listening is louder than it sounds.

Most entrepreneurs like to talk and the more obsessed we are, the more vociferous we seem to get. Idea machines must be willing to share compelling stories, but listening is a key part of any transmission. This may seem obvious, but with precious air time up for grabs and knowing so much about our own interests, listening can devolve into feeling like a required distraction.

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Hearing is passive. Listening is active.

As we guide people through the layers of understanding, active listening forms a bond much faster than forcing yourself to be heard. The fear of not having time to deliver your message will linger, but when we truly tune into what another person is saying, it shows we care. It also helps us better harmonize our thoughts within the moment and counters the common mistake of overloading others with too much numbing details all at once. Knowing each conversation is part of a broader relationship and community-building journey, good listeners are almost always given a chance to make a bigger impact.

Ready for an experiment? The next time you meet someone new, embrace your inner scientist. Set your introverted/extroverted mindset aside and focus your attention on asking as many thoughtful questions as you can. The less you talk, the better. This will feel awkward if you just fire question after question, so be concise with each response, then return to more thoughtful questions for a more natural interaction. Consider expanding this social experiment by purposely doing this throughout an entire networking event. Remember who you talked with and track how the listening-focused conversations evolve. Over time, how do these relationships built on listening, compare to others where you’ve been more outspoken? Here are a few tactics to support your practice.

  • Center your internal attention.
  • Stay engaged with eye contact.
  • Use jarring questions to dodge small talk.
  • Don’t interrupt or jump to conclusions.
  • Occasionally paraphrase what was said.
  • Avoid the urge to make it about you.
  • Ask curious questions to go deeper.
  • Exit gracefully, without a sense of rush.

This type of active listening will extend your ability to hear more, but also make your responses more in-tune with what others are thinking, versus always trying to prove your point. Selflessness may keep a conversation from landing exactly where you want in that moment, but as you move from one topic to the next, you’ll learn how others work. When done well, an unspoken bond forms. This synchronization creates space to explore more directions you’d like to take future conversations, but now with the priceless ingredient of shared enthusiasm.

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Listening within a support network ignites optimism, connection, and motivation. A healthy balance is to also listen to your challenge network, which keeps us intellectually humble and rooted in reality.

Stealth Mode

We’re all guilty of thinking our idea is better than it is.

Stealth mode is when entrepreneurs wait to start telling their story. Staying quiet about a new project often starts with good intentions. Curiosity and a bit of mystery can generate hype, especially if you’ve been successful in the past. Too often however, people hold onto silence because they fear feedback or that what they’re building may not work in the wild.

To avoid failure, the choice to continue building in stealth mode keeps everything safely in the workshop. This may be wise if the project needs work or when the competition are known pirates, but there are few ideas that require much secrecy. With 8 billion humans on earth, your idea is probably not unique and when it comes to shipping your art, it all comes down to execution. Survey the market and research existing patents to help guide decision making, but stealth mode will soon lag toward being an excuse to procrastinate. Even if you have something big, it can be deflated without the open air of honest feedback. Stealth mode may sound nice, but silence, pride, and fear can devolve into a suffocating sinkhole.

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Winners are good at losing.

If you decide to build in stealth mode, give yourself firm timelines. Determine if intellectual property needs legal protection. If you need to keep certain aspects of the project under wraps, do so while still allowing the idea to breathe. Stealth mode only works when it results in a stronger story. It’s hard to know how strong your story is unless you share it.

Yes, we can only be new once, but the leverage of a startup is an ability to quickly evolve. As your team connects with the true market through strategic, creative, and generous execution, humility paired with persistence will pay off in the form of confidence. Even if something fails, it’ll be more like a pit stop on your path toward product-market fit. Be a scientist. Experiment thoughtfully, iterate often, and invite doubt knowing that if you’re wrong, it can activate a signal that guides the project toward a more sustainable future.

Be careful with the comfort of stealth mode. Those who build in too much silence can go quiet themselves.

Launch

A successful launch rewards hard work.

No matter the audience or how heavy the news, introducing what’s next is your opportunity to spark energy. This milestone will soon be celebrated, but rocket ships do not launch without intention.

The excitement of sharing something you’re proud of can be intoxicating, but we can only be new once. Launching before you’re ready can lead to carnage. Limping into a launch without a connected cadence will also reduce excitement as attention becomes diluted.

Let’s first look at how to avoid launching before you’re ready. There’s value in shipping your art often, as this is the only way anything is set free to evolve toward product-market fit. This, however, does not give us permission to be careless. Research, internal planning, strategic development, thorough testing, and working with true fans is the easiest way to stress test whatever you’re building. When we normalize a nimble, but detailed-oriented approach, you’ll create confidence in what’s being launched while also allowing your art to connect within the market you seek to serve more often.

When the time is right, planning a strategic launch sequence can initiate a boost loud enough to create attention and also long enough to push through the thick atmosphere of endless distraction. Instead of a single celebration, think of your launch as a connected collection of memorable moments.

The most common misfire is overloading your audience too soon. This may be part of the strategy with a short launch sequence, but when a launch lingers, duplicative content will numb an audience before the intended culmination arrives. One tactic for staying patient is mapping the overall launch sequence. This helps sync development with the timing of communication. Such planning also provides internal clarity and connects valuable context to each transmission.

To map a launch sequence, start by creating intrigue with as little information as possible. Think of this subtle stage like a notice to save the date. Next, create excitement by leaning into the pain. Leak a little on why the audience should be excited for what’s to come. No need for too many details quite yet. Those will land next.

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As the countdown ticks toward zero, fortify the team to determine how you can effectively respond to every type of inquiry during launch. With internal operations ready to rock, release one final burst of hype before delivering the payload on launch day. As thrusters fire and liftoff occurs, you’re now set free to release your art into the universe. Congratulations!

Within the early moments of flight, keep messaging sharp. Deliver on the promise, include singular calls to action, and track analytics to stay strategic.

A thoughtful launch can create a flurry, but attention is hard to earn and it’s gone before you know it. As the loudness of a launch begins to fade, hit the free prize inside button to activate a few more extraordinary insights built to fuel lasting momentum. Once in orbit, maintain a smooth onboarding process for late arrivals and enjoy the view knowing elevation makes us all feel successful.

Early Moves

So you have a business idea you’d like to explore? Yes!

It’s easy to say “Let’s gooo!” but when you say yes to something, you’re also saying no to something else. This is opportunity cost, so be strategic with your early moves. Before you go too far, remember that an appropriate “no” early on is better than a long, wrong “yes.” Let’s explore how to decide what ideas to activate and how to help them bloom.

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Things you dedicate time to will grow.

It takes discipline, but time alone with any idea is a good way to avoid swinging at bad pitches. Dig into online research before going too far. Determine what related products or services already exist. Run some numbers. Talk to potential customers and see if you can snag a few preorders. The goal is to understand the realistic impact you may be able to make in the market by confirming it’s something strangers are willing to pay for.

If you start to feel genuine interest, talk with others who may be interested in collaborating. Think about your own skills to identify where you’ll need help. Attend related events to further qualify early concepts. Even if you’re not ready to share details, the readiness to Show Up and #GiveFirst often leads to new allies who can connect dots as you continue working through ideation, team development, research, and testing.

Before you go much further, take a pit stop with your future self. Is this a business/market you want to work on for the foreseeable future? If you like to quilt, it doesn’t mean you should start a quilting business. The hardships that come with being a business owner can actually kill your passion. Dance with all your ideas, but recognize when something should remain a hobby.

Early moves are exhilarating, but there’s value in being efficient as you decide if something is going to work. If this evolving business idea continues to touch your heart after internal and external analysis, you may have something ready to pursue! Inspiration is perishable, so when this happens, be ready to take action. As you do, stay patient. It’s not how fast you move, it’s that you find ways to keep moving. Avoid the headline trap and find lasting energy knowing that even hints of progress can nurture an idea toward reality.

As you continue moving forward, think big, but remain realistic by doing one thing really well. Stay intellectually humble and welcome doubt by working with others and be ready to iterate quickly. It often takes many versions of an idea to land on something ready for the wild.

Feedback is Data

Customer discovery paves the path to profitability.

This really is the work for entrepreneurs starting a new business. Customer discovery requires curiosity, patience, humility, hard work, thick skin, an interest in being wrong, discernment, and a willingness to adapt.

For many entrepreneurs, impartial feedback can be scary. Customer discovery puts our ideas on the hook and conversations with strangers may contradict past assumptions, but that’s the point! Interacting with the market you seek to serve allows us to learn from “no” in a way that gets us to “yes.” As you collaborate with those who criticize what you’re building, learn why naysayers disagree with your hypotheses. Be humble and make your concepts more compelling to change their minds.

Collecting such real-world data is human and intellectual capital that will attract more network and financial capital. The more you learn from others, the more you’ll recognize—and be able to meet—true demand. This can be a protracted process, which can make it feel unnecessary, but honest feedback will strengthen your value proposition and allow you to eventually go further in the right direction.

When learning from the perspective of others, remember that feedback is only data. This data should be collected, organized, and examined like a scientist. Inference is more effective with more data, so the more feedback you have, the easier it can be to make decisions.

As you translate feedback into action, you must also find your own way. Even with good intent, people who provide you feedback are doing so based on their own experiences. The experience of others is based on the past and is unlikely to harmonize with your exact situation. There are many ways to build your business, so perpetually gather as much feedback as possible and use diversified data to guide your company toward product-market fit.

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My community visit with 1MC Joplin was sweet, this feature article was a neat chance to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, I’m gathering my own feedback by presenting Pour Over Publishing at 1 Million Cups Des Moines, and the much anticipated YDNTB audiobook is almost done!