Sep 19 2012

First, get people to like you.

  • Posted by: admin

With startups popping up in Chicago at a rate faster than ever before, entrepreneurs must not only have a great idea, but have a following that’s willing to show the city, and hopefully, the universe, just how great their idea is. One of the first questions Rick asks entrepreneurs when they come to Dashfire for help is: How will you acquire customers? While he’s normally looking for a basic strategic plan, models, charts, all that business stuff, I’ve come to realize one thing: If you want people on your side, you first must get them to like you.

There’s tons of companies who I admire, think highly of, and (KEY!) will tell my friends about, not because I think they have an idea that’s going to change life as we know it (while it may), but because I LIKE THEM. Because they’re personable, approachable, want to talk, and are willing to provide help.

As an intern, I’m pretty much at the bottom of this totem pole that is the Chicago digital startup scene. People don’t have to (nor was I really expecting them to) introduce themselves or engage in conversation, let alone ask me if I need any help. Luckily for me and humankind, there are nice people in the world who’ve made a strong effort to be kind, provide me with introductions, and make this whole thing exciting for me.

I met Wes Dearborn, co-founder of Lasso, during my internship-hunt at the beginning of summer. I introduced myself to him via email, and he proceeded to tell me his situation, that, with Lasso being so new, he wasn’t in the position to hire interns but was grateful I reached out. That could have been it, right? I go my way, Wes goes his, still a nice guy in my book.

…but, what will make me use Lasso?

When I started working at 1871, Wes scooted by my desk weekly.  Just a quick “Hi, How’s your day? You look busy. I’m busy. Coffee is expensive. Ok, Bye!” Maybe this was all part of his scheme to get me and my friends to be in a focus group for his app, but something tells me Wes is just a nice guy who made me feel important and cool. Regardless of his motives, A few weeks later, myself and 5 of my girlfriends were obviously willing to help Wes and his team test Lasso at a focus groups, two separate times. While I do believe Lasso rocks, and will use it all the time, I may feel differently about it if I didn’t know that Wes and his team were such awesome people just trying to make socializing a little easier. If he had ended our conversation a couple months back, with him not needing an intern, would I have met with him and convinced 5 of my girlfriends to help out? The chances are a lot less likely. When Lasso launches in 2 weeks, I’ll be downloading it, my friends will be downloading it, and, simply because he’s a nice guy, Wes gets 10 active users who will certainly spread the world. And the best part is, I’m sure I’m not the only person Wes has been nice to.

Let’s replace Wes with, hypothetically speaking, Tim. I’ve heard of Tim’s company before and always thought it was a great idea. Tim speaks about his company at an event that I’m attending with plans on writing two articles the next day: one for Built In Chicago, who recently asked me to intern for them, and one for Dashfire, whom I’ve been interning with for a while. I love Tim’s pitch, everything I’ve heard about the app in the past is correct, and I download it on the spot. Good job, Tim.

I liked the pitch so much that after the event, I wanted to make a point to introduce myself to Tim, maybe ask him a question or two to be featured in my blog post. The event ends, everyone starts mingling, I spot out someone wearing Tim’s company’s shirt (let’s call him Jim) and wave. I’ve never gotten a more blank and confused look in my life. Granted I did just wave at a random person who doesn’t know me, but a smile would have been nice, right? Name tag on, notebook in hand; my 21-year-old self looked a little out of place, but it wasn’t like I was a random hobo coming for the free food. Super intimidated, but still wanting to introduce myself and congratulate him, I approach Jim and this is the exact conversation we had:

Me: “Hi! I’m Alexx. Congrats! That was awesome. I’ve seen you guys around 1871. What’s your name?”

Jim: “Uh, thanks. Have we met?”

I’m thinking ok, awkward… didn’t I just introduce myself? Wanting to run away but knowing it would be even more awkward, I try to save the conversation. I probably approached it the wrong way, I’m thinking to myself.

Me: “We haven’t, but I know your company and wanted to introduce myself. I intern at Dashfire and I’m writing about the event.”

Jim: “Wait.. What’s Dashfire? Do we know them?”

Me: “They’re a startup enabler working out of 1871, that’s how I recognize you guys! Are you guys there 5 days a week?”

Jim: “I’m there 7.”

I blanked out the rest of the horribly awkward conversation and was so caught off guard by his intense hostility to have a simple, no-more-than 3 minute conversation, that I left the event. I know it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, and it’s really not, but isn’t it kind of? Jim didn’t know who I was, didn’t know what Dashfire was and therefore didn’t care. While my silly little blog post that I planned to write, raving about Tim’s company, probably wouldn’t have made that much of a difference in terms of exposure or whatever, why should that matter? Shouldn’t people like Tim be working with people like Wes? AKA people who are stoked to meet new people and make connections, even it’s just a little intern? App deleted.

Be nice. Hire nice people. Make friends. Acquire Customers.


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