Researching your coffee date

It’s coffee date time! You show up to your meeting spot, sit down and wait for the person you are meeting. You are looking around the room and you make quick eye contact with someone you think you recognize from a LinkedIn picture. They wave to you, you stop panicking and head over to their table. You meet, greet, get some coffee and then sit down. Then, it all turns for the worst when you say these deadly words…

“So…where do you work again?”

Bad. Bad, bad, bad. Bad. Right away, you show your true colors: you did not do ANY research before this meeting. But, it’s really not your fault, right? You got home late from work the night before, needed to stop at the grocery and had to finish up that sales proposal all while on the way to your mom’s house for dinner. You didn’t have time to look at everything they do, his/her hobbies and the name of their first pet. So, you got to coffee just in time to look up a picture of them, and that was it.

We are all busy, and I guarantee that the person you are meeting is just as (maybe more) busy, and still took the time out of their schedule to meet with you. Nothing is worse for your coffee date than if they feel like you didn’t even put time into  thinking of good questions they could answer. It’s important to know who you are talking to and what they have accomplished in their career journey so that the conversation has a direction and so they can tell you have interest in their advice. The good news is, you don’t have to spend tons of time getting prepared to meet someone! In 15 minutes, you can become a mini expert on a person:

STEP #1: LinkedIn. The motherland of information. This is your first stop so that you can learn all those basics: jobs, previous employers, skills, certifications, charity work, etc. Even if you have not connected with your coffee date, research them.  Yes, yes they will get a notification that you looked a their profile. But for the first time in social media history, this level of creepiness is welcomed! Chances are, your coffee date will be flattered that you took the time to get to know their professional history.

STEP #2: Google. I am a big fan of what I liked to call the 1 page Google research project. Simply type in the name of your date (and maybe their current company as well) and see what comes up. You may get linked to articles they have been quoted in, new ventures they are apart of, and other great events they have participated in. LinkedIn is like the outfit and Google articles are the accessories: the details matter!

STEP #3: Twitter. I think twitter is really underutilized — It has a ton of information! As a last piece of research, search the name of the person or their company they are a part of to see the most recent things they are up to. You will also get connected to what other people are saying about them, which could offer some great insights and possible questions to ask your date that you may have not thought of.

Don’t be afraid to research…it really doesn’t take long! Nothing is more impressive than being able to engage with your coffee date at multiple levels and showing them respect for their time by knowing the basics.

Meet Tim Brunk

Today I had the opportunity to sit down with serial entrepreneur Tim Brunk, who has started multiple businesses of his own and he is also a founding member of OCEAN Accelerator. Although I’m pretty sure I talked his ear off about my life (because he’s a phenomenal listener), I had a million questions for him. I’m basically convinced he is a magician because he performs magic in most of his businesses:

He magically makes men (and soon to be women) dress better/find their style with Cladwell, he can magically create cohorts of analytics to tell businesses about their customer engagement with USERCycle and now, he is magically making using all of the analytics for your company as easy as a press of a button with his latest venture, Astronomer.

Tim Brunk, founder of OCEAN, USERcycle, Astronomer and Cladwell, among others. Photo via LinkedIn
Tim Brunk, founder of OCEAN, USERcycle, Astronomer and Cladwell, among others.
Photo via LinkedIn

I asked him if he was tired. He said yes, but not in the “I’m exhausted” kind of way. He smiled the entire time. That’s because even though I’m sure he doesn’t get much sleep, he LOVES what he’s doing. Tim knows his voice.

I still don’t fully know my voice, and I’m honestly okay with it. I’m still in school and I’m still learning about who I am. I think it’s okay for 40 year old parents with three kids to not know their voice because people are always evolving. But, what I got from Tim today is that we should never stop the discovery process. The most important part is that you stay hungry to discover your voice. He does this in two ways:

Finding your voice in your career. Tim knew early on into his career that being just another employee in the corporate world was not for him. When he didn’t like his first job, he listened to himself. With his companies now, he makes sure he has team members that are talented writers and good with press because he knows he is not passionate about that part of business. Tim knows what he likes and dislikes in a career and he sticks to it.

Finding your voice in your outside activities. Tim is obviously very busy so during his free time, he makes conscious choices to do activities he enjoys and fulfills him. He doesn’t watch much TV because he would rather be exploring or creating new business ventures. I told him I want to take a coding class, which he encouraged, but reminded me to not spend too much time learning/mastering all the different types it because then it would take away from my true passions of marketing and the user acquisition process. He encouraged me to write what I care about in my blog and not try to do a million things at once.

I’m someone who likes to wear a lot of hats, which is good, but when you try to become experts and passionate about too many things, you can lose your way. Tim’s confidence and self-awareness was really inspiring. I think it’s about time that we all sat quietly for a minute with pen and paper and just started thinking. Who am I as a career woman? What do I want to spend my free time doing? How do I want to be perceived by others? By asking questions like these, I hope that one day I can sit where Tim was, talking to some over-eager startup lover, encouraging them to find their voice.

Defining the problem: A study of Frameri

I’m telling you guys, The Garage Group is on it when it comes to innovation. Everyone knows that entrepreneurs are innovators, but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be an innovator. In fact, most entrepreneurship does not happen in an “epiphany moment” or “random grand idea” like most people believe. I was scared of the word “entrepreneurship” for a really long time because I thought I wasn’t an idea person.

So, how the hell are companies making it? How did they get so good at problem solving? Well, the answer is right there. The problem. Entrepreneurs are masters at learning the problem. Everyone gets ideas, but they are quickly lost once people realize it doesn’t solve the problem for enough people for the idea to be successful. The best way to get to know your problem is by asking people about the same problem and then listening, listening, listening for insights. Talk less, listen more.

I really like the company Frameri. I studied them in depth for one of my classes and I think it’s safe to say I know their product very well. At first I was not their biggest fan. I thought the glasses market was really saturated and that their idea of changing lenses was a hassle.

Then, I got to know their problem. Konrad, the co-founder/CEO got hit in the eye with a bb gun as a kid and for the rest of his life was forced to wear glasses. He got annoyed that people had to wear the same pair of glasses over and over again.. I can’t even imagine how many people Konrad and his team talked to about this problem.  They saw that people didn’t want to carry around tons of (EXPENSIVEEEE) pairs of glasses and lenses, and they saw that people didn’t want to look at their glasses as boring or a burden. I have been wearing glasses for 10 years and I am unable to wear contacts because I flinch too hard. I used to get very bored with my eye wear because I always had to get black frames so it matched everything I wore. I also couldn’t afford prescription sun lenses, so my vision was always blurry when it was bright out.

I’m sure the Frameri team listened to a million stories like mine. These are the stories that help paint the problem, which eventually leads to a solution. Frameri was able to provide less expensive eye wear and more stylish eye wear with the ability to change daily using interchangeable lenses. Let me say, I bought a pair, and they do not disappoint. Now, I have the ability to swap out lenses and sun lenses for sunny days and I also have different style options. You can check out the concept here.

Frameri is just one of many companies that could have ended up just like another company that did not study the problem more. There are tons of inexpensive eyewear companies out there, but Frameri was able to find the customer’s true pain point. The next time you make a big list of everything that bothers you, take each item and explore the problem. Research, talk to people, learn. the solution will come.

The awkward moments of Networking

Networking events are so so great…in theory. I mean, what’s not to like? It’s the opportunity to meet people with a wealth of knowledge, make some connections and maybe get drinks and food out of it. After, you will be driving home thinking about how much you impressed everyone you met and all the coffee dates and future opportunities you have lined up.

But, let’s be realistic about how you probably were: you arrived ready to meet people, you gave a few soft hellos but quickly realized you knew NO ONE there. #awkward. As you watched all these successful people chit chat like they were friends for years, you quickly found yourself in the corner, drinking a beer and praying that maybe someone will look like they are alone and you will swoop in.

Networking is great, but can be hella weird too. Supposedly, it’s okay to just walk up to people at these things, but that doesn’t make it easy. Especially as an intern. I am really social and even I struggled at the last event. Luckily, there are a lot of great resources out there, like Inc.’s article 21 Ways to Overcome Networking Awkwardness, from which I found 5 mistakes I made and can improve on:

1. Don’t get there too early. Yes, yes I was the first person there. I got my choice of really great food,  but it sucked being the one having to get the convos going. If you are new to networking, leave it to the veterans that know how to get the party started.

2. Smile. I like how the article says “you aren’t going to an execution”. Facial expressions are a thing. If you are nervous, chances are your face is showing it, and “fear” doesn’t exactly equate to “fuzzy, warm and inviting”.

3. Drinking does not make you more networkable. Unfortunately, my Bud-light drinking skills did not magnetically draw in CEOs into my eager intern orb.

4. Go with a specific outcome in mind. I would have done much better if I had said “I want to meet two new people and connect with them on LinkedIn” or “I want to learn more about _____”. I did meet some really great and valuable people, but having a goal would have made things less overwhelming.

5. Use the person’s name in conversation to help you remember them. I am HORRIBLE at names. When you learn a name, do not only use it on the convo, but repeat it in your head a few times. Blanking on names sucks and can come across as insincere, even though we all do it.

Networking events are meant to help propel you forward, but they aren’t all going to be career-changing meetings. So relax! Go to as many as you can so you can get used to the style and slowly start to make more connections. The awkward feeling doesn’t last forever.

Being less critical of Millennials

After meeting with Jason Hauer and hearing his excitement and belief in the millennial generation, I started to wonder why I was so excited to hear him say that. Why was I so thrilled to hear someone talk about the millennial generation without attaching the words “lazy” or “entitled” or “narcissistic”? Now I can’t speak for all my fellow millennials, also known as Generation Y, but I think I’m pretty great. I work hard, I’m true to who I am…and I know a lot of other people just like me. In fact, I think there is more good to millennials than older generations like to admit. Here are 3 reasons why millennials are actually rocking it in the workplace:

Skillz that killz. We are tech-savvy, teamwork-loving, multi-tasking individuals who are ready to get stuff done. This is not a profound statement: millennials were born with the skills that match how the workplace is changing, such as being paperless and constantly innovating. Millennials are quick to think of new ideas, can handle (and get excited for) multiple projects and can build a basic website in a matter of hours.

Having purpose. “We are special and we should always feel that way”. Millennials have been constantly told all of the ways they are special. My mom tells me it every day and for many years I proudly displayed my soccer “participation awards”. Instead of looking at this as a negative, I think it is good we all feel special. When you feel special, you feel purpose in what you are doing. Generation Y is constantly searching for things in their life that give them purpose and make them feel special…including jobs. When you hire a millennial, you can be assured you are hiring someone who feels special and a purpose in your organization.

In the know. We are social media and social trend addicts. You want to know what kinds of foods are grabbing the attention of consumers these days? Do you not know the difference between “no GMO” and “all natural” (big difference, btw)? Well, we sure do! You can’t go on running your company with just baby boomers. Millennials offer some great insights into new consumer trends, how to get more social media traffic and just overall new things that are going on. Let’s all stop being afraid of young people! Yes, we need a little guidance and training to get our footing, but I promise the return will be worth it.

Meet Jason Hauer

Have you ever seen an opportunity and just gone for it? Jason Hauer lives out this mission every day. The cofounder of The Garage Group, a strategy firm that helps corporate businesses think like start ups, has dedicated his career to taking those risks for bigger and better long-term innovation. Having done work for brands like Heinz and Mars Petcare, Jason knows how to make opportunities happen.

Jason Hauer, The Garage Group, Innovation, Startups
Jason Hauer, The Garage Group
Photo from LinkedIn

While it can be easy to go straight for the “I’m not an ideas person” mindset, Jason sees this differently. He explained that some of the best and most innovative ideas come out of the great research of studying your customers. It is important to learn and connect the dots about their pain points, thoughts and values on different products and brands…and companies need to be able to do this to stay relevant, especially in the minds of millennials. Speaking of which, Jason LIKES millennials. Which is good to hear, because as a millennial, I am aware of the view points of some of the older generations. Jason likes how millennials are invested in their future and are more willing to be thoughtful about their careers and lifestyle choices — and he believes companies need to do the same. Companies need to “lean in” to this generation and make long-term changes that match the ideals of customers.

Jason also gave me some great advice for perusing my future. Graduation is less than a year away, so I need my next actions steps. He told me what it means to be a “T” employee/person…it is about having broad interests but then augmenting that by going in depth (the vertical line of the T) with something you are truly passionate about. When you find that passion, study it, learn it, engage with it. He really emphasized that it is important to collect experiences with what you are passionate about because your job is not going to deliver everything to you. It is up to the individual to be clear on their goals and passions and what they want to get out of it. Once you have your plan, GO FOR IT. Don’t let your job role limit you. keep learning, keep doing and keep being passionate.

How your business can end up like the Cavaliers: a metaphor

While I support all things Cincinnati, I will always bleed Cleveland. It is my home, my pride, my joy. Even the sports, the most cursed sports programs in the U.S. And as I watched my darling Cavaliers make it so close, yet not far enough, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between them and a lot of startups and the cycle they go through.

The Cavs are pretty much a new team this year, like a new business. We got our hometown boy boy (LeBron) who was energized and ready to go, like a new CEO. We had some awesome key players like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love that were essential to success, like a COO and a CTO. They surrounded themselves with other strong players (employees) who also loved the game and they all practiced. And practiced. They had some small failures a long the way (losing games), but in the end it’s the small failures that make you stronger. They got stronger and they killed it at final pitch night (the eastern conference) and were ready to launch on their own, and face the big competitors in real time — lets call them the Golden State Warriors.

So, the Cavs enter the market (the finals). They struggle at first but end up winning a couple games…gaining those customers by the skin of their teeth (overtime), in business terms. Although, the competition had been around longer. They had some more small wins under their belt and were able to gain competitive intelligence.  At the same time, the CTO/COO had to leave the company for one reason or another (we will always love you, Kyrie and Love) and then the CEO finds themselves standing there, having to face the competition with a passionate team, but not as strong as the competitor. They fought as long as they could and put up a good fight until the very end, but in that end, the combination of being new AND losing some of the strong team you had before can cause a large failure: the end.

Let’s face it: the Cavs were tired. They did not give up, but they were tired. They had fans supporting them (loyal customers, Clevelanders) along the way, but that still doesn’t change how the other team gained competitive intelligence. Before the Cavs knew it, they were falling behind with the other CEO (Curry) was shooting three pointers left and right, chewing on that awful mouth guard, and was winning big time.

Do I know how to solve the problem of being tired? No. I have never had my own business. I have no idea what the exhaustion is like and putting your whole heart and soul into this crazy idea you had. But, that’s what I’m here to learn about. And just like the Cavs, I am never going to give up. Like my favorite team, I am going to spend this next year getting stronger, making new plays, and setting goals. It’s hard to be new. But if the Cavs can do it, any of us can.

Article: 4 Skills You’ll Need to Work in a Startup

Although I’ve mentioned my love of startups, I want to talk about it little more. This time, about the skills needed to be in this crazy, hustling and rewarding world. Even if you don’t think you will end up working for a startup company, many companies try every day to hold the same principles and work ethic as new companies. In this article 4 Skills You’ll Need to Work in a Startuptake note of how similar these skills are to skills we will all need in our careers:

1. TECHNICAL SKILLS: It’s true. As much as I don’t like to admit it, being techy is necessary in startups since many of them are very technological. In fact, most companies today are integrating more and more technology into their strategies and business plan. So, as much as I would like to hesitate, it is time to saddle up my woolly mammoth and move into the 21st century. Ladies, I am taking a coding class this summer through the company Girl Develop It so that I can get comfortable with development and coding. They have chapters and classes all over the country!

2. DATA ANALYSIS: (in my Beyonce voice) Who runs the world? Google. Google analytics needs to be your best friend. It is amazing what google knows about people coming to your website and also every single person who uses the internet. Through google analytics and other tracking sites, you can see how many views your website is getting, who is interested in your business, the times and countries of your most popular visitors…basically everything you need to outsmart the competitor.

3. SALES CHOPS: When it comes to startups, sales are more valuable than anything — it is what makes or breaks your business right from the start. But then again, it relates to any business because every business will fail without sales. Get good at it. The article also suggests working on your elevator pitch. This video really helped me…check it out!

4. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: While it is important to have a lot of different learned skills, emotional intelligence takes the largest importance when it comes to getting along with others and creating a good company culture. A lot of startups are 5-10 people in a room together, and if you can’t play nice or work well, it’s going to get hostile, fast. Newsflash: this isn’t only in startups. Employers all over the world are starting to value emotional intelligence above everything else: being able to relate to others, read between the lines, have empathy and being able to handle situations while being mature and keeping in mind the thoughts of others. There can be a lot involved in emotional intelligence, so check out PsychCentral for some more details!

Most of all, in  whatever workplace you go to, be yourself. Be passionate. Be hardworking. The rest will get figured out but the most important aspect of any employee to a business is that you are giving it your all — the skills will come with time.

How do you write that first email?

It can be easy for someone to tell you “Just reach out to people!”, but it’s really not that easy. In most networking situations, you may have not even met the person. How do you reach out without being awkward? How do you sound professional and personable?

First off, it’s about having confidence. You will never get better at it if you don’t start writing them and contacting people. It can be nerve-wracking, but remember, the worst they can say is no. Always remember to be polite when addressing them. Using phrases like “I would appreciate” or “I would be thankful for the opportunity to…” are always good go-to phrases. These are people that you are asking to give you your time, so always say thank you.

HACKING MOMENT: can’t find that person’s email? Go on their website and see what other emails you can find. Most company emails are formulaic and you can just copy it. Lets say you want to contact John Smith but can only find ‘amanda.green@company.com’. It’s safe to assume his email would be ‘john.smith@company.com’. Also, most newer companies use just first names in their email, so if you can’t find anything else, just try ‘john@company.com’.

NEVER start off the email with “my name is ___ and I am contacting you today because…”. It can feel weird not to do this, but it’s so boring and people skim those messages right over. Your email will end with your name and it is in your signature. The first line would be a good place to bring up what you have learned about their career so far, like “I see that you are working in _____, which has been a dream of mine”.  Which reminds me, make sure the person can see in your email that you DID YOUR HOMEWORK. They want to see that you looked at their LinkedIn page or googled their company and that you know the basics.

ANOTHER HACKING MOMENT: If someone has made an introduction for you to this person, make sure to say “I am so glad Bob connected us!”. If someone recommended for you to reach out to this person, you can say something like “Michael told me great things about your company/work and I would love to learn more”.

Make your intentions clear and sound committed to learning from them. In 10 Tips for an Awesome Coffee Meeting, they state that you let the person know what you want to talk about. Give your potential coffee date time to prepare so that they can know what to expect from you. And when you say “thank you” in that final line of the email, say something to show your commitment and excitement like “I look forward to meeting with you”. I promise, it’s not aggressive if you say it politely.

It is important to remember to convey your “yearn to learn’ in the email while also keeping things concise. The longer the email, the more likely the person is to skim it. Here is an example email:

Hi Katie,

You are a graphic design expert, and I want to be one too. Sally Smith has told me great things about your work on brands like Toyota and Rolling Rock, and I would love to learn more about it. This summer, I am trying to learn as much as I can about the graphic design industry and how I can improve my work. If you have any free time in the next couple weeks, I would appreciate being able to get a quick coffee with you and ask about your projects at WWG Design and how you got your career started after college.

Thanks, Katie! I look forward to meeting with you.

(NAME HERE)

See, it’s not that scary! Just keep practicing and don’t give up! Even if one person doesn’t answer. If you want more examples, be sure to check out Life-Long Learner!

How do I know if they are a good mentor for me?

So, you are a little lost, overwhelmed, confused where to go next (because who really has their shit together in their early 20s) and you know there has to be someone out there with answers to your questions. Well, I have good news…there is! In fact, there are a lot of people in this world who once dreamed like you, worked like you and also struggled like you. Finding a mentor can be a great way to make the path of discovery a little less rocky. And, as much as we don’t like to admit it, connections really do make all the difference when looking for that job, and having someone to guide you makes a world of difference. Although, with all the people in the world that you could possibly talk to, who are the right people? When trying to find a mentor, you should look out for these qualities:

1. They have your interests. The best way to feel comfortable going to someone for guidance is when you have things in common. Maybe it is an inspiring professor, a family friend who is in a career that you have thought about pursuing. Find someone who will be able to share experiences with you and give advice that will mean something to you.

2. They believe in you. GoalSettingCollege is right, “Someone who believes in your talents and works with you relentlessly to explore your latent capabilities”. Find mentors in the people that have seen your work, witnessed that undying work ethic and that know your talents. Mentoring is a volunteer thing, they WANT to be helping you. These are the people that will be able to give you the best advice and provide you with fantastic opportunities.

3. They are well networked. While you should always choose to go to the people that can help you best, there is a lot to be said for having a mentor that knows other people that can help you, too. If you put effort into learning from your mentor, they will see your potential and will share it with others. Mentors want to see you succeed and will introduce you to the people to help you reach your goals.