How To Reject A Meeting Request

How to reject a meeting request

A couple weeks ago, I had multiple meetings where, going into the meeting, I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t be able to help the entrepreneurs in the ways they’d hoped, but they were persistent, so I agreed to the meetings.

Unfortunately, I was right.

After lots of wasted hours — specifically the wasted hours of precious entrepreneur time for the people meeting with me — I received yet another request from someone I knew I wouldn’t be able to help. In frustration, I posted the following Tweet:

Usually when I ask the Twitter masses a question, all I get is silence, but this particular question spurred an interesting mix of comments. I’ve shared some responses below and my thoughts on them. At the end, I’ll share how I responded to the request that spurred my tweet.

James Avery tries to improve efficiency…

Offering a call seems like a good in-between response. It’s less of a time commitment, while not an outright rejection. Still, I wonder about the value. Even if the call only takes 30 minutes, aren’t I knowingly wasting 30 minutes of that entrepreneur’s time?

Either way, I’m definitely going to use Jame’s suggestion about asking more people to come to my office. That’s a smart optimization.

Bryan Guido Hassin likes paying the karma gods…

I agree that sometimes you might not realize the ways in which a meeting can be valuable. At the same time, after a career of meetings, I feel like it’s possible to make an educated and usually-accurate guess. Still, it’s hard to argue with the importance of pleasing the karma gods. Definitely don’t want to piss them off.

Joe Procopio focused on work meetings…

Realizing he was talking about working meetings but the question had been about informal “coffee” meetings, Joe added:

At first I wasn’t sure I agreed with Joe that working meetings and informal “let’s connect” meetings have much overlap. However, after thinking about it a bit, he has an interesting port. Specifically, plenty of the optimizations that get applied to working/office meetings could be applied to informal meetings. In fact, here’s a relevant suggestion from one of my Duke colleagues…

Steve McClelland suggested adding a helpful barrier…

What if I the “assignment” Steve suggests is to request an agenda ahead of time? Not only would this create a barrier to push away less serious meeting requests, it would also help organize meetings, as per Joe’s suggestion, which is something I do for working meetings.

If nothing else, requesting an agenda would probably encourage the people scheduling a meeting to think through what they want to say and what they want to ask for in ways most of them aren’t currently doing.

Dana Publicover encouraged me to give a referral…

On one hand, I agree in the value of referrals and try to give them whenever possible. On the other hand, I worry about referring people I don’t know well because, like it or not, a bad referral can reflect poorly on me. That might seem a bit selfish, but most of us know people who keep sending us bad referrals, and it impacts the way all of their referrals get treated.

Malcolm Gill brought the optimism…

And he’s right. You never know what can happen. That’s certainly part of the anxiety I have when deciding whether or not to turn down a meeting.

Also worth noting… you never know what can happen when you play the lottery, but I still don’t buy tickets.

And Will Hardison had perhaps the most actionable advice…

In my world, we call that #MarketerHumor… =)

So here’s what I did…

As you read, everyone has their own way of handling meeting requests with questionable value. Some people take the meetings while trying to optimize for efficiency, some attempt to add better vetting up front, and other people believe meetings are a core part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and are never truly a waste of time.

As for me, I still don’t know the best strategy for rejecting a meeting request. I guess I’ll have to experiment and report back.

For my first experiment, I replied to the entrepreneur who triggered my tweet by explaining why I believed I wouldn’t be a helpful person for him to meet and that I valued his time too much to waste it. To his credit, he wrote a kind response thanking me for my honesty, so I guess that’s one data point in support of an honest, candid rejection email.

How about you? How do you turn down meeting requests? Reply in the comments below or tweet @AaronDinin.


Rejection Is A Beginning, Not An End

In 2010, my then-co-founder and I flew to Seattle to participate in “Techstars for a Day.” For those who don’t know, Techstars is a prominent and selective startup accelerator. During “Techstars for a Day,” they host companies they’re considering admitting. It’s an unofficial finalist interview of sorts.

As we flew across the country, we were confident we’d be accepted. After all, we were finalists and we were awesome. How could Techstars not accept us?

To make a long story short, we were wrong; we weren’t awesome, and Techstars did reject us.

My co-founder and I were both pissed because… well… rejection sucks. However, while it felt like a crummy ending to an exciting opportunity at the time, in retrospect, it wasn’t the end of anything. It wasn’t even the end of my relationship with Techstars.

Nine years later, I was invited to be a mentor for companies in the Techstars Raleigh/Durham accelerator. Meeting the new class of Techstars portfolio companies — which I did last week — gave me an opportunity to see the ways in which my own knowledge of entrepreneurship has evolved. For example, here are four ways in which the companies I mentored know more than I did when I was applying to Techstars, and another four things they still need to learn:

4 Things the current Techstars entrepreneurs were better at than me:

  • Introduced themselves with concise explanations: Every company I met introduced themselves by telling me what they did in a few quick sentences that made their basic premise easy to understand. I mention this not just because they’d honed their elevator pitches in ways I wish I had when I was in their position, but also because it took me years to learn the value of explaining things simply, clearly, and directly.
  • Prioritized traction: After explaining what they did, most of the entrepreneurs I met shared stats about how many customers they already had and how many enterprise deals they were busy negotiating. Yes, I was skeptical of their numbers because early companies often misrepresent traction, but at least they knew to talk about it. I didn’t know that when I was at their stage. I was still in a naive “if you build it, they will come” mindset.
  • Pre-meeting research: Most of the companies made a point of referencing something they’d read about me online, which meant they’d taken time to do research before their meetings. In my early days of building companies, I rarely did that, and I’m sure it cost me opportunities.
  • Always follow-up: I’m writing this post within a week of my mentoring sessions and I’ve already heard from most of the companies. They’ve thanked me for my help and asked if they can add me to their regular “progress report” emails. In contrast, I’m still terrible at following up and updating people… just ask my previous investors!

4 Things the current Techstars entrepreneurs still need to learn:

  • Customer acquisition is your product: All the entrepreneurs I met wanted to spend the entire time explaining their products. I had to interrupt them to ask questions about their customer acquisition strategies, and none had good answers. But they had plenty to say about their “amazing” user interfaces and “revolutionary” features. Uggg.
  • The customer wasn’t the user: My personal startup motto is: if the person paying for your product isn’t your end user, it’s a bad business model. And yet, more than half the companies I met were selling to people who weren’t their end users. For example, they’d be pitching a medical device that insurance companies would pay for, doctors would prescribe, and patients would use. While I realize these kinds of models exists (i.e. prescription drugs), they’re particularly challenging and require tons of startup capital..
  • Making it about them instead of their customers: Too many of the entrepreneurs I met wanted to tell me their personal stories. They shared why they were building their companies, how they’d gotten started, and what motivated them to keep working. In contrast, none of them mentioned their customers or their customers’ needs without my asking. That’s selfish. We don’t build startups for ourselves. We build startups for other people.
  • Having too many answers: The entrepreneurs I met answered every question I asked; none of them were willing to say “I don’t know.” They all either believed they knew everything or believed they had to appear as though they knew everything. In either case, they were wrong. As a Techstars applicant, I thought I had to know everything, and I was wrong. As a Techstars mentor, I realize I can’t know everything. A willingness to say “I don’t know” is critical for entrepreneurs because it helps us avoid making the kinds of false assumptions that often kill our companies.

Observations like the ones I’ve described above, and my ability to make them, help me recognize the kinds of things I’ve learned since getting rejected from Techstars. Even if, five minutes from now, someone successfully persuades me I’m wrong about all of the lessons I’ve shared, it doesn’t change or diminish the role my Techstars rejection played in my personal education and growth. Had Techstars not rejected me and my company, all the subsequent events in my entrepreneurial career that followed wouldn’t have happened — I got accepted to a different accelerator, I raised venture from different investors, I hired different employees, I moved to a different city, and so on.

Would I have been happier with the progression of my life and career had I been accepted to Techstars Seattle in 2010? I have no idea. Am I happy with my life and career now? Absolutely.

What that tells me — and hopefully tells anyone reading this — is that, in the moment, a rejection usually feels like something preventing us from reaching our goals. But we shouldn’t let it discourage us. After a bit of time we’ll be able to look back and see how our rejections were the starting points of new paths forward.

This Blog Doesn’t Deserve an A. Do You?

Confession time: I’m bad at blogging. Just look at the dates on my articles. I post as consistently as an MTA train during rush hour.

If that weren’t bad enough, instead of writing concise tutorials and easy-to-follow “how to” guides — the kinds of things that make blogs useful — I tend to write rambling essays about things only I care about.

I bring this up because I believe in the value of taking responsibility for substandard work, especially when I know I’m producing it. In the case of this blog, I know what would make it more successful, but I have priorities in my life that take precedence, and, as a result, the blog isn’t as good as it could be.

In short, it’s not an “A level” blog, and that’s OK. I accept that reality and recognize I’m the cause.

In contrast, as the end of another semester approaches, I’m about to encounter the bi-annual ritual of students refusing to take responsibility for their substandard work.

Or, as I like to describe it…

Hell hath no fury like a student who receives an A-.

I understand why students hate A-minuses (and B-pluses): a “not-quite-an-A” feels like they’re just barely missing out on the grade they wanted, so they place the blame on the grader since the grader could have pushed the grade slightly up to get it passed the admittedly arbitrary cutoff line.

While believing a grade should be raised (or lowered!) regardless of the actual work submitted ignores numerous logistical, educational, and ethical concerns, that’s not what I’m interested in discussing.

Instead, I want to discuss the question of who’s responsible for grades. Specially, I want to know why the instructor is responsible for grades. Yes, we assign grades, but we give grades based on the work our students submit.

In other words, grades are earned, and grading is a descriptive process. By the time I’m assigning grades at the end of a semester, the grades were already determined by the work submitted throughout the semester. But when students don’t get the grades they want, instead of looking inward to ask themselves what they could have done better, they tend to look outward. The result is a handful of emails at the end of every semester either arguing for higher grades, begging for extra credit, or pleading that I’m ruining someone’s life.

I don’t like ruining people’s lives. In fact, I feel terrible when I receive emails implying otherwise. But it doesn’t get me to change a grade, and it doesn’t solve the real problem.

The real problem is that students need to accept that not everything they do is going to be perfect. Sometimes we aren’t as good at things as we want to be. Sometimes we don’t prioritize things as much as we should. And sometimes our lives take unexpected turns and we simply can’t accomplish what we hoped. None of it is “bad,” and none of it is “wrong.” It’s life, and it’s 100% acceptable.

It’s OK to challenge yourself and produce something that isn’t perfect. It’s OK to prioritize some commitments over others and, as a result, produce substandard work. And it’s even OK to try your absolute hardest and still fall short.

Let this blog post be an example. I’ve been revising it for three months, and I’m still not happy with it. It doesn’t explain what I want to convey as ellegantly or clearly as I’d like, and I have plenty more I’d like to write about the topic that I haven’t included. But I’m posting it for the world to read, and every time I get an email questioning a final grade in one of my classes, I’m going to respond by linking here.

While I know this blog post isn’t a perfect response to those emails, I also take full responsibility for its lack of perfection.

Imminent Death? Or Ultimate Growth Hack?

When people want examples of amazing growth hacks, they usually reference tech companies. Some of the canonical growth hacking stories come from Airbnb, Dropbox, and the classic example of Hotmail adding “Get your free email at Hotmail” tagline to the end of every email.

Sure, those are all good examples of growth hacking, but I’ve begun wondering why growth hacking only gets associated with tech companies. I’d argue some of the best growth hacks come from non-tech companies.

In today’s post, I want to offer an example based on an experience I recently had with Lexus.

I’ve owned a Lexus for eight years.

Every month for the majority of those eight years, I’ve received a glossy postcard with a picture of a shiny new Lexus and incentives meant to entice me into my local dealership for a test drive of their latest models.

Every month, for the past eight years, I’ve tossed those postcards into the trash recycle bin without a second glance.

However, about six months ago, I began receiving thick envelopes from Lexus with “URGENT SAFETY NOTICE” stamped on their fronts and postcards with giant red exclamation points.

The messages were related to a massive Takata airbag recall that’s been ongoing for the better part of a decade.

What struck me as odd about these recall notices was how persistent they were. Usually companies don’t want to encourage consumers to take action on recalls because the repairs cost them lots of money. But not this time. The more I ignored the letters, the more I felt like Vernon Dursley trying to stop Harry Potter from getting his Hogwarts invitation.

That’s right… I made a Harry Potter reference… I’m not ashamed.

Anyway, I eventually decided: “Clearly I’m going to die if I don’t get this fixed,” so I called my local Lexus dealership and scheduled an appointment.

Within a week, my “Lexus service concierge” was showing me how to work the nav console of a brand new, “complimentary” loaner car while explaining that my spouse is “allowed” to drive the car so long as we’re on the same insurance. I remember thinking, “I’m not sure why my spouse would need to drive this car in the next five hours while you fix mine, but whatever.”

A few hours later, I’m grading papers and waiting for the dealership to call when my wife comes home. She sees the shiny new Lexus in our garage and immediately asks: “Can I take it for a drive?”

In that moment, everything became clear. I was being growth hacked.

Lexus was using the recall — threatening me with the potential for serious injury or even death — in order to get me into the dealership for a test drive.

It worked. Plus, not only did they get me, they even got my wife whose lease is ending in the next few months.

No, I wasn’t mad. I was wildly impressed.

As someone who’s spent the past 15 years in the sales and marketing industries, I’m usually pretty good at sniffing out sneaky sales tactics, but I completely whiffed on this one.

I’ll admit it: I wasn’t expecting Lexus to use the potential for death to get me in for a test drive, and, as a result, it worked perfectly.

In retrospect, the tactic makes a ton of sense. While someone can easily ignore a bunch of postcards with pictures of new cars, they’re going to have trouble ignoring the constant threat of death.

By sending dozens of letters convincing me I needed to get my car fixed as soon as possible, Lexus also guarantee I’d test drive a brand new car. The tiny cost of the repair was easily outweighed by my potential value since I’m someone who’s already bought one of their cars and they know my car is getting old.

If you don’t believe their tactics were intentional, how’s this for proof…

When I picked up my car later that afternoon, on the passenger seat I found a letter from the dealership with a faux-check representing the value they were willing to give me on a trade-in for a new Lexus. #GrowthHacked

Retiring The Doughnut Rule: Why I Began Allowing Phones In Class

When I first began teaching undergrads – 2007-ish, as a grad student – I would boast about what I thought was, at the time, a wildly creative way of removing cell phones as a classroom distraction. I called it the “Doughnut Rule.”

The Doughnut Rule had a prominent place on my syllabus, which read like this:

Cell Phone Policy:

Yes, these days everyone has a cell phone and they’ve become integral components of our lives.  As such, I welcome such technologies in the classroom, but if you have the need to use one (i.e. let it ring, send a text message, take a picture of your neighbor) I ask that you repay the interruption of your fellow students’ educations with enough doughnuts for everyone at the subsequent class meeting.

I got the idea for the Doughnut Rule from someone else who did it with cookies, but I figured cookies weren’t enough of a punishment. Students can fulfill a cookie requirement by stopping into the campus store on their way to class and picking up an over-priced box of Chips Ahoy!. But doughnuts – the Krispy kind or the Dunkin’ kind – require more thought and effort.

Whatever you do, don’t bring those cheap, tiny, store-bought powdered doughnuts. That’s a quick way to earn an F in my class. But I digress…

I would tell my teaching colleagues about the Doughnut Rule as a way to promote my pedagogical brilliance or my classroom management creativity or some other misguided self-delusion that wasn’t true because, back then, I had no idea how to teach anything. Regardless, at the time, I thought the Doughnut Rule, in all its cheeky glory, was an effective solution for limiting class cell phone usage.

To be fair, the rule did minimize cell phone usage. The first time in a semester I called out “You owe the class doughnuts!” to a texting student would usually be the last time I saw a phone in class. However, in retrospect, the Doughnut Rule wasn’t actually punishing students. I was punishing myself. I used the rule to delude myself into thinking I was a better instructor than I actually was. “My students aren’t getting distracted by their phones,” I’d think, “so it must mean they’re paying attention and appreciating my lessons.”

As I’ve gotten more experienced in the classroom, I’ve gotten more lax with my cell phone policy. You might argue it’s because cell phones have become a more common part of everyday life, but, from what I hear, most of my peers are as strict as ever about cell phones. Some are equally strict about laptop usage.

Many teachers – grade school and college – view digital devices as classroom distractions. While they’re not entirely wrong, by blaming the devices themselves, they’re shifting blame to the wrong place.

I know this is true because it’s what I was doing with the Doughnut Rule. While my use of the Doughnut Rule might have been a creative solution to a legitimate problem, it was also a pedagogical cop out. It allowed me to put the blame for distracted students on digital devices. Instead, I should have been asking questions about what I was doing – or not doing – in my lessons that caused student attention to wander.

If something else in my classroom is more engaging than the lesson I’m teaching, that’s not the fault of the thing that’s more engaging, nor is it a problem with my students.

It’s my problem.

It’s my fault.

I need to take responsibility.

Once I recognized the importance I play in whether or not students get distracted by their phones, I retired the Doughnut Rule and removed any sort of formal policy for digital devices in my classrooms. However, I still don’t welcome them. Instead, I’ve learned to use digital devices as a barometer to help me measure the quality of my lessons. When I notice more people paying attention to their Instagram feeds than what I’m discussing, I don’t punish my students; I punish myself. I force myself to sit down after class, review the lesson I taught, and identify ways to improve. And yes, if the lesson was particularly bad and I’m feeling especially depressed about how many students cared more about their phones than me, I might even make myself feel better by eating a doughnut.

On Days Like Today, I Wish I Was A Better Teacher

After the planes hit the Twin Towers on September 11th, most professors at Duke canceled their classes. My Music In Society professor refused to cancel his. Instead, at 1:00 on the afternoon of September 11, 2001, while all my peers were staring at their TVs in disbelief, I went to class.

My professor entered our small seminar room, sat in his chair at the head of a long conference table, and said:

I know you’re wondering why I didn’t cancel class. I couldn’t do it because the work we do here is so important that, during World War II, while German planes were dropping bombs on London, professors were teaching classes in the subways. Think about that for a second: they were teaching classes in the subways while bombs were exploding over their heads. That’s how important education is.

The room was silent for another few seconds. Then my professor wiped away his tears, shuffled his papers, and began the day’s lesson.

This morning, I had to teach a class in the immediate aftermath of a national tragedy. I’m not writing about it to put the Las Vegas shooting on par with 9/11 — they’re not comparable. But it did seem like an appropriate moment to share perhaps the most important lesson I ever had.

…they were teaching classes in the subways while bombs were exploding over their heads. That’s how important education is…

Today, in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in US history, I shared this same story with my students. I told it to them while standing in the exact building where I’d been on 9/11 as a Duke student — perhaps the exact same spot where I’d stood when the first plane struck a tower.

Once I’d finished my story, I didn’t know what else to say, so I continued with my prepared lesson.

On days like today, I wish I was a better teacher. If I was a better teacher, maybe I would have had something more impactful to say. Maybe I could have explained the significance of the tragedy. Maybe I could have helped my students better understand the violence of the world. Hell, maybe I could help stop some future violence.

But I’m not a better teacher.

So I stood at the front of my classroom, reminded my students about the importance of education, and then continued with my lesson.

…they were teaching classes in the subways while bombs were exploding over their heads. That’s how important education is…

The Hollywood Rule: 5 Reasons To Always Accept A Drink During A Meeting

The company I worked for my first year after college was producing a commercial, and my boss sent me and a coworker to meet the head of the production company we’d hired to film it. The man was, according to the online bio I read before the meeting, a “former Hollywood guy”… whatever that means.

When we got to his office — a nondescript building in a small industrial park — he invited us into his conference room and asked if we’d like a drink. As I took my seat, I politely declined the drink.

He sat down across from us, leaned back in his chair, shook his head in mock-disapproval, and said, “Clearly neither of you two know the Hollywood Rule.”

“The Hollywood Rule?” my co-worker asked. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“The Hollywood Rule,” the production head explained, “is to always accept a drink when someone offers one at the start of a meeting.”

If I could travel back in time to that moment, I would have asked him why. But, at that moment, it didn’t occur to me. Instead, I’m pretty sure I meekly asked for a water, and then we continued with our meeting. As a result, I’ve spent the next 15 years wondering why, in Hollywood, you’re always supposed to accept a drink when offered one during a meeting.

Even though I don’t know why I’m supposed to, ever since leaning the Hollywood Rule, when someone offers me a drink in a meeting, I always accept it. Plus, when I meet with someone and offer a drink, I get a little annoyed if they don’t accept it. I think it’s a useful piece of advice, so I’ve come up with my own reasons why.

Reason #1: Demonstrate Absolute Comfort

Maybe you’re meeting with a powerful investor. Maybe you’re meeting with a potential customer who, if you win the deal, could propel your business to massive success. No matter how important the meeting is, or how nervous you are, by accepting a drink you’re demonstrating absolute comfort in your environment. Why? Because people who turn down drinks are people who don’t want to feel like they’re imposing or causing trouble. But people who close big deals are people who never worry about imposing.

Reason #2: Get Used To Your Environment

Thanks to millions of years of evolution, when entering new environments, humans are naturally focused on their surroundings. Sure, this comes from having to worry about things like saber toothed tigers unexpectedly leaping out at you, and you’re not likely to encounter many of them in a conference room, but instincts are difficult habits to kick. As a result, when entering a new space ahead of a meeting, some part of your mental energy will be tuned to your surroundings.

By accepting a drink at the beginning of a meeting, you’re giving yourself a few minutes to acclimate to a new environment. During that time, your hunter-gatherer subconscious can do its thing, which means it’ll stay out of your way once the meeting starts.

Reason #3: Cool Down

Even low-pressure meetings require some level of additional effort beyond what you expend staring at a computer screen. That additional effort leads to things like breathlessness, an inability to focus, and, in some cases, sweat. Lots and lots of sweat.

An easy way to avoid being the kind of person who sweats through your shirt during a meeting is to accept a cold beverage. You probably won’t realize how much it’s helping you stay cool, but maybe you’ll notice the lack of pit stains.

Reason #4: Make Your Host Feel Good

While you might think you’re creating extra work, accepting a drink is actually an easy way to make your host feel good for doing something nice. Making your host feel good will put that person in a more receptive state of mind, which may come in handy if you need to make any kind of “ask” during your meeting.

Reason #5: Establish Control

Conversations are about control. Do you like to be the driver of your conversations, actively pushing them in the directions you want them to go? Or do you tend to be a passenger in your conversations, going wherever other people want to take them?

Being passive during conversations isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, there are plenty of scenarios where you should let the other person lead. However, if you need to control a conversation, accepting a drink is a good way of doing so because it immediately makes you the beneficiary of the other person’s effort.

If you want to establish even more control, request a drink before you’re even offered one. A simple “Could I trouble you for a glass of water?” as you’re walking in the door is a polite way of taking charge at the beginning of a meeting.

And, for those times where you want everyone in the room to know you’re the “alpha,” request a drink the other person surely won’t have:

        Person You’re Meeting: “Before we get started, would you like something to drink?”

        You: “As a matter of fact, I’d love a Mountain Dew Code Red if you’ve got one.”

        Person You’re Meeting: “Umm… I don’t think we have that.”

        You: “Then let’s just get down to business. So… what can I do for you?”


5 Entrepreneurship Myths I Heard From A High Schooler

A high schooler came by my office last week. He was on campus for some sort of summer program, and he was persistent about wanting to meet — including referencing statements I made on this website — so I welcomed him to stop by.

When I asked him why he wanted to meet, he launched into a mini-soliloquy about his goal of becoming an entrepreneur. It was a well-prepared speech, but it was filled with misconceptions.

Thankfully, he never once mentioned wanting to make lots of money, so that was at least one misconception I didn’t have to correct. However, he had plenty of other overly romantic notions about entrepreneurship.

The rest of our conversation focused on why and how he should reconsider some of those notions. It was a bit like telling a six-year-old that Santa Clause isn’t real, but hopefully it resulted in a potential young entrepreneur being better prepared to pursue his professional ambitions.

In the hopes of helping other young entrepreneurs who find this website, I decided I’d write a post highlighting some of the entrepreneurial myths my high school visitor and I discussed.

Myth 1: Entrepreneur is a job title

I’m not sure who the first person was who listed his professional title as “entrepreneur,” but I think I’m going to embark on a personal crusade to end the practice.

“Entrepreneur” isn’t a profession. It’s not like being a doctor or lawyer or architect, and you don’t attend “entrepreneur school.” Instead, entrepreneur is a label that gets applied to your work.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, don’t start calling yourself one. Instead, start building a business. Someone will call you an entrepreneur eventually. Just don’t be surprised if, when it finally happens, you discover that you don’t actually care about having the title.

Myth 2: Entrepreneurs don’t work for other people

Although people who own their own businesses don’t have bosses, not having a boss actually increases the number of people you’re accountable to.

First, and foremost, your customer is always your boss. When there’s no one higher in your organization than you, the responsibility for the happiness of those customers always falls on your shoulders.

In addition, if you build venture-backed startups like me, you’ll get investors. My investors are wonderful (and relatively relaxed) mentors, but they hold me accountable, and I’m always working for them.

Lastly, if you have employees, you’re working for them and their families, too. In fact, I guarantee no boss will ever make you feel the same level of obligation and accountability as an employee with a newborn baby.

Myth 3: Get an entrepreneurial education to prepare yourself for having a great idea

Too many young entrepreneurs I speak with think they need to study entrepreneurship so they’ll know what to do once they finally have their brilliant idea.

But that’s not how entrepreneurship works. Ideas don’t just fall from the sky, and no amount of classes or books (or blog reading) will adequately prepare you for what happens once you start a company. That’s not to suggest you stop learning. Just don’t expect all of your reading and research to instantly translate into entrepreneurial success. Some lessons you have to learn through doing… and failing.

Myth 4: You should get a job after college with the intention of leaving it in a few years to start your own company

An overwhelming number of my students (and high schoolers who want to become my students) tell me they plan to get a job when they graduate, work at the job for 3-5 years to “get experience,” and then leave to found their own companies.

That scenario might occasionally happen, but it’s really not the kind of thing you plan. Life is far too random. You might get a job, love it, and not want to leave. You might get a job, start a family, and no longer be able to accept the financial uncertainty that comes with starting your own venture. Or you might step off a curve and get hit by a bus.

Hopefully that last thing doesn’t happen, but, the point is, your professional life will be too uncertain to take such a rigid approach to entrepreneurial pursuits. Or, in truth, to any pursuits far in the future.

Myth 5: Your primary goal as an entrepreneur is to change the world

It’s not that I don’t believe in trying to help the world or that entrepreneurs shouldn’t strive to be a positive influence on the world. I do believe entrepreneurs can have a world changing impact. But “changing the world” shouldn’t be your goal. It can be an outcome.

Instead, focus on your company and the problems it solves. If you do that successfully, you’ll likely find yourself in a position to “change the world.” Or, at the least, you’ll be in a better position to pursue an idea that can.

5 Tips On How To Ask For An Introduction

Having survived as a founder in the tech startup world for a decade, I’ve met lots of fellow “industry folk.” Being a dutiful founder, I’ve connected with most of them on LinkedIn. As a result, while I’m by no means a tech industry goliath, on LinkedIn I show up as a second degree connection to some of the industry’s biggest names. Because of this, I get lots of intro requests.

Since the people in my network have made hundreds of intros on my behalf over the years, I try to “pay it forward” and provide requested intros whenever possible. However, as the volume of intro requests increases while the number of hours in my day stays constant, I wanted to write a post explaining the best way to ask for an intro if you want to increase the odds of actually getting one — especially a good one — from me or from anyone in your network.

1. Only ask for intros from people who know you well

In my mind, this one seems obvious. And yet, I get a surprising number of intro requests from people I hardly remember meeting. What those people don’t understand is that an introduction reflects on the person making the intro. Since I want to maintain good relationships with my connections, I prefer to introduce them to people I know, respect, and trust not to embarrass me.

When I don’t know much about the person requesting an intro, I’ll feel uncomfortable making it, and one of three things will happen: 1) I’ll make an intro that includes caveats about how I don’t know you well, which could reflect poorly on you; 2) I’ll turn down your request; or, most likely, 3) I’ll ignore you and hope you go away.

If you don’t want these things to happen when you request an intro, always establish a strong relationship with a person before attempting to leverage his or her connections.

2. Ask for introductions to specific people

Every few weeks I get an email asking: “Can you introduce me to anyone who does X?” While I probably do know someone who “does X,” I probably can’t remember that person off the top of my head, so granting your request means I’ll have to do extra work in order to figure out who I can connect you with.

When I reply to this kind of request with a “let me think about that” response and never follow-up, it’s not because I don’t want to help. It’s because you’ve actually asked me to do two things: introduce you and figure out who to introduce you to.

By doubling the amount of work you’re asking someone to do on your behalf, you’re halving the chance of the person actually doing it. Instead, do your research ahead of time to figure out who in your contact’s network you want to speak with, and then ask for an introduction to a specific person.

3. Ask for one introduction at a time

The record for number of introductions someone has asked me for in a single email is 13. Guess how many he got.

In the same way introductions are valuable to you, they represent a cost for the people making them. When you ask for multiple introductions, you’re raising the cost, and, like anything in life, at some point the costs get too high.

4. Send a “forwardable” email

Requesting an introduction from someone is like asking that person to do extra work on your behalf. While your strongest connections will usually be willing to do as much work as you need, you can get intros from not-quite-as-strong connections simply by making the task easier.

To streamline an intro request, write a concise email that the person making the intro on your behalf can share with minimal edits, and let him or her know the message can be forwarded. In addition to increasing the likelihood of getting an intro, “forwardable” emails also allow you to control the message that gets sent, which will help facilitate future conversations with the person you’re getting introduced to.

5. Make your connection feel comfortable saying “no”

When I ask for intros, I try to include a line in my email saying something like: “If you’re not particularly close with [Person’s Name] or don’t feel comfortable sharing her info, I understand.”

It might seem counterintuitive, but including this kind of “escape path” actually makes people more likely to make introductions because they don’t feel as much pressure, particularly in situations where they don’t have a strong connection with the person you’re trying to reach.

In addition, telling your connections you understand if they can’t make an introduction shows you’re mature enough to understand the significance of your request. You’re not just asking for a quick email. You’re asking your contacts to link their reputations to yours with contacts and relationships they’ve work hard to cultivate. If you don’t think that’s a significant “ask,” you might need to reevaluate the quality of your own network.

Exploiting Arbitrage For Beer Money: An Early Sign Of A Successful Entrepreneur

When I was in college, we didn’t have an Innovation & Entrepreneurship program. I’m not sure I’d ever heard the word “entrepreneur.” Even if I had, I certainly didn’t call myself one.

But these days, I have high school students handing me business cards listing “entrepreneur” as their job title.

While I don’t know where the line is between entrepreneur and non-entrepreneur, I’m pretty sure calling yourself one doesn’t make it true — just like calling yourself an astronaut doesn’t make you an astronaut. However, as I look back on my college days, I wonder if the teenage version of me would have had the appropriate combination of audacity and naivety to call himself an entrepreneur.

Although I didn’t launch my first official company until three years after undergrad, I was, in retrospect, running a business in college. That business was an Ebay arbitrage business. I would buy Palm Pilots and Pocket PCs (early smartphone-like gadgets) that were selling for cheaper than what I knew they were worth, have them shipped to my dorm room, and then re-sell them for a few bucks more than what I’d paid. I eventually got so good at understanding the market and the Ebay platform that I could buy a product, immediately re-list it for more money, sell it, and then have the person I bought it from ship it to the person who bought it from me without either one knowing I’d been nothing more than a middle man.

Ebay arbitrage isn’t a way to get rich. But, for a college kid who had all his expenses otherwise covered, the extra income (and constant supply of new gadgets) made me the envy of my friends. Did it also make an “entrepreneur”?

I don’t honestly know, and it probably doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I was undoubtedly being entrepreneurial while learning the basics of business building.

Fast forward 15 years to today, I teach in an Innovation & Entrepreneurship program, and I meet hundreds of aspiring young entrepreneurs every year. The ones that seem to have the most potential as future entrepreneurs are never the ones that call themselves entrepreneurs. Nor are they the ones actively running companies.

Instead, the students who appear most likely to succeed at building their own businesses are the ones exploiting some sort of arbitrage hack for extra “beer money.”

I’m not ready to make any sweeping theories about what all this means, especially because I’ll probably need another decade to see which, if any, of my students build successful companies. But it’s something I’m watching closely.