[Warning: If you don't care about Seth Godin stuff, move along nothing for you to see here]
[Warning2: It's 2am, I've been up since yesterday at 4a, there are spelling/grammer errors below, hold your nose]
I have this internal rule I live by which pretty much says always hang out with, pay attention to and track smarter people then you because they will have made better mistakes then you, corrected them in order to be successful and will provide you an endless supply of smart fuel.
Today was no exception.
I spent the day with Seth Godin and a room full of very smart people. It ran the range from folks from South America flying in to get ideas on a business launch to a super, high power sales guy selling 1 million dollar condos where nobody thinks 1 million dollar condos are supposed to be. I got to meet Aaron Digman the super smart brand evangelist, Jeff Grass from buySAFE also a super smart founding CEO of a great company.
I go to lots of seminar for a variety of reasons. One of the important reasons is l like to study people, practice my skills at reading people, watching, learning, etc, because the VC business is 95% people and 5% the idea. It's no lie, it's pretty much all about the people. Today was as much about watching, talking, listening to people as it was drinking from the Godin knowledge hose.
I also like to make sure I'm not drinking my own Kool-aid. It's important to hear somebody way smarter then me say something that I've said, in a different way, but with the same idea. When I give advice to a start up, I like to keep checking in with smart people to make sure I'm not sending a portfolio company down a Rick Segal rat hole. They're deep, nasty, and I try to avoid them. You should too.
Anyway, Godinville. Rather then give you the blow by blow or choice nudgets of wisdom, I want to give you a sense of the 'buzz' (possible overworked term alert) and a sense of how this was pulled off. I think it would be unfair to post quotes or Godin bytes because it's his work and if I mis-quote em, my bad.
The first thing you notice is the office has the feel of the books. It is what you would expect from the guy who wrote ideavirus, purple cow, etc. If you are a Seth Godin fan, you can imagine what his office space would be like and you'd have it nailed. Seth makes the point of telling people that he doesn't have a staff, does it pretty much by himself, etc. He was constently picking up coffee cups, plates, trash, etc, to the extent that one women remarked to me "wow, neat phreak."
Insight number one: Godin is real. The no staff thing means he's cleaning up the place or it stays messy. You could tell by watching him keeping the place neat so that at the end of the day, he went home to the kids vs. cleaning up.
Side note: why is it that when you get over 5 people in a room, we tend to collectively get sloppy. There were 4 trash cans around and people left stuff just 'around' instead of throwing stuff away.
Next up was the departure from the norm. Godin says, come, stay all day and if you don't get something meaningful to you out of this, you get your money back. To me, it was an interesting choice of words: meaningful to you. Everybody does the money back gig but Seth made it personal and direct. He said it twice. Remember, here is a guy that sold a company to Yahoo. Best seller author. World class speaker.
Insight number two: Seth has an internal system that does not allow him to drink his own Kool-Aid. He could obtain groupie status or $10,000 a day consultant status or I'll have my girl call your guy status but his DNA won't allow it and you could see it, actually feel it, when he said if it's not meaningful to you, you get your money back.
He walks the talk when it comes to PowerPoint. I know for a fact that the first hour talk was 'canned' in the sense that he has done a whole bunch of times before I saw it. But it was new and fresh.
Insight number three: This notion of no bullet points on powerpoint slides is the single more important thing anybody wanting to get funded should learn. Opening comment: "I have a 100 slides." He did 100 slides. One hundred phreakin powerpoint slides. Did you cringe? Can you come into my office and 'pitch' me on your company, not with my 4 slide rule but 100 slides? How? Have a conversation and tell me your story. Excite me with pictures. I want to listen to your words and watch the story unfold on my screen. It was a work of art. And because there were no bullet points, no blobs of text, that 'canned' presentation was fresh. The questions, the nods from people, the confused looks, etc, all sent Seth off on various side trips which made the whole first hour fresh. Worth repeating: It was a work of art and, again, forget this VC mumbo jumbo telling how to do powerpoint slides, we're all full of kaa kaa.. Come tell me a story and bring the deck.
Seth credits others. Straight up. If it came from a book, he told you. Another seminar, he told you. Ego was checked at the door, locked in a cage with a guard on it.
Insight number four: Give people the list of who is smarter then you. Heap praise on the others that gave you this or that insight. The fastest way, in my view, to build trust and validate your integrity, is open the kimono with respect to where you get your smart stuff. Think about it. Very powerful.
People show up in my office all the time and say brilliant things like "when I was with Bill Gates" blaah blaah blaah. You hear that an you cringe, shields go up, city slicker alert goes off, right? Seth mentioned many people today. Only once in 8 hours did we hear '... is a friend of mine.' The specific quote was Malcom Gladwell (tipping point/blink) is a friend of mine [pause], I don't get to see him as often as I'd like. Then he went on to tell a story. The BS meter never moved. Why? It was sincere and prior to hearing it, he had been heaping praise on others, passing along tidbits from others, etc. And the "we don't see each other as often..." made it personal.
Lunchtime was interesting because it was stuff brought in, sit wherever, chat with folks and keep soaking up the knowledge from others.
Insight number five: The real power of an ideavirus are the cells that keep mutating it, keeping it alive, changing to meet the new world, etc, etc. Watching a 'suit' mix it up with a wedding photographer both trying to figure out how to break above the noise in their respective markets was remarkable. This isn't ten bankers getting together and networking, naah, that's ten clones talking about the same issues in a safe zone of like minded other clones. Nope, the real breakthroughs happen when the guy trying to sell a million dollar condo asks somebody who can (at that moment) only dream about owning one, what should I do to sell it. Seth managed to create an atmosphere where that conversation could take place without wise-ass million dollar condos remarks entering the mix. A remarkable achievement.
The afternoon was spent mostly having people lob website, business problems, etc, at Seth for advice. There is serious and real risk in doing this because of the Tony Robbins/Dr. Phil problem. I'm not a fan of Dr. Phil for lots of reasons mostly because I think it's commerical exploitation of people's problems. That's a rant for another day. For this exercise, you could worry that Seth could do the banker answer. There used to be a commercial run by credit unions where they would show people coming in explaining situations to the banker (new car, new baby, new business) and no matter what, the suit always said "Hmmm, I have just the thing, our jumbo CD." The point being there really isn't any custom advice it's all the same. Somewhat like Dr. Phil's "well just don't do it" (add your own southern accent) common refrain.
Seth didn't touch the third rail. Each problem or question was met with the opening words well, here's my best idea and then spoke from the heart with the conviction you could see and feel.
Insight number six: Just be you. When you pitch your idea to me, the VC, be you. Don't answer all the questions. I don't know is okay as well as that's not what we do. For two businesses, Seth pretty much said you have to add something else, do something else, expand somehow, because what you've told me, in my view, isn't going to work long term, aka I can't help you so actually my best help is add/change/expand to what you have. It was brilliant. Fly 10,000 miles, spend a nice chunk of coin for the chance to ask Seth "Purple Cow" Godin one question and he says, you have to change/switch/expand. Not dribble, not say anything nice so as to not piss off the potential person who will start sethgodinsucks.com, nope. Seth was Seth and is showed; clearly. And the person heard the message, got the message, embraced the message. Besides really good priests and sales guys, who pulls that off? Can you? Can you turn down business because it's not profitable? Can you say, sorry I'm not for you and have the customer/client respect/like you for it? Have you banked enough creditability dollars to be able to pull those kinds of withdrawls? It was, to repeat the phrase, a work of art.
The most insightful thing of day? Seth's phone rang. Twice. He answered it both times. He said after taking the first call, sorry, cell phone is for wife and kids. Second call we all knew the kids got home from school. Nobody was pissed. Nobody raised an eyebrow. Think about that for a second. People paid a grand, travel, whole day for the intimate time with The Godin master and this guy doesn't have the polish to turn off the damn cell phone? Nope. And he pulled it off. You knew at that exact moment you could trust what was coming out of his mouth. Not because he didn't care about us, didn't need the money, mr. I sold my company to yahoo boy, no no, totally the opposite.
It was the ability to say, I'm real, I'm telling you a story about me, my brand, my ideas, my advice and I walk the talk. It really is important for life balance, but he didn't have to say it. It really is important if you want to be seen as real and not a suit to act real.
Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Robert Allen, Mark Victor Hanson are serious, big time guru types who stand in front of millions of people with slick, polished, practiced, sliced -n- dice gigs that generate zillions of dollars. And none of these guys could have pulled that off. Not Dr. Phil, not Larry King, not even Oprah. They all, to the person, would have phreaked out, said sorry sorry, made a joke about the cell phone and fired the assistant who was supposed to be holding the cell phone.
Could you sit in my office, have your cell phone go off, say uh huh, excellent, love you bye, and then tell me the kids are at home? Think about it. No, really. T H I N K A B O U T I T. Most VCs would take off points cuz you ain't playing the game and most people would go home and slap the kids for calling on the damn phone.
It was an excellent day and I recommend you read all his books, get a group of people you don't know that are not doing what you do together, buy a day, go there vs. bringing him to you and marvel at the art work. You won't have to take notes and that is the best part; your brain will eat this food.