If business partnerships are marriages then I’m a serial divorcee. I’ve rushed into relationships; taking on staff, clients and sometimes business partners, only to move on when things didn’t work. Broken partnerships are always disastrous. Why couldn’t I make these vital relationships work? Was it me or did I choose the wrong people? The question has frustrated me throughout my career. But in 2016 I found the answer.

Years ago, I took on a business partner in my music company. A colleague introduced Ben to me: we hit it off immediately and seemed to have complementary skills. We’d only met a handful of times and I suggested we form a company. It didn’t take long for cracks to appear. I’d stay back late putting together proposals and budgets while he took off to the beach in the afternoon to surf. I felt his work wasn’t of the same quality as mine, so one by one I took over his tasks.

 

The relationship must come first, even in a business.

We both became irritated. I felt I couldn’t rely on Ben to get things done and he was disempowered and miserable. He started complaining, loudly. He labelled me a control freak. I said he was lazy. Our staff, artists and music industry colleagues didn’t know who to believe.

Inevitable glitches

I’ve since learnt that this pattern is common and in my circle of friends I’ve encountered more broken business partnerships than broken marriages. Everyone starts out with the best of intentions and enjoys the camaraderie of a partner when things are going well. But when the business hits inevitable glitches, people don’t stick together. Both grumble about the other; both are certain they are right. The partners enter a spiral of doom that’s usually fatal to the business. I was determined to avoid this mistake again, so I looked for answers. Why do so many business partnerships fail?

Last winter, I went through the most intense personal development experience imaginable: I became a parent. I learnt new dimensions of patience, empathy and love. But my most valuable lesson was about relationships. I met my life partner, Rod, in 2014. After spending lots of time falling in love, holidaying together and living together, we decided to start a family. We rarely disagree but when we do, I know how to prioritise. Rod and his happiness come first. He does the same for me. Our relationship works. Business partnerships are more complicated: is the top priority the relationship or the business? When Ben and I clashed, I chose the business. It seemed like a rational decision and the right decision. I was wrong.

Work together

Becoming parents has parallels with launching a company. For the first time we had a “project” to manage. Three days after our baby daughter entered the world – screaming – Rod wanted to give her a dummy. This was our first conflict as parents. Other differences in opinions arose; how strictly should we stick to a sleep schedule? When does she need a sun hat? Does the baby food really have to be organic? I naturally wanted my agenda to win.

But as small conflicts piled into arguments I found myself asking a familiar question. What should take priority – the project (parenting) or the relationship? The answer was obvious: the relationship must come first. We couldn’t be successful parents if we didn’t work together – even if one person changed nappies in the middle of the night more often than the other. It didn’t matter. Unwavering love, commitment and a willingness to compromise is fundamental to raising a happy, well-adjusted child.

Three rules for a successful relationship

Next time I form a business partnership I’ll apply the same rules:

1. Take time for romance

Most longstanding successful partnerships are between people who’ve known each other for a long time. I wouldn’t get married after a few dates but I formed a company with someone I’d only met a few times. Next time, we’ll make the effort to learn how the other works before we commit.

2. Respect is essential

Ben and I blamed each other when things went wrong. I was so preoccupied in proving that I was right that I didn’t see the damage I was causing. If I could rewind time, I’d put my respect and commitment to Ben above all else.

3. Partnerships are forever

When I started a family with Rod, I committed to the relationship forever. Starting a company with staff and clients is a commitment for the life of the business.

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Each rejection will be easier than the last. valentinrussanov

The word “no” can be hard to hear.

Earlier in the year, I was managing several business opportunities, all at various stages of negotiation, and noticed a disturbing trend. While I was very good at opening doors and establishing relationships, I wasn’t so good at closing the deal. I could not push the conversation to a point where a decision would have to be made. I physically felt sick at the possibility of hearing “no” and procrastinated. I suggested next steps and more meetings, preferring to cling to “maybe” than risk a “no”.

As a result, nothing happened. I rarely heard “yes”, for I always left prospective partners with “maybe” as an option. A wise mentor observed, “No one will say yes today when they think they can say yes next week.” I trace my fear of rejection to when I was nine years old and I had my first crush on a boy. Cameron was a year older, had stick-out ears, two shortened fingers from an accident in woodwork and a huge gap in his front teeth. I didn’t care: he was charismatic, popular, and made us all laugh. I was in love.

I didn’t know how best to express my feelings at this tender age, so I wrote a letter. “Dear Cameron, I think you’re cute. Will you go around with me? Love Becky.” That afternoon I skipped up to him after school and handed him the note. Next morning as I walked into class, everyone turned; lines of nine-year-olds pointing and laughing. Cameron stood at the noticeboard grinning widely. He had pinned up my note for all to see.

I shrivelled up, humiliated

This is the first time I remember making a social request and getting “no” in response. Only recently have I realised how much this and other early experiences of “no” continue to influence aspects of my life, including business. The thought of “no” still strikes fear into my heart: a fear that stops me from achieving. Unless I could overcome my fear, I’d never close the important business deals I needed to reach my career goals. I decided to tackle the challenge.

Here are some of my strategies:

1. Eliminate time-wasters

I had a huge number of deals on the go and added more each week as I obtained more introductions. I didn’t want to lose any prospective partners but realised that for every deal I lost, I would have more time to focus on the few that signed up. One or two significant partners mean so much more than a list of prospects.

2. Practise closing

I read an excellent book, Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury, and spoke to several friends, all expert closers, for advice. I learnt all the techniques, such as what questions to ask when. I used the scarcity principle and set deadlines for a response. Next, I poured concrete down my nerves and held the hard conversations. At first it was terrifying. Every “no” stabbed me in the heart. I hated those emails. But each rejection was easier than the last and eventually I toughened up.

3. No doesn’t always mean no

If I really want something, I’ll go after it: “no” is but a step towards a “yes”. I’d wanted someone to join our advisory board for years, yet had never pressured him for a decision. But as the business progressed, I needed an answer. He called me into his office and said, “Sorry, but I’m a no.” For a couple of days I was disappointed. The following Monday, I had new information: we’d achieved something that I knew would appeal to him. I invited him out to coffee and again asked him to become an adviser. At first, he appeared perplexed – had we not held this conversation last week? I ignored his puzzlement and continued. At the end of our meeting, we were back to “maybe” and weeks later achieved a “yes”. A “yes” is so much more satisfying when it follows a “no”.

As children, we are open about what we want. We’re happy to reject other people’s requests and we accept that we may not always have our own way. I didn’t think twice about giving Cameron a note outlining what I wanted. But when he said, “No” so publicly, I was hurt. Next time, I thought, I will be more circumspect. I expect many of us have similar “no” traumas from our youth. Rejection hurts, so we learn to avoid putting ourselves in the position where we could hear it and strive to avoid hurting others by saying it to them. As a result, we don’t make direct requests or give direct responses. We leave things hanging in the world of “maybe”, which wastes time. I have learnt that “no” is a powerful word that should be pursued, not feared.

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Are ambition and compulsive comparison with others inextricably linked? David LoSchiavo

Last week I read in the paper that a longstanding competitor had had breakthrough success. Scanning the article, brow furrowed, I sizzled with resentment, jealous. Lying awake at 2am the next morning, my rational voice said, "Whatever this person does or doesn't achieve has no impact on my life." Then my emotional side kicked in and I rolled over, sweating with frustration. "But it's not fair!"

Jealously, I suspect, affects most of us. The need to appear successful at all times is rife in the start-up world. Our sector thrives on ambition and hype. Everyone crashes from time to time and, when we do, it's easy to feel as if we don't measure up. The mental health of entrepreneurs is increasingly becoming a concern. Three high-profile founders involved in the Las Vegas Downtown Project died by suicide in 12 months. It was discovered afterwards that each of their companies was struggling.

Recently, I attended MaiTai in Maui, the ultimate start-up conference where glamour and success are as potent as the cocktails. Everyone at MaiTai is successful, smart, young and athletic. It's full of gorgeous twentysomethings who've built multi-million dollar companies, often after winning an international sporting title. It was hard not to compare myself and sense that I was lacking something.

I confided my feelings to a few of the other MaiTai attendees. To my surprise and relief, they all said they were struggling with the same thing. One successful entrepreneur said he thought something was wrong with him because, unlike his friends, he had never started a company that IPO'd. A woman who could be a model if she wasn't an entrepreneur said she felt intimidated by how athletic everyone was, and didn't want to wear her bikini at the beach. The most successful person at the conference, who had built a world-changing piece of technology, said he felt old compared with people like Mark Zuckerberg, who achieved more at a younger age. This sense of inadequacy ruined my experience of MaiTai. A haze of agitation followed me around, preventing me from relaxing and having fun. With my self-esteem under threat, I set to work even harder on Hey You, so that next year I would fit in.

The comparison game

Back at my desk, compelled to drive my business faster, I couldn't help but wonder: are ambition and compulsive comparison with others inextricably linked? Why do we always grade ourselves against more accomplished people? What about the very top? Do Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg go to bed at night fretting about how Einstein or Darwin contributed more to humanity than they? At school, I used to compare myself with Nicole, who could beat me in cross-country racing. This drove me to run faster. At university, I worked hard to get higher grades than Emma. Now I look to other entrepreneurs who have built bigger or more striking companies. There's always someone ahead.

Even though jealousy hurts, it can't be all bad. Every negative feeling contains a hidden lesson if you are prepared to open it up and investigate. If I didn't care that Nicole ran faster than me, I might not have trained so hard. Even on my jog this morning as I contemplated this article, I felt a twang of frustration when an older person who appeared to be less fit overtook me on the track. Jealousy is a natural emotion with which entrepreneurs are turbocharged. It's one of the forces that drives us. Reflecting on MaiTai and my experience fretting at 2am, here's what I plan to do next time jealousy flares.

Focus on what's important

What my nemesis or the people at MaiTai achieve has no impact on my life. Some time ago, I wrote a list of what's important to me. When I start to feel jealous, I go back to my list and remind myself what I should be focusing on.

Be grateful that I'm wired to be competitive

Sometimes, I get angry with myself for feeling inadequate. It doesn't solve anything, if indeed there is anything to solve. It can be good to be competitive, and our drive to compete also drives humanity forward – to do things better, faster and more efficiently. Being competitive means there is a good chance that I'll contribute in some way.

Remember that most other people share similar sentiments

I was shocked to discover that even the most successful folks at MaiTai felt threatened by the success of others. The start-up ecosystem in Australia is booming; every week brings another big winner. But for every success there are dozens of failures, and often that's not because the team was less smart or didn't work as hard. Some businesses are luckier than others. We must recognise that success creates jealousy and for most of us, this can be hard to process.

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Lying is the No.1 reason businesses fail.

Recently I caught up with Peter, an Angel investor in Hey You.  Peter does life well: he's a successful businessman with a string of hit ventures who lives with his young family between his New Zealand beach house and yacht in the Mediterranean.  He follows Buddhist teachings and his demeanour is that of a Zen rocket scientist. I asked him, "What's the secret?"  He leaned back in his chair and grinned. "The one secret to success in business and in life is to never ever tell a lie."

What?  I was expecting "dream big", "focus", "never give up" or some such truism.  I knew that lying was bad and telling the truth was good; we learn that as children. But the secret to success?  Peter nodded and reiterated: "Absolute honesty is the key to ultimate power." I took little notice of his advice because I consider myself an honest person.  I never tell lies; well, hardly ever.

Enhancing the truth

The following week, I pitched to a prospective client. As I rounded up one of our company metrics to make it look better, I heard Peter's voice ringing in my ear. This wasn't technically lying, just enhancing the truth. I was stricken with unease; had I made a fatal mistake?  Would I miss out on the deal because I lied? I wanted to understand more about Peter's philosophy so I called him up. "Why is lying so bad? Is this a superstitious karmic idea or something else?"

Peter invests in lots of start-ups. He said, "Every time an entrepreneur gives me a pitch, I wait until the end and ask them, 'Where's the lie in what you just told me?' And there always is one. Once we know what it is we can work together to solve the problem. Most entrepreneurs never address the lies they tell. Their businesses collapse because they don't discuss and solve what they knew was wrong."

After speaking to Peter, I began to notice my daily dishonesties: glossing over small problems, exaggerating success and underplaying failures. Sometimes I'm not as transparent as I know I should be and I felt a tinge of panic. Am I the only one According to a study by the University of Massachusetts, 60 per cent of adults can't have a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once;  31 per cent of people lie on their resumes; 40 per cent lie to their doctor and a whopping 90 per cent lie on their online dating profile. People commonly lie to shift blame, save face, avoid confrontation, get their way, be nice and appear more likable.

Waste of time and resources

At home, most small lies are harmless, but honesty is vital at work. Every six weeks, our team debates the features that our development team should build next. Each department has a list of priorities and shares the impact they expect each development path might have on the business. If someone exaggerated a problem or over-reached on an opportunity, we wouldn't know. We could spend precious time and resources on the wrong thing.

Peter maintains that lying is the No.1 reason businesses fail. The problem is not a moral one: telling lies derails progress by plucking you out of the present and preventing you from dealing with exactly what is going on in your world. Every time you tell an untruth, you create a false reality and start living in it. "If you know the right path and choose another, you lose control of the situation. Rather than tackling the problem head on, you now need to manage the fallout from the lie," he says.

In my gut I knew we wouldn't land the deal I pitched for, and we didn't. As soon as I exaggerated the metric, I started thinking about what I'd need to do to make it true. I was distracted and found it difficult to be creative and present.

The challenge

Since my meeting with Peter, I've focused on being completely honest and transparent. Every time I've wanted to round up when I really should round down, or underplay a problem, I've stopped myself. At first I felt vulnerable – would people accept things exactly as they are? After a while, things started to change. I felt lighter and more stable. My team became more transparent too: people flagged problems upfront, and with all the information at hand we've addressed every issue immediately.

Truth and its relationship to peace, creativity and success have played on my mind recently. If you've read this article and thought, "That's not me, I always tell the truth," then you may be lying to yourself. I challenge you: for two weeks, try being honest and transparent about everything. I'm confident you'll find it both difficult and worthwhile. And it will make a difference to your business.

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Rebekah Campbell, founder of Hey You, an app to order and pay at cafes and restaurants.

I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve led businesses solo and have been at the centre of every meeting I’ve taken since I launched my first company at the age of 22. I joined forces 18 months ago with a male co-founder: he’s charismatic, charming and attracts attention. And, for the first time in my career, I found myself taking a back seat. My strength has always been my ability to get stuff done, while my co-founder is great at building relationships. Almost all our meetings are with men, so I’d sit back while my co-founder established rapport by opening with a discussion about sport or which school everyone attended.

With nothing to say, I’d wait in silent frustration. Meetings would often drift between casual conversation and business: I wasn’t able to achieve my objective because I didn’t drive the discussion. I suspected people looked to my co-founder for leadership because he was male, but more likely because he spoke early, connected with other attendees and deported himself like a leader.

Charm and command

I suspect many of us struggle in situations like this. I knew what I wanted from each meeting but found myself uncertain when or how to interrupt. The folk with the loudest voices got all the airtime. I knew I had important contributions and felt that others were dodging the tough topics. I wanted to speak up but didn’t know how to push my agenda without coming across as aggressive.

I took my dilemma to a mentor, a senior executive in the banking industry. He’s an impressive character with a strong presence, one I have observed in meetings. He may not say much, but people look to him for leadership. He has an uncanny ability to charm and command attention simultaneously. He’ll ask direct questions up front and always gets what he wants. Over coffee, we discussed my discomfort when sharing meetings with my co-founder, whose charisma debarred me from controlling the room. I averred this was because I’m a woman and all other attendees were guys. Were I a man, people would look to me rather than him. But at heart, I knew the problem wasn’t my gender or co-founder. It was me.

I remarked to my mentor, “I’d like to learn to be more like you. Every time I see you in a meeting, you own the room. You come across as a natural leader.” I expected a list of tips for controlling meetings, but his comment surprised and inspired me. He gazed across the café table, head tilted, disappointed, as if I had asked a supremely stupid question. “Rebekah. You have to own the room. You must know that. If you don’t own the room, you’ll never get anywhere. Even if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it doesn’t matter. Every meeting. Own the room.” That was it. No tips. Just an instruction to own the room or give up.

Into practice

The next day, I was in a meeting with our partners at Westpac: 12 male executives, my co-founder and me. I had prepared a PowerPoint presentation outlining what I’d like to cover, knew exactly what I wanted and who in the room could give it to me. The first 10 minutes passed as normal. Then, with my mentor’s words ringing in my ears, I decided to take control. I asked the person at the head of the table if he’d mind switching seats. He agreed, and I announced my presentation. My first slide outlined our objectives for the meeting and the decisions we needed to make that day. Sure, my entrance to the meeting was clunky, but I now owned the room.

From that point on, I ran the agenda, made direct requests of those I knew could make decisions, agreed on follow-ups, made notes and distributed them afterwards. I haven’t looked back since. I make sure I write down my objectives before every meeting so I’m clear what the outcome should be. I always sit at the head of the table and try to make the opening statement, outlining the reason for the meeting and the outcome I’d like to achieve. It works.

Working on it

Perhaps I can come across as rude. Maybe some folk think I’m an inexperienced know-it-all. I’m aware people often think I’m aggressive. None of this makes me comfortable – in fact it makes me very uncomfortable. But the alternative doesn’t work. I am sure as I mature, I’ll develop a style that owns the room, achieves my objectives and is charming. I’m working on it. For now, I’ll settle on owning the room, getting stuff done and making my business a success. As my mentor said, “If you don’t own the room, you’ll never get anywhere.”

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Every week, I get invited to another “must attend” business event sure to be full of important people who could affect my business. I know I should go, but it’s a chore. All too often, I end up standing in a corner clinging to the one person I know, feeling guilty that I’m not taking advantage of the situation. Recently, I attended a business women’s networking breakfast, held in a large warehouse near the waterfront. I marched through the door and collected my name tag to confront a roomful of 1,200 colorfully dressed, high-energy women chattering. Everyone appeared to be having a great time, making connections. What next? Do I know anyone here? If I stand all alone will people think I’m weird? I feel my chest tighten.

I suspect that many of us struggle at these events, but few admit it. Everyone slaps on a smile and wanders around the room shaking hands, laughing and exchanging business cards. Inside, some of us feel awkward, loitering at the edge of conversations, unsure whether to enter the group or slip away. That’s me. If you follow my posts, this may surprise you. I’ve built a powerful network and convinced leaders from Google, eBay, Twitter and Facebook to support my start-up, so you might suppose that I’m an expert schmoozer. Truth is, as an introvert, I’ve struggled with networking for years. I’d much rather be home reading a book.

But I recognize the importance of this type of activity, so I stick to it — primarily because a few chance encounters at events have led to relationships that have made all the difference in my business. I have to accept that networking doesn’t come naturally to me, and that’s hard. I’m a perfectionist. I like to be good at things. So I’ve developed techniques to help me form relationships and improve, even enjoy, the networking process. If you, too, struggle with networking, here are a few ideas that may help.

1. Have short conversations with lots of people. Follow up later

I find it difficult to form deep connections at events. Instead, I try to have short conversations with as many people as possible, making sure I have their contact information so I can follow up later. If I see someone I want to talk to, I politely dart in and say, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but such and such suggested we meet. I have to run in a minute and just wanted to get your business card so I can follow up later.” It’s quite hard for people to say no to this. And then after the event, I reach out and set up lunch or coffee. That’s an environment in which I’m much more comfortable.

2. Focus on what you’re good at

Although I find large informal groups a challenge, I know that I perform well in formal presentation settings or one-on-one conversations. Instead of worrying about my inability to charm at large-group events, I focus my on my more natural ability to engage people one-on-one and to speak publicly. If you can kill it in a one-on-one presentation, that’s all you need to do to build a network.

3. It’s about forming a few close relationships

Some people have hundreds or even thousands of people in their network. Other than on social networks where I don’t know most of the people to whom I’m supposedly connected, I’d say my close business network includes about 15 people, but they are special. Every year, I meet between one and three people who are magic. It’s never about what this person can do for me; it’s a realization that I’ve encountered someone I can learn from. Almost all of the good things that have come to me have come from one of these 15 people.

We introverts have different strengths. For example, check out this great TED talk by Susan Cain on “The Power of Introverts.” I spent years thinking that I should be different — louder, funnier, more extroverted. Now I recognize the need to be grateful for the talents that I do have.

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The Posse team in Manila. Credit Posse.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the issues I’d encountered while building an outsourced office in another country. We’ve now expanded to a team of 14 in Manila, and we recruited everyone there using processes similar to those we use at home. I’ve worked out of the office there and have come to know each employee. We hold regular team lunches at our Manila office, and the whole company meets once a week by video conference. As a result, I had the impression that we were building a strong company culture across both offices.

Carlo Parungao, for example, is a big friendly guy in his early 20s who is a member of our Manila team. He researches and enters the details of all the new shops that users feed into Posse, and at our video meeting each Monday, he reports on the previous week’s achievements with a massive smile: “Hello Miss Rebekah. This week I researched 680 new stores, 40 more than last week.” This last Monday, however, Carlo wasn’t at the meeting. Our office manager in Manila, Jenny Muncal, told us that he was on bereavement leave for a week because his brother, who had been suffering from leukemia, had died.

I know something about leukemia: Two years ago, a member of our team in  Sydney had been stricken with it. He had spent four months in the hospital and a few more in and out of chemotherapy. One year after his diagnosis he’d made a full recovery, and he took a year off to travel the world. We all followed his adventures on Facebook. I researched the condition at the time and learned that some kinds of leukemia have a survival rate of better than 70 percent. Carlo’s brother died because his family couldn’t afford treatment.

When Jenny told me the news, I was angry. If one of our colleagues in our Sydney office or our New York office had a brother with leukemia, we would have rallied and supported the person in any way we could. I had been striving to build a company culture where that closeness would extend across both teams. And yet we hadn’t even known what Carlo was enduring. I wished we could have helped in some way, and I thought about what I might have done. Could we have raised money on his behalf? I felt I’d failed as a leader and as a person. Our company culture should have supported Carlo when he needed us. This led to bigger questions. Most of us don’t accept that one of our fellow citizens should die because of their inability to pay when a life-saving treatment is available. We feel a responsibility to our family first, then our friends and the wider community.

But when we build teams in countries with economic circumstances and standards of living different from our own, what is our responsibility to those employees and their families? What is our responsibility to the communities they live in? As entrepreneurs, we face some difficult questions. What is a fair amount to pay someone who lives in a much poorer country? What standard of living do we want for our teams and their families and communities? How far does our care extend? Then we have to balance this with our obligations to our shareholders to keep costs down and productivity up, a serious issue for start-ups like ours with limited cash and time.

I don’t have the answers, but I think these are important questions. By building a second team in Manila, we’ve succeeded in employing more people and moving much faster than we would have had we done everything in Sydney and New York. I think we’ve done a good job of creating a strong company culture there; their work is exceptional, and the team members certainly seem passionate about their jobs at Posse. But I’m sure we can do more. We’re probably among the first generation of entrepreneurs to face these questions. Sure, outsourcing has existed for a while, but at big companies, the person in charge is likely to be disconnected from the lives of individual employees. By contrast, I know each of our Manila team members – I hired them and I speak to them every week.

It’s still novel for early-stage companies like ours to operate with a second team in a lower-cost country. The approach brings opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors who can develop businesses faster and at lower costs, and for an overseas work force that can learn the process of building and introducing global products. It’s a growing trend, and it means we are training an army of entrepreneurs in these countries, some of whom are already competing with us on the global stage. Today’s cost savings may lead to a worldwide equalizing of opportunity. Building and leading a team in a less prosperous country has taught me volumes. I’ve been fortunate to meet ambitious young people like Carlo, and in the future I plan to do a better job of developing closer ties across multiple countries.

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In recent posts, I have written about my attempts to get better at pitching for investment capital in general and closing deals in particular. A related issue that I’d like to address is my body language and what it says about me.

I have long been plagued by self-doubt. I have found myself discussing major deals with senior executives of large companies and thinking, “What am I doing here? My business is tiny, I am unimportant, and it will only be a matter of time before I’m found out.” I know that I’m a strong presenter and can woo an audience, but I’ve often wondered if there is something that gives me away and accounts for my struggling to close deals.

MIT Media Lab recently released a study of business pitches and sales calls (the study can be found in “The Charisma Myth“). Without hearing any of the content of the meetings, the researchers predicted the outcome of negotiations with 87 percent accuracy just by reading the presenter’s interactions.

The obvious implication is that my internal dialogue of self-criticism while presenting must affect my body language and tone of voice. When my thoughts were calling me a small fry, my body language betrayed the same thought. It didn’t matter what came out of my mouth.

First, I tried to fix what was going on in my head. I read up on impostor syndrome, which has been said to affect 70 to 80 percent of business people (it’s even higher for women). A study of Harvard Business School students found that three quarters of them imagined they were accepted to the school only because of  a failure in the admissions process. I was comforted to discover that I’m not alone, but it didn’t help me solve my problem.

Recently, I’ve been out on the fundraising trail looking to raise several million dollars – our largest round yet. I’ve been meeting with a different class of investors, brokers and large venture firms. I knew I needed to step up my game, and I decided that if I couldn’t change my internal thoughts then I should at least work on concealing them better. I researched body language and tried some simple tricks, and the results were astonishing. Here’s what I did.

1. V is for victory

Psychologists have written a lot about the physiological impact of spreading yourself out in a powerful posture. It’s what animals do to exert dominance.

In Amy Cuddy’s brilliant TED talk, she shows that holding our bodies in expansive high power poses — hands above head, shoulders back — for two minutes increases our testosterone, which is linked to power and self-esteem, and decreases our cortisol, which is linked to stress. She showed in a trial that job candidates who stood in a high power pose for two minutes before their interviews were 80 percent more likely to be hired than those who sat in contracted positions (hunched shoulders, chin tucked down).

I decided to test the theory before my investor meetings. I’m a little reluctant to share this story out of embarrassment, but it did have a major effect on me, so here goes. I started arriving early for each meeting so that I could visit the restroom beforehand. I stood in front of the mirror for at least two minutes in a victory pose (hands above my head in a V shape). During the meeting, if I caught myself hunching over, even a little bit, I made sure that I sat up straight and took up as much space at the table as possible.

This is the opposite of my natural instinct, but it worked. Instantly, I felt more confident, assertive and powerful.

2. Give a strong handshake

Every meeting starts with a handshake. I hadn’t given much thought to the process, but I did notice when something was off. Sometimes the other person gripped too hard or too softly; sometimes the hand was extended palm facing down, forcing me to take the submissive position; sometimes — and this is my pet peeve — people don’t dry their hands properly after visiting the restroom. Also, as a woman, I find it difficult to know how often you need to meet someone before you progress from a handshake to a kiss on the cheek. Is there a rule for that?

I’m careful to avoid obvious mistakes but have never focused on my regular handshake. It was something that just happened at the beginning and end of each meeting, a strange ritual but an important one. Recently I did a corporate performance course where we practiced shaking hands and introducing ourselves with our full names. At first, I found it awkward to say my first and last names while also shaking hands, but as I practiced, I became more comfortable. It was a powerful exercise, and I’m now more confident that I’m making the right first impression.

3. Sit at the head of the table

When I arrive at a meeting, I’m usually seated in a boardroom by the receptionist before the investors arrive, which means I can decide where I sit. I used to sit along the side of the table facing the window — until one day a bunch of investors all commented on where I sat. They said they could tell a great deal about entrepreneurs by where they choose to sit in a room.

More recently, I’ve started sitting at the head of the table. I choose this seat because in meetings with large groups, it gives me the best opportunity to make eye contact and build rapport with everyone in the group. It also helps in a purely practical way. When I demonstrate the product, everyone can see my computer. I also think that taking the head of the table sends the message that I’m leading this meeting.

4. Know how to make an exit

At the end of each meeting, I try to make a strong exit. I smile, make eye contact, shake hands warmly, and thank them. I’ve discussed with other entrepreneurs how to leave investor meetings, and some suggested that I try to leave the investors thinking I don’t care whether I hear from them or not. That’s not my style. I’ve learned that being authentic is my priority. I have to be myself. I want to come across as someone they would look forward to dealing with again.

In recent weeks, I’ve focused on making these body language changes in every pitch meeting. At first I felt uncomfortable, as if I were pretending to be someone else, but I stuck with it. After two weeks, I noticed that I’d started thinking differently; negative thoughts and feelings of inadequacy started to fade. I can now say they’re gone altogether. I had expected that shifting my body language would help conceal my thoughts, but I didn’t realize the degree to which it would change my feelings about myself.

Right now, stand up and lift your arms into a victory pose. Hold it for two minutes. Feel the difference? Our minds change our behavior, and our behavior acts on the mind, shaping our outcomes. Will my changed body language lead to a successful close of our funding round? I will let you know right here.

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I believe I’m a good salesperson. I’m good at getting meetings with the right people and getting them excited, but I suffer from recurring attacks of what I call First Meeting Syndrome. My first meeting is red hot, but I struggle to get a follow-up; time passes and the deal goes cold. I’m a great door-opener, but I’m not so good at closing the deal.

Earlier this year, I pitched a partnership for Posse to the chief operating officer of a major media company. Once again, our initial meeting was excellent. I managed to score a follow-up with a few of the executive’s colleagues; again, my presentation seemed to go well, and the  group seemed receptive to my ideas. But as weeks slipped by and email communication slowed, I started to worry. Had I blown another opportunity by not being able to seal the deal? Over the past year, I’ve wondered: What am I doing wrong? How come I’m so good at initial meetings but so lousy at following through? I asked mentors for advice, and I tracked folks who are killer salespeople in order to learn what their magic was at meetings.

And I discovered that I was making some fundamental mistakes. It’s always tough for a small company to close a deal with a big company. For one thing, few people have even heard of a start-up like mine, so there are no kudos awaiting the corporate executive who strikes a deal with me. Instead, there’s a high level of risk, working with a product of unknown quality. Because that deal I mentioned was a potential game changer for Posse, one I needed to make happen, I decided to try a few of the techniques I learned from my mentors. And I’m proud to report that last week we closed a partnership that will give Posse lots of exposure in the coming months.

Here are a few of the things I learned:

1. Get the other company to do the talking

I used to spend a lot of time preparing for meetings. I’d research the company, come up with a range of suggestions and try to impress them with my presentation. I’d talk for 80 percent of the meeting. One mentor suggested that I make my first meeting all about them. Rather than arriving with a fully developed proposal, spend most of the time asking about their strategy. Then describe what Posse does and try to generate partnership ideas together.

When I managed to get back in to see the media company, I asked about its objectives. To my surprise, one of the lead executives said that her performance was measured by the amount of traffic she could drive to her company’s website. It became obvious that search engine optimization was crucial.

After I mentioned that Posse collected many reviews that were relevant to pages on the media company’s platform, this executive suggested that if we fed the reviews relevant to their store pages through an A.P.I., that would improve their ranking in Google search and drive more traffic to their site. Now she was interested. This was not an idea I had considered when I delivered my first presentation to the company, but it was exactly what I needed to get an important person on board with the proposal.

2. It’s all about the person

I used to get excited about the prospect of doing a deal with a big brand. When I planned my presentation, I thought it through as though I were pitching to Visa, Coke or the like, and structured it according to my expectations of what Coke wanted to achieve. But in reality, there is no such thing as pitching to a company; I can only pitch to one or two people who happen to work for that company. I have to sell to them.

Most people who work for big corporations have two concerns in these situations: How do I make myself look good? And how do I avoid making myself look bad? They will always be wary of doing a deal with a start-up if they’re not sure it can deliver. I’ve learned to draw attention to our high-profile investors in order to borrow their halo of credibility, and I stress that I will personally lead the project to ensure it succeeds. I try to show how working with us will make the big brand seem innovative, attracting positive media coverage — and make the employees look good in the process.

3. Deal with the most senior person

Senior executives are generally more prepared to take a risk while their juniors tend to worry about making mistakes. I’ve wasted a lot of time presenting to juniors who don’t have the clout or the nerve to make something happen. In my negotiations with the media company, the deal started to falter when it was passed down to middle management. To get back on track, I had to get back to the chief operating officer and get him excited again.

4. Leave a written presentation

I’ve always presented using PowerPoint on a laptop or iPad. But the advisory group that helped run our recent round of fund-raising meetings insisted that I print and bind a copy of my presentation to leave with clients. At first, I thought this was a waste of paper, but I was surprised to discover that it worked. It is easier to visualize a product when there’s a tangible booklet to flip though. I also learned that after the meetings people would pass the presentation around to colleagues. And many of the people I meet with are in their 50s or older and may be more comfortable with paper presentations. This may change with time, but from now on, I plan to print my material and leave it behind.

5. Create time pressure

Daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social were successful initially because of the scarcity principle, the concept that consumers want now what they fear may not be available tomorrow. The same is true if you are trying to sell some kind of deal or partnership. People are unlikely to say yes today if they think can say yes next week. As a start-up founder, I have found it hard to create a sense of scarcity. Everyone knows that my company is small and needs a partner; the executives at the big companies don’t need me. They are always in control.

But I’ve learned that without a sense of urgency I’ll never close a negotiation, so I have to create it. In the case of my recent media relationship, I had to make them want the deal, and I had to give them a deadline to make a decision. I had to say that, if the deadline passed, we would have to reallocate our limited resources to another opportunity, which was quite true.

6. Be persistent

I never used to be sure how hard to push people when following up. If I emailed a couple of times and they didn’t respond, I figured they were not interested. I didn’t want to be annoying. Then, a couple of months ago, a sales person approached me offering to sell an email marketing system for Posse. I met him over coffee and said I’d think about it. He called me the next morning and afternoon and then constantly, until I gave in. As soon as I said yes, he told me he’d be at our office that afternoon to present a welcome gift and to collect the paperwork. Of course, I wanted the gift, which turned out to be a $10 cake, and he got his paperwork signed.

This made me think: Why can’t I be more like that? After a meeting, I used to send a follow-up email, but many of the people I meet with are too busy to respond to nonurgent emails from start-ups; they hit delete and consign my missive to the bit bucket. Now, I go straight to the phone. I feel uncomfortable making the call, but when I reach people, they’re always pleasant. As the founder of a tiny start-up, I learned that I needed all of these tricks to close my media partnership deal. I worked on the most senior person in the organization, asked executives about their strategy, let them come up with the ideas, showed how the project would make them look innovative and reduced the level of risk by guaranteeing that I would make sure it succeeded.

I’m hoping that I have finally shaken First Meeting Syndrome for good.

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When I hear stories of other people who are doing well, my first question is, “How old are they?”

So long as they are sufficiently older than I am — so that I might conceivably achieve the same thing by their age — I’m O.K. with it. Ten years ago, it seemed as though everyone was much older than I was, and I still had plenty of time to do great things. But now, the people making news with their successes are getting closer to my age. Sometimes they are younger. I don’t like that.

I’m wired to be competitive and achievement-oriented. Life is a game I need to win. I don’t remember choosing to be this way, and I don’t think it’s optional. In some ways, I’m grateful for this inclination because it drives me to work hard. Unfortunately, it also makes me miserable. Most of my classmates have married, perhaps started a family. Others have made more money, published books or made a bigger contribution to the world. When I compare myself to them, I wonder what is wrong with me. Unless I address this problem, I fear I will end up staring down the barrel of a life overtaken by jealousy.

The trick lies in figuring out how to make the most of my competitive nature and still be happy and peaceful. The past few weeks, this conundrum has been running through my mind, but I could find little to read about it online. For those who share my pain, here are some of the things I’ve concluded.

1. Accept that the game is unwinnable

If we traveled through life always surrounded by the same set of people, the achievement-by-age competition would be more fair. If I compare myself to the people I went to high school with, I would say I’ve done well. But as I make progress in both my business and my nonprofit work, I keep meeting new people — people who have achieved far more than I have.

This reminds me of school athletic competitions. I would win a cross-country race every year, but in the regional competition, I would finish third or fourth. The national championship was drawn from people who had won the regionals, so I could not even compete for a medal. I stopped feeling like a winner. Still, that jealously drives me to compete. Every time I get to the top of one ladder, I reach to a higher level of competition and meet a new set of higher achievers in the process. This is not a conscious decision — if it were, I would be crazy — but when I look back over the past 15 years of my professional career, I realize that this is what I’ve done.

I have come to understand that no matter how successful I become, there will always be a 27-year-old who is doing it better. Accepting this is an important step in overcoming the pain of jealousy.

2. Recognize feelings for what they are

Jealousy is a fire in my head, an explosive cocktail of anger and fear. To contain the fire, my instinct is to try to reduce the person of whom I’m jealous: “Oh well, she doesn’t have this. Or she doesn’t have that.” It’s a defense mechanism, and it does not solve the problem. The first step in channeling jealousy into a positive force is to accept that it is merely a comparison with someone else and to get beyond those instinctive reactions.

3. Know who you are and what is important

The success of someone else or someone else’s business usually has no impact on one’s life or achievements. Some time ago, I wrote a list of goals that were important to me — who I wanted to be and what I wanted to achieve. When I start to feel jealous of someone else’s achievements, I return to that list and remind myself of the next goal.

Recently, I was out jogging and a woman overtook me on the track. If it had been a man or a younger woman, I would not have given it a second thought, but this person looked 10 years older than I am — and less athletic. I powered up; it was inconceivable that she could be running faster than I was. I strained to keep ahead — even though I am sure she had no idea I was racing her. Later, I reflected on the absurdity of my actions.

Before writing this article, I discussed my feelings of inadequacy with a few of my mentors. What they said shocked me. One entrepreneur who has sold three companies in multimillion-dollar deals admitted that he too lives a life consumed by jealousy. He told me that most of his friends had built companies that had gone public, and he had never done that. He may be in the top 0.01 percent of entrepreneurs, with several big successes, but he feels inadequate.

Every conversation I had with people I admire produced similar stories. They too compared themselves unfavorably with others, which got me thinking: Are ambition and the need to compare oneself with others inextricably linked? Does every ambitious person reach for a more accomplished person for comparison? What about Bill Gates? Does he go to sleep thinking about others who have achieved more or contributed more — Darwin? Einstein? — than he has?

I have come to believe that some of us are wired for competition because it is what drives humanity to do things better, faster and more efficiently. Yes, it can be an affliction, but it does have its positive side. Being competitive means there is a good chance that I will contribute to society in some way.

I have come to appreciate my natural jealousy and how it can help drive me to live a productive life. I just need to remember that it’s an unwinnable game. I have to stay focused on what is important and bring a little more peace to the journey.

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