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7 Tricks for Every Founder’s Back Pocket

Why serial entrepreneur Seth Epstein says, among other things, that start-up founders should streak.
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Seth Epstein, the founder and CEO of SocialStay, which creates mobile apps for luxury resorts like the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica, and Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles, spoke recently as part of the University of California at Santa Barbara Distinguished Lecture Series. He delineated seven practical, hands-on tools every entrepreneur can use to enhance his or her overall performance.

Seth began his entrepreneurial career when he dropped out of the University of California at Santa Barbara at 19 to start a clothing company; he eventually built into a national line of denim products featured at Nordstroms, Macy's and Neiman Marcus. Before SocialStay, Seth was the founder and CEO of FUEL, a broadcast design firm that Razorfish acquired for more than $30 million, and an Emmy Award winner for his work rebranding ESPN's X-Games.

Here are his seven tricks:

1. Be an active listener

Most people in Western societies are ineffective, passive listeners. We are trained to treat conversations like tennis matches. Each person lobs the conversation back and forth, but there are few thoughtful pauses between each volley. Seth agrees. He encourages entrepreneurs to be active listeners by "listening to hear, versus listening to get your damn opinion in. Waiting to talk, that is how we work. That is not listening, that is waiting to say something."

2. Empty the "cup"

Seth encourages entrepreneurs to allow the other party in a conversation to thoroughly divulge their thoughts without interruption or interpretation. He has used this approach to transform contentious arguments into constructive, meaningful dialogues, including particularly angry confrontations.

3. Let go of analysis paralysis

Don't get stuck strategizing; get out there and make stuff happen. Seth urges emerging entrepreneurs to "be on the playing field, not in your head. Too many people spend their time in the bleachers commenting about business, but where you are really going to learn something is on the playing field. On the playing field is talking to customers. Get on the playing field."

4. Go streaking

When confronted with the opportunity to streak, most people initially recoil, but not entrepreneur-types. "You got an idea, you want to go talk to someone, your brain goes cuckoo…like you are streaking. Your brain will talk you out of stuff. Jump. Go. Shut your mind up. Take action. You know you are doing the right thing when you are pushing yourself. If you are safe, you are not an entrepreneur."

Seth sees strong corollaries between starting a venture and streaking. "Sometimes when you go into meetings, it feels like taking off your clothes and going, 'I'm here'," he says.

Similarly, although operating a start-up is often frightening, it is also exhilarating. "It is such a thrill when you do it…you feel this incredible joy and high," he adds.

5. Cycle through breakdowns and breakthroughs

Seth believes that success at a start-up is predicated upon a series of breakdowns, which are punctuated by periodic breakthroughs. In Seth’s words: "How fast you can fall off the horse and get back on is how fast you can move."

Successful entrepreneurs tenaciously grapple with each breakdown until they achieve a breakthrough. Those who do not have the stamina or creativity to master this process generally give up after failing to overcome the first few breakdowns.

6. Be unreasonable

The foundational underpinning of entrepreneurship is the willingness to be unreasonable. Seth tells his audience that, "You guys need to practice being unreasonable. People will call you…crazy, get a job, whatever. Going the extra mile, asking for more, having more conversations…this is a critical ingredient to being a good entrepreneur, being unreasonable. The more you can stretch, the more outrageous you can be, do it."

7. Shut up and start

This is the most straightforward entrepreneurship tool: Just start. "I hear so many people say, 'I'm going to write this plan....it's not going to go as planned. So when you write your plan, realize…it's like writing a fairy tale. It's not going to happen that way. Shut up and start. Have the courage to fail."

You can watch a clip of Seth's talk here:

Last updated: Mar 19, 2012

JOHN GREATHOUSE | Partner, Rincon Venture Partners

John Greathouse is a partner at Rincon Venture Partners, an early-stage VC firm. A serial entrepreneur, John led Computer Motion?s $110 million public offering, and the $236 million sale of Expertcity (creator of GoToMeeting) to Citrix. Check out his hands-on start-up advice blog at Infochachkie. Or, follow his start-up oriented Twitter feed, where he promises not to tweet about koala bears or killer burritos.




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