If you've ever watched NBC's The Apprentice, you know the kind of drama that goes into competing on the reality game show to win a bunch of money and run one of Donald Trump's businesses. For Brian Mandelbaum, CEO of video advertising company Clearstream and contestant on Season 4, the show taught him several key lessons about business which he says are helping this three-year-old company achieve nearly 300 percent growth year over year.
Have several contingency plans ready at all times.
A startup's strength lies in its ability to be nimble and agile. To do it, you need to outline your plans B, C and D from the start so you can respond to the inevitable bumps in the road with lightning speed without overreacting. Take the time to think about the potential hurdles or pitfalls that you may come up against, and be prepared for each one. "I see a lot of companies change their complete model on a dime without thinking really through the idea of what their business was going to accomplish, and they end up being a totally different company whether it be months or years down the line," he says. "Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's really messy. But oftentimes it's very confusing to the customer."
Be a leader, not just a boss.
This means communicating your vision in a way that people--strong personalities included--believe in your idea and want to follow you. "That's what really transforms people from being just a figure-head manager to someone who actually can lead an organization or a project or a company," he says. "They really are two different, distinct people--bosses and leaders."
Consistently glean internal and external feedback.
You can't understand the pitfalls that may be coming and plan what you'll do if they arise without continually checking in with the people you're leading as well as the customers giving you their business. "You can't innovate if you're operating in a vacuum," he says. On the show this meant understanding the criteria he was judged against. In business, it means empathizing with your customers and team members and understanding what they expect as individuals.
Go to extreme lengths to make an impression.
Of the 35,000 people who auditioned to be on Season 4, Mandelbaum was 16th in line. Getting the spot meant arriving at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan at 2:30 a.m. the morning of the casting session. It was a smart move. "Donald Trump was actually there for the first round of interviews," he says.
Don't be afraid to voice an opinion.
Mandelbaum credits landing a role on the show to his willingness to weigh in on issues, a quality he now values in his employees. It's an important business skill, as long as you're able to back up your opinion with the facts that drove you to it. "I cannot stress enough how much I tell my employees, 'If you feel differently, I need you to challenge me. Make me understand why I should be looking at this differently,'" he says. "And I have much higher respect for them when they do do that."
Over-prepare for your moment in the spotlight.
C-level, type-A personalities will notice if you drop the ball. "You have to be able to listen and understand when it is your time to shine while also being consistent with who you are," he says. "If you change, or if you're no longer a consistent person, they will chew you up and eat you alive."
Never, ever arrive late.
Slow Manhattan traffic got Mandelbaum fired from the show. "It's somewhat funny and ironic, because typically my biggest pet peeve is being late to anything because anybody being late for me is a sign of disrespect," he says. "It was a very unfortunate situation, but it means that instead of me being ten minutes early for things in the past, now I'm 30 minutes early for everything."