Adopt These 3 Traits for a Positive Mindset

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In a mere .40 seconds, Google serves up 79,800,000 results on “how to be a successful entrepreneur”.

That’s a lot of advice.

  • Bold headlines: Build Your A-Team … Pitch Like a Pro … Know Your Competitive Advantage
  • Name dropping : Zuckerberg … Jobs … Sandberg … Omidyar … Wozniak … Corcoran 
  • Videos on sleep habits of successful entrepreneurs … from dropout to billionaire … rocking your pitch
  • Catchy words: unicorn … killer … crushing it

With almost eighty million results to sift through, it is possible to find advice or information on just about anything and everything. But, in reality, the biggest determining factor in achieving success cannot be found on a website, in a book or in advice personally shared from the best of mentors. The ultimate success or failure of an individual has far more to do with their own mindset than any other factor. While there are many traits that contribute to mindset, here are three that, when adopted, lead to a powerful shift in thinking and outcomes when confronted with difficulties.

Gratitude

Gratitude is not an emotion but a mindset that allows for the possibility of good being derived from the worst of circumstances.

cropped-img_3192.pngSir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Grouppublished a letter earlier this year with advice on how to be happy, and none of his advice had to do with wealth, success or achievements. Instead, it had to do with mindset. “Happiness shouldn’t be a goal, it should be a habit. Take the focus off doing, and start being every day. Be loving, be grateful, be helpful, and be a spectator to your own thoughts.”

By embracing a mindset of gratitude, we allow ourselves to hope when facing defeat and to feel joy in the midst of difficulties. When we are grateful for the good despite the bad that is happening, we are empowered to move forward, to remain tenacious, to summon the energy to struggle on. Gratitude fuels an entrepreneur to persevere, iterate, pivot or close down one venture with the courage to begin again.

Generosity

A mindset of generosity helps maintain the emotional resources and the social goodwill to survive the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

I first met Alex Wirth, the cofounder of Quorum Analytics, Inc., at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City earlier this year. I had asked a panel of investors and founders for advice on growing visibility for our civic-focused startup, APPCityLife, which is based in the sparsely populated state of New Mexico. Immediately following the session, Alex sought me out and introduced himself as a fellow New Mexican and offered to provide introductions into his own network where it might be of help.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex is one of those inspiring individuals who has found success in his own company by embracing a philosophy of generosity. He opted to extend his own network to another startup founder simply because he could and because he knew it would help. Not once has he asked for anything in return, and he has more than made good on the offer he made to me that day.

A mindset of generosity does not mean we operate in a state of naivety. We can be generous by sharing our network while respecting the privacy of those within our own network by gaining prior permission before sending introductions. We can share insight, give advice, and help others while still protecting our own intellectual property. But when we operate from a protective mindset or a scarcity mentality, where we make sure we get ours by keeping it away from others, we not only fail to help where we could make a difference, but we also fail to surround ourselves with others who embrace a mindset of generosity and who could, in turn, support and help us in a time of need. A wide network built on goodwill that we can access in times of difficulty can mean the difference between survival or failure.

Positive Pragmatism

Positive pragmatism is the ability to clearly identify barriers and flaws while maintaining a hopeful environment for exploring creative alternatives.

via Humans of New York: “I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.”

There is this moment in the experience of every entrepreneur where some devastating setback threatens to derail all progress forward. It is the self-talk, the story that we tell ourselves about that moment which shapes our perceptions, reactions, and ultimately, our decisions. If we’ve learned to frame those moments in a mindset of positive pragmatism, we are far better equipped to endure the extreme lows that are a common occurrence within the startup industry.

A recent post by photographer Brandon Stanton, the creator of the popular blog, Humans of New York, perfectly depicted this attitude of positive pragmatism. A young entrepreneur’s comment about becoming CEO was met with derision by many readers who questioned how the purchase of a suit could turn anyone into a CEO. But the truth is this: when someone leaves a startup, it leaves a hole. Somebody else has to step up and fill the gap – – and it is usually someone who cares a little more, is a little more committed, and who isn’t yet willing to give up no matter how ill-prepared they are to fill that new role. They assess the new challenges created by the loss of that team member and weigh those new challenges against the potential for success with the remaining resources, talent and traction. And little by little, the remaining team often learns new skills and acquires the knowledge to fill the gaps to the startup forward.

While there are a multitude of factors which affect the outcome of a startup such as team, skills, knowledge, and even luck, adopting the right mindset can help an entrepreneur access deeper reservoirs of mental and emotional energy to overcome the difficulties and barriers which, otherwise, might derail the best of teams.

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How Urban Tech is Disruptive Government Procurement

(originally published on What’s APPening)
IMG_6565I spent the past few days with our COO at the Smart City Startups Festival in Miami, Florida, interacting with some of today’s most visionary, innovative urban tech startup founders who are disrupting almost every facet of the urban landscape. All of the startups showcased at the summit have the potential of changing the future of our cities. Some are implementing solutions which are quite ingenious in their simplicity, like Loveland Technologies, which makes ownership of land parcels transparent (and raised funds through creative sales of inches of Detroit land parcels through “inchvestors”, and Vizalytics, which filters through the cacophony of data to help small businesses quickly understand what policies, work orders, or inspections will directly affect their business. Other showcased teams are immersed in big ideas like those of, BRCK, whose rugged tech is bringing internet access to remote regions of the globe. It was an incredible honor to have the opportunity to demonstrate how our own company, APPCityLife, is helping deliver powerful mobile apps in cities which can change the way people interact with their city, from being able to get to a job on time by using a real-time tracking app for transit to finding out about distributions of fresh fruits and vegetables at a local food bank.

IMG_3988But the invention of cool urban tech doesn’t mean it’s going to be available to you, the citizen, any time soon. One of the biggest barriers to getting this tech into the real world remains the challenge of navigating archaic government procurement policies. If you think waiting in the customer service line of a Department of Motor Vehicles is a practice in frustration, try pushing a single contract through almost any city government. But there is good news. Because the clamor for better tech is now coming from within and without government agencies, some civic leaders, organizations and entrepreneurs are exploring alternative paths to engage with urban tech startups.

Nonprofits like the Knight Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Living Cities, Bloomberg PhilanthropiesNew Cities Foundation as well as many others funding programs aimed at disrupting solutions for select issues such as education, entrepreneurship and economic development. In addition, organizations like Code for America have also helped to disrupt through advocacy, by forming brigades of volunteers within communities to address local issues, and by deploying carefully selected fellows into select cities each year to address a particular need. Other organizations, like Citymart, are focused on disrupting the procurement process itself. With several successes under their belt within the European community, the Barcelona-based company has opened an office in New York City’s Civic Hall and signed on several initial cities to participate in a series of challenges which invite innovative urban tech startups to submit solutions with the chance to move forward with a larger contract should an initial pilot prove successful.

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And then there are the city administrators who are choosing to disrupt the way they work with urban tech startups. One nugget of advice often shared by government administrators is for startups to work for free. I have to admit that the advice that startup founders should work for cities for free can be a bit disconcerting, if only because it is almost always given by someone who not only stands to benefit from free tech but is certainly not working for their own government agency for free. While this model does have its benefits, there are also drawbacks that must be taken into account. When a startup is delivering a service for free, they are far more likely to run out of cash and leave a government agency adrift with a non-working technology – and no one to hold accountable. Additionally, entering the market with a free model may help startups determine the willingness to use a technology, but that is not the same a willingness to pay for that same technology. When founders give away services to any customer, government or otherwise, it is very difficult to begin charging at some later date. We’ve seen this free-first model pay off in very big ways, but it takes setting up clear boundaries ahead of time as to what parts of service will be free, how long the free model will last, what next steps will be possible if initial free phase is a success, etc. When a free-first model can prove a startup’s ability to deliver and the city’s ability to save money or deliver services better, it can be an excellent opportunity to get a foot in the door and disrupt the status-quo. But when it is not set up with clear expectations and end dates, it can eat a startup’s budget with nothing to show for it.

Here are a few additional ways we’ve found to be successful in disrupting current procurement policies to get new urban tech into the hands of the people who need it. When startups devise business models which generate revenue from sources outside of government, it becomes a win-win for everyone around. In addition, proving future savings to a government agency can be a good way for urban tech founders to gain early customers. If new tech will streamline processes, improve efficiencies, or encourage citizens to embrace more affordable options – and if the startup can track the data needed to prove those cost savings, every sale after the initial pilot will be easier. And lastly, when founders take the time to understand the problems a city department is facing – what their biggest headache is within a specific task or as an agency – and when a startup can show that their tech will solve that problem, founders can gain the buy-in and willingness from the government to find money or babysit a contract through procurement processes to gain access to that pain-reliving solution.

Of course, the bigger issue is the procurement policies themselves. Most have not kept up with emerging civic tech. But we cannot afford to wait for politicians and legislators hash out the nuance of new policies. Working at the slow pace of policy change is not an acceptable solution for anyone. Until better procedures manage to gain enough votes to become law, those of us within the urban tech community must continue to disrupt not only the way cities interact with the people who live there but the way cities work with urban tech startups. As a society, we cannot wait for legislators to get up to speed and pass laws that make sense for this new world of smart cities – there is too much at stake. When we have the power to lift entire communities out of poverty by delivering better city services like reliable transit or helping deliver needed supports like food-finding apps to food banks, there is a moral imperative to find new ways to foster urban tech startups and deliver the successful solutions throughout the world.

Want to be Successful? Get Over Yourself and Seize the Opportunity

Andre Moore knows what it is to watch a bright future disappear – not once, but twice. Being forced to reinvent himself after thinking he was on the right path to success has helped him learn that seizing the opportunity is worth it, whenever and however that chance comes.

His first devastating heartbreak came early in his life when several letters of intent from major colleges and a promising career in the NFL evaporated into nothing after he was injured during his junior year of high school. The eldest son of several siblings raised by a hard-working single mother, the young Alabama native metamorphosed overnight from a rising star to a young man with an uncertain future. As he watched one door close on his future, he chose to follow his heart and enlisted to serve his country while still in high school, first in the National Guard and then as a medic in the Army. But, once again, this calling was cut short when Andre suffered a debilitating injury the day before his unit shipped out. Devastated, he returned home and contemplated what to do with his life. At the invitation of childhood friends, he moved cross-country to make a new life for himself in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he quickly earned certification as a dental assistant before enrolling in the University of New Mexico.

 

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My son, Jonathon, became friends with Andre when the two began studying together at the university’s library. Most weekends, Jonathon came home from Andre’s loaded with leftover ribs or chicken. After pilfering his leftovers one afternoon, I asked my son why Andre wasn’t selling his ribs. Despite eating them cold out of the fridge, his ribs tasted incredible. When Andre was invited to attend a Startup Weekend event, he and Jonathon jumped at the opportunity to flesh out the idea of launching a food truck. The team took second place and treated the entire audience to Andre’s ribs, converting many into a solid fan base.

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When Andre recently discovered that one of my good friends, J. Kelly Hoey, was coming for a visit, he created his own opportunity by offering to help out by delivering his ribs for one of our meals. Kelly was flying out from her home in New York City to support our network for women entrepreneurs I’d launched in 2014 with my cofounder Jessica Eaves Mathews. We’d invited Kelly to be a part of our first Women’s Conference, Haute Highlights, as the final keynote speaker as well as serving as a judge that night at our benefit gala, Haute Night Out. Kelly had even volunteered to be the guest speaker to kick off the Teen ABQ Startup Weekend which my younger son was helping organize.

Andre found a way to not only be of help but do so in a way that also put him in the same room with someone with knowledge and connections he wanted to meet. On her last day in Albuquerque, Andre arrived at our door loaded with steaming hot ribs and wings – as well as a long list of questions. While Kelly dined on the meal he’d prepared, she shared advice and answered his questions.

We can learn a lot from Andre. I wonder how many times we let our own fear, laziness, pride, or insecurity get in our way. How often do we succumb to that inner whisper that it’s too scary, that others will discover our lack of knowledge, skill or talent or won’t want to help us – and so instead of acting, we let opportunities slip away simply because we can’t get over ourselves enough to seize the moment?

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I recently attended an event designed to pair out-of-state investors with local entrepreneurs while riding a chair lift at the world-class ski resort in Taos, New Mexico. My husband and I made the drive to support our entrepreneurial community. An avid skier, my husband hit the slopes while I opted to hang out with the non-skiers. After chatting a bit with the group at the ski lodge, I found a quiet spot where I could work. At the end of my table sat a woman who was one of the founders pitching at the event. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her twice start to stand up before sitting back down. Finally, with a deep breath, she got up and approached an out-of-town investor working nearby. She introduced herself and asked if he would be willing to answer some of her questions.

When she returned to her seat next to me, I smiled. “Way to go,” I said. “Way to take advantage of the opportunity.”

“I had to,” she replied. “These investors are only here today. Right now. This may never happen again, so it is now or never.”

She seized the moment despite the struggle it took to get beyond her own fear of approaching a complete stranger who, on the hierarchy of startups, might have seemed far above her. And because of her action, she left the event richer for the opportunity – including now having a new connection who would likely remember her when she was ready to seek funding for her startup in the future.

The next time you’re presented with an opportunity, don’t hesitate. No one else is going to pave the way for you to reach your dreams, and even when one dream slips away, there are still opportunities to reinvent yourself. Don’t be lackadaisical with your life, and don’t squander precious opportunities. Get over yourself to find courage to seize the opportunity. It is the surest path forward – no matter what you want in life.

Learning To Lead: advice to startup founders

image1-e1403467816939A lot of times when we launch a startup, we’re like a duck out of water. We have no clue what steps to take to launch a business. We ask help from others who are more experienced, and we depend on their guidance to help us meander through the challenges of getting a business off the ground.

But at some point, a founder has to stand up and decide that it is time to be in charge.

When I was selected to pitch in front of investors from across the United States during an investor’s summit, I was still figuring out how to be a leader. I had a lot of confidence and believed passionately in what we were doing, but I’d also just brought on a team of developers and co-founders who were far more experienced than me. I was feeling a bit uneasy about how to lead us forward.

For several weeks, I met with a team of mentors from varying areas of expertise who were all tasked with helping me prepare for my presentation during the summit. Week after week, I received divergent advice, sometimes even completely opposing instructions from my team of mentors:
Less words and more photos on the pitch deck.
More words and less photos on the pitch deck.
Scrap the images; don’t scratch them.
Ask for more money. Ask for less.

During the early mentor meetings, I would try to please whatever looked to be the consensus of the group and would shift directions, change my pitch deck, change my talk … all in an effort to get the approval of this team of experts who I saw as more knowledgeable and experienced than me.

And then one day, in frustration, I pushed back and started telling them what my vision was, what I knew I needed to say, what I wanted my pitch deck to look like. The results were remarkable.

Once I truly embraced being in charge, it made all the difference. I realized that each of the mentors did exactly what they were supposed to do – give me their advice and feedback based on their own experience and knowledge. It wasn’t their job to give me consistent feedback. It was my job to take all of that feedback and use it to clarify my own position.

Once I owned my own vision and message, this group of mentors with very different opinions all came together behind me and expressed approval for the way the presentation was shaping up.

No one wants to follow someone who doesn’t know how to lead. If you are a founder, learn to lead. Learn to own your vision and have conviction. Stick a stake in the ground and declare what it is you’re doing. What problem are you solving, and why is your solution so important? Understand that and let it drive everything you do. You’re the boss, so when you need to, push back and draw a line about who and what you are as a leader. It won’t guarantee success, but not knowing how to lead will guarantee.

Three Things You Need To Know About Failure

Mourning

I recently had a conversation with someone who was pointing out how many times I’d failed to meet the same goal. It felt pretty awful, especially because I knew it was true. But in that moment, I also realized that I could either accept that as my permanent truth, or I could look a bit deeper at why I was failing. In the process, I discovered three powerful truths about failure.

Sometimes failure to try is our way of gaining space until the time is right.

Two years ago, I suggested that my talented, artistic daughter open an Etsy shop to sell her handmade cards, calendars and posters. I campaigned pretty hard for the idea. The entrepreneur in me wanted to see my daughter take control of her own destiny and share her talent with the world, but the mom in me wanted her to find her own path, whatever it was. So I backed off and left her alone when she made it clear she wasn’t ready.

Well, for the most part, I backed off.
Except when she would show me something she bought on Etsy.
Or someone would mention Etsy.
Or I would mention Etsy.
Ok, to be honest, I probably didn’t leave her alone as well as I should have.

You can imagine my surprise recently when she sent the text I’d been hoping to see for over two years. “So I know I’ve been really resistant against an etsy shop…” she wrote. Her text had phrases like “… but it occurred to me … I was looking at … and I kept thinking I could do better … and then I realized I should.”

It was in that moment that I realized what likely felt like failure to her two years ago when she said she didn’t think she could try this new idea was simply her way of carving out space. She needed time to muster up the courage and to own the idea for herself.

It wasn’t failure at all. It was simply not the right time.

Sometimes when we fail to try, we see it as failure. That perception makes it harder to find the courage to try the next time we see an opportunity. Sometimes no isn’t failure; it’s simply not the right time.

The skills we learn on our way to failure often carry us to our next success.

Sick person with headacheThere was a point in my company’s journey about three years ago where I couldn’t see my way forward. I was a nearing the end of my bootstrapped resources. My initial idea hadn’t taken off like the wildfire I’d imagined, and I saw a brick wall in front of me that felt an awful lot like the end. I didn’t sleep at night, and I couldn’t focus on anything during the day. I was looking in the face of failure, and it felt worse than anything I’d felt before.

One afternoon I started writing down all of the things I’d learned since launching my startup, from the mundane to the profound: how to write a business plan, incorporate a business, set up a bank account, pay corporate taxes. I learned to hire an accountant so they could pay corporate taxes and a lawyer to set up the business correctly. I learned the value of building relationships and a network. The list was several pages long, and at the end of that exercise, I realized I’d gained more skills in those three years than I could have any other way – all skills that would help me do something else if I did fail.

When I realized that even if I failed, it wouldn’t be a complete failure, that helped me focus and take control. We pivoted the company shortly after that, and within months, we were gaining traction and customers – a validation that this new direction was solving real problems in the market. We’ve grown a lot since then – acquired another company, hired employees, gained new customers, built out new technology – and none of it would have happened if I had accepted imminent failure as the complete story.

Nine out of ten startups fail. 92% of New Years Resolutions fail. And the number of diets that fail? That statistic is all over the map. Failure is part of the journey for most of us, in some part of our lives or another. None of us experience success at everything we try. Accepting that failure is a real possibility is very different than believing that failure is imminent. Changing our outlook when we begin to fail can change the outcome. There are often far more successes than failures if we just look for them.

Failure is often a result of stopping short of going all in.

Relaxing in a chairWhen I decided to not close up shop but to pivot the direction of the company, I also decided that there could be no holding back. I’d always had this thought when I was a solopreneur that if I failed, it was just me that would be affected. I told myself that trying at all took a lot of courage and was a success in itself. But once we pivoted, I committed to going all in – nothing held back. It was so much more terrifying than when I’d allowed for failure to be a viable option. But it also made all the difference in my level of willingness to put myself out there on the edge of my skills and knowledge. It was a scary thing to acknowledge that if I failed, everyone on our team would have to start over at something else, not just me.

Believe me, I am still very aware that our company could end up having to close its doors someday. I’m not naive about the odds. But I’ve witnessed the difference between a really good effort and going all in, and I’m convinced that it is only when we are willing to be terrified on the edge of the precipice that we find success. You know what else I’ve learned about going all in? Others can tell. They’re willing to get on board and get behind you when they know how committed you are to success. We’re still in the beginning of our growth, and we’ve enjoyed our growth due to the commitment and belief of an amazing staff, savvy investors and great clients who were willing to get behind our vision. I never take for granted just how remarkable that is.

Failure feels so much worse, eats at our self esteem, when we know we lacked commitment and effort. I’m pretty sure this is the root to the continued failure I’ve experienced up until now in one of the goals I set for myself a very long time ago. I’m having to remind myself to not be afraid of failure – it may or may not come. Be afraid of not going all in. That’s a much more bitter pill to swallow, and it will hold us back from ever enjoying the heady rush of finally finding success.