Five simple rules that help you to beat the other 98%

I asked a self-made businessman worth hundreds of millions of dollars who was kind enough to mentor me: “If I am brighter than you, work harder than you, am more ambitious than you and yet you are way, way more financially successful than I am, what is it that you do that I don’t?”

On the strength of our new-found success with our crowdfunded energy business, with a number of unsolicited bids offering us over 100 times the capital we raised, I was invited by Startup Grind to be interviewed in one of their famous Fireside Chats about how we did it. Startup Grind is prestigious, the previous one I had attended in London – the Fireside Chat speakers had included Niklas Zennstrom, Co-founder of Skype, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google and Julia Hartz, the ultra-cool co-founder of that billion-dollar unicorn, Eventbrite.

I thought this gathering would be an interesting setting to do a statistical test about the 5 rules mentioned in the headline. But first I need to explain how I came up with these rules. I worked out them out after studying the behavior of an intensely private, self-made businessman – who over 20 years has accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars since training to become a teacher. What is remarkable about his success is that he has never started a business, never been the CEO of a big company, is not a stock market trader and has not invented anything. He has been kind enough to mentor me and I have been lucky enough to have many hours interacting with him over the years, where I have been able to observe his behavior. I asked him the question quite bluntly “I am brighter than you, work harder than you, am more ambitious than you and yet you are way, way more financially successful than I am. What is it that you do that I don’t?” He did not have the answer, and it was not immediately obvious what he did differently, but patterns gradually emerged. I did notice that he always did certain small things and that everything he touched seemed to turn to gold.

So what are these rules:

  1. If you say that you are coming to an event or commit to do anything for that matter …… make sure you actually attend it and do what you say you will do. The businessman would come down hard on anyone who did not keep this promise and always kept it himself. Startup Grind estimates that 10% – 30% of people pay to attend their events and then don’t pitch up. You look like an awkward loser if you don’t come and when you do, you will have built up that first small building block of a reputation for reliability. You will also feel more inner confidence as you have kept a promise to yourself by making a commitment and keeping it.
  2. Bring your business cards – and don’t kid yourself that you can swap contacts electronically – over 50% of entrepreneurs do not bring cards to networking events. So by arriving and bringing your business cards you have already beaten two-thirds of the competition.
  3. Get the contact details of everyone you speak to who is of even passing interest and specifically say that you will contact them in the future. If you give them your card without getting their contact details there is a 1 in 50 chance that they will get back to you. This creates a personal obligation on you….
  4. Email back and connect with them on Twitter and LinkedIn … do it as quickly as you can. Don’t text on your mobile or WhatsApp as email is more formal and old-fashioned. This subconsciously gives your response more gravitas. You will stand out – as one of the 2% of entrepreneurs that do. You will be better than the other 98% as you will have started to build a reputation of promising to do something and to have done it as promised with this small act. I noticed that the businessman always got back to anyone he met quickly, and would even stop for five minutes and respond to texts and emails quickly on his phone at midnight on a Friday night while walking home from the pub, where he did not have access to communications. The speed of turnaround is key and I noticed that he was always fast with a response, which in turn was always concise.
  5. Never ask for a favor and try to do the other person a small favor without expecting anything in return. If you make this a habit, you will build up a powerful network and a lot of goodwill. The first time I emailed the businessman, we shared a cab home and he sent me a link to an article that fundamentally changed my understanding of the subject we had been discussing in the cab and which I really care about. It cost him nothing and took a couple of minutes to send an email.

To conduct this statistical test, we somehow needed to coax at least 30 people to become part of the experiment without them knowing it. So, we needed to work with an interesting group of entrepreneurs in the audience. On the advice of Guillaume and Louise de Smedt of Startup Grind, we contacted Natalie Stewart and Danielle de Villiers of AfrodizzyActs, an events agency. Guillaume swears by them. After my customer experience, so do I. We gave AfrodizzyActs the brief of finding us 10 photogenic, young entrepreneurs who would benefit from the exposure this event would give them.

Danielle did us proud, finding a culturally diverse assortment of presentable young people who either had or were interested in starting their own businesses: They included Armand Boshoff, an advisor to high net wealth investors with a cum laude finance degree, Kayla Smith, a 24-year-old model, who was one of the youngest associate directors in a global multi-level marketing company, Msizi Zondi, a professional rugby player, who wanted to start his own academy, a young clothing shop owner and Anastacia Julie, a beautiful dancer who had started her own dance company. Their brief was simple – to give away as many business cards as they could – but only if they received the contact details back. We then offered a 20,000 share reward to the person in the audience who collected the most cards to encourage everyone to swap cards.

Only 4 people out of the 196 of the people who originally signed up for the event, emailed these cool, young entrepreneurs back – a 2% response rate.

196 Capetonians registered for the event and had a 14% no-show, which was on the low side. G thought that there were some walk-ins on the night, so the 10% – 30% no-show rate looked consistent. Nonetheless, this left 170 people in the room. Of the 170 people – 65 were prepared to hand out business cards. This was a great result – as it was more than double the minimum sample I needed to prove the point, so well done AfrodizzyActs and the ten Entrepreneurs.

The response will shock you – these young entrepreneurs were seriously cool interesting people – and yet only 4 people of the 65 card givers in the audience responded to them by email, text or phone. It would be unthinkable for my mentor not to email back in these circumstances and I realized that this was the biggest difference between him and the rest of us. For his whole life, he had inspired trust in dozens of small acts day-in and day out and the effect of the increase in trust is exponential – he estimates that his wealth has a compound growth of 65% a year for the last two decades.

This shows how the simple acts of swapping business cards and politely writing back, enable you to beat 98% of your competition.

Who were the four people who beat the other 98%

Thandile Xiphu – A UCT computer science graduate who is a software developer at Argon Asset Management

Daniel Wijsbroek of Cape Scenic Tours

Nizaam Winkworth who runs the Cape Town Lift Club

Grey Jabesi of the Grey Avenue Podcast – below is the link is his link to his Podcast with me about crowdfunding.

I would like to thank the four of you and commend you for this small act of courtesy. You will go far.

When my wife read the article, her response was … so I get a whole of business cards, why should I care. To find out why she and you should care and what happened to the nine people who emailed me back, the next installment of this article is on its way.

By Stephen Larkin. Original article on LinkedIn.

Categories: Opinion

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