One founder's recipe to success? Embrace mistakes, ask thoughtful questions, and be engaged.
By Laura Wallendal (Co-founder & COO, EdTrips)
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The three most important lessons I’ve learned since co-founding EdTrips in 2011 are:
Take Pride in Failure
The best way to be intimidated by smart or successful people is to hold yourself to a perfect standard. It’s common for young women to expect to be perfect in every way, but that’s a trap: no one is perfect and you’ll ignore bragging rights that many others assume and take advantage of. Here’s a hint: You can brag about a qualified failure as if it were a qualified success.
I was shy when I left my job in 2011 to co-found a small consultancy for emerging study abroad companies. I didn’t discuss the overall project or even daily tasks because I wasn’t sure it was perfect. Instead of discussing that I had a hard time making as many phone calls in a day as when I worked for someone else’s company, I’d discuss my efforts to be more efficient by making fewer phone calls but taking conversations farther. The problem was that, instead of pretending I’d figured things perfectly, admitting my shortcomings might have enabled me to learn more about efficient time management.
For anyone looking to start a company or join a startup, get comfortable and have fun talking about your failures and not just about your successes. It shows confidence and suggests that you’re solving difficult problems, and that leads people to help in ways they otherwise wouldn’t. Remember: You don’t have to be perfect and well-developed efforts that are mistakes are as brag-worthy as a lucky success.
Ask Better Questions
When we took our company through the accelerator program Betaspring, in Providence, Rhode Island, we engaged in CEO Speed Dating, a week-long process where network mentors appeared in 20 minute stints, listened to the company pitch, asked questions, and provided feedback. I swallowed some serious pride because I’d been wrong in thinking that had known everything about my business. However, my industry-knowledge was solid. From that point, it was important to, and I was confident that I would, ask the right questions.
Don’t look for specific answers to discrete problems that you currently face. Instead, ask about things that will reveal efficient ways to solve things. For example, present a current difficulty and ask if the listener has solved a similar or the same problem before. If so, ask how and what they did.
By doing this you’ll enjoy better conversations and, instead of plugging people for the solutions to your problems, you’ll learn their ways of thinking and some creative approaches to solving problems.
Be Engaged in What You’re Doing or Take a Break
Whether you’re a founder or employee at a small start-up you always represent the company. At meetings or events, remaining alert and engaged is paramount for success. Several times I’ve felt tired and overwhelmed, unable to concentrate on what someone was asking of me or what I was working on.
But I’ve learned it’s okay, even smart, to take a break, stretch your legs, walk away, and refocus. Apologize at a meeting when you find yourself looking out the window, excuse yourself and get a drink of water. When you return, make sure to provide your full attention. Everyone else will appreciate it and you and you’ll both have gotten more out of the experience!
Sign up for Founder Friday Boston tonight to hear more from Laura!
About the guest blogger: Laura Wallendal is the co-founder and COO of EdTrips. She has been in the educational travel space since the start of her career, and it was seeing the challenges of organizing trips around the globe that inspired her to start EdTrips. Prior to founding her company, she was a sales professional at a large international educational travel firm, where worked closely with both educators and travelers.