A while back I flew to San Francisco to attend a pitch competition hosted by Plug and Play Tech Center, one of the largest startup incubators in the country. But when I arrived, I realized I hadn’t brought suitable clothes for a business presentation (pants in particular).
So I improvised. I ran to the nearest Nordstrom with five minutes to find something. I ended up with jeans so baggy they looked like hand-me-downs. I was still wearing the same wrinkled shirt from the plane, and it was absolutely not presentation attire. I looked like a mess. But at the competition I gave my pitch regardless — a presentation I’d reviewed briefly that morning — then retired to a private area to handle company affairs.
To my relative surprise, we were named one of the winners of the pitch competition. As I came off the stage, everyone from Forbes to the Silicon Valley Business Journal awaited, ready to interview me. Strategic investors from General Motors to State Farm to Yahoo all approached, pitching ideas and asking about investing. And I was still wearing those ridiculous baggy pants.
No One Cares How You Look
I wasn’t particularly proud of my showing that day. I felt rushed, I didn’t look my best and I could have prepared better for my pitch. But in the end it didn’t matter. I wasn’t the focus, the accomplishments of our company were.
Experts across the industry saw the problem our company is tackling and believed in our solution and our results. It was a testament to what our team at The Mobile Majority had built over the past twelve months. We didn’t win the event last year, while today our work speaks for itself.
Along the way, it’s fun to remember that this is what success looks like. It’s not just the final product. It’s the interim work; the relentless hustle; the impromptu meeting requests; the random introductions to people that you don’t think will turn into anything fruitful. All the craziness that happens along the way that adds up, even if you aren’t looking your best.
No one cares what you look like, what that journey looks like or how ideal a narrative it all creates. Identify what you have to do in order to accomplish the goals you’ve set. Outline your steps, create a plan, and if it doesn’t work, trash it. You can blaze a new trail if you’re not afraid to move forward when it gets messy.
Entrepreneurs walk a very thin line between success and failure. As such, ideas and efforts don’t always work or don’t produce the solutions you expected them to. Don’t fight it and don’t try to make what you’re doing look pretty. Instead, focus on what is working and build on that. When you tackle big enough problems with a clear differentiated strategy and you execute day in and day out, there is enough serendipity to make big things happen — even if you aren’t completely put together (as I wasn’t the day of my pitch presentation). At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is about focusing on the objectives, not the obstacles.
A version of this post originally appeared on The Mobile Majority blog here.
Rob Emrich is a serial entrepreneur, currently involved in his latest venture as the Founder & CEO of The Mobile Majority. He has founded and served as chief executive of six startups and social ventures, including Road of Life (distributed $70M+ curriculum), BULX (acquired by DealYard.com 2011), Boundaryless Brands (acquired 2011) and SpeakerSite. For more information on Rob visit http://robemrich.com/about/.
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