"A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study."
- Chinese Proverb
I am asked by other entrepreneurs a lot what my secret to success has been throughout my career. Though I have many, the one that I most often share is to seek wisdom and knowledge from those who have come before you. In other words...learn from masters.
It was 1993, I had just started my company in Austin and didn't know a soul. Aside from my silent partner who was not readily available to guide and council me on the ways of building my business, I was alone. A young, inexperience entrepreneur, secretly scared to death of the enormous task that lay before me.
I figured as a new business owner in town, I had an advantage. I was the new guy and people always like the new guy. I needed to find out who the local entrepreneurs were and learn as much as I could from them. So I started researching. First the local business section of the newspaper and then eventually the local business journal. I contacted the local chambers and asked for insight as to which individuals in town were doing something significant - information I found they were happy to share. I identified the movers and shakers in the business community and then I started asking questions.
Who did I want to know?
How can I get in touch with them?
What would it take for them to meet with me?
What did I hope to learn from them?
Why have they been successful?
What have they done that I can emulate?
I made my list of questions and like a hungry reporter on the trail of a hot story, I started making calls, writing letters and showing up at events where these targeted individuals might be. And every time I had a chance I shared my situation with these individuals which was, I was new to town, in need of building connections to the local business community and that they seemed like someone I should know. I expressed my desire to learn from them and their success and virtually everyone I made an attempt to connect with responded in kind. It was amazing.
(I interrupt this message to share another important message. News flash! Most people are like this! Seriously! Most people love to help if asked. The problem is people are too shy or scared to ask them. The worst thing someone can tell you is "no" and I can tell you from firsthand experience that rarely happen. And if it does, forget about it and ask someone else who isn't a self-absorbed tool. Okay...back to our regularly scheduled programming)
That first year in business was very much like drinking from a fire hose. I made invaluable connections to so many already proven entrepreneurs that my runway to success was shortened significantly. I learned so many lessons about building a business, the pitfalls to avoid, the mistakes that others had experienced and the joy of creating something out of nothing.
These masters of business took me under their wing and helped buoy me when I was down (because when you are a entrepreneur you are down a lot), celebrated my successes with me when they happened and opened their hearts and their brains to my endeavor. I learned more in a single year than I think I could have learned in 10 years of business college.
Today, I try and give back and do the same for those who approach me. I was in their shoes once. Wide-eyed and full of enthusiasm on the outside, scared shitless on the inside. Though I would not consider myself yet a master, I am pretty darn helpful to those who need it. And it's through that help that I honor those who helped me, those who responded in kind when asked for a little bit of their time and chunk of their knowledge.
Whether you are trying to build your own entrepreneurial empire or just become a better steward of the job you hold today, masters are all around you. Take the time to learn from them and benefit from their experience. Not only will it save you time but it will bring amazing people into your life that will play roles in it that will often be so vastly different than what you expect. Take it from the Ripple Man, been there, done that, and have a whole host of people I am still learning from to this day.
Find your master grasshopper and as always...