I few weeks into the ARK Challenge Accelerator in late 2013, Joshua, our teen entrepreneur, creator and cofounder of Overwatch, went to his first real business meeting with a branding company. The branding company guys were familiar with the product space and were enthusiastic. Joshua was psyched about the meeting because it was the first step to legitimizing the product and he knew that branding would be a key to success.
When I spoke to Joshua after the meeting, he was still pumped up. He described the meeting as a success. The branding guys were very engaged and already throwing out ideas. Joshua could not have been more satisfied with the meeting. He repeatedly said, “Dad, they were so excited to work with us”.
As I waded through the enthusiasm I began to ask questions about the meeting. “So who will be in charge of your project”, I asked. “I’m not sure”, replied Joshua, “We spoke with Mike (not his real name)”. “Ok, what are they going to produce for you”, I inquired. “Well, we talked about a logo, branding materials, business cards, website . . . you know, all the stuff we need for branding”. I could see where this was going, so I continued. “When will they deliver all the branding stuff”, I asked. “They said it would be a few weeks and they’d let us know”, said Joshua. “They were really excited, Dad”, he added. “And what was the cost estimate”, I inquired further. I was pretty sure I knew the answer to this one at this point. “They said they would let us know, but it wouldn’t be much. They were really excited to work on this project”, he said.
When this interchange concluded, I was not happy. How could anyone go to a meeting with a vendor and come away having no idea what who was in charge, what they were going to deliver, when they were going to deliver it, and how much it would cost? Baffling. How could Joshua not know to ask these questions?
Easy . . . he was seventeen and no one had taught him about project management, running a meeting, or the key elements of business communication. Sure, he communicated well for his age and he could pitch with the best of them, but these other skills were not intuitive. Thinking about it later, I probably didn’t acquire that knowledge and experience until I was in my late twenties. Some say I’ve still got a ways to go.
This one was on me. I just didn’t realize that, as bright was Joshua is, there is so much in the business world that he has not been exposed to and can’t learn from YouTube or Linda.com. These things are learned through instruction and practice.
I’m sure that my frustration was apparent as I told him to never leave another meeting without know Who, What, When, and How Much. I felt like I had let him down by not giving him some guidance ahead of time. However, it did serve as a wakeup call for me as a business advisor to him and others, to never take these so called “soft skills” for granted with young entrepreneurs.
THE TAKEAWAY – Young Entrepreneurs: Learn and practice the skills of communication, project management, and decision making just as you do your product development skills. Technical skills build products, soft skills build companies.