Would you work for free for 2 years?

At times it may not seem like it, but I do plan the topics of my articles. The topic for this week’s newsletter was inspired by the Podcast “How I built this with Guy Raz.” Raz interviewed Howard Schultz of Starbucks about the early days of the company. There’s much about the interview that is both interesting and entertaining, but one fact was an idea I’d jumped on as an article topic. Schultz pitched the concept of Starbucks to 242 people for the first $1M investment. It took 242 times for Schultz to raise the initial funds that became the juggernaut that is Starbucks today. And yes, I’m a customer.

That, my friends, is persistence in asking.

My original topic for this article revolved around persistence in asking for the business. I have examples of my own experience in cold calling businesses in NorthWest Austin back in the 90’s. I asked over and over again for business owners to believe in me and in this “world wide web” thing I was selling. I have a slew of concepts that I’d mastered along the way to share. One being understanding your personal close rate. I knew, like every good salesperson should, what my close rate was. I understood that if I made sure I got to 10 decision makers by close of business on Thursday, my pipeline of business would stay full which meant I could take the day off on Fridays creating my very own 3-day weekend whenever I wanted one.

I was going to take this and present the idea of making sure you’ve done the math on what is the appropriate frequency of telling YOUR story, making sure you’re genuinely connecting with someone more than once. Understanding that a “no” today might not be a “no” tomorrow, and to keep asking. Keep asking to understand what problem you’re uniquely solving and showing that you’re the best solution.

While researching pitch stories, I remembered another, more personal, story. A legendary story from my days at Pandora.

I knew that the founder of Pandora, Tim Westergren, pitched Pandora – now a $1B company – more than 300 times to investors (honestly, I thought it was higher!) before getting the needed funding. This story is another, more personal story of asking and the power of not turning back at the first no.

In my search to confirm the number of pitches, I ran across this video of Tim at a conference talking about this period of Pandora’s journey. Tim talked about the two years in which employees of Pandora worked for free. The audience member asked Tim to give the “pitch” he gave to employees to get them to stay. It’s a good pitch. It’s a pitch that rang true for me when I worked there and runs true for the company today.

What got my attention, however, was what Tim said at the very end of the clip:

“Part of it is pitching, part of it is leaning into each employee one by one. Taking them to lunch, to dinner. Understanding their problems, empathizing with it, really – you know – being close to them. Getting to know them, getting them to trust you. That’s where it really all starts.”

To be honest, if Tim called tomorrow and said, “Joanna, I’m starting something, and I want you to join me.” I’d have a hard time saying no. That being said, I love the journey I’m on. However much I know what I’m doing is what I’m supposed to be doing, there’s something unbelievably powerful in someone making you feel like you matter. Tim made each and everyone one of us feel like we mattered in our own special way.

Have you figured out what this post is about yet?

It’s about being able to articulate why someone is awesome. This time the person isn’t you, it’s the person working for you.

Imagine for a second you, like Tim, took the time to understand why someone matters, her unique contribution. I’ve written about this before: Sing the Song of the Unsung Hero.

Do I think you can get them to work for you for free for two years? Probably not. But if you think about it, the number one reason you quit a job is that you didn’t think your work mattered. People want to matter. Tim understood this, and it made a difference.

So you’ll have to wait on my write-up about asking. That first couple of minutes of the video reminded me of something far more important.

And Tim, if this article finds its way to you, thank you. The last thing you said to me before I left Pandora was “Joanna; you’ve been building companies for other people. You have the skills; you know how to do it. Maybe you should think about building your own.” I’ll never forget it. You believed in me and made me feel like I mattered. I get it.

Telling others that you believe in them and that they matter – what I get to do every day – is the most wonderful job in the world.

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