We have been using Shopify as our e-comm platform since day 1. At the end of last year, we were lucky enough to be selected as their spokespeople in a promo video for their big website relaunch. Pretty huge for little guys like us.
Watch the clip and skip all the wordy/paragraphy parts.
The board game Snakes and Ladders is a great metaphor for the life of an entrepreneur. A simple roll of the dice and your path can dramatically change in an instant. The following is a little tale that involves a (fortuitous) ladder.
May 11th was a Wednesday, ordinary in almost every way. I had just finished a late shift working on our 8 month old startup the evening before and back at my day job with a little 4 hour nap in between. Throughout the day, I had noticed some mention of a little Shopify (our platform) contest on Twitter. Didn’t register at all.
Day swapped places with night and I found myself back in front of my laptop punching in for another shift at the mom & pop shop that is our company. In between emails to suppliers, corp blog posts and refining our product packaging, I glanced over to my Twitter stream to notice a reminder tweet from @accordianguy (né Joey Devilla) that the Shopify contest was closing at midnight.
The time was 11:15 pm.
This time I clicked. Win a 45 min Skype session with Gary Vaynerchuk, add your best lesson learnt as an entrepreneur in the comments and best one wins. Gary is a busy man. He does this, this and all of these. Did is kind of a big deal.
‘Sure, why not’ is sometimes one of the most compelling reasons for action. So I added the following comment:
<< Discipline, it applies to every facet of entrepreneurship (and life really). Selecting a set of values and staying true to it. Crafting, nurturing and sharing your brand narrative. Knowing your comfort zone and making a call to jump out of it. Making promises to customers/employees/supply partners and following through. Perfecting a product/service and knowing when to release and iterate. Assembling the right people who share a culture of discipline.
Being completely exhausted and replying to the last few customer emails. Being utterly consumed and realizing that it’s time for family and friends. Having discipline is the common thread. Hard to do but always rewarding. >>
I clicked ‘submit’. The page refreshed, but my comment didn’t display. Hmmm. Moderation maybe? Server congestion? Just to be safe, let’s try this again. So I repeated my actions and clicked ‘submit’ again. This time the comment displayed. The time was 11:43 pm.
By the next morning, I had forgotten about the contest until a fateful email from Team Shopify dropped in my inbox a couple of mornings later. ‘Good news, we selected your comment as the best in the Win a Power Session with Gary Vaynerchuk Contest!
Shut. The. Front. Door.
I didn’t even have the chance to tell my wife and business partner that I had entered the contest. Suffice it to say that we were pretty ecstatic about the turn of events. This opportunity cannot be measured in any typical fashion. Huge.
The Skype chat was to take place the following week. How can we possibly organize our thoughts into a coherent structure so we can maximize this 45 min session without just peppering him with questions? Opportunities like this just aren't common—Gary was a person in high demand, his typical audience fills auditoriums. We decided that the best route was a casual conversation; just enjoy the experience for what it was. When the meeting time was finalized, my wife couldn’t make it since we still worked full time. 1 on 1, just me and Gary V. Breathe, be cool, and don’t talk too much, repeat.
Then came the familiar Skype ring.
Our conversation lasted longer than the scheduled 45 min. It was a very relaxed and enjoyable conversation. It was authentic. And it was game changing experience for me and our company. Five minutes into the chat, you quickly see firsthand Gary’s passion for business, and more importantly his passion to help build other businesses. Instead of a Q & A, it became a brainstorm session. He listened, and then he sprang into action. First, he cracked the window open for us, then he left us a key under the doormat and finally he left the key in the ignition with the motor running.
He introduced us to some really key contacts, along with sharing some very direct and applicable advice, all of which are invaluable; but after the chat he emailed me with a simple tip that really resonated with me.
‘Try to offer your services to these new contacts also, don’t make it just about you.’
This struck a cord with me. When you’re a startup, you are so hungry for a break of any manner (a review, an article, a purchase order, etc.), you forget that it’s still about relationships. What can you do for them also? Building a business and building a relationship are similes.
Having someone like Gary like our product and company philosophy is mind-blowing. He is exposed to dozens of ideas, startups and brands every day. It has definitely given us fuel to keep plugging away. Long nights and long roads are still ahead, but this experience has giving us a big lift. In keeping with the Snakes & Ladders analogy, on that eventful day Gary Vaynerchuk was our escalator.