Education doesn’t end after college graduation. There are scores of practical skills and lessons that I have absorbed years after leaving the classroom.
I learned a great deal about accounting and finance and honed my general business acumen at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley as well as the Yale School of Management. But I picked up even greater lessons once I entered the work world, having done a stint early on as a product manager and now serving as CEO of an enterprise software company. The following are the three cardinal rules of business that I picked up outside the classroom:
1. Effective communication matters way more than you might think. At business school, I was all about numbers, finance and quantitative classes. I was under the impression that these “hard skills” would render more valuable than proficiency in marketing and communications.
I was wrong. Being able to communicate effectively and tell a succinct story is vital in being successful at any position in a company.
As CEO of a venture-backed company, I have had to launch multiple rounds of financing for my company, Retention Science. The fundraising process is all about creating a cohesive story that investors can comprehend. I had to make them believe in my company. I had to help them see my vision, understand how my company can make a difference and believe that I have the ability to turn a PowerPoint presentation into a reality.
Over the years, I have learned that communication runs through every part of my job as a CEO. I realized that one simple message might be understood differently by various people, Therefore, I need to adjust my delivery, tone and messaging for each audience to maximize myeffectiveness. In retrospect, I wish I would have signed up for marketing classes to build this skill set before entering the business world.
2. It’s not what you know. It's whom you know. Knowing the right people can help lessen the amount of work to accomplish significant tasks and shorten the cycle for a company's launch.
You'll find it extremely helpful in building a strategic partnership with another company if you know that firm’s head of partnership or another pertinent executive from school. If not, expect difficulties when setting up a meeting, initiating a conversation and negotiating a deal quickly. Cultivating the right relationships has helped accelerate my company’s growth and expanded my lists of contacts.
That’s why I never say no to a meeting. Whether it’s a potential employee who may not be completely qualified, a prospective client whose company isn’t big enough or a trade show producer offering a sponsorship that exceeds our budget, I always agree to meet. Every introduction is an opportunity to engage with someone new and 9 times out of 10, I walk away having learned something new.
3. Close deals. Chances are even if you’re not in a sales position, you’re always selling. Almost any job entails gathering support for your ideas and searching for potential shareholders.
During my time as an advisor at Clear Channel Radio, I reported directly to the chief financial officer and realized that my job constantly involved pitching ideas to executives and persuading them to sponsor our work.
When it comes to selling, your results may have little correlations -- if any -- with the idea or actual product. It’s about how persistent and focused you are when speaking with executives. Even if you’re not selling a product or service, you’re promoting yourself to your boss and colleagues.
As the CEO, I pay attention when members of my team step up and take initiative. Whether they are creating tasks for the interns, completing projects before deadlines or proactively taking on things beyond their job responsibilities, no small task goes unnoticed.
It took me just a few short months in the business world to realize there was so much more to learn outside of the classroom. I seized every opportunity to practice and strengthen my skills, whether I tried to clearly convey a message through email, meet with anyone who was interested in my company or acti as a role model for my colleagues.
Yet, I haven’t learned all there is to know. Every conversation with my team, sales pitch with customers and board meeting teaches me something new and unexpected about the way business is conducted and how I can take my skills to new heights. Even though I’ve transitioned from lecture halls to offices, I’m still a student. The business world is just the next chapter in my education.
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