Startup Survival Podcast

Episode 3.9 - Know your Vulnerability

May 18, 2022 Peter Harrington Season 3 Episode 9
Startup Survival Podcast
Episode 3.9 - Know your Vulnerability
Show Notes Transcript

Start-ups need to be strong-minded. Start-ups need to lead with confidence. Without such strength, how can a business expect to survive especially when times are tough?

But strength is also a weakness. Too much strength can blind start-ups and derail thinking. Too much strength can alienate others or turn them into ‘yes’ people.

In life and business, mistakes are inevitable. And we have all done things that have led to shame. So how do entrepreneurs embrace weaknesses, getting things wrong and feelings of shame? This fascinating episode explores the world of start-up vulnerability and seeks behavioural answers that will help entrepreneurs to connect more deeply with others and lead with greater confidence and ability. Ultimately, by understanding and embracing vulnerability anyone involved with startup will achieve greater results.

Learn more about our special guest

This episode’s special guest is serial entrepreneur Kyle Hegarty. Kyle has many years’ experience running and growing start-ups in different parts of the world. His work has taught him much about entrepreneurship emotion, the value of vulnerability and also led Kyle to write the book ‘The Accidental Business Nomad’. This popular text shares honest stories about the personal challenges people face and common mistakes they make when seeking to build a business.

Subscribe to the podcast

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A bit of podcast author background...

UK-based Peter Harrington set up his first business following graduation in York in 1989. He has since started and grown several companies in various sectors including research, marketing, design, print, educational software and consultancy. Over the last 30+ years, Peter has employed over 1,000 people and experienced many highs and a few lows including burglaries, floods, fire and of course the most recent pandemic.

As well as being the CEO with the SimVenture team, Peter is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at London South Bank University.

Big thanks to LSE Generate, the SimVenture Team and Seajam Moths for supporting the Startup Survival Podcast.

Find Guest details and all Reference Sources

The full podcast series together with additional materials, guest details and hyperlinks to all episode reference sources is available on Peter Harrington's Blog 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to Entrepreneurship'

Startup Survival Podcast

Series 3 – Episode 9 - Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:11):

Great to have you here on the show. You're listening to me, Peter Harrington, and this is your Startup Survival Podcast. Now, if you are an entrepreneurship student, if you are thinking of creating a business or have recently started trading, please, please stay tuned. Genuinely. This show may be entitled vulnerability, but the laces that thread through and connect this subject with surviving startup are golden. I'm fairly confident. You won't find what this episode shares in any startup or business entrepreneurship textbook. This episode is all about how and why any startup seeking success must understand and embrace vulnerability and being vulnerable. And to help us track through this sensitive subject together, I'm going to be upfront and honest with you. As part of this show, I'll be sharing some of my past some of my shame and thus be open and vulnerable to your thoughts, opinions, and feedback. Just doing the background research for this episode has taught me so much and revealed the opportunities you will create for yourself.

Speaker 1 (01:23):

If you are prepared to be vulnerable. And as importantly, my research has highlighted how much more difficult and challenging life is for any startup that is not ready to be open about their weaknesses and thinking now to help me through the twists and turns of the next hour is my Singapore based special guest. Kyle Hegarty, Kyle will be sharing his high growth startup experience and opinions on the subject of vulnerability. Kyle's is a fascinating story of entrepreneurial endeavour involving success, denial failure, and ultimately invaluable reflection and perspective. And in a moment through the online wonders of technology, I'll be chatting with Kyle so he can share his wisdom with you.

Speaker 1 (02:15):

But before Kyle joins us, I must, must, must introduce you to someone else you may have heard about Brene Brown or read her brilliant book Daring Greatly. Well, throughout this episode, I'm going to be referring to this phenomenal text, which is all about the human feelings of shame unworthiness, and ultimately the power and value of vulnerability. Daring Greatly will also help me to define and connect terms and help us all to connect previous personal actions to current behaviour, behaviours that unchecked make it very difficult for us to progress our startup ambitions. To be clear about the subject of this episode, Brene Brown says that vulnerability is our willingness to openly admit failures and weaknesses. She says that being vulnerable helps us to build resilience, to feelings of shame and, and be happier with what we have. I'll be referring to Daring greatly as we work through this episode and to help shed practical light on Brene Brown's insightful thinking. I'll also be taking you back to 1983 and how and why as a 17-year-old, my three school A-levels was such a personal disaster, or rather I'll be sharing how I reacted whenever marks for my maths exams were publicly displayed. And more importantly, how I responded to the shame of other smiling as they told me my overall percentage mark, which was typically lower than my age back then. More about my educational calamities and catastrophes will follow a little later, but better things Beckon because it's time to bring my patient guest onto the show. Kyle Hegarty is a serial entrepreneur and published author having started and grown businesses in different parts of the world. He wrote the novel, the accidental business, nomad, a book about entrepreneurs, struggling to grow businesses in foreign markets and the lessons they learned. So here we go, Kyle, from the UK to the Splenders of Singapore, welcome to the Startup Survival Podcast.

Speaker 2 (04:31):

Peter, thank you so much for the invitation for this. I think the, the last few episodes that you've been doing on these topics are especially critical and important. And, and I don't think the startup world talks enough about where we're gonna go today and, and some of the other guests that you've had on. So I, I, I, I think you're doing some really, really important stuff and there's a, a, a gap in the market for it.

Speaker 1 (04:58):

Well, what to start, you'll get me emotional in a moment.

Speaker 1 (05:04):

Kyle, to kick us off, let's go back in time because I want listeners to appreciate what you've been through. You. You grew a high growth startup venture, but things didn't go as planned. And as a result, you ended up in a very vulnerable situation. Can you summarize that business? First of all,

Speaker 2 (05:25):

For the last 22 years, my focus has been as a sales and marketing guy, helping other companies figure out their sales and marketing strategies and execution, and especially as it regards or, or involves expanding into new markets. And so that took a bit of a turn well, while it actually accelerated I did that in the us and we were focused on us markets for, for a few years, I got a little bit of itchy feet and because I had been able to pay off my student loans and I didn't have a mortgage or children I decided to see if we could take the business and just do it again, but in Asia. And so, I moved from Boston to Singapore in 2005 and 2006, where I started up a little marketing agency that was essentially designed to help foreign companies expand into new markets, especially around Southeast Asia. And, I, I was of course secretly my own first customer as well, cuz I didn't know what the hell I was doing.

Speaker 1 (06:39):

Okay. So that business grew quickly. Can, can you share how things unfolded?

Speaker 2 (06:45):

So, the business didn't start out growing super quickly. It was actually a pretty reasonable growth. Originally we, we, we started out by just going to our us based customers and saying, by the way, we can do this in Asia and a number of them immediately came back and said, yeah, we'll, we'll do it. So, I had this nice book of business. It was actually a very smooth landing into a, a foreign market for, for me personally you know, landing on the other side of the planet with a book of business was a, was a nice way to start. Of course, I didn't know what I was doing, but it was at least good to have a, have some, have some POS I could send out and very quickly, well, what happened over the first few years is we had some, some nice, nice growth.

Speaker 2 (07:33):

But we were still a small little company. I think we were at 400,000 revenue. I mean, it, it was nothing wild and crazy. We had a handful of clients, handful of employees. And then we won the, the, the, the great white whale. We, for us we won a multimillion-dollar account with a very large tech company, and that was always our plan. But overnight we went from five people to needing to hire about 40. And that's where I got, I got what I asked for and, and a heck of a lot more because that's where the, the real forgive the language that's where the real storm started. The, the, the project that we won was wildly complicated from the get-go and without getting into super details, eye watering details about it. Essentially, we were supporting a partner channel so large tech companies might have resellers that just sell their stuff around the planet.

Speaker 2 (08:41):

There's thousands and thousands of those resellers back in the good old days, what they used to do was they would give each of these resellers money and the resellers were supposed to use that to do marketing efforts. Well, often the resellers would take the money, say, thank you very much, put it into their pockets. And, and that was a great relationship. The big companies decided, okay, we're not gonna do that anymore. We're going to give all of that money to an agency. And they're responsible for delivering all of these marketing campaigns. And that's where we came in.

Speaker 1 (09:18):

Ah-Huh so you win this multimillion-dollar contract, but how long did it take before you realized the, the wheels were, were coming off? So, to speak,

Speaker 2 (09:28):

What we found was that almost on a daily or certainly weekly basis, there was some scope creep and things were changing. The, the big company, we had done a similar deal in the us before. And so, the plan was to take the us playbook and to as much as possible copy and paste that into our Southeast Asia. And when I talk about Southeast Asia, I'm talking about Azion, we ended up with this project that covered seven countries. So, you've got language capabilities across all seven of those countries, different, different cultures a number of moving pieces. And, and I think the first big mistake that we made was that we relied on that playbook to solve our problems, because we figured if we had done it in the us, we could do it in Southeast Asia. The first big flag that had happened was in the us, the big company was willing to fund our growth. So, they said, we're gonna just pay up a fourth of this so that you can expand your, your, your team. They decided not to do that in Southeast Asia. And so, I had to dip into my life savings. Actually, it's more than dip took my entire life savings. And I put it into the, the company to pay for the growth that we had to do. So, this was an overnight going from four to five people to about 45 people.

Speaker 1 (11:00):

Ah, so you personally and professionally must have started to feel pretty exposed.

Speaker 2 (11:06):

I was entirely exposed. This was not only on my, on my head, but it was on my, on my wallet. So yes, I would. Yes.

Speaker 1 (11:18):

Now I know this story doesn't end that well, what subsequent challenges and problems did you then face?

Speaker 2 (11:26):

I'll give you an example. The big company had what they told us, whereas a number of global systems that could be procurement that could be invoices, contracts, et cetera. We found out that every single country wasn't using those systems. And so that all of a sudden went from one system to seven. All of the business partners were given funding that we were supposed to deliver a campaign for. They came back and said they wanted smaller campaigns. So instead of one campaign per partner, that turned into four. So here we were this small company that was petering along doing about, I I'd say five to seven projects at any given time. And when that escalated up to about 120 business partners, but then that multiplied by four because we had to do multiple projects for each one of them. And just to give one more depth of, of, of the, of the pain and the challenge here the procurement process to get one of those campaigns up and running was a 36 page PowerPoint presentation explaining the, the, what we had to go through to get one campaign live that wasn't to do anything that was simply just to get things started. We had to do that 500 times.

Speaker 1 (12:53):

Okay. So here you are overexposed financially and leading a project that is way, way more complex than you were originally led to believe. And I imagine the doubt seeds about actually being paid are germinating quickly were all of these things true.

Speaker 2 (13:10):

All of those are true. Plus, I had a new-born at home that was a terrible sleeper, which is a massive factor for anybody who for well, everybody would, would understand that right off the bat. So, there was a personal component to this adding to the pressure. Yes.

Speaker 1 (13:29):

So, in terms of managing yourself, did you reach out for help seek support and thus show your vulnerable side, or, or, or did you simply soldier on in hope?

Speaker 2 (13:40):

Because we were running this essentially from, from my life savings. I was looking to not cut corners, but I was looking to save on costs anywhere possible. So that meant I was going to be responsible for all of the paperwork, all of the contracts, all of the invoicing, all of the operations, all of the HR, all of the hiring, all of the project management across the seven countries. And so, I was juggling all of those things seven days a week reporting to clients across every single time zone in the world. So, this was, there was no, you know, there was no nine to five here. Physically I found that I, I, my jaw, this is the, this is specific, but my jaw ached. And I ended up having to get a mouth guard to sleep with, which was one of those signs, I didn't know at the time, but it was one of those signs of, of, of physical manifestation of stress and, and all this stuff. And to get into the topic of tonight, you know, I didn't, I didn't say anything. I didn't speak up, you know, I've got a, I've got a wife. I didn't, I didn't, I just, I just did it because I felt like this was my project. I owned it and I couldn't let it fail.

Speaker 1 (15:08):

So, you just hoped there would be light at the end of the tunnel.

Speaker 2 (15:13):

I kept, we, we, I kept reverting back to the playbook from the United States saying, you know, this worked over there, we can get through this. And for anybody in this startup mode, you know, when you go, when you, when you triple or quadruple in size very quickly, it is a different world. And, and we really wanted to be at that larger size. And so it was, it was this end, justifies the means mindset here. And, and, and that was the, that was the hope. But ultimately you just, just couldn't see the end, because even we got through somehow that first year, we didn't hit any of the targets that we were supposed to hit and what do they do while they just expand and grow the targets? So, year two, we came rushing into year two with even higher targets that we were nowhere near being able to achieve. And by the way, what we found out very soon into the project was that those business partners who were being handed cash beforehand, weren't so thrilled when some Western guy shows up out of nowhere and says, oh, by the way, I'm taking all that money. And now you have to do all this stuff that I tell you to do and all this reporting and all this other stuff. So, nobody actually wanted this project to happen, which was an added piece to making this even more difficult.

Speaker 1 (16:34):

You, you must have been feeling pressure from all sides, colleagues, clients, family, and friends, the banks. Is it fair to say that?

Speaker 2 (16:42):

More than fair? It was, it, it was, it, it was a time that that quite frankly turned out to be almost like I, I, I almost Browned out a big chunk of it. Only years later, did I really sit back? And when the dust settled, was I able to think back about the, the process and the actions that happened? I was at the time, the three time that I had, I would kick back and relax by training for and competing in Ironman races. Which, which I, I don't, you know, I, I didn't mention this often, but I would, I would just go out for these mega bike rides, and it got to a point where I remember because I, I couldn't really visualize the, the end that, that kind of end of the tunnel. And there were times when I would fantasize about it ending not my life, but like I fantasized about having the whole thing, just taken away. Bike riding is, is, can be dangerous. I, I would fantasize about like, just getting hit by something and waking up in the hospital so that I didn't have to deal with this anymore. And, and that's a very dangerous and, and, and very difficult place to be, to be in.

Speaker 1 (18:15):

Uhhuh, really troubling times, Kyle, and your answer highlights how the weight of startup responsibility can really impact thinking and behaviour. I I'm picking up here, the loneliness of leadership too, and, and, and sense your need for an external random force to come in and relieve you from your duties, moving this forward. Do you recall a date you managed to end the contract Merry around?

Speaker 2 (18:42):

I was so focused on getting through it that there was no way I was going to stop. The, the big company did a very face-saving maneuverer in somewhere in year two, where they just made one change and they did it in a way so that, like, you know, it kind of stuck with the contract that was signed. But they had, they made an adjustment that enabled business, the partners to do something else. And it was, it was, it, it didn't pop the balloon, but it rapidly deflated. So, we went from a hundred and, and 30 clients down to 30, almost as fast as we had grown from the get-go. So, it, it was something that happened outside of my control. I don't know if that was a good thing or bad thing. Well, well, it was a good thing because the whole system was, so it was such a dumb project.

Speaker 2 (19:38):

It was just so poorly conceived, certainly poorly executed. And it was a relief to have that happen, even though it was very expensive. Well, actually it wasn't super expensive because I had built this thing in such a thin supply chain. It was actually easy to deconstruct, but there was certainly collateral damage, you know, had to let go of a lot of people had to get rid of a lot of office space. There was a, a lot of a lot of mess. Yeah, we like, we created a lot of mess from this thing

Speaker 1 (20:13):

In her book, Daring Greatly. Brene Brown says that vulnerability can't be overcome only hidden. She goes on to say that we hide vulnerability through behavioural patterns, such as perfectionism, foreboding, joy, and the use of drugs and alcohol. Now thinking back to my A-levels and specifically the maths, I, I kept on telling myself, kidding myself, really, everything would be fine in the end. My brother had achieved an A grade in math two years previous. And so, I'd follow in his footsteps, but I also, I didn't want to open up and share my real struggle and my lack of understanding because I lacked courage. And to be honest trust in the teachers back then the humiliation of end of term exam results being shared publicly became so commonplace for me. I grew numb to the shame and also emotionally detached from the learning and how the subject was taught for reference to men, taught me maths and, and neither was an empathy scholar.

Speaker 1 (21:16):

I remember to this day, one of them once writing under the big fat zero, he gave me for my homework, a classic case of missing the point. I realize now he probably spent 40 years missing the point of his chosen profession. Okay, dig done. None of us are perfect, but to progress through startup life, we have to accept imperfection and share our problems, challenges, and weaknesses with people we trust. If, if we bottle everything up, our entrepreneurial ambitions, stall, stop or worse, we create much bigger problems for ourselves down the line. Now, on that note, let, let, let's get back to Kyle Kyle for anyone wanting to start and grow a business. Can you share how you felt at the height of the problematic contract and, you know, and, and, and also then when things collapsed.

Speaker 2 (22:11):

I feel like I was, I had a, a mask or sort of persona on where it was, this is under control. This is part of the plan. This is I I've got things under control. And when that finally imploded, it was such a, such a relief that everything just everything just got washed away. And, and that was the first time in, in really two years where I was able to start looking at things I think more, more rationally and go, you know, I didn't ask for help. I didn't open up to people. I, I didn't show the cracks in, in what was happening.

Speaker 1 (23:13):

And, and do you know why that was,

Speaker 2 (23:16):

I was a part of a, a startup in era and I was super young. I was 22. And the, the leadership of that was this cavalier group of Cowboys. There was this guy from from, from Ireland who was the CEO. And he, you could almost see it in his eyes when there was trouble or, or, or sort of an impossible situation. He was enjoying it. And, and I, and I learned from that possibly the wrong thing, which was, that's the way it, it should be. And we should go into these things, cavalier style, let's fake it till we make it. Let's just go a hundred percent, you know, 150% all the time, and nothing bothers us. And I, and I, and I, I think that that impacted how I approached things, what, what turned out to be a decade later and, and look a part of being a startup founder requires some of that mindset, right. Of the going for it. But at the same time that in, in its extreme form obviously is, is very dangerous. It's very ineffective over time.

Speaker 1 (24:41):

It's interesting Carl, because this mask, which we all can wear of everything is gonna be okay, kind of protects us and others as to how we are thinking and feeling. So, what was really going on in your head when you were wearing that invincibility mask?

Speaker 2 (24:58):

I, I, I, the, the truth is, I don't remember. I, I don't remember. It was a, it was a fog of war. The, I had, I remember it was the Blackberry years. I had a Blackberry and I never turned it the sound off so overnight, it would just beep every time a new email would come in I, I don't know why I was torturing my, it was almost like I was doing it to, you know, punish myself because it was like, this is my responsibility. This is my, I have to own this. And I think there was a competitive component to it. So, yeah, I, I, I think that, it's, it's a, it's a good question. It's one that I've actually never really asked. Myself, I've asked myself a lot of questions about the entire experience, cuz it was such a impactful part of my career. But I, yeah, I don't know how else to answer that question.

Speaker 1 (25:53):

And, and given the strength and power of the feelings running through your mind at the time, especially the bit about ending it on your bike, did you seek any professional therapy, or have you sought that since?

Speaker 2 (26:05):

I didn't, I didn't want to get, I didn't wanna get killed on my bike. I wanted to just get gently hospitalized so, and I, I can laugh at this now, but I mean, I know it's, it is a serious topic, but I also handle, you know, these difficult things by kind of galls humour. But the, it, it, Peter, to answer your question years later, I got into writing, and I started writing about the experiences of companies, of people that I knew, some of my experiences of expanding overseas, some of the mistakes that got made. And I was very much focused on the business side of things, the tactical side of things. And only when I, and I kept delaying telling this story and I finally sat down I went, I went to here in Singapore, there's what's called Hawker centres, which are these quasi-outdoor cheap food places where you get cheap beer. I drank two big tiger beers. And I think I wrote 4,000 words in one sitting, which for anybody who writes, that's a, that's a good day either. That's really good or something really bad has gone on. And, and it just came out. It just sort of flooded out and that happened. It probably took five years for me to do that. And it was that to me was where I actually first realized just how bad the situation had become, but it took me a half decade to get there.

Speaker 1 (27:47):

Kyle having had and reflected on all of this very difficult experience and throughout being exposed to a whole bunch of stakeholders. What for you is vulnerability in a startup context?

Speaker 2 (28:00):

I, I started thinking a lot more about, about the concept of vulnerability and sometimes when these tricky words or topics come up, I like to think about the Antonym and the Antonym of vulnerability is something along the lines of invincibility. And so that helps me put a definition, which to me is vulnerability. It is when you take off the armour that makes you invincible and in a startup world, we have to wear armour often. And I think when we think about vulnerability, it's the moments we show the cracks in that armour or where we just take that armour off entirely.

Speaker 1 (28:54):

Okay. And for startups who battle each day to survive and thrive, it, it just doesn't feel natural to remove the armour.

Speaker 2 (29:03):

It's scary to sometimes see what's underneath the armour. You can talk about, you can think about vulnerability at a personal level, but also at your company level. We fake it till we make it. I know it's a cliche, but it's, I think that it's true. Most of the times when I talk, when companies come to me and they tell me their growth numbers and all this stuff in my head, I'm cutting those numbers in half because I'm, I'm hearing, I'm hearing some invincibility BS, right. And there there's, you know, I'm not saying there's right or wrong, but that's just, that's how I'm, I'm hearing this stuff. And so, I think when you have a new formed company, it's very delicate. There's a lot of things that can go wrong. And so you wanna wrap this thing in an invincibility cloak as best as possible that armour. So, I don't think there's anything wrong about it, but my, what I work on with, with startups now with founders is let's take a look at that armour. It, it can, it can stave us, but it can also really damage us.

Speaker 1 (30:13):

Uhhuh. And do you find the people you work with are open to the idea of opening up or do they stay defensive, tell you everything is just fine and keep the armour tightly wrapped around them?

Speaker 2 (30:24):

Well, I, I, I think, you know, I know you mentioned Brene Brown earlier, and I, I think that she is, does the such good work on this. And, and the reason I like her so much is that she is a legitimate, she does the research. She is she's for real. And I think she's able to turn that into a very easy to digest story driven approach. So, I, I, I, I can't say enough about her work. I, and I like her style. I'm not a soft and squishy kind of person where the answer is, let's hug it out and all this stuff and nor is she. And that's why I really like her. She's she she's like a, she's like a, a cuddly Spartan tiger mom that, you know, that, that you you're gonna listen to her because she she's got, I don't know.

Speaker 2 (31:14):

She just finds a really good balance between she, she finds data and storytelling, and that's very persuasive the way she's able to combine that when she talks about vulnerability, she's not screwing around she's, she's, she's not gonna say, you know, you've gotta just open up and, and be vulnerable. Let's take the armour off and let's show everybody what we've got. That's totally inauthentic. Or, or that's not gonna help you. Because as we had said earlier, startups are in very delicate states. So, they have to have that aura of, of confidence and they need to protect themselves. But at the same time, that very armour is what, without taking that off at all. You're, you're not going to build relationships. You're not going to progress that far because people are gonna know there's, there's, there's nothing beyond the armour.

Speaker 1 (32:15):

Loving your continued use of the armour metaphor. Kyle, it communicates translates what actually happens in startup life. So, well now there's a particular moment in startup life that I want your thoughts on. And it links back to the fabulous Diana Kander, a great guest from episode three in series two, only the other week, I was at another university presentation, watching someone pitch their product idea and telling us the audience how brilliant it was yet he presented zero evidence of any market research or attempted sales. In other words, he had never opened up to potential customers and put himself in a vulnerable position. Have you had similar experiences and what's your advice to startups about opening up and being vulnerable? In this situation?

Speaker 2 (33:04):

I had a, I, I had an informal session with a founder startup guy this morning, and he has gone through three years of building out a software and he thinks it's going to launch in the next month or so. And my first question is, you know, who's, who's the beta test who are the first clients. And he said, no, no, we're not gonna show it to anybody until we launch it. And I said, you know, I, I didn't say exactly, but I, I basically was like, that's, that's a terrible idea because any new product, this is evolutionary stuff and evolution doesn't work on hiding away. And then, oh, here's this new animal. Here's this new perfect thing. Evolution is a series of small failures. And that's, I think ties directly back to vulnerability. You've gotta have the courage to be able to go out there. And I would much rather have him get beaten up a year ago at early stage of this thing. And to go back to the drawing board rather than quite frankly, what's gonna happen to him next month when he goes live. And I think that that's a very bad place to be in.

Speaker 1 (34:22):

Yeah, like that. Kyle, your evolutionary reference reminds me of Steven. Johnson's great book about innovation called where good ideas come from. The parallel Steven draws with the natural world. Very much echo what you've just said. Now I must pick up on some of the key words you've used. Also, Kyle specifically, courage and resilience when advising startups, especially in the early stages, how do we encourage them to be courageous, open, vulnerable, and help them to pick themselves up when they receive feedback They don't like?

Speaker 2 (34:56):

I'm gonna, I'm gonna partially Dodge this question with a story. But because I think it's a great question. I, this a couple weeks ago I was listening to a startups pitching investors. And this, the one guy that stood out was a, he was a young entrepreneur. He was an Irish guy, and he was doing this pitch and I was kind of half with him. And then all of a sudden, he just comes out and he goes, here are two. Here are the two reasons why you might not wanna invest in this. And I loved that right now. Now you've got everyone's attention because that is now, now we're interested. And he deconstructed two of his biggest fears. He, you know, this is the, this is, this is the challenge in the market. This is the risk. This is the other thing.

Speaker 2 (35:53):

And as he went by piece by piece, he said, we're thinking about this. And here's how we're trying. Here's how we're working on solving for it. And he came out of that session, looking more mature, looking more articulate, sounding more confident than anybody else had pitched. And he was the guy who was basically showing the cracks in his armour, but he was using that actually to propel and to sell and it was effective. And I think that's such a powerful way that, or is powerful lesson for startup founders to be, to be aware of.

Speaker 1 (36:27):

Okay. Great story, Kyle, the way your guy pitched that, it's just so empathetic. It's as if he read the audience's mind and opens up with complete vulnerability and invites people into his world so much more effective than the armour-plated BS narrative, which is basically buy into our shore fire success because we won't fail.

Speaker 2 (36:48):

I, I recently discovered or re I, maybe I'd forgotten about it, rediscovered a, a Hemingway quote, which I think ties directly into all of this and it's, we're all broken and that's how the light gets in. And I love that quote because I, and I think about the vulnerability and the concept of armour, and you go back to that startup, who's pitching his idea and he's letting the light in, on the cracks of his armour and that's, what's making him human that's, what's making him most interesting. That's what's making him the most valuable pitch of that evening.

Speaker 1 (37:24):

Yeah. Brilliant Carl. Now that that's great. Now I've, I've just got one final question on this specific topic for any potential startup who is yet to seek feedback from a potential customer about their business idea and therefore hasn't experienced rejection. How similar would you say it is to teenage life and asking someone out on a date?

Speaker 2 (37:45):

I, I like that analogy. I in some ways I've been conditioned to not have to worry about this, not, not from a teenage dating standpoint, that was, that was, I definitely have some horror stories there, but I, I, I got in the ground floor of this marketing agency, cold calling and, and in fact, my first cold calling job was cold calling into New York city weeks after the nine 11 attacks that, and, and that was my first sales job calling new Yorkers, right after this giant terrorist attack. If you know, new Yorkers on a good day, they are very difficult to cold call, and you're going to learn a lot of filthy language and get insulted in very creative ways after the attacks it was horrendous. So, I was learned a sales approach by being thrown into the deep end for sure.

Speaker 2 (38:42):

So, rejection was, was something that I got used to very quickly and it's really hard. And I don't mean to, I don't mean to joke about it entirely. Like it, it is degrading, it's exhausting. One framework that I found very helpful, it's called the IR theory. And what it's looks at is the individual versus your role. And I found this just a visually very helpful for me and I, I work with this with sales teams because sales people, especially at the early stage, you're getting rejected 98% of your, your life. So, you should actually be pretty good going out on, on out to the bars to, to pick up a pick up somebody because you're you, if, if you've got a 98% failure rate, it's, it's hard to get much worse than that. So, but the IR theory is, is one that says that we have our individual state of being it's who we are. It's the core of who we are. And then there's the role. The role in this case is you representing a product, you representing a service, you have to separate those two. You are not being rejected. Your product is being rejected, separate those two. So in fact, here's, here's my conclusion to your question. It's much easier to be a startup founder and get rejected for your product than being a teenager. If you've been, if you've gone through your teenage years, you're ready to be a startup founder.

Speaker 1 (40:22):

Kyle you've just mentioned 9 11. And that connects really well with my next question, which is this, do you think startups are able to, or should be talking more about their feelings and being vulnerable and accepting of rejection during a crisis compared to when life is more normal?

Speaker 2 (40:39):

Yes and no. The problem that I see is that the word vulnerability, the word empathy, the idea of storytelling to me are actually some of the most powerful tools that are out there or, or concepts. The, the problem with all three of those is that they are now business fashion. They are bundled up and taught in 60-minute webinars and seminars. Here's how to be more empathetic. And I'll do this in 60 minutes. Here is storytelling here is how to be vulnerable. And the problem with fashnal business ideas is that they don't age well, one and two, they come across as inauthentic. If you are not authentic about these three very important areas, you're going to screw up. So, I, I, I guess my advice here is not to avoid these things. Certainly, if anything, to spend more time thinking about them, dissecting them, how understanding, how you apply to them specifically and finding your own voice to it, but be very careful that you are not to turn this into a cut and paste. Okay, I'm going to tell you my vulnerable story now, and that will make, that will improve our relationship. That's not gonna come across as authentic. It's not gonna help

Speaker 1 (42:15):

Uhhuh. Well, that makes sense. It is surprisingly easy to see through people, especially in a business relationship when they are being inauthentic. But I'm also wondering whether a crisis gives people a reason to open up and share with others why they are doing something because there is an external driving force.

Speaker 2 (42:34):

To me. The, the way I visually think about this and the way I work with some of the, the companies that I advise, I, I do think about this concept of armour and armour is a necessary thing. You need it. This is battle. This is, this is, it's a fight, especially the early years, but the armour isn't gonna do everything. And so, you do have to figure out when to let the light in. And we work on, on telling those stories in ways that are real and the right place at the right time. There's no formula as far as I, I haven't cracked the code on this. I, I think that you can overshare and that you can be overly vulnerable, and you can do that at the wrong place at the wrong time. I know we've referenced Brene Brown. She also brings up the fact.

Speaker 2 (43:28):

And I think about this a lot as well, is that, I don't know if I wanna use the word double standard, but it's probably a different answer depending on your gender. And I don't think that's right or fair, but I think that that's something to, to, to, to put out into the conversation, which is POS you know, someone could be vulnerable in a certain way, depending on their gender and get away with something and it might not land the same way. And that's not, again, that's not fair, but so, so in other words, my answer or, or the approach is probably going to vary based on every individual based on every scenario. It's a, it's a, this is, this is the, this is the tricky part to find that balance between showing strength, showing determination and grit and showing courage to be able to navigate through the areas of uncertainty and, and an emotional challenge and, and, and building stronger relationships.

Speaker 1 (44:36):

So is it fair to say then that it's very important to be authentically vulnerable, but that's a skill and we get better at it with practice experience and the, and then the feedback we receive from others.

Speaker 2 (44:49):

Yeah. I think it's having the courage to, from a, from a startup standpoint, it's having the courage to get your product out there sooner rather than later in my post marketing agency world. That for me was the moment I pressed publish on the first article that I wrote. And that took a couple of extra cocktails at it. I remember exactly. I was at the, I was at the lounge in Bangalore airport, and I was very nervous about submitting my first article and publishing it to the world. No, not that anybody cared, but I remember pressing send and just going, oh my God, that was that, that's a moment. That's, that's a moment of vulnerability. That's a moment of facing it. And, and for me, that was a moment of courage. And, and I'm, I'm glad I did it. I certainly don't regret that. But it was a moment.

Speaker 1 (45:50):

Definitely a moment, Kyle, actually, your thinking reminds me of another publishing armour story. I recently read about when researching Eric Arthur Blair, apparently the reason Eric Arthur Blair used the pseudonym, George Orwell when writing his first novel down and out in Paris, was to save his family. And particularly his kids from embarrassment, even though George Orwell was a phenomenal writer, creators of anything new view, their work through a single lens. And we are typically our worst critic. Have you come across anything like this, Kyle.

Speaker 2 (46:27):

There's another researcher that is worth your audience taking a look at. And that's Dan Daniel pink and he's his most recent research is on the, the topic of regret. And I don't want to, I don't wanna be too high level, but essentially one of his findings is that the biggest regret is, is not what you've done. It's what you didn't do. And that's, that's, that's why I love being in the startup world. Because if, if, if I'm talking to somebody, they've already made that leap, they've already shown the courage to, to move in and, and, and, and take this thing on. And so now once you've taken that first leap, then it's just go time. But, but to the points that we've covered already today, I think you've got to be able to show that vulnerability to expose the baby, that you are growing, that you are, that you are developing early stress, test it. Don't hide this thing until you think it's perfect because I've never, ever, ever in my life seen a rollout with a first version of something go, well, never, I've never seen it happen. Yeah. So you wanna just have the courage to get it out there sooner rather than later, and, and think about separating yourself from that product because you can't let it take you down. I've been there before personally, and I that's, that's the best advice that I can give others.

Speaker 1 (48:07):

Kyle, it's been great to chat with you, but unfortunately the clock is ticking on our time together, but there is one final issue. I want your thoughts on, we've talked about being vulnerable with products, services, and customers, but I'd like your take on startups being vulnerable with their team and the people with whom they work. What advice would you offer to anyone seeking to create and grow a business.

Speaker 2 (48:33):

Just as you can do an analysis and almost a stress test of your own product or your, of your own service, you can run the same diagnostic on yourself, and I'm gonna sound a little bit mechanical on this, but maybe that's there's for a reason for that. The tools that I like would be I'm lazy. So, I don't wanna sit back and, and be totally self-reflective. There's other people that have thought about this stuff before there are these great behavioural models that are out there that I think are really worth going through, give yourself an assessment to understand your strengths and your weaknesses. I, I don't want to crap on some tests versus others. I'm kind of agnostic about it. I mean, I have my own preferences, but there are some new ones out there that only focus on strengths. And I feel that there's just, we're just dancing around the fact that we're trying not to talk about weaknesses, and we have to avoid that.

Speaker 2 (49:35):

So people don't have hurt feelings, but in the startup world, I'm sorry, you've gotta, you've gotta be a little bit tougher than that. And I think that you need to actually think about the gaps, the areas for improvement, to be able to define those things. One of the most powerful questions that I was once asked, and I try to ask frequently, especially with new relationships, is how do you like to communicate? And so with a new team, you get these, you get people together. If you can have an honest conversation, how do you like to communicate? And oftentimes what that leads to is actually a, an analysis of strengths and weaknesses. For example, you could say, look, I'm very direct. I like this. I don't like this. Well, let's talk about this. And, and so all of a sudden you can get to know people very quickly.

Speaker 1 (50:30):

Ah-Huh and, and link to that. Kyle, if a startup founder can communicate that they are only human and are open to making mistakes and being weak in certain areas, what impact does this have on colleagues?

Speaker 2 (50:43):

I used the phrase stress test earlier, and the, the first months, years of a startup are really the ultimate stress test. When people end up working together, they are working under stressful environments. What I've found, what other, what researchers have found is that under stress, we become more of our core behaviour types. And so you need to understand the behaviour styles of the people that you work with because, and, and it's good to get that conversation out before the stress goes up to 11 and that will actually help strengthen those relationships, but the level of vulnerability, the conversations that get had, you know, after hours, I think those are really important. And they're also, I think, very personal in terms of what levels those come across. So, I don't, I don't think there's a standard answer there, but there are times where you take the armour off with your colleagues and you have those conversations because if you don't, there's not gonna be a level of trust. That's gonna hold that team together.

Speaker 1 (52:03):

That's great. And I love the fact, you mentioned the word trust, because that is the theme of the next episode, more about trust in a minute, but I'm keen to know based on your deep experience of startup, whether you have any key lessons to share with listeners.

Speaker 2 (52:20):

For me, the biggest key lesson was to build a support team. And I'm not necessarily talking about those that you hire, or the people that you work directly with. I'm talking about a coach and a mentor and other people to be your outside, the cricket on your shoulder and maybe the, the opposite of that to whisper. Okay. It's time to maybe, maybe let's not wake up at four in the morning for a four-hour bike ride. Maybe let's go have some wine and, and wind down. Maybe let's hang out with the family. Right. And so I think that there's a number of supporting roles that if I were to do it again, I would go out and make that a priority, because I think that that massively would've helped the decision path that I took every step along the way.

Speaker 1 (53:17):

Kyle, thank you. Now you've mentioned a number of people as we've worked our way through this show, but do you have a recommended resource or final top tip you want to share with listeners?

Speaker 2 (53:30):

Look, look, we we've talked about the, the queen of this a couple of times already. It's the great Brene Brown. She is just a wonderful resource in terms of her research and how she translates that into everyday speak. So I, I, I, I guess we, this is, this is the Brene Brown show basically, but we but I, but I think there's reason for that, cuz she's her work is so impactful. I, I had mentioned also the, I think the power of, of self-reflection and the shortcut is to use the behavioural models, which I think could be really, really helpful. And, and look podcasts like these the work that you are doing, the people that you were bringing in I think it was John Peebles, you, you had him on a few months ago. I thought that was a fantastic conversation about, about mental health awareness, because that was such an important topic that does not get discussed in startup world. And I listened to him and I just, I don't know him. We've never spoken, but man, he was talking about me right down to my triathlon training and how, how potentially dangerous, you know I was the, the direction I was heading in. So I, yeah, that, that's my, that's my kiss butt answer, but, but listen to more Peter Harrington.

Speaker 1 (54:58):

No, well, no one has ever said that before and they are certainly not words I expect. My wife Wendy wants to hear, but thank you, Kyle, that is most kind and sadly that's us up to time. What a way to end Kyle Haggerty. Thank you so much for being a great guest here on the Startup Survival Podcast.

Speaker 2 (55:22):

Keep, keep doing what you're doing and thank you so much again for inviting me.

Speaker 1 (55:31):

What a generous and courageous guest. It's really difficult to open up about mistakes we make and things we get wrong, especially in our own business. And that's why I am so grateful to Kyle for coming onto the show and being so candid about his past and how the learning has helped him to help others and getting back to Daring Greatly with Brene Brown. For one final time in her book, she writes about the fact that changing general patterns in society always requires engaged individuals to take the first steps, to introduce a culture of vulnerability. I think Kyle's doing a great job and I recommend you read his book, the accidental business nomad and follow his lead.

Speaker 1 (56:22):

Now, before we close, I should add that when all seemed lost with my maths, my parents kindly intervened and paid for private lessons. Once away from the pressures, expectations and behavioural habits of school, I started to get to grips with the subject and in the end managed to pass the final exams. But you should know, I never found any chemistry with my chemistry, but just about managed to find a way with geography, a gap here followed. And when university life was finally assured, I went on to discover the joys of learning. Anyhow, that's all history. Let's get back to the future because episode 10 in this series all about trust will be published on Thursday. The 2nd of June, I'm going to be talking with the highly experienced and fascinating casual singer Archer and getting her thoughts on the most important issue in business of all will be talking about trust and looking at this issue through the lens of female founders.

Speaker 1 (57:27):

I really hope you enjoy my chat with Kajal. in the meantime Duncan, Silla thank you again for all your production and editorial support and not forgetting our special guest Kyle ETT. Thank you so much for being so open, honest and engaging on the oh, so important subject of vulnerability. But before we finish, don't forget your feedback. It's not just welcomed, it's needed share what you really like about the podcast and let me know what needs to be improved and whatever your listening channel of preference. Please remember to rate, review and subscribe, which many of you have done huge. Thanks to everyone. And a special mention to awesome possum, three for leaving, such a kind review on the apple podcast website. Well, sadly, we've opened up the subject of vulnerability, but now it's time to close my name's Peter Harrington. And this has been your SIM venture sponsored Startup Survival Podcast go well, stay safe. And thank you.