She called as we finished dinner, and Caller ID told me she was calling from Northwestern University. I think her name was Natalie, but to be honest, I wasn't paying close attention, because I knew that she was calling to ask for money. She thanked me for not hanging up on her or being rude. She asked me my thoughts and feelings about Northwestern, and I was eager to tell her it was such an important part of my life. And then, before she asked for money for the University, Natalie asked me if I had any advice for her, a college senior getting ready for the "real world."
"Figure out if you're more corporate or more entrepreneurial," I said. "If you're corporate, find a corporate area of practice and a company that speaks to you, and work hard to work your way up the ladder. If you're an entrepreneur, find other entrepreneurs, listen to their stories, read the best books for entrepreneurs, but recognize that you will have to forge your own path. And keep in touch with people. You have my cell phone number--feel free to call me if you want to talk to someone who's been in the real world for awhile." Retrospectively, I wonder if I chose the right topic for advice. As far as guidance goes, I think it was pretty good, but it was the last part of my advice that points to what I should have told her.
All the great advice in the world means nothing if you don't do one thing: follow through. Two simple words, but the most important key to success in business AND life. For a real-life example, I can point to one of the reasons I feel so good about my alma mater: I met my wife at school. I met her on the first day of her freshman year. I bumped into her at a party a month later, and at that party, I told her I was going to call her. But I probably would not be married to her today if I didn't follow through and actually call her.
When I have had to come to someone with an "ask"--for money, resources, guidance--it has never been enough to ask once. The reality is, nobody is thinking about you as much as you are. So, you may think you're getting what you want when you get a yes right off the bat, but that yes is an illusion. The real yes--the secure "Yes!" you scream to yourself--comes from the follow-up and follow-through. You need angel investment for your startup? Ask and ask again! You want a mentor to offer guidance? There is no quick fix, no aphorism, no magic bullet that comes in one sitting. The guidance will be intertwined with your persistence. All important matters require follow-through.
Last night, I attended a panel of young entrepreneurs from NU, and I was struck by the words of Eva Shure, co-founder of the experiential entertainment production company Red Carpet Kids, a company that has wowed the likes of Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and People Magazine. When asked by a young alum about how she got her company to be featured at Lincoln Center, Eva told him that she called every day until the people at Lincoln Center were sick of hearing from her. Too many people are afraid of being annoying. The squeaky wheel does get the grease, because cliches are often rooted in truth.
So, it remains to be seen if Telethon Natalie calls me one day when she's knee-deep in the real world, looking for advice. If so, I will let her know that she's already on her way to success.