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The Magic of Ten-Percenters

You know those people. You know, those people you meet that immediately show a lot of interest in what you’re doing. Those people who truly listen, are quick to support your efforts, and follow through on what they said they would do. If you’re like me, you initially see those people as a little crazy and a little special. After all, there’s a little bit of crazy in all 10-percenters. Okay – perhaps a lot of crazy.

It’s not logical for someone to stay up until 4:00 AM to ideate on your next business idea. It’s not logical for someone to find a way to connect you with senior leaders without your prompting. It’s not always immediately rational for a 10-percenter to send you the hand-written note or invite you along for a key networking dinner, but that’s exactly what they do. Time and time again.

10-percenters are the straw that stirs the drink of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Ninety percent of the people you meet will say nice things and choose to wish you well. Thank goodness for the 90%. They are the ones that allow the 10-percenters to stand out and who make it easy for you to figure out whom you should invest your time with.

Linda Rosenfeld, CEO of Endeavor, one of the largest and most influential entrepreneurial organizations in the world, recently wrote a book titled Crazy is a Compliment. It’s a very appropriate title. You see, being a successful entrepreneur starts with a heartfelt desire to help people. To be able to successfully execute on that desire requires that you do things that may not always be rational. The desire to be rich fades over time, but the desire to solve for someone refuses to wilt under pressure. Crazy is the belief that you can drive change and solve problems that are disproportionally bigger than what you should be able to solve. 10-percenters allow us to do that.

People that care about helping others are the most successful.

Think about that for a minute.

A 10-percenter cares about you and this makes them better. By positively and proactively investing their time to help you, inspire you, and connect you…the 10-percenter becomes more successful. After all, entrepreneurship is a team sport that leans heavily on communities to be successful. 10-percenters understand that. They especially believe that when there’s no measurable or observable gain to them as individuals.

10-percenters go the extra mile. They spend 30 more minutes preparing for the big meeting. They practice their speech one more time. They write the hand-written thank-you note. They make the introduction for a contact after a long day of work. Add up the inches over the course of a year and you’ll find the difference between very good and extraordinary. You’ll find the 10-Percenter.

Mike Rosenfeld is a good friend of mine and a true 10-percenter. Mike’s business, WebConnection, is running strong in Baltimore, and he’s looking to establish a strong foothold in Detroit. I’ve known Mike for about two years now and he’s provided the blueprint for what it means to be a 10-percenter.

We can all learn a lot from Mike. Here’s what he’s taught me about being a 10-Percenter.

Lesson #1: Immerse yourself within the innovation economy.

Mike came to Detroit and joined the co-working space at Grand Circus, a Google for Entrepreneurs tech hub in Detroit. With very little effort, Mike put himself in the position to be connected. More importantly, Mike jumped into the deep end and started to support the co-working community by sharing ideas, volunteering his time, and attending events.

Do you see what happened here? Mike went from being an independent guy working in Detroit to being part of an international network of innovators – simply by taking the effort to find a co-working community that fit with his business and ideals. Have you taken this first step?

Lesson #2: Selflessly Volunteer Your Time.

In two short years, Mike has shared no fewer than five well thought out ideas for how to grow my business. I never explicitly or implicitly asked Mike for these ideas (though come to think of it, maybe we should ask Mike about the implicit part), but that didn’t stop him from taking the time to listen and think. Mike gets it. He knows like-minded people like to think about growth and he’s generously taken the time to share his ideas. When was the last time you did this?

I lost my Dad in 2012 and learned that there’s a big difference between someone asking what they can do to help and someone who hops on the plane to give you a hug and be there for the viewing and the funeral.

10-percenters care enough to send a hand-written note, follow-up in the days following a tough meeting, share a thoughtful gift, and offer a warm smile, and yes – even sometimes give you a hug when they see you. Formal business etiquette be damned.

Lesson #3: Connect Your Network.

As the co-founder of a Google for Entrepreneurs tech hub, I’m fortunate to know a lot of people in the tech & entrepreneurial community. I have a great network in Detroit and interacting with so many smart people across all sorts of organizations is the best part of what I do. It takes a lot for someone to surprise me with their ability to make connections. This happened recently and you guessed it. It was Mike, the 10-percenter, leading the charge.

Despite a limited network in the area, Mike’s gone out of his way to help me know a few more leaders in the area. I’m not talking about a casual, you outghta meet this guy sort of intro. I’m talking about Mike giving me the white glove treatment (beats the rubber glove treatment) and arranging three in-person meet-ups in a purposeful way. Thanks to Mike, my network is stronger today.

10-percenters take an extra ten minutes to write a meaningful introduction when connecting people and always listen to know what’s going on so they can help when something comes across their radar.

Lesson #4: Never Force Relationships.

Mike’s also been smart about presenting potential business partners for my business. In fact, after months of knowing Mike, I asked him to do some work for me on a project basis. Not surprisingly, he crushed it. He also identified where we needed more hands-on support than he should provide. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do the work; it was that it didn’t make sense for us to pay him to do the work when someone less expensive could get it done. He even went out of his way to find that someone else to do this at a better rate. When was the last time you turned down work and offered someone else to do it at a better rate?

But that’s not even the best part. This 10-percenter just didn’t connect us with the person to do the work. He volunteered to connect us, shared their contact information, and backed away.

It’s amazing how well received a simple email that says,

I’d be happy to introduce you to Simone…she does great work with strategic marketing & might be able to meet the need you have that we discussed earlier today. If you agree she can help you, let me know and I’ll make the connection. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume that it’s not a good fit and that’s completely okay.

Truth be told, I didn’t take Mike up on his offer, but I certainly appreciated what he did and I’m my trust of Mike went to a whole other level based on this experience.

Lesson #5: Create Something.

I don’t give money to panhandlers on the side of the street who stand there with a sign and a cup, but I almost always give to someone singing, playing an instrument, or trying to provide some sort of service. You have the resources to create something, so go out and do it.

10-perceters don’t sit back and wait, they go out and create something. Sometimes it’s a Friday happy hour (I’m looking at you Ann Arbor Tech Brewery). For others, it’s planning a standing Friday breakfast to bring together former colleagues. For financial advisors, it might be a monthly newsletter that shares your stock market perspective. Whatever it is and no matter how small it may seem, 10-percenters create a way to bring people together and add value.

Mike didn’t have a huge network early on, but he did have a close circle of friends. Quarterly happy hours with a small, curated group of people did the trick. Whatever assets do have to create a community and support your network, be sure to use them for good.

People often get the whole point of entrepreneurship backwards. You see, entrepreneurship is not about helping yourself and focusing on achieving your own dreams. It’s not about silencing the noise outside your walls and focusing on you. It’s actually the opposite. Entrepreneurship is about serving the needs of others.

People that build meaningful relationships are great entrepreneurs, so go out there and find ways to help others. The quicker you realize that solving other people’s problems is the best way to create something meaningful, the quicker you’ll find yourself surrounded by 10-Percenters.

And given that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, it will say a lot about you when you find yourself surrounded by 10-Percenters.


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