What Do You Do?
When you meet someone new, a very typical entry point to the conversation is the question, “What do you do?” Many see this as casual and friendly conversation; however, entrepreneurs should see this is an opportunity. This very simple question is the introduction to your elevator pitch and is the hook that will bait the listener — who could be a Google or Microsoft exec, an investor, or someone able to connect you to strategic resources — into a longer discussion about your startup. So, how do you answer this question?
First, you have to seize the opportunity. You need to realize that no conversation is a casual conversation. As a startup, you have to be on a mission to distinguish your startup from all the rest, to have your message rise above the noise and to echo in the ears of everyone who hears it. Every conversation is an opportunity and every listener is a messenger. No conversation is happenstance. Conspicuously recruit the listener to subconsciously propagate your gospel.
As a startup, you have to be on a mission to distinguish your startup from all the rest, to have your message rise above the noise and to echo in the ears of everyone who hears it.
Next, in order to have your message penetrate the listener’s conscience, you have to be concise. This necessarily means you have to be quick. Your message must be fully contained in 15-18 carefully crafted words. The number of words and the word choice matter — the words must resonate with the listener and be genuine to you. Realize that the question may have come up in an elevator, at a startup event, on an airplane, or over drinks with friends. You may or may not have the time for a long-winded response. Regardless, you don’t want to brag, bluster or bore. You want to intrigue and invite the listener to actively engage in your message, and to ultimately carry your message forward.
Last, once you have crafted your response, you must practice and you must convey that you are practiced without being mechanical. Your answer must be polished and effortless. The answer to “what do you do,” should be a mantra that flows off your lips naturally and reflexively. Your preparedness and knowledge aforethought, as we say in the law, will insure that you don’t turn off the listener and accidentally burn a bridge. Most importantly, your preparedness and polish will impress your listener and permit you to advance the conversation. Practice in the shower, practice in front of a mirror, record your “what do you do” answer on your phone, and play it back over and over again until you grow sick of hearing it.
To pull it all together, seize the opportunity, be concise and practice. Don’t blow like a reed in the wind — don’t allow luck, timing or chance to dictate your success. Understand that we are all interconnected in this constantly growing smaller world and that you are not just talking to the person that asked you “what do you do?” You are talking to hundreds of their colleagues and friends. Organize your past, take charge of your present, and improve your chances for creating your future.