Future Perfect: Why Influence Matters
What is influence? Why does it matter, how does it work, and how can you get better at it?
By Sarah Tomolonius
Last Updated: October 18, 2021
Published: September 1, 2021
We each have the ability every day to influence decisions and affect outcomes. Whether we’re entrepreneurs, investors, creators, or consumers, we can also inspire broader trends and culture online, in the workplace, the boardroom, and our communities.
But how does influence work—and how can you get better and more effective at it?
During our recent Future Perfect event, startup founders, investors, industry experts, and trendmakers explored the impact of influence on everything from storytelling and marketing to the creator economy.
Here are some highlights:
Darja Gutnick: The Investor Influence
Since Day One, M13’s mission has been dedicated to creating advantages for our founders that can lead to bigger outcomes in less time. As M13 Partner and Head of Data Strategy Rob Olson describes, an M13 analysis reveals that founding teams with relevant leadership experience can exit 33% faster with 34% less capital and nearly double their investors’ rate of return.
But not aIl founding teams at the early stage are in a position to hire full-time executives, which is why M13’s Propulsion model supplements our founding teams with partners who can apply their multi-decades of operating expertise at critical moments in a growing company’s development.
“If you actually build a trustful relationship with your investors, you really look at them as advisors,” adds Darja Gutnick, co-founder and CEO of M13 portfolio company Bunch. “When you work and collaborate with people who have been in it for a few years, they bring relevant frameworks and blueprints to the table and help you to look at that data from a particular perspective. You don't have to take that perspective, but being able to see it from different points of view has made it possible for me to make decisions quicker… What doesn't get talked enough about is the emotional journey of building a business. It's a very rewarding yet challenging kind of journey. So having partners in crime or in building is definitely also very important.”
Padma Warrior and Matt Blumberg: Boards with Purpose
When it comes to forming an effective board, Bolster Founder and CEO Matt Blumberg compares it to hiring a team: “Have people with complementary backgrounds and diverse skill sets. Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle. What’s missing?”
As a board member for both Microsoft and Spotify, Fable Founder and CEO Padma Warrior shares how to successfully build and manage relationships with your board:
- Pick someone who is interested in your business
- Build ways for people to connect informally outside of the board meeting
- Send quarterly updates to your board, including insights on how your company culture is shaping up
“There will be disagreements with the board,” Warrior adds. “That’s healthy. The board is there to challenge you and offer a different perspective.”
Alex Banayan: Secrets to Storytelling
Success in business requires the ability to tell a compelling story. “If you can’t grab people’s hearts, people aren’t listening,” says Alex Banayan, author of “The Third Door.” When telling your own company’s stories, remember this VISTA acronym:
- Vulnerable origin: “Find some vulnerability, whether it’s in your team, your marketplace—even in your customers’ lives… That’s how you start the story.”
- Intention: “Ask yourself, ‘How can you turn up the heat on the intention where it feels like life and death?’ If you're doing a product launch, there's probably not a life-or-death reality, but you need emotional stakes.”
- Struggles and obstacles: “Most people want to highlight all the successes. That is the most boring thing you could do. Focus the camera on the places you struggled, where your team faced obstacles the most—that’s when people get to the edge of their seat.”
- Transformation: “Make sure that at the end of your story, the main character (your customer, or whatever the main perspective is of your story) is 180 degrees different from that vulnerable origin.”
- A message that matters: “By tying your story up with a bow of a larger message that means something, your story will last for years.”
Brian Lee and Jeff Stibel: Influencers and Brands
As a founder, how can you leverage influencers to build your brand and connect with customers? Start by partnering with people who have authentic connections with your customers.
Brian Lee reflects on his journey of building The Honest Company with Jessica Alba: “At the time we started, most of her followers were not young moms… We had to really build that following with her. By the time we launched, we had a tremendous following—these moms who understood her story, which resonated with them naturally.”
Authenticity extends to the founder. “Every startup has a pre-packaged influencer attached to it Day One—that's the entrepreneur,” says Jeff Stibel, co-founder of Bryant Stibel and Stibel & Company. “You should be the best person to convince your customers, employees, and investors that they want and need to have whatever it is you're selling. If you feel like you need an influencer, there is nothing authentic about that… [B]e your own influencer. It’s the best way to learn why people want—or don't want—your product. Do that before you bring on an influencer.”
Jen Willig and Suzanne Gauron: Business Leaders and Social Impact
Authenticity carries over into social impact, or “being able to make impact on the issues you care about through the business that you're in,” says Hive CEO and Co-Founder Jen Willig. Here’s how founders can become business leaders who can make a difference:
- Don’t look at social impact as a campaign but as a long-term commitment. “The social issues we work on are not going to be solved by a campaign; they're not going to be solved in six months,” Willig says. “So it is looking at an authentic commitment to track metrics that sometimes take a long time to change—gender equality, racial wealth gap, things like that.”
- Do lean on influencers who can spotlight issues. Willig adds: “Influence is not just about celebrity; it is about authentically showing the urgency of these issues. Sometimes people don't realize how urgent these issues are because we've been living with them for so long.”
- Make it personal—and professional. “A big part of authenticity is bringing your whole self to work and being able to share that internally and externally,” says Suzanne Gauron, head of Launch with Goldman Sachs. “And so when you look around Goldman Sachs at the leaders of initiatives like One Million Black Women, this connects to their personal lives, missions, and experiences, as well as their professional lives… But it doesn't have to be only the women or the Black women doing this work. Our CEO David Solomon has been essential in leading the charge, and he has a personal commitment to this.”
Paris Hilton and Elizabeth Stark: Crypto and the Creator
With more than 40 million Americans owning Bitcoin and about 4 million Americans who have bought an NFT, cryptocurrency’s rising influence has been more than a decade in the making. As Lightning Labs Co-founder and CEO Elizabeth Stark says, “we're at the beginning of new and evolving models to connect with fan bases using Bitcoin and Lightning.”
For Stark, a deep love of music inspired her to develop a native transaction layer that can process thousands of transactions each second at very low cost.
“Discovering Bitcoin was eye-opening,” Stark says. “I thought, ‘We can finally have this native way to transact on the internet and enable creators to make money, to engage with fans, to have their community without intermediaries and middlemen who take these massive cuts.’”
Meanwhile, the creator economy is booming as creators like Paris Hilton embrace NFTs.
“I've always loved digital art,” says the entrepreneur, artist, and advocate who is working on her next NFT collection. “I love that it gives the power back to the creator. Even in the traditional art world, it was all about being able to get into that exhibit that was happening at that art dealer; after selling something, you would never see anything in the secondary market. Now with this technology, artists will be receiving what they deserve for the rest of time…. The creator deserves it because they're the ones creating.” Read more
Francis X. Suarez: The Miami Movement
We also heard from Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez, who believes “[w]e can’t build the city of tomorrow on hype alone. In order to create a truly sustainable technological sector, we need to invest in the infrastructure that surrounds it. Effective transportation, affordable housing, and an established talent pipeline are all critical pieces of the puzzle.”
Throughout each of these conversations about influence, we heard over and over again about the power of the entrepreneur—and the power of authenticity—to solve real problems. Here at M13, we believe in the impact of influence and are dedicated to continuing these impactful conversations with you.
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