The Vancouver tech scene has blossomed mightily over the past two years.
It’s been my privilege to share its stories here on Techvibes. I’ve learned a lot about the business of journalism. There are tricks to this trade, like any other. Knowing the questions to ask is half the battle—knowing the questions you can’t is the other. Unlike other trades, which depend on mastery of tools and inanimate materials, journalism depends on teamwork.
Truman Capote could get a profile out of the famously difficult Marlon Brando for the New Yorker—given a week in the same hotel together.
An entrepreneur’s success is dependent on his or her ability to successfully sell their business’s story. The lucky ones with a large amount of capital, either through significant bootstrapping or VC investment, can afford the proper training and representation. Whether you can, or you can’t, I’d like to offer three tips to any entrepreneur so that they can make their business or enterprise seem like the nascent success it ought to be.
1. Care what people think of you.
The popular concept of the tech entrepreneur is that of the nerd taking over the world—I’ve seen powerful men jeered for wearing suit jackets, let alone ties. But the business uniform of the three piece suit has succeeded to be de rigeur in just about every other field for a reason: it conveys respect for its viewer.
Not everyone can or should wear a suit and tie will conducting their business—but just about every other principle of etiquette should still apply. One of the Vancouver community’s most potent leaders, known across the country and down the coast, recently addressed two hundred people while chewing gum.
Is there any harm in chewing gum? No. Did it make a strong enough impression that I was compelled to name this man in the article I wrote about the event? No. He’s a force for good in the community, a charming individual, and someone who when called upon it, both said he appreciated that it’s a bad habit and asked me very nicely not to attach this habit to his name. Etiquette, again: “please” works wonders.
Nowhere more so than in entrepreneurship does the CEO represent their business. And people can’t support your business without thinking of it first. Help them think good thoughts.
2. Have some water.
The everflowing alcohol at tech events might give the shy or the nervous the shot in the arm (or hand) to go out and sell their businesses—but it can also be a handicap. An open bar is not always your friend. At a pitch competition, not too many months ago, I went to interview the victor, to get a closing statement. That winner said to me, with laughter:
“Um, I can’t talk to you right now, I’ve had like, seven beers!”
I must reiterate that this was immediately after the conclusion of the pitch competition, and that I had introduced myself as “Sumari MacLeod, Techvibes.” Thankfully, this was one of the startups who did have publicists on hand, and that publicist threw themselves between the entrepreneur and I as though their job depended on it.
Because of that publicist and their quick thinking, I managed to get the content I needed despite the inebriation. That business is doing great things.
3. Respect your work—and its audience.
This summer, I attended an event thrown by an organization that works to advocate the need for diversity in tech. The audience, the creators and I would all agree that its goals are laudable. I always look forward to celebrating efforts to make the world a more inclusive place. The moderated panel answered traditional questions about their experiences in the field. There is nothing wrong with a beginner-friendly event; in fact, they’re downright essential to maintain the popularity of an initiative.
There is something very, very wrong with asking the organizer of the event how they chose those questions and hearing that they pulled them from a place where the sun does not shine.
I asked if I could ask a few questions before I began. My phone, set to record, was in hand.
It’s not in my best interest to hear an answer like that. I would never want to write that someone didn’t care about their own event. Readers could infer that the organizer didn’t care about providing their audience with the best possible experience. The organizer went onto say that they didn’t have the most positive reaction when they asked more controversial questions than those I heard—but even in jest, no one who wants to be taken seriously should say such things.
This is not to say that the industry in and of itself is unprofessional. For every one fiasco, there are still hundreds of interviews that have gone off without a hitch. I’m to call myself a chronicler of the Vancouver tech scene’s growth and successes—each of which have been vast.
Techvibes exists to celebrate Canadian tech culture. The job board exists because we want as many talented people to be a part of this industry as possible.
But before it can be celebrated, it has to be honoured.