I’ll be the first to admit, that what I knew about Ashton Kutcher before last Monday night could have been summed up in less than a paragraph. I assumed (you know where this is going right?!) that based on what I read, he was a foreign (to me) and beautiful creature known as a Hollywood celebrity with nothing to connect him with hi-tech circles beyond his abilities to make people laugh and entertain. I was also sure the only business he had speaking at a technology conference was to entice potential investors and their deep pockets. In short, he would make an ideal product pimp (his words, not mine).
After being lucky enough to accompany 1000 other people to a Tel Aviv Garage Geeks event, where he and his start-up investor partner Guy Oseary spent more than two hours sharing their vision, answering questions and listening to pitches (the event was bad, but that isn’t the point), my perspective has completely changed.
I learned a lot that night from Ashton about the way companies communicate with their customers and users in a totally different light. I also got the chance to challenge (and admittedly) change some previously held assumptions. For starters, I can tell you right now that Ashton Kutcher is a really smart guy.
Here are the 6 key things I learnt from Ashton:
1. Never judge a book by its cover.
For some reason I had a preconceived idea that someone as successful and steeped in the popular culture of Hollywood celebrity, would not have interesting ideas to share about the hi-tech industry. His cool personae encouraged me to think in typical stereotypes, but after listening to him talk, I was enlightened by the depth of his understanding and insight into the tech community. For content folks, this translates into diggning deep and making sure you know your target audience beyond the superficial. Are they exactly what you think they are? Does your content truly meet their needs?
2. Be an expert.
When Ashton started talking about investor rounds and Cap tables, the giggling 20 year olds that had snuck into the event to take pictures of him started chatting to themselves and ignoring his answers. They zoned out because the conversation was way over their heads. But he was on to something. He knows all about Cap tables and investor dilution rations. He knows everything about the business he is in (start-up investing). In fact, he told us he has a 4 person start-up working out of his house in LA right now. Do you know everything there is to know about your business and your market? If not, what are you waiting for?
3. Know how to speak to your customers so that they will understand you.
When questioned that night about something he said, Kutcher said it instead in Hebrew. The crowd gasped. He spoke our secret language. Now imagine we were customers –just think about how support and interaction would flow if we felt like the company we were trying to do business with, understood our needs. Every time a company is successful with corporate communication, this is how they do it. Learn to speak the secret language of your customers!
4. Be yourself.
Ashton arrived at the event with his standard issue baseball cap on yet he was still able to sell his idea through his charisma and his insight. He knew what he had to offer and he didnt change that to suit the crowd. So to in business, stay true to yourself and work on having the self confidence to know what you are good at. Knowing your own capabilities is key to being a successsful leader in business. People have more capabilities than the categories you have assigned them in your mind. Just like Ashton was able to push the envelope as to what people thought he was capable of, so too a true leader should be able to identify and see more in their employees and the heights they can achieve than their assigned tasks or roles.
5. “Market the hell out of yourself, even if you aren’t that good”.
Ashton knows and admitted that some of his early movies and created content wereless than stellar. He admitted it freely to all of us that night, but what sets him apart from scores of other actors who were making the same content and have since fallen to obscurity, is that he knows how to market anything. To death. He knows his market and he knows what they will buy and how to sell it. You might make an amazing widget, and it might be exactly the widget that your market needs, but do you know how to market it and position it correctly? Do you know how to get it in front of you target audience and deliver it how they want it? People won’t just find you, you need to find them. Knowing how is an art, not to be underestimated.
6. Keep your cool when someone frustrates you.
At the conference a young woman with an obnoxious bull horn nose ring who had been standing next to me most of the night and gabbing to her girlfriends while Ashton and Guy spoke managed to weasel her way into asking the very last question of the night. She also asked her question in such a way as to be highly confrontational and aggressive. From my perspective, she was incredibly rude, her thoughts were jumbled and she didn’t do herself any favors. (Because she hadn’t listened, she had misconstrued something he had said about his willingness to work with female led start-ups and instead accused him of being a sexist pig when in fact, he had said he doesn’t see sex or color or religion but rather evaluates based on talent when he works). However, after a 17 hour flight a full day of meetings and 2 hours of Q&A, Ashton responded to her with a smile in a courteous and polite manner. Someone pointed out to me that her manner towards him was just classic Israeli behavior, and that it served her well in this instance. After all, they tried to convince me, she got what she wanted. She met Ashton up close and in person, shook hands and said to him and a crowd full of people what was on her mind. They pointed out that I had meanwhile stood politley a few rows back with my hand up, and never got to ask my question or shake his hand.
So what is the real takeaway here? Does it pay to be rude and push? Can you achieve what you want if you always reach out hard first and think after?
While I do agree that sometimes in business you have to know when to push forward and put yourself out there, you have to also know when and how. Staying calm when being confronted by an angry or disgruntled customer can help to move the situation to a higher level of customer satisfaction.
Like Ashton, you have to keep your cool with your customers and targets, ALWAYS. One need not look further than the Amy's Bakery fiasco that unfolded this month as a perfect example of how badly a company can fail and alienate when they don't remember this.
With regards to the girl, she got what she wanted right? Or, maybe she didn’t.
She isn’t someone any of the people in the room would want to do business with and there was a sincere level of disgust and hissing from my fellow Garage Geeks when she pushed her way forward and when she asked her question.
At the event, I networked and met a number of key players in my industry. In fact, one of them already called me with an exciting new project. To my way of thinking, my polite stand in the back served me quite well. For me, meeting Ashton Kutcher –while it would have been fun, would have been just another handshake. Networking with the people who help get a new job for someone and changing the content landscape for another company – for me, that is a mission accomplished!
I’ll be watching and following the start-ups Ashton and Guy invest in with their new 100m$ investment fund. I bet you’ll see a lot of future tech power houses coming from his investments given what he knows about the market and CAP tables!
Maybe next time he comes to Israel, I’ll get a nose ring and push my way to the front of the line so I can claim I shook his hand. Ok, no I won’t, but you get the idea!
(being polite is never wrong!)ShareThis