You’d be hard pressed to find an entrepreneur who wakes up every morning, heads to the office, sits at his or her desk and contemplates how they can disappear from the insanity, go around unnoticed and ultimately create forgetful products and services.
On the contrary, the most successful entrepreneurs have an insatiable appetite for doing and saying things that place them at the center of a conversation (dare I say “attention”), and they thrive on the ups and downs of starting and growing a business. What’s more, they live and breathe to create companies and experiences that people — customers, media and the general public — will remember.
To gain some insight on this topic, I tapped Billy Dec, my very first “entrepreneurial experience” so to speak.
Dec, for his role, imparted some hard and fast lessons on me, mostly in the form of long working hours and pressure to reach certain “numbers.” My work was about as close to a hustle as one could imagine, but I loved it. By age 24, he had made me the director of marketing and PR at Chicago-based Rockit Ranch Productions, the company he started with partners Brad Young and Arturo Gomez, who to this day remain the key players in that thriving business.
In addition to being my first “teacher” in the business school of life — which is the way I refer to it because there is no B-school on the planet that can prepare you for getting screamed at by R. Kelly’s manager or corralling 20 penis-headband-donning drunk girls from a bachelorette party into a stretch limo — throughout the years Dec has continued to feed me valuable insights about living life as an entrepreneur.
“Mostly,” he remarks, “it’s about living creatively and continuing to pursue things that excite you. And find a number (meaning money) that you can live with and once you hit it, enjoy it. The rest is gravy.”
For him, it’s been continuing to open a variety of unique, upscale restaurants in Chicago with partners Young and Gomez like Sunda New Asian, Ay!Chiwowa and The Duck Inn. In real life, he was appointed to President Barack Obama’s White House Advisory Commission on Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders. He also recently filmed a pilot airing on a major network (a food and beverage travel show) and recently showed up as a guest star on Criminal Minds.
This guy really gets around.
Brands and companies, by nature, are an extension of their leadership. How do you ensure that, no matter what, you leave an impression on those who matter to your business? As an entrepreneur, how do you make yourself memorable?
According to Dec, here are several ways to ensure memorability:
1. Networking as a way of life
In my experience, most effective entrepreneurs are “highly networked.” Meaning, they leverage relationships, often early on in the life cycle of a company or project, to gather the resources (capital, talent, etc.) needed to get things off the ground. Beyond the initial stages, they continue to use their network to open doors in a variety of ways that can range from entering new market segments to mergers and acquisitions.
“Networking and relationship building has been a way of life for me,” Dec says. “I never look at new or potential contacts for ‘immediate gratification’ nor do I try to fit them into a specific category. Rather, I spend time cultivating a relationship, knowing that if the time is right down the line they may be an important building block for my success or vice versa.”
In other words: never pass up the opportunity to relationship build with someone that might not be your target demographic. The more friends, contacts and interactions that you have the better off you’ll be. And who knows, you may just end up hanging out with the president.
2. Be physically identifiable
Ever wonder why certain celebrities or artists walk the red carpet in some absurd get-up? Or why athletes, usually resigned to wearing uniforms, decide to sport crazy hairdos or tatted-up arms? Finding a “shtick” is often a great way to stand apart from every other person in the room, and also makes you easier to spot in big crowds.
As long as I’ve known Dec, people have identified him as the guy who always wears a baseball cap. The opening quote from a Chicago Tribune article reporting about his appearance on Criminal Minds said it best:
“You know it’s a special occasion when you see Billy Dec without a hat.”
Usually, it was (and is) a branded cap from one of his companies paired with a nice shirt, jeans and cool sneakers. He’s like a walking billboard. Casual yet buttoned up, very resonant of the way he and his partners operate their businesses.
According to Dec, the being-identifiable thing has to come off as “natural and not forced.” I definitely agree with that, otherwise you just end up looking ridiculous and making everyone around you feel awkward. Kind of like if Ellen DeGeneres started wearing short skirts and high heels. So, so weird.
3. Communicate authentically and add value
Ahh, communication. That pesky little concept that makes or breaks even the most well-intentioned relationships. It seems so easy, yet for many — particularly busy entrepreneurs who have millions of things to remember on any given day — it’s the most difficult aspect of building a business.
For years I watched Dec meticulously collect business cards; make notations about the when, why, and where they met; enter those contacts into an extensive database; and follow up with them personally. It seemed almost obsessive, but once I began implementing the technique it made perfect sense: people genuinely remember you if you genuinely remember them.
So how do you make the communication authentic and memorable?
“Suggest a get-together to help them out with something they need, invite them to an event you think they’d be interested in attending,” he says. “In general, always be of value to others. Don’t think about what you can take.”
A decade later, I watch the CEO (also an entrepreneur) of my company operate similarly, and he’s often the most likeable guy in the room. There’s really something to this, folks.
4. Become a connecter
Being a connector is different than networking. Networking means you make an effort to meet a lot of people to expand potential opportunities, but connecting individuals who may benefit from knowing each other without an immediate benefit to you is probably the nail in the coffin of making yourself memorable.
Dec gives a great example from his early days at Rockit Ranch, when a tremendous amount of time was spent creating entertainment experiences for large scale brands.
“If I was putting on a fashion show I would draw together contacts I’d met spanning different areas including designers, salons, models, liquor companies and more,” he says. “This exposed everyone to new potential partners and consumers and ultimately allowed them to tap into my resources, so everyone benefited.”
In terms of being memorable, Dec has it down. With probably just as many “detractors” as he has “supporters,” I’ve never seen anyone better than he at creating experiences that people want to talk about, much of it a direct result of his careful orchestration.
While it does take a tremendous amount of conscious effort, strategic calculation and careful execution, the truth is, being memorable has exponentially positive effects when it comes to spreading the word about your brand.
Now, get to it. Make some memories. After all, no one wants to be forgotten.