Stop Pretending and Just Be Yourself
I received a phone call recently. And it validated something I already knew.
Networking is worthless if you’re just going to be an asshole. But being yourself – that is, being your regular self and not that BS self you usually bring to business meetings – will yield you more success.
So here’s the background on my phone call.
In 2012, at my last business (The Tie Bar), I was fortunate to have struck a deal with a well-known celebrity. That deal was negotiated with a well-known agent for celebrities in Hollywood. And the deal helped catapult our brand. (My business was later acquired in 2013.)
Now it’s 2015 and I’m starting a new business called Thread Experiment, a bedding brand for men. And my phone rang last week from that same Hollywood agent I dealt with at The Tie Bar. We hadn’t spoken in two years.
Apparently, the agent got wind of Thread Experiment through a mutual acquaintance. He called me with an idea that would match up Thread Experiment with one of his other celebrity clients. For a startup that hasn’t even launched, it was obviously music to my ears.
We talked, came up with some ideas and, as of right now, we are still trying to negotiate a deal. It may or may not happen. Not the point of my story though.
As we hung up the phone, I asked him why he suddenly called me after two years. And I asked why he was offering me this incredible opportunity to work with a high-profile celebrity again to help launch my new business.
Here’s the story he told me.
When we first met in person in 2012, we had lunch together. He said that at 99 percent of his business lunches, the people he meets order some kind of fancy-schmancy drink hoping to impress him or his clients. Maybe a Cognac from France. A 28-year old scotch. A red wine from a region only five people have ever visited.
“And what did you order?” he says. “A rum and Diet Coke…with a lime.” He continued “And that’s when I knew that you were a real person and someone I wanted to do business with. And that’s why I’m calling you again.”
In my 10+ years of being an entrepreneur, I have always been myself – my personal self – in business meetings and dealings. I make dorky jokes. I tell college stories that embarrass me. And I don’t use big words when I speak (mostly because my vocabulary sucks).
Whether or not these people like me as a friend isn't important. People simply respect that I’m just me in a business meeting. Not business me. Just me. And I’m convinced this is the right way to conduct yourself in business.
Continuing my alcohol theme, I’ll make my point another way.
Have you ever had drinks with someone and say to yourself after, “Wow, that guy was so much more fun to talk to when he's buzzed!”
There’s a reason for that.
Because when you drink, the alcohol does something magical. It knocks down that phony facade you walk around with all day at work and when you’re in business meetings. The one that calls your company "disruptive" even though it's not. The one that uses the word "fintech" even though you have no idea what that means. The one that is addicted to the word "scalable."
Alcohol reveals the stripped-down version of you. The one who genuinely prefers greasy pizza over caviar. The one who knows that paying more than $80 for a watch is ridiculously stupid. And the one who laughs at an American Funniest Home Videos whenever a kid knocks his dad in the crotch with a baseball bat.
So start being that person. People want to meet the real you. And they want to do business with the real you.
So start being the real you at your next business lunch - and order yourself a rum and Diet Coke…with a lime.
Greg Shugar is Co-Founder of Thread Experiment, the world’s first brand of home bedding dedicated to men. Greg originally founded The Tie Bar and grew it into a $20 million business before a private-equity firm acquired the brand. Greg is now CEO of Shugar Consulting, which specializes in helping new retail brands emerge in the ecommerce and wholesale space. He also regularly speaks on topics related to entrepreneurship and teaches an Entrepreneurship Bootcamp course at Florida Atlantic University. Prior to launching Thread Experiment and The Tie Bar, Shugar was a practicing attorney in Chicago for eight miserable years.