BiggerPockets Business Podcast

BiggerPockets Business Podcast 93: Creating a Plan for Your Business, Career and Life with MIT Teacher Mark Herschberg

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An author, a CTO, and a champion ballroom dancer walk into a podcast…it’s Mark Herschberg! Mark is a man of many talents, graduating from MIT, becoming a champion in ballroom dancing, and later becoming a COO and CTO for multiple startups. How does someone do it all, and do it all so well?

After college, Mark was working in computer science and began having to hire new team members on board for the companies he worked at. He realized that many new hires had technical skills, but didn’t have skills that correlated to becoming better leaders or teammates. Mark saw that there was a whole realm of soft skills that weren’t being taught to graduates coming into the workforce. So he partnered up with MIT to develop a course on acquiring these skills and became a lecturer. He’s been teaching this material for the past two decades!

As the classes went on, Mark decided to write some notes that every student would be able to use throughout the class. After writing close to 100 pages, Mark realized that this wasn’t just a set of notes, this was a full-on book. This became The Career Toolkit and taught Mark not only how to write, but the challenges of publishing and marketing a book.

If you’re a solo entrepreneur, a CEO of a startup, regular employee, or still looking for career opportunities, Mark advises that you create a career plan, outlining what your life, career, and future will look like. How can you accomplish the goals you’ve set and what do you have to do to put yourself in a beneficial position?

Maybe you’re shy or introverted and find it hard to talk to partners, maybe you want to know how to network in a post-COVID world, or maybe you want to know how to manage teams and lead a company to optimum efficiency and employee satisfaction. Mark does a fantastic job of answering these questions and more in a succinct and relatable way.

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J:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast, show number 93.

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Mark:
And so you start by asking yourself questions about what you want in life. Don’t even start with your career, just what you want in life in general. And then what you want in your career, in your job. Where do you want to be in five years, 10 years?

J:
Welcome to a real world MBA from the school of hard knocks. Where entrepreneurs reveal what it really takes to make it. Whether you’re already in business or you’re on your on way there, this show is for you. This is BiggerPockets Business.
How’s it going everybody? I am J Scott here once again this week with my amazing cohost, my amazing wife, the love of my life, Mrs. Carol Scott. How’s it going Carol Scott?

Carol:
Having all kinds of fun. I’ve got to tell you, how cool is it with all these companies going public, with so many people that we know within our network trying out and being successful on different social media platforms, people just crushing it and new initiatives in their business. It’s just such an exciting time for so many people. And I am so grateful that we have the opportunity and privilege and honor to be connected with people doing great things. It’s really inspiring and it keeps pushing me to do more and better.

J:
Absolutely. And for anybody out there that is looking to do bigger and better things, our guest today is going to help with that. His name is Mark Herschberg. He is an entrepreneur. He is an MIT instructor. He’s a senior consultant to a number of big and small companies, from the tech space to other spaces. And just recently he took all of this knowledge, all of this experience, and all of these best practices that he’s accumulated over the years doing so many different things and put them into a book called The Career Toolkit. And in this book and in this episode, we talk to Mark about all the different skills needed to be successful. Whether you’re working for somebody else, whether you’re trying to balance a nine to five job while doing your own side hustle, whether you’re working as a solo entrepreneur or a solopreneur as we often call them, or whether you’re a full blown entrepreneur with a business and employees. Regardless of where you are in the phase of your career and the phase of your business, we talk about it here today and we talk about how you can get to the next level.
We explore taking a good hard look at all the areas in which you have interests, passions, expertise and deciding what you personally should be pursuing and how to make those goals and plans that you come up with a reality. Mark talks to us about some tactical approaches to networking, which is something that is tremendously important wherever you are in your business or your career, but it’s something we haven’t discussed a lot on this show so make sure you listen to the great conversation we have about networking and make sure you listen for all the great book recommendations that Mark gives us. So many great books. Books that you probably haven’t read yet but you absolutely should. It’s just a jam packed episode full of lots of different discussions or lots of different topics on lots of different things with somebody who is so knowledgeable about so many different things. If you want to learn more about anything we talk about on this show, check out our show notes at biggerpockets.com/bizshow93. That’s biggerpockets.com/bizshow93.
Okay. Without any further ado, let’s welcome Mark Herschberg to the show.
Thanks for being with us Mark. We’re thrilled to have you here today.

Mark:
Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Carol:
Awesome. We have so many questions for you because your expertise Mark and your experience, you do so many different things and you have just mastered so many different crafts. And interestingly, we talk to all kinds of experts, all kinds of entrepreneurs and our community members always very interested in exploring all different kinds of things as well. It’s the entrepreneurial mindset. So I would love to start out with the fact that you do so many varied … I’m just going to say adventures. It’s incredible. You’ve tracked criminals on the dark web. You are an award winning ballroom dancer. You’re an MIT instructor. You’re an author. So many things in between. So can you just give us to kind of set the stage, a high level overview of your various passions and areas of expertise in which you have mastered your craft?

Mark:
Sure. There are a couple and they’re varied, but I really think at a fundamental level, each one teaches me something I can then apply to the other areas. So the way I think of my life is I came out of MIT with a couple of tech degrees back in the dot com era and I have that standard career path of software developer going up to CTO, building startup companies. Both the classic startup companies as well as helping Fortune 500s who wanted to play startup. So I’ve been in companies from three to 300,000 people. And that path is probably pretty straightforward. Now, I was a competitive ballroom dancer throughout my 20s and I used to travel the country, even went internationally a couple times. Went to nation championships for seven years. So that was a side passion of mine that was just a great hobby. And I’m the type of person who when I do something, I tend to really do it. It wasn’t just take a few classes, it’s let’s compete and let’s get to the top.
Then I had kind of an epiphany about 20 years ago. And I was hiring people. I’d ask them questions. I was asking a lot of technical questions. These were software engineers. And I would get technical answers. Just like if I was hiring marketing people, I’d get marketing answers. Okay, they understand their discipline. But what they would get stumped on is when I would ask a question like, what makes someone a good teammate? What are the qualities you look for in a leader? And I’d get blank stares. And I thought back to my own education. We are not taught this in school. Not in high school, not in college. But it’s so important. And I only learned this because I got interested in this. When I knew I wanted to move into an executive role, I knew I couldn’t just be a really good software developer, I had to learn other skills. So I set out to understand this. But other people weren’t getting it and I looked for materials to try and teach it to people on my team, couldn’t find any. At the same time MIT had gotten a wonderful grant by Desh Deshpande and his wife to address some of these same issues.
The feedback MIT got at our career office … And this is not just an MIT thing, this is matched at other universities throughout the country. Corporations were saying, we want people who are leaders, who are good teammates, who can communicate well, strong networks, know how to negotiate, all these great skills. And of course as entrepreneurs, as solopreneurs, we need them as well. These are universal skills. So MIT was starting this program. Because I had been interested I got in touch with the person who was starting it. A mutual friend said, “MIT is focusing on these same issues.” I said, “Well how can I help? I’ve been looking at this. Can I be of help?” So he said, “Yeah, please give us a hand. Help develop some of the course.” And then he said, “Why don’t you come teach it?” And we just finished my 20th year of classes just the other week.
So I’ve been doing it now for a couple decades and I helped start the program at HBS. I wasn’t quite as integral to that one. So I’ve had this side track of doing some academic programs as well. And I’ve always been passionate about helping people with their professional goals. Not just MIT students, but in some of the mentoring I’ve done, working with first generation college students, running an online career community. All throughout my life I’ve really cared about trying to help people get the most out of what they want to do with their careers.

J:
I absolutely love that. And the funny thing is, you focus so much on all of these things that you’re doing, but you’re also at heart a teacher. You’re a professor and you’ve written a book. And for anybody that’s watching this on video, it’s over your right hand shoulder. Can you tell us about the book. Why you wrote it, who it’s geared towards, what the subject matter is?

Mark:
For many years I’ve spoken to my colleagues at MIT in this program. I’ve said, “Look, we should write up some notes for the students because it’s a very experiential hands on class and they don’t take a lot of notes and I think this would just be helpful for that retention.” And I also said, “Look, it’s not just MIT students, we know this. Somehow can we share this with other universities at least?” And of course this isn’t just a university level type content. How do we get it out there? And MIT of course pioneered online learning and giving away content. And for years everyone said, “Yes, yes, good idea but we’ve just been busy with many other great things that the program has been doing.” So about a year and a half ago I was traveling a lot for work. Remember when we could get back on planes and fly around? So I was spending time in planes and hotels. I thought, let me just write up a couple notes. I’ll write the notes for the students. And I thought I was pulling together about a 20, 30 page summary pamphlet. And that was all this was going to be.
About 100 pages into it I realized this might not be a pamphlet. This might be closer to a book. And it was at that point I thought, okay, now it’s going to be a book. Let me figure out what it means to write a book. And so I reached out, I talked to a couple friends of mine who were very successful authors and did a lot of research online and went down the publishing path.

Carol:
That’s great. And I would love to dig into that even further Mark. Specifically because like we talked about at the very beginning here, you are an expert in so many different fields, you have a lot of balls in the air at any given time. And sometimes it’s hard to focus in on one initiative and really move forward on that. So you mentioned for example, that this was maybe going to start out as a 20 or 30 page little pamphlet or handbook, but you started writing and it became 100 pages. You started taking with other friends who are authors to go down the road of discovering what do I need to do to physically begin publishing. For our community members who might be interested in that type of project and that type of undertaking, can you talk us through some more of the steps that you learned specifically about how you focused and set aside that time to publish this book and just any other tips and pointers that you might have on how to channel all of these different initiatives you have into one type of publication?

Mark:
Sure. Okay. Multiple questions in there. And I’ll start by saying, this is what I alluded to earlier, that the different things I do all help each other. If you are ever going to write a book, one of the most important things to understand is writing is one small piece. I see so many authors who say, “I’ve got this great story.” I’m sure it’s wonderful. They’re probably even better writers than I am. And they put together this great story or this great nonfiction book. But then you’ve got the mechanics of publishing it. Perhaps on your own or perhaps through a publisher. And then you have to market it. And marketing is a massive amount of effort. Marketing … Many writers will tell you it’s more effort than actually writing. And because of my background doing all these startup companies, I’ve spent a lot of time doing marketing both for the startup companies … Even though a CTO doesn’t normally do that but at a small company, you kind of doing a little bit of everything. I’ve also been a CTO at marketing companies so I understand how to market and all that knowledge and experience paid off as I came onboard to do my book.
I also briefly was a turnaround CEO of a digital media company. That came back to help me when I built the app that we'll probably get to a little later in this conversation. To your other question, so I went out and I first spoke with Dorie Clark who's a very successful author. And we had dinner and she gave me some advice on look, it's not just the writing and pointed me to a couple articles and things I needed to think about. I also spoke with Jill Schiefelbein, Olivia Fox Cabane. Also fantastic authors and good friends of mine. And that pointed me in the right direction. I spent I don't know how many hours reading every article I could find on the different aspects of publishing. Ranging from how to find an agent to thinking about trim size. I didn't even know what trim size was. That's the size of your book. And there are standard trim sizes. How do you pick the right font for your book? And I didn't want trust that the people who were supposed to do it were going to do it correctly. I wanted to make sure I was at least competent enough to understand were we going off the rails?
Some of the people who were doing pieces of it, they’re certainty better experts than I am. Some it was a good thing I was paying attention. So I looked at every aspect. And for anyone who wants to be an author, if you go to cognoscomedia.com and go to the resources page, that’s where I listed about 200 or so of the best articles I read, the most helpful. They’re all organized by topic and I put that out there for other friends of mine and authors who are thinking of going down this path. Here’s the most helpful stuff I found.

J:
That’s awesome. And I have a feeling I know why Carol asked that question and your answer was absolutely perfect. This is obviously a business podcast and we talk to entrepreneurs from all different types of businesses, all different walks of life. And basically your answer there just highlighted the fact that any entrepreneurial endeavor pretty much requires the same set of skills. Whether you’re opening a restaurant, whether you’re opening a software company, or whether you’re Elon Musk and starting SpaceX or whether you’re writing a book, you need to start with idea. You need product discovery and to figure out what your customers or potential customers want. You need to then create a great product and then you need to be able to market and sell and support that product and you have to fulfill that product and with fulfillment there’s supply chain and there’s inventory management and their accounting and there’s all of these things. And we sort of think, “Okay, well writing a book’s different. It’s not really the same as starting a business.” But to a large degree any entrepreneurial undertaking that we’re going to do is very similar and they all have the same components even when it’s something seemingly as simple as writing a book, right?

Mark:
Absolutely. I began by writing a business plan. Because every startup I’ve done … Okay, let’s start with the business plan. I don’t think most authors do that. And for any authors who may one day hear this who aren’t probably your standard listeners and the entrepreneur, learn some of these skills. Understand basic accounting. Understand how to write a business plan. Because this is how it begins. And if I was doing a restaurant, I would do the same approach. I’d read different articles and maybe a financial model works out differently but it’s the exact same steps. You’re absolutely spot on.

J:
Awesome. Also in addition to the book and the teaching and all the other things, you mentioned you started a couple companies and you’ve been a turnaround CEO and I’d love for you to tell our audience what that means. But can you talk to us a little bit about your experience starting companies, the types of companies you’ve started and your role in those companies?

Mark:
Its ranged in many ways. I know some are the classic startup and I’ve literally been in the living room with a couple people and we don’t yet have money and we go out and raise it. I’ve also done the startups within a big corporation. So money wasn’t necessarily the challenge. But the work I did at Sears for example, I was brought in by an SVP there and he had a PowerPoint deck and three people who had worked with him at his prior company. That was the starting team. So it was really kind of ground up. Earlier in my career I was going in earlier at seed stage, at the we don’t yet have money stage. Now I tend to go in a little later if I’m not at the very beginning founding. I’ll typically go later A or B stage. For me the excitement is growing the business. It’s that what you need to do to get your first customer is different than what you’re doing when your at customer 10, that’s different than customer 100, customer 1,000. You have to constantly alter your business. And this is where I see a lot of businesses fail.
Because that first customer is kind of all hands on deck and everyone’s scrambling and whatever it takes. And you’re trying to just figure out how to make this happen. And that can fun and exciting. But you do that for customer one, two, three and then when you start having it happen regularly, you have to make that more efficient. You have to change your process. And fortunately so many companies, they’ve had success. That’s how they got to whatever stage they’re at. They’ve had that success. So I think we keep doing it. But what got you here isn’t going to get you there. I think that’s the title of someone’s book. But that’s absolutely what we see in startups. So I like going in. I typically run a combination of technology, product, data science. I’m usually the defacto HR person because we don’t have one and I’m doing most of the hiring and team building and corporate culture. I’ve wound up running a bunch of marketing. Sometimes customer success. Because again, early stage companies you don’t have this flushed out. I try to avoid the sales. I try to avoid dealing with bookkeeping. Those are not my strengths. But everything else I touch at one point or another.

J:
That’s awesome. I really want to dig into one point that you were highlighting there which is super important. You said, what you do to get to customer number one is different than what you do to get to customer number 20 and 50, 100, 10,000 and one million. For entrepreneurs that are starting their business, I know there’s often a struggle between getting a product out and getting a product perfect. And oftentimes we think, “Okay, I’m not going to even go after customer one until I’m ready to go after customer 10,000 or 100,000.” What’s your advice to entrepreneurs who are starting up who are in that phase where they’re trying to decide what is good enough when it comes to releasing a product?

Mark:
The trend that has I think become commonplace and is very correct is that MVP, the minimum viable product. And that’s about getting it out there and saying, this is sufficient enough someone can use it. The absolute must read book for any type of entrepreneur building a product or even in many cases, services, is Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. And in that book he talks about how there’s this distribution curve of customers. And the first customers you’re going for, they have a very different profile than customer number 702. They are typically in a pain point of saying, “Look, I’ve never heard of you. You’re not reliable that way IBM or Google would be reliable. But I am in such pain I am willing to try it. Because what you’re saying, it’s going to solve something that’s very important for me so I’ll take it even though it’s rough around the edges.” And those are going to be your first customers and they’re going to be fans of yours. They’re going to give you valuable feedback. And then of course you have to remember, and this is where the chasm comes in, that those early customers are different than the later customers.
And so at that point you’re going to have to get … Maybe not perfect. But that well packaged fleshed out product to get to the other types of customers.

Carol:
I love this. This is such a fun discussion and we’re exploring all these different areas that like you said, are so interrelated. And just like we talked about in the very beginning of this episode, all of these different areas in which you’ve worked, in which you’ve made a solid impact, on which you’ve grown companies, they are in maybe their industries, maybe their areas, they’re different but they are all very woven together with a lot of common skillsets and a lot of common denominators woven throughout. I would love to talk more Mark about for those of us who, especially with everything that transpired over the past, what, 10 or 11 months since March or 2020, we may similarly be masters of several different things and had the opportunity to kind of take a step back and evaluate which of those things throughout our common thread at different areas of expertise really speak to us. Maybe we’ve had an opportunity now to make a change. To maybe start a side hustle. Maybe our hours at our current day job have been cut and we have an opportunity to do something in addition or something different.
So in that vein, do you have any tips on what we can be doing so that we can grow these successful type of companies that you’re talking about? Getting them from one customer to a lot of customers and what can we do to figure out what those specific projects or what those specific areas that we should be going after are?

Mark:
It begins with understanding ourselves. And the first chapter of the book is about creating a career plan. Now, this applies whether you’re in a large company and you’re saying, okay, what’s my path here or just through corporate America. But it also applies to us when we’re doing solo projects. When I said, “Oh, I think I’m going to do a book,” I had to sit back and say, “Well, for where I want to go in my life, is this worth the time and effort?” And so you start by asking yourself questions about what you want in life. Don’t even start with your career. Just what you want in life in general. And then what you want in your career, in your job. Where do you want to be in five years? 10 years? To be there, what does it take to get there? So I mentioned earlier I believe when I wanted to be a CTO I knew that meant it’s not just I’m a really good programmer. I had to pick up other skills. No one was going to hire me at 24 to be a CTO. It was a startup age. I could say, “Oh, I started a company, I’m the CTO.” Didn’t mean I had the skills to do it.
And so what would it take? What are those skills is the first question I asked. And I realized I needed to understand how to hire people. Should understand more about marketing and strategy. Had to do project planning. I had all these other skills I had to pick up and created a plan for acquiring those skills. If you’re starting a company to your point, all this is kind of the same. The steps are the same. The key pieces are the same. There might be some industry specific ways to do things or tools or connections you need. But look ahead where you want to be and then map out the path from where you are to where you need to be. What either intermediate roles do you need? What connections do you need? What skills or experience do you need? And then create plan for picking it up. You’re not going to do it all once so what am I doing this year? What I am doing two to three years out? And that’s going to get you a path there. Key thing about any of these career plans, they never guarantee success. Do not expect well, I wrote it out, therefore this is going to happen. But if you don’t have a plan the odds it will happen go way, way down.
So create the plan. It’s never going to work as you expect and that’s okay because as you go you’re going to revise the plan. You’re going to check in and update the plan just as we do with any project. It is a living plan designed to suit your needs. Your needs can change, the plan can change but it’s going to put you on a path instead of wandering in the dark.

J:
Yeah. And I like that analogy. I mean, basically that’s exactly what it’s doing. It’s putting you on the right path. It’s not necessarily going to decide every turn you make because the turns when you get there, you may not expect things. Things are going to pop in, pop out. But it puts you at least on the right path and gets you focused. And then you can refocus as you have to make those decisions moving forward. I know looking and reading some of the stuff that you’ve written in the past, you’ve talked a lot about networking and the value and the importance of networking. And I know personally for me at least, networking is not my strongest skill. I’m an engineer and networking doesn’t come naturally to me. For others like me who agree with you, and I think most of us agree with you that networking in any industry is important, what tips do you have to help us become better networkers and use that to our advantage?

Mark:
I am a shy introverted engineer myself so it was not originally natural to me. There’s a number of things we can do. I’m going to start by mentioning for those that are shy and may not feel as comfortable around people, I mentioned Olivia Fox Cabane and she has a wonderful book called The Charisma Myth that actually teaches you how to be charismatic. You can learn charisma just like you can learn golf or accounting or any other skill. There are actual mechanical things you can learn to do that will make you more charismatic. That was super helpful to me. But then it’s also about how we think about networking. And the number one mistake I see is people think, “Well, your network is collecting a bunch of business cards or today it’s connections on LinkedIn. And then when I need a job I say, ‘Hey, I’m looking for a job. Can you help me?'” That is not networking. Not at all. You have to change your mindset. Networking is first and foremost about building relationships. Think about building relationships. You’ve done it before. We’ve all done it. If you’ve ever had a friend, you know how to network.
Now, not all people in your network are personal friends of yours. That’s okay. There are people who I just know professionally. And we only engage in professional ways but we have a relationship. We’re just not hanging out, dinner and beers on the weekend. So think about building these relationships and that’s going to lead to your network. The second key point, the second mindset change, Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone, one of the probably best books on networking. He has this great way of looking at networking. It really changed how I thought of that. Most of us think of networking as again, I need a job or I need something. He looks at it as the network is an extension of himself. Now we’re all used to this with our cellphones right? It’s to the point where it’s saying, “Well, I don’t have to remember this because I’ll just pullout this devise in my pocket and the whole internet at my fingertips anytime I need it. So it’s not just me. It’s me plus the internet.”
That’s how you should think of your network. It is not just what I know and what I can do. It’s what I know and can do plus what anyone in my network knows and can do. Any challenge I have, whether it’s looking for a job or hiring someone or trying to meet someone to get more information, or build a partnership with someone, look for a supplier, whatever it is, there’s probably someone in my network who knows this. And they are an extension of me. And if that relationship is in place now I have access to it.

Carol:
Love that. I’m especially loving this on a theoretical level. Thinking about how it is an extension of what I am capable of doing, of what I know, of what I can offer. Would love to know though, on a tactical level, how am I supposed to go out and build my network? Long gone are the days of Thursday afternoon happy hours at the local hotel and everyone just standing around awkwardly. So how on a tactical level does somebody go out and really begin building their network?

Mark:
First the common question I get, I’m going to do a variant of that, which is what do we do during the pandemic? To your point, we can’t go get that happy hour Thursday night. That meeting someone in person, collecting the business card, that is the first 2% of networking. And sure, meeting someone is kind of the first step of any relationship you’re going to build. But that is not the only step. And this is one of the silver linings in the pandemic. When you meet someone you’re going to build that relationship over time and you need to think of it as both calendar time and clock time. What’s the difference here? If you met someone today and you run into them a year from now and then run into them again two years from now, that calendar time is two years. You’ve known this person for two years, but you’ve seen them three times for 30 minute each over two years. You’re not going to have a close relationship. And that’s where the wall clock time comes in. Because someone who you meet … Maybe you’re on a project together, you work with them every day, you see them multiple hours a day. Even after six, eight weeks, your calendar time might be short but that wall clock time was much bigger. You spent more time getting to know them.
So we want to think about building both calendar time and wall clock time. Now, this is where we get the silver lining in the pandemic. Usually we say, “Hey, let’s go out and get coffee. Let’s meet up in person. Let’s find a way to connect.” And its usually been in person. In 2018 if I had said, “Hey, let’s go have a Zoom call,” you would have first said, “What’s Zoom and why would I want to spend this time looking at my laptop? Because there’s a happy hour, it’s Thursday night.” Now we can reach out to anyone. Now this is normal. So we’re not confined to just people in our city. Reach out to people worldwide. Reach out and build those relationships. Add that wall clock time and reach out to them.
Now this goes to another tactical piece of advice. So okay, how to I reach out to someone and be like, “Hey stranger, want to Zoom?” So we find reasons to reach out. We find reasons to connect. Keith Ferrazzi in his book talks about health, wealth and children. I do it as health, wealth and family. Three things everyone cares about. Everyone cares about health and certainly health issues are top of mind for everyone. Wealth, take that as career and job. How are you doing? Hey, I saw you changed jobs, or how are things going? I know a lot of companies in your field are struggling. And of course family. We all care about family. But you can also reach out for other reasons. If you know anything about the person and if you’ve paid any attention, as you should when you’re building a relationship, you learn about what’s of interest to this person. So I can reach out and say, “I know your daughter plays soccer. I was just reading an article about high school soccer players. It made me think of you. Maybe your daughter’s interested in this.” And if I haven’t spoken to you in six months, here’s the reason I can reach out. You can always find that type of article and use that as an excuse to reach out.

J:
Love that. Again, I’m not the best networker out there. I try and I appreciate all those tips because I’m going to use those tips. One of the things that I found has helped me to become a better networker is to focus on helping other people connect. I know that me making that connection myself was important. But because that’s difficult I found that it’s sometimes easier for me to connect other people. They appreciate it. It builds social goodwill with other people by connecting them. And so I focused on that a lot. Can you talk a little bit about the benefits of being a connector and making introductions and how that factors into networking?

Mark:
You’ve hit on so many key points. And the first … This is another great way to network. Every time I meet someone I think, how can I help you? How do I give before I get? Because psychologically we have this concept of reciprocity. If I have gone and helped you, you are more likely to want to help me. Now I don’t do it simply because, “Okay, I’m going to do this and you owe me one now.” I do it out of genuineness. I really think of networking as karmic and I go out and try to help others and it does come back to you. You may have a few people who you always seem to be giving and they’re not so helpful. Watch out for those. You’ll be aware of them. But for the most part go and give. Now the second topic you brought up by connecting people, this is the easiest win-win. So imagine you have two people. One of your friends is looking to hire someone. Someone else is looking else is looking for a job. A simple connection. An email introduction between the two. What have you done?
It took you five minutes to write that email. You just got someone a job. Now obviously it wasn’t totally you. They had to interview and really present themselves well but they know you opened the door. You just did them a huge favor. And if you’ve ever hired someone you know what a pain is to hire. That’s a lot of time and effort. You did that person a huge favor. You just did two favors, doubled your impact with just a couple minutes of an introduction. And we use the example of jobs but this could be connecting people to suppliers, this could be of course in our personal lives where you set two people up, they get married for the rest of their lives. They have you to thank for it. It could just be, “Hey, I’m thinking of writing a book and would really love to talk to someone.” A friend of mine who wrote a book put me in touch with his agent. At that point I didn’t need an agent but he just said, “Why don’t you guys just have coffee?” And that was helpful and he had some other introductions for me. So introducing people to each other will simply connect them and give you the goodwill for it.

J:
Yeah. And you’re also doing them another favor is that you’re expanding their network so that they can then make introductions to other people and vice versa. They can then make introduction to you so it’s really-

Carol:
It’s a big web of interconnectivity.

J:
There you go. It’s a web.

Carol:
There you have it.

Mark:
You literally get network effects.

J:
There you go. You literally get network effects. Carol and I, we’ve spent many ears at Ebay. We understand the concept of network effects and there you go. Now it’s in the real world of actual networking.

Mark:
Yeah. Back in the before times when we could actually see each other, I used to host a lot of events. I used to have a party at my house roughly every other month. And what this did is it brought together people from different parts of my life and helped them get to know each other. There are a few children who came out of that but there were also some business dealings and partnerships that came out of that. And that’s an easy way to kind of automate those introductions. I’m not standing in the room introducing every person to everyone else. But people come together and they say, “Well, if you know Mark and Mark trusts you enough to bring you here, that says something. You’re a good person. You’re someone worth investing time in.” And so bringing people together for an event. This is a great way to build your network. It’s to do something where you are providing value and either bring people together or reach out to people. So parties are one. And it could be a small dinner party. It could be … I used to do large Halloween parties. Chocolate fondue parties. Had all these different themes.
Another good way to do it is to create an event. Just you start an event. A podcast is a great way to do it. I’ve talked to other podcasters who say, “I started a podcast. Now I get to reach out to all these interesting people. These authors and CEOs. And I say, ‘Hi, would you like to be on my podcast?'” You are giving them something. And they say, “Oh well, okay, I could use that visibility.” So they go on. And now you get to know them. And so when you create something you provide value to other people and they’ll want to come to you to get that value and that will help to start to generate that network.

Carol:
Love it. This is great. Before we wrap up this part of our discussion do you have any other power tips? Any other little quick actionable things that you would like to share that anybody who is new to networking or really wants to hone their skills can start doing immediately?

Mark:
I like business cards. Now, this probably isn’t immediately today because we’re not seeing each other. I am still a fan of business cards. For two reasons. One, it let’s you exit a conversation by pulling out the card. A lot of people don’t know … I’m stuck. This person’s talking on and on. You can use the business card to get out of the conversation. Two, business cards are great just for that serendipity. I’ve had people who will pickup my card, months later, years later and oh, I’m going to reach out to Mark. Business cards cost nothing. They’re like two cents a piece. So use business cards. And here’s the secret because no one remembers business cards. I have business cards in my wallet. Women, put them in your purse. I also have them in every jacket pocket in every suit, every spots coat. I have them in my outer coats. I have them in my laptop bag. I have them in my suitcase. I will never run out of business cards because when I come home and I’m out of my jacket pocket, and then I went to my laptop bag or my coat and I ran out there, as soon as I come in I’ve got a pile by the door and I refill and it’s always available and so I give them out like water. Everyone should have the business card. It doesn’t hurt to give them out.

Carol:
That is so great. And that is just one of those simple tips where I’m sitting here thinking, why have we physically not thought of doing that? You order them online or whatever and you get the big ole box. How simple is it? It’s just such a no brainer but I’ve never thought of it. But just like you said, put them in every single pocket you’ve got. Put them in every purse, every wallet. Just go in your closet, boom, boom, boom and then they’re there. It’s just such a simple yet effective way of making sure they’re always on hand. And PS, love that you’re still a fan of business cards because a lot of the things we’re talking about are a lot of the things that in some ways we’ve gotten away from because of technology but you are just reiterating that many of the more tried and true traditional ways of working through your career, working through business and so on are still very effective, very much appreciated and can help propel people to success so I think that’s just super.
Let’s transition a little bit to another topic that I know is near and dear to your heart. And so let’s say we’ve built this great network of people, we continue to build relationships. We’ve maybe gone down another path. Maybe at first we’re like, a solopreneur. There are a lot of people in our community who are. So maybe these people need to manage vendors. Maybe they have a couple hires and they need to start managing direct reports for the first time. We’d love to dig a little bit more into your expertise about managing teams effectively. Even if you’re an individual contributor or your mostly working on your own. So I’d first of all, love to set the stage with, how do you Mark kind of really define the difference between management on one hand and leadership on the other?

Mark:
And even before we get to that, I’m going to note whether you are in a leadership or management role or you’re a solopreneur who expects to do this, or even if you’re an individual contributor who says, I never want to be a leader or a manager, you will be able to benefit from these skills. We all manage people. It’s not simply, “Okay, you report to me and I’m telling you what to do.” Every time we go to a coworker and we need to convince you to kind of work with us or help out, that uses management skills. Leadership is not positional. And so it’s not about you’re in this title. All of us can lead at times and corporate America has said, as I mentioned earlier, these are skills they want to see. So no matter who you are, no matter where you are in your career, these skills will apply to you. Now you asked the question of leadership versus management. And this is a subtle topic. There’s lots of debate on it.
The best succinct description I ever heard was no one ever managed men into battle. And if you think about it, you kind of start to get a sense of it. Really I distinguish the two between leadership is about convincing people to move towards a change state. You want to make some type of transformation. Something new or some change. And you convince people by influence that we should work together to do this. Management I think of as a lot more tactical. Management is trying to make things happen. We think of project management and scheduling. Ultimately the essence of management is making sure the right people have the right conversations at the right time.

J:
Yeah. And I think a lot of us want to be leaders but at the end of the day, we find ourselves being managers. We find ourselves focusing on the we need to get this done, we need to get this done, we have a deadline for that. And then we go and tell our friends that I’m the CEO of my company and I’m the leader and I’m a great leader and we aren’t. So I’d love to talk about some tips that you have for being a better leader. Because I think in the dichotomy of the two management versus leadership, there’s lots of ways to become a better manager. A lot of that is organizational skills and paying attention. Being a great leader, some people think you’re born with it, some people think that you either have it or you don’t. I assume you don’t believe that. So talk to us a little bit about how we can become better leaders. How can we convince people to put their life on the line and run into battle?

Mark:
Leadership is absolutely a skill you can learn. And sure, some people are more natural leaders just like some people are more naturally athletic or more talented at singing. But the rest of us can learn these skills. And you raised an important point which is that I distinguish the two partially because of my academic background and partially because I look at and get to really the fundamental pieces of both and so I want to focus on each piece as I describe in the book. But good leaders manage, good managers lead. So on a day to day basis I don’t think about well, do I need to be a leader or a manager? It’s about what do I need to do to get this done and I pull in some of the techniques of each In terms of being a good leader … So this of course is a question that’s many books big, many semesters, PhD theses on this. But I would say one of the most important things we can do as a leader is listen. Is listen to other people. Listen to their needs. You have an idea and you’re trying to get people to follow you in that idea, but listen to their feedback. Listen to where they’re excited, listen to where they’re hesitant.
Listen to what their needs are and how do you align your goal to their needs? So be active in listening. Seek out input if you can. And that’s going to make you a much stronger leader.

J:
It’s funny because your discussion of being a better leader reminds me of a discussion we had a couple weeks ago with a master negotiator. And a lot of it is it’s the same principals. It’s being empathetic and it’s listening and it’s really trying to understand that person that you’re leading. And again, same way with negotiation, our classic concept is negotiation is beating up the other person and staring them down and hard nosed. And it’s really not about that. It’s about empathy and listening and understanding and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. And leadership is really the same thing. We have this notion that being a leader means you’re, like you said, leading somebody into battle. But in reality it’s really about empathy and listening and understanding.

Mark:
I’m glad you brought negotiating. And that’s another chapter in the book. And one of the reasons I put all these different topics together is because as you point out, they all help each other. They all support each other. And so better leaders know how to negotiate and better negotiators know how to communicate and better communicators understand how to manage. So they all support each other. What you said about negotiations, great point. We classically think of negotiations, I’m sitting across the table from you and it’s I win and you lose and that’s how it works in a classic zero sum negotiations. But in fact, good negotiators, they see each other as a partner. I am not negotiating against you, I am negotiating with you. Because together we are creating an agreement. We are finding an improved situation than if we hadn’t done this at all. We are in this together. And a leader should have that same mentality.
A leader isn’t, this is what we’re doing and you all follow me. The leader is, we together are going to build something that we all benefit from and you have to see it as a group where the other people are in some ways equal to you. You might be higher up by rank and certainly and you’re standing at the forefront, but we together all need to be part of this and it has to work for all of us or at least most of us if this is going to happen.

Carol:
This is great and I’m loving that you’re talking about through so much of this that all of these skills can absolutely be learned no matter what your personality is, no matter what your experience is with some tools, with some resources, with the right people in your network. These are all skills that can be learned for more effective leadership. I wanted to ask more about your app that you mentioned earlier. Does that offer tools for skill building and what is your app all about that’s in conduction with your book? I would just love to know more about that and how that can help us just become even better in our personal and professional lives.

Mark:
Most book apps are simply a PDF of the book that you put on your phone and they’re kind of pointless. If you want to do that you already have Kindle, just use that. One of the things that I’ve learned from reading books is I’ll read these great self help books, business books, nonfiction books and think oh that’s really interesting, that’s really useful. But then you forget three, four weeks later. Because we all have busy lives. And that’s not really going to help the reader. The book isn’t for me to sell books. The book is for you to learn and be more effective. So I was thinking, how can we make this more effective? And we know from teaching one of the most powerful tools is space repetition which is a fancy name for look back at it a couple days later. We all did this in college. You read it, go back to the book a few days later, look again before the test. Some people will do formal flashcards. Now no one’s going to do this. No one’s going to make flashcards for a book or want to look through flashcards for a book. So I thought a lot about how to teach.
And I mentioned earlier, I was head of a digital media company. And one of the things I learned when we first got into digital publishing and looked at the future, it’s that content has to move from our traditional encasement from the classic, well, here’s a book and there are words with knowledge in between the covers or here is a TV show or a movie. It has to move beyond that and be an experience where the user can access the content when and where they want. If you think about the biggest fiction movies … Think about Harry Potter. It’s not a movie that you watch. It is but it’s also a book. I suppose it was a book first. It’s also a movie. It’s also a theme park. It’s also an online website community and it’s a whole bunch of toys and games and who knows what my nephews are buying these days. So it is a larger experience. Now, I don’t quite have the excitement that you’re going to get from Harry Potter but the content can’t just be held between the covers of the book because that’s not going to be where you need it.
So taking these two thoughts together, I created an app that’s going to help reinforce the knowledge to be there when you need it. At the basic use when you download the app … And it’s completely free and I don’t take any information, I don’t look at anything on your phones. It’s just information for you. Each day I’m going to pop up one of the tips from the book. It’s as if you took a highlighter through the book and it pops up on the phone. You don’t even have to open the app. So you look at it, go, “Oh right, that was really useful,” swipe it away. So it’s like a daily affirmation reminding you of these tips. Giving you that space repetition. You can also open the app if you’re about to go into an interview, if you’re about to go into a networking event or having a leadership challenge. Open the app, go to … It’s all tagged by the type of content. Go to that networking content and say, “Okay, let me swipe through some of these tips right before I walk into the event to get that refresher.” So that’s how you can use the app.

Carol:
I was just going to ask, you’d mentioned that your book was business plan before you embarked on it. I’m just curious was the app a component of the business plan up front or did that opportunity organically present itself later?

Mark:
It was very organic. I was chatting with my neighbor. She’s a marketer. And I was just telling her about the book. And she said, “Oh, you should build an app.” I said, “Oh, okay, yeah. What should the app do?” Said, “I don’t know but you should build and app.” Okay, well that wasn’t perhaps the best guidance. On the other hand it was inspirational. I wouldn’t have probably thought about an app until she mentioned it and I started to think, okay, well what would an app do? How would this be useful? And I drew up … This goes again to all that prior experience. My experience at this company, my experience teaching. How do I take what I know to generate something that’s more value to the end user?

Carol:
Yeah. And it’s of mutual benefit to both sides because the end users obviously getting a ton more value than just the book and just the written content. At the same time, you’re building a brand, you’re creating something that’s more sticky, you have more people talking about it. I pull out my app and I see it pop up and my friend’s standing there and saying, “Hey, what was that thing that just popped up on your phone?” “Oh, let me tell you about Mark Herschberg’s book and this awesome app that he has.” And so basically it allows you to extend your brand past me reading a book and putting it up on my shelf.

Mark:
Absolutely. And what really surprised me, I did not intend to build this app. When I came up with the idea I thought, “Okay, someone has done this, so why don’t I just go and license that?” It didn’t exist. I was shocked. So I patented the technology and then built it as a white label app. So my book’s on it but probably later this year or possibly next year I’m going to roll it out so other authors, other instructors, other content providers can do something similar and get their content in the hands of their customers in their community.

Carol:
That is great. And I think that is such an amazing reminder that there are tools like this one that we think, I’m not even going to bother going town that road, someone’s already done it, whatever. But that is often not the case. Often there is so much power in ideas that seem simple but nobody has taken the initiative and put forth the effort to do it yet. So I think that’s just a great reminder for anybody. Whatever that great idea is, it just might be worth exploring if it’s worth the time like you said up front in the beginning of this episode to get you from where you are to where you want to be. So I love that as a reminder.

Mark:
All the patents I’ve created I look back at them and say, “This was kind of obvious. I can’t believe no one else came up with this.” But they got granted as being novel and no one else had done it before. So yeah, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit if you just understand your domain, if you understand the industry and what the challenges are and really look. There’s still a lot of opportunities to be found.

J:
I love that. Okay, we are getting towards the end of the show so I want to jump into our final segment that we call four more. And that’s where we’re going to ask you the same four questions that we ask all of our guests and then the more part of the four more is where you can tell our listeners where they can find out more about you, connect with you, buy your book and anything you want to tell us about. Sound good?

Mark:
Sounds great.

J:
Let’s do it. Okay. I will ask the first question. So Mark, what was your very first or your very worst job and what lessons did you take from it that you still put into practice today?

Mark:
I had a series of very bad summer internships. Not bad because I had terrible bosses, bad because there wasn’t a lot of work. And back then I just thought okay, this is easy. I kind of sit here and I’m making money. But what I realized, took me a couple of years to figure this out, is that I was missing an opportunity. If you’re ever in a role and you are not fully challenged and you have that spare capacity, you may want to go find a new job. Maybe that’s not an option. What you can do is use that spare time. If you get your work done in five hours instead of eight, what do you do with those three hours? Go out to other parts of the company. Go to other people and say, “What problems do you have and how can I help?” Be proactive and you can use that to help other people, to expand your responsibilities, to expand your skillset. It is an opportunity, not a limitation if you look at it that way.

Carol:
Love that. That is excellent advice. So what is another piece of advice that you haven’t shared yet today Mark, this is our question number two, for small business owners or entrepreneurs or solopreneurs that you haven’t yet mentioned today?

Mark:
The topics that I talk about in the book and that we’ve talked about in the show, these are not just for you, they are for your whole organization. If your whole organization is just a little better at communicating or leading or has a slightly bigger network, it will help everyone in the organization and when you try to learn these skills they are learned in a different way than how we traditionally learned. If you think back to college and you learned marketing or you learned finance or whatever you were studying, it was that lecture mode. It’s the professor standing up saying, do this, this, this, here’s the formula, write these things down and you recorded and memorized it. There is no formula for leadership. There is no simple three steps to networking. These are complex, subtle activities that we do. They’re social activities. And so the best way to learn them is to get multiple perspectives. If you look at how business schools teach this, they do it through case studies, they do it through group discussion. They get lots of people from different backgrounds and they talk about it as a class. You can replicate that without spending business school tuition.
As you undertake learning these skills, do so with other people. Do so with your friends, do so with your peers at work, do so with your coworkers. Whatever is the appropriate group, do it as a group and get that diverse set of opinions. Now, you can do it by buying the book. In fact there’s some free downloads on the website about how you can actually set this up. If you don’t want to buy the book, you can follow those same steps, download the resource, and get a different book or just pull articles off the internet or listen to these great podcasts and say, “Let’s all listen to this podcast and discuss it as a group.” So you can drop in your own content if you don’t want to use mine. But learn it as a group.

J:
Yeah. You can do that. But everybody should go buy the book. Okay. Question number three. And I have a feeling this is going to be an easy one for you. And this is where I’m going to ask you your favorite book besides your own that everybody should be reading but probably hasn’t. I know you’ve already mentioned several. You mentioned Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. You mentioned The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane. You mentioned Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Give us one more. What’s that best book out there that we probably haven’t read?

Mark:
If I had to pick one, and this is not necessarily the best … It’s not that it’s not a good book, there are just so many. I would say Talking 9 to 5 by Deborah Tannen was really insightful in how people communicate and particularly gender communications at work. And I do reference some of her research in the leadership chapter and I talk about the double bind women face. So I touch upon that. She gets into much more subtle and complex and larger issues in her book.

Carol:
That’s great. And what a great recommendation and it’s very timely. So very relevant for right now. Thank you for that. Here is the fourth question which is my fun favorite one Mark. Curious to know what is something along the way in either your personal or professional life that you have splurged on that was totally and entirely worth it?

Mark:
I am not great at splurging. I’ve literally tried and there’s money set aside to splurge that I haven’t really used. But I would say one thing that I have done … It wasn’t a single purchase, it was a kind of path or a habit. A number of years ago I started wearing French cuff shirts. So my girlfriend at the time who got them for me, she bought me … I believe it was an MIT set of cuff links as my first cuff links. And then I got a couple more. The standard, the knot, the square stuff that you find in any department store. And at some point, I don’t remember when, I saw what are typically called novelty cuff links. So it was a little more creative. And that got me started down a path. I now have 400 pairs of cuff links. I never wear the square and the knot and those boring ones. I wear food, bagels, sushi, pizza, hot dogs. I wear drinks. It’s beer, coke, Starbucks. Transportation. Planes, trains, automobiles. Holidays, Christmas trees, jack-o-lanterns. So I have all these different cuff links for different themes, different days, different activities. And I like it because it’s just fun. It adds a little flair to an outfit if we don’t think of the negative connotation of flair from Office Space.
And also all my friends and coworkers know, “Okay Mark, what are the cuff links today?” And it gives them a talking point. It gives them reason to reach out. And it’s just something they remember about me.

J:
I love that. And I hate to admit this … And Carol, you probably don’t even know this about me yet. We spent our career in Silicon Valley so I’m a flip flops kind of guy. But I absolutely love French cuff shirts and I love cuff links. And I only wear them when I wear pants and real shoes, which is probably every three years. But every time I do I absolutely love it. If I weren’t a flip flop guy, I would be a cuff link guy.

Mark:
Working in tech, I can show up in T-shirt and jeans. I’ve just chosen to wear French cuff shirts.

J:
It’s great. It’s great. Love it. Okay.

Carol:
That’s just part of your … Sorry. I had to slip it in there. It just becomes part of your brand right? That’s one of the really fun things about an outlier like that is it’s part of the Mark Herschberg brand. Very cool.

Mark:
It absolutely is now.

J:
Awesome. Okay. So that was the four part of the four more and now let’s jump into the more part of the four more and that’s where you tell our listeners where they can find out more about you, where they can connect with you, where they can buy your book, or anything else you would like to tell us or mention.

Mark:
You can go to my website, thecareertoolkitbook.com. And from there, if you hit the buy button you can see places to buy. We ran out of our entire first print within two weeks. The last couple hundred just got shipped to Amazon. They still have some in stock. We’re doing a second printing as quick as possible. COVID has some delays. So depending on when this comes out it may be out of stock temporarily but we’re rushing to get more books out. And the Kindle book is available and other electronic books you can of course buy. Also on the website, you can download the app. It’s for both Android and Apple. Free app. So you just click the link, it’ll take you right to the store to download. You can find additional resources. I mentioned all these other books we talked about. Some fantastic reading. Resources if you want to build a training program within your own organization or with friends of yours. You can find that there as well. And then of course there is the contact page if you’d like to get in touch with me.

J:
Awesome. Fantastic. All of that is also going to be on our show notes. So for anybody listening or watching this, go check out our show notes for all of those links.
Mark, thank you so much for being here, for sharing your expertise, your wisdom, all the amazing things you do. Congratulations on the release of The Career Toolkit. And we’d love to have you back at some point to talk about … I’m sure there are a million other great topics we could discuss.

Mark:
Thank you. I really enjoyed being here.

J:
Thanks so much.

Carol:
Thank you Mark. See you soon.
Absolutely loved that episode and there are a couple of points I want to reiterate once again because I thought they were just gold. I love how Mark talked about, and it would be worth exploring in another episode, that he found a couple opportunities for patents, things that seemed like they should have been done 100 times by 100 different people but they hadn’t been done yet and he found business opportunities there. That was just absolutely awesome. Also loved how he put networking in the framework of seeing your network as an extension of yourself. So not just what you are able to do to provide value, but what you and your contacts are able to do to offer expertise, offer knowledge, offer services and value to other people.

J:
Absolutely. And I think for me the biggest takeaway from this episode was just the networking piece and the things that we can be doing better to be better networkers and really build our network and take care of our network. And I think his tip about when it comes to networking focus on health, wealth, and family, those are the things people like to talk about, that little tip right there is going to make a big difference in my life.
Okay. This has been a great episode but I think it’s time to wrap it up. Are we ready to wrap it up? Anything else?

Carol:
Let’s wrap this up baby.

J:
Okay. Everybody, thank you for tuning in again this week and we will see you next week or hear you or you will hear us or see us. I guess it all depends.

Carol:
Whatever it is we’re thrilled that you’re here with us so thank you.

J:
Absolutely. We’ll see you soon. We’ll talk to you soon. Thanks again. She’s Carol. I’m J.

Carol:
Now get out there and connect a couple of your contacts today. Have a super week everybody and we’ll see you soon.

J:
Thanks everybody. See you.

 

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • Developing your soft skills like leadership and teamwork 
  • The skills all entrepreneurial endeavors require
  • Why you need to stop treating your 1000th customer like your 1st customer
  • Creating a career plan (regardless of if you work in corporate or work for yourself)
  • Building your network and creating reciprocal benefits 
  • Networking in a digital age and why you should always have business cards on you
  • And So Much More!

Links from the Show

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What does it take to start, scale, and sell your own business? Every Tuesday, J and Carol Scott ask this question to entrepreneurs of all stripes and delve into stories that go beyond the launch. From hiring and firing to marketing and raising capital, this podcast takes an honest look at the triumphs and stumbles of entrepreneurship. Whether you’re looking to sustain a startup or bring an idea to life, you’ll come away inspired. Tune in—and learn how to treat your business like a business.