"To live is to learn" is an old saying that applies to anyone at any stage of life. As a founder, you live by this motto every day as you continue your education on how to achieve your goals. You know there is so much to learn, but you will often find that the best advice comes not from books, but from other people's experiences.
We sat down with David Cancel, founder and CEO of Drift, a conversational marketing platform. A serial entrepreneur, multi-founder, inspirational figure and advisor, David shared with us the knowledge he wished he had when starting his entrepreneurial journey.
Founderly: You have built many companies, and are currently leading Drift as CEO. You are also an investor, board member, advisor, or consultant for several other tech companies. What is next on your plate or in the pipeline?
David: Well, so much! I believe the challenge for entrepreneurs is to get their startups off the ground, which is hard enough. And even then, as you grow, each phase brings an entirely different set of problems because you are bringing all these people on board: engineers to create and design your product, marketers to help you deal with your marketing challenges, etc.
I have discovered through my experience that is the top 1% of what you need. The other 99% are the people.
Selling your product to customers, inviting people to work for your company, and treating and managing them—all of these are about people. Two unspoken challenges that concern a founder more than the product itself are how to sell and manage people.
Founderly: How should one go about it?
David: One thing that I wish someone had told me when I was first starting was the importance of psychology, social sciences, and decision-making skills for becoming an entrepreneur. Most people never talk about this subject because it is not always considered "sexy." However, if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to learn how marketing works, what hooks are and how they can help you attract customers, why a great story is so important, and more. It makes a difference when you know what makes people tick!
Founderly: We believe it is critical to start looking at the social aspect of business, as it is the foundation of everything.
David: That is the foundation, I agree. You have to start from there. The truth of the matter is everyone wants to study marketing and sales. These are fast-paced fields with a lot of technological advances, but what takes most of your time is people. No matter how many channels we use or team-building exercises, people still want to feel their co-workers and employees care about them, no matter what technology we have. That is why you should study psychology because personality has not changed throughout the ages and that will change how you view others.
Founderly: Right! Communication is the key.
David: Yes. We started Drift because we think that, for the first time, we can give depth to conversations—voice, video, text—and you can have an identity to stitch all of that together. Now, machine learning is advanced enough, so that you can understand language and base level emotions. Once you can do that stuff at a basic conversational level, then you can influence people’s decision making by studying a language.
Founderly: What kind of language do you mean?
David: We're planning to make a whole script. We'll look at the sentences that work — it's almost like an experiment. Then, we'll start with the language and see if it works, as opposed to starting with the language and then trying to test whether it works. I'm fascinated by the potential of psychic linking. It will lead to the creation of lots of new software companies focused on people in different niches. I know we want to be leaders of that little niche, but there will be lots of events too.
Founderly: It sounds powerful. And Google is doing a lot in this space, too. They want to offer the same functionality for search.
David: Oh, yeah. But if you think about today's advanced software, whether it's in sales, marketing, or any productivity software, it's essentially some representation as a spreadsheet or a relational database model. That isn't the actual data; all that context and richness is lost because it's not captured where we can make sense of that and understand. That's why this whole new type of software excites me, and that's what we're trying to achieve with Drift.
Founderly: Do you want to sell this product to individuals or businesses?
David: We’re going to start with businesses because that is who we serve, but this is helpful for anybody.
Founderly: Nice! We have noticed that you are the biggest contributor when it comes to entrepreneurship. You’re a mentor at several venture capital firms and accelerators. What keeps you going?
David: I think it's important because when we grew up, we didn't have role models. We didn't have access to people to help us. We feel a sense of duty to introduce people to entrepreneurship, especially young people. We focus on helping underrepresented people, who tend to be overlooked.
Founderly: Do you also invest? What kind of investments do you like to make?
David: I usually invest in two areas: companies in businesses I understand, like marketing and sales, and people I've worked with before, like my co-founder.
Founderly: You know the entrepreneurial ecosystem inside and out. What do you think we could be doing better to help founders?
David: Yes, I think we have come a long way. In terms of education, we can find out about almost anything now. That wasn't always so easy to do. What's missing are role models. How do you show non-traditional types of people being successful? You know, in terms of their backgrounds or their friends or their ethnicity doing things so that other people, who are not doing them, can say: "I can do that too".
Founderly: What do you think about mentorship?
David: It is critical. In retrospect, I had three mentors. They felt foundational to me, although I did not know they were mentors at the time. I think it is essential to have a mentor or role model. You need to be around other people whose knowledge you can draw on, who are 10, 15, 20 years ahead of your career level. To attract the attention of these people, you need to demonstrate your potential and help them in some way. You will probably have to work hard to establish yourself as someone that others want to work with and help you—to make yourself a positive asset for them. As a result, you will become magnetic, able to attract the support of other people.
Founderly: In the end, storytelling is what it comes down to.
David: Interestingly enough, everything always comes down to storytelling.