One of the great upsides of being an entrepreneur is that you have to learn a lot of new stuff very quickly, absorb it, experiment with it and use it.
I personally love learning by reading books. While you read you cannot but imagine how the new knowledge could be used to improve what you are doing or for trying something new. A drawback of using books as the primary form of learning is that, as any other type of research, it takes time to find reliable, relevant and actionable information you can put into practice.
Sometimes it's nice taking shortcuts and asking your colleague if she knows how to do something you're not familiar with, or if she knows someone who could. At Mindiply, sales is one of the things we are not very familiar with, a somewhat disadvantage for a startup: how do we identify potential customers? How do we start a relationship with them and find out if we have a solution to their problems?
The second great upside of being an entrepreneur is that you socialize with a lot of interesting people, who are happy to share with you their knowledge and experiences. Sometimes they will also go the extra mile for you. That's what happened between us and Alec Hajinoff of OneDayExchange. Alec is creating a network of businesses that offer each other learning opportunities. After meeting him we started helping each other out and Alec asked us what topic we would benefit the most from learning more about. We had no doubt, sales!
Two weeks later we were sitting in West London at the office of Altios UK, the regional outpost of Altios global, a French company that helps businesses expand internationally in the 17 Countries where they have offices. There we met the country manager, Pierre, who spent two days with us talking about sales: the process, the tactics, and the practicalities.
Was it different from learning by reading a book? Oh yes. Pierre tailored his knowledge to our situation, made it relevant and concrete for the stage we are at and we were able to ask for in-depth explanations of the points we found most obscure. On top of that, we got to know a thoroughly nice person with a very French flair (intended in the best way possible!) who I'm sure we will interact with in the future. By the end of training, we were raring to test some of the things we learned out in the wild, much more comfortable about what to do and how to meet potential customers.
The experience was very different from formal training as well, it was like having a consultant with you for two days who wanted to impart to you as much of his knowledge as possible in the time allotted.
What did Pierre get in exchange for the generous donation of his time? He is part of the One Day Exchange network himself, and the day may soon come where he needs to learn something he's not very knowledgeable about at the moment. Should he ever need our help, we will jump at the chance of offering it. Should someone mention to me that they are thinking of expanding internationally? I'm sure I know who I will direct them to.
On the Mindiply side, we look forward to having the chance of hosting someone who wants to know more about building digital products, creativity and decision making techniques or prototyping. The greatest aspect of this way of learning from each other is that you create a powerful bond between all the parties involved: it's first and foremost about Paolo, Sarah, Pierre and Alec, rather than about OneDayExchange, Mindiply and Altios.
What did we actually learn, you ask? That's for another blog post.