I don’t personally know Dharmesh Shah. He isn’t a mentor or an investor in Kinvey. I first heard of Dharmesh when I moved to Boston in 2009 and spent a year meeting and getting to know people in the Boston startup ecosystem. Dharmesh’s name kept cropping up quickly and regularly in my meetings, and on researching him further, I became an ardent reader of his blog and I’ve followed his musings onTwitter. I finally met a bearded Dharmesh in early 2010, and after that brief encounter, I’ve spent 2 minutes with him on one other occasion, at the UnConference organized by Bill Warner.
In spite of having only known the man from afar, Dharmesh has inspired me in my entrepreneurial journey, and some of his actions have influenced core strategies I have employed to build Kinvey. In no particular order, here are 5 things I’ve learnt from Dharmesh Shah:
1. Create a Category: I have always admired how Dharmesh and Brian Halligan coined “Inbound Marketing” to describe what HubSpot does. It’s genius because it helps you clearly define why your market and company is different, gets you and your team to stay on message about who you are, and shows the industry that the status quo just doesn’t cut it and that there’s a much-needed, different and innovative approach to achieve your goals.
I did the same thing by coining Backend as a Service in May 2011 to describe what Kinvey does. Since then the press, analysts, and independent developer evangelists have covered it as a space. Backend as a Service is now a growing ecosystem with 25+ startups (and even Microsoft) looking to innovate and bring value to the next generation of mobile and web developers.
2. Be a memorable presenter: Dharmesh often confesses that he is an introvert at heart. He says he has to pump himself up to present in front of an audience and being amongst crowds for long periods of time drains him of his energy. But this doesn’t stop him from being a fantastic presenter. Numerous anecdotes I’ve heard and online videos I’ve seen, attest to the fact that Dharmesh is a memorable presenter and can tell a truly unique, creative and memorable story.
I now find myself spending days (and sometimes weeks) preparing for a presentation and asking the question, “what’s my story arc?” I work hard on every pitch – everything from a TechStars demo-day presentation to our monthly team all-hands at Kinvey. Telling a memorable story helps your audience associate you with your message and your company.
3. Bring value to your community: Apart from being the Co-Founder and CTO at HubSpot, Dharmesh is an active startup blogger, angel investor and mentor to numerous startups. Entrepreneurs I know swear by the value he brings them. I can only guess that Dharmesh is so active in the startup ecosystem because he finds it hugely motivating to know and invest in hungry and intelligent entrepreneurs, think about and help them through new ideas they have, and see them work hard and succeed.
I am, by no means, in the same position as Dharmesh to invest in 50-100 startups or help numerous entrepreneurs by drawing on a long and diverse set of entrepreneurial experiences and contacts. But the little investing I’ve done and assistance I have given, has been selfishly awesome. Why selfish – because contrary to what you may think, I believe it has actually provided more value to me than to the entrepreneurs I work with. I learn about new markets, ponder other points of view, observe different team dynamics, and see how startups are built with strategies I haven’t thought of. Like I said – selfishly awesome!
4. Work hard to constantly learn: For those of you who follow Dharmesh on Twitter, you know by now that he’s a night owl. He’s constantly reading something different, experimenting with new programming languages or coding up a what’s-next project.
Over the last year, I’ve become ritualistic about spending my nights and early mornings thinking about what’s next. This involves researching my space, the competition, our partners and other players in the ecosystem, and coming up with theories on how the market will evolve. It helps me plan for the future and carve out our strategy based on customer feedback, peripheral and direct trends in the market and tons of other learning.
5. Live your life while you live your startup: Dharmesh’s stories about his family always make me smile. My impression (from afar) is that he consciously tries very hard to play an active role at home. I can’t say anything more because I really don’t know him, but what he publicly shares about his family life is remarkable.
It is extremely hard to physically and mentally “be home” day-in and day-out. Something always happens that’s important and pressing – customer meetings, investor conversations, reviewing plans, paying bills, 1-1s with your team, speaking engagements, preparing for tomorrow – the list is endless. Committing and planning my time at home is quite possibly my single greatest challenge as an entrepreneur. I’m still not very good at it, but I will get better.
If you know Dharmesh and have learnt other things from him or have similar observations, I’d love for you to share. And Dharmesh, if you’re reading this, Thank you.