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Aron Schoenfeld: The Importance of In-Person Communication

Written By: Gary 12 July 2010 Other Posts By: Gary

This week, Founders Block writer Gary Reloj interviews Aron Schoenfeld about his early entrepreneurial experiences. Aron is a serial entrepreneur and a member of the New York Entrepreneur Week board. His latest business venture is Do It In Person, a unique company focusing on teaching in-person communication skills and creating unique and effective networking events for people to use these skills.

In your words, what is “Do It in Person”?

Do It In Person is a unique media and lifestyle brand that aims to educate people about the importance of in person communication at every stage of the life cycle. It will also serve as an educational platform to teach people the in-person communication skills that they need to succeed in life and business.

What is the best way to develop these critical in-person communication skills?

Obviously, go to my website! But in all seriousness, practice and understand your weakness. There are plenty of events and classes to refine these skills so take advantage of them. Just going to events and talking to people makes you more comfortable and gets you over that hump. That alone will help you become a better communicator.

Isn’t it sad that we have to teach “do it in person” skills? What happened to our ability to talk to each other?

We live in a society of technology like facebook and twitter where we need everything now and in short form. People don’t watch the news any more; they read it on a tweet in less than 140 characters. Email at work is a lot easier than going up to the 20th floor to talk to someone. While these started off as conveniences, we have started to realize that we can hide behind them too. Afraid of what your boss may say to you when you show him a draft report? Send an email instead. Need to fire someone? Email is less confrontational. But as we started to do these things, people slowly forgot how to communicate in person. Don’t get me wrong; technology is great. It breaks down barriers that slow down business and allows us to have a global workforce. But at the end of the day, in person communication is how business deals get closed and relationships are built. Remember, no matter what we do, we are all selling something. People are more likely to by from you rather than buying from an email address.

Tell me about your passions that led you to start Do It In Person.

I am passionate about entrepreneurship and networking. When I saw how many entrepreneurs go to events where they can find a co-founder or partner who can help make their business a success but lose the opportunity because they don’t know how to have an effective conversation, it really annoys me. My father had always taught me that people buy from you and not your company so in person communication skills are essential and I wanted to share this message.

What are the top three “do’s and don’ts” in networking that any founder should know?

3 do’s – dress appropriately, listen to the person talking to you and follow up with everyone you meet with a thank you note.

3 don’ts – talk with your mouth full, put someone down (tell them there idea is bad or that you have no use for them) and be afraid!

Was there a distinct moment that influenced you to become an entrepreneur?

When I worked at a Big 4 accounting firm, my supervisor told me that all I had to do was “what they did last year.” When I looked at their work and realized that what they had done did not achieve the goal of the project, I realized that I needed an entrepreneurial environment where people strive to be a step ahead and not just be complacent. Then, after meeting Gary Whitehill at a networking event and seeing how the entrepreneurial network works and supports each other, I knew it was what I wanted to do.

Like any journey, there will be peaks and valleys you encounter as you pursue your business goals. Could you describe some of those moments?

As this is a startup, the peak was our launch. We had a networking party that over 400 people, including some very well known entrepreneurs, attended. I had to close the registration list since it was sold out. It gives you a great feeling to get to that point.

While I haven’t had a true valley yet, there are numerous challenges that are close. Those are building on that initial bump to maintain it and keep that momentum going. I’ll let you know when we have that first valley.

What were two things you wish you knew now that you didn’t know when you founded your company?

Everything! All kidding aside, this is not my first startup so I understood the challenges I would face. Every industry poses unique challenges and a different process to get started. The biggest things I learned with my first startup were be prepared to sacrifice because when you bootstrap, your cash flow is tight and you have to cut back on certain things to make sure it work. The second lesson is the importance of doing things right the first time. I am not talking about the basic stuff and writing a business plan, but rather getting a lawyer who can walk you through how to incorporate instead of just using legal zoom and an accountant that can keep your books correctly. While it may seem like an unnecessary expense, it will be extremely valuable when you need to raise capital and/or plan for an exit.

What is the most important thing entrepreneurs should realize when they first develop their business?

You need to spend money to make money. Many people are under the impression that you can always barter or do things on no budget. But everything costs a little money. From incorporating to business cards to website design, you need to spend money and hire the right people so it is done right as opposed to asking a friend for a favor or bartering. These people will put you on the backburner when your company needs to be a priority.

I read your blog post where you contend that “Networking Will Advance Your Career – NOT an MBA”. That’s a bold statement. What compelled you to write that article and what feedback have you gotten from your readers?

What compelled me to write the article was that I found my MBA to be a waste of time. I spent 5 years in a part time MBA program and often found myself with more real life work experience than my professors. They did not understand how the real world works, as many of them were career academics. At the same time, I found that my greatest connections and job opportunities were from networking events that I went to. When I listened to other students complain about their job prospects or not knowing people in the field they wanted to go into, it hit me that people need to be out talking to people and gaining real world networking experience because that has a lot more value than any of the formulas you can learn in a finance class. The formulas will help you on the job, but they are all automated. Networking will be what gets you that job and the promotion, not running a program to calculate some future value.

In your opinion, what separates successful entrepreneurs from failed ones, especially in the context of their communications skills?

Fear of failure and perseverance are 2 essential characteristics that successful entrepreneurs have, but luck is probably number 1. And as Gary Whitehill always says, “luck is an accumulation of hard work.” You need to believe in your idea and work tirelessly to perfect it. Not every business needs to be worth a million dollars to be a success. But you can be very successful by just by focusing your efforts and being driven. Things will fall into place!

Do you believe that our communication mentality is shifting as a whole in society? For example, texting is more acceptable. “Friending” people you barely know on social media sites is more acceptable. How can better digital communication enhance in person communication and vice versa?

Social media is still at its infant stage. People still don’t know how to use it. People are first starting to write about social media etiquette now. Questions like “Is it ok to friend my boss on facebook” or “After how many dates can I friend someone” are just starting to pop up. I have heard a few consultants speak about this and it is recommended that for every 3-4 social media contacts you have, you should have at a minimum 1 in-person meeting (or at least a phone call). Technology allows us to communicate with people faster and more often. But it needs to be used in context and should be just an additional tool to use with in person communication.

To end this interview, I want to ask every reader to do one thing – take a look at your facebook and twitter accounts and see how many of your real friends are on there. Go back over the last year and see how many people you said happy birthday to via facebook or twitter. Now how many of those people did you actually call to wish them a happy birthday? How many of them have you even met in person over the last year? I bet the percentage isn’t that high and I think that truly points to the problem at hand.

Here are some key takeaways from Aron’s interview:

  1. You are always selling something. Remember, that people buy from YOU, not an email address. Personal relationships drive business deals.
  2. To improve your communication skills, go to networking events to get comfortable with talking. Pay attention to your weaknesses and practice, practice, practice!
  3. You need to spend money to make money. Hire the right employees and support (legal, accounting, etc) instead of trying to cut corners or barter with people who do not prioritize your business.
  4. Luck plays a big part in any entrepreneur’s success, but you need to network smart and work hard to accumulate lucky opportunities.
  5. Are you doing enough in-person networking? Go through your social media accounts and determine how many of your “friends” are really friends you see and interact with in person. If the percentage isn’t high, you may want to check out Do It In Person.

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