Hat Tricks and Tips: Lean Startup Author Eric Ries Shares 3 Ways For Millennials To Seal The Deal

It’s 4am. You’ve been lying in bed for the past four hours, trying to get your body to shut down. But the adrenaline won’t wear off. You’re filled with anxiety and excitement, but you just can’t fall asleep.

You are about to have one of the most important meetings of your life. You have been called in to meet with a massive company that you have been trying to get in front of for years.

If the meeting goes well, this could be your big break. If you screw it up, you are pretty sure your heart will disintegrate.

As you mentally prepare for the meeting, you feel nervous, anxious, excited, scared, and exhausted all at the same time. As you look in the mirror, you give yourself that nod. You know, the one that comes with a confident half smirk to convince yourself that you ARE ready, even if you really aren’t.

Then that confident look fades away as you turn your eyes to a pile of dirty hoodie sweatshirts on the floor. Slowly, your eyes move to the closet. All of your excitement turns to fear as you slowly begin to realize that you have a way bigger problem than what to say during the meeting:

What are you going to wear?

You can’t wear a sweatshirt, can you? Can you wear jeans? Do you even have any clean jeans? Do you want to look professional? Should you wear a suit? Do you even own a suit?

You do what any young entrepreneur with a fashion problem does.

You call your mom.

When you are earning your ranks an a millennial entrepreneur, there are going to be a number of situations where you have to figure out the perfect business uniform for different occasions. People judge you by how you look, especially when you are dealing with older executives.

Who better to learn strategy from than one of the most successful men in Silicon Valley who has intimate experience being the youngest person in the room?

At this year’s Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Eric Ries, author ofThe Lean Startup. Let’s be honest, he’s a young-looking guy for his age.

The Lean Startup Conference boasted over 80 speakers in three days, including panels, keynotes, workshops, and one-on-one mentoring. With a gathering of over 1,500 Lean Startup enthusiasts, Fort Mason was buzzing with entrepreneurs looking to learn how to accelerate innovation in both small, medium, and massive sized companies.

At the conference, in addition to talking with Eric, I was able to meet influencers like Lisa Klein, Ben Blank, Jonathan Bertfield, and the Godfather of the Lean Startup movement, Steve Blank.

In its sixth year, the Lean Startup Conference helped to reinforce the importance of a customer development strategy and provided tools for entrepreneurs to implement a more conscious approach to doing business in a scientific way.

When I had my time to sit down with Eric Ries, I decided to give him a break from talking about the Lean Startup.

To change things up a bit, and to do some digging for the millions of millennials who were not able to attend, I decided to ask him about lessons that would come in handy for young entrepreneurs who may feel like their age works against them in the boardroom.

From one of the most influential figures in Silicon Valley and arguably in the startup scene, here are Eric Ries’ top three tips for millennials to eliminate their age as a fear factor.

1. When in Doubt Rock the Hybrid Look

Suit or no suit? That was the question I asked.

Don’t fake it. Eric said that you have got to be authentic with who you are. He found that being a Hybrid has worked for him.

When Eric was about to meet Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, for the first time, he was in every millennial entrepreneur’s nightmare: He was not sure what to wear either.

Though he didn’t necessarily call his mother, he did decide to wear a suit, but declared it was the wrong decision. Jeff made fun of him in his suit right off the bat in front of the entire GE executive crew.

Jeff, dressed casually, poked fun at Eric’s clothing choice right away by saying “What are you, some new Silicon Valley guy who’s so important that you need a suit?”

Eric admits he’s normally the youngest person in a room with big companies, and the oldest in a room of true startups. He has taken it from both sides. Executives ask who this kid genius is while guys from startups ask what can this old man teach them about the hot new world of tech.

As he was describing how he has had to straddle both worlds, he highlighted his hybrid look that works: a nice jacket, button down shirt tucked in, jeans, and nice shoes.

It’s the perfect outfit to have for a meeting at a corporate place, and then one with some startups. So there you have it: a semi-professional outfit called “The Hybrid” that can work anywhere.

Eric emphasized that you have to show people that you are treating them with respect, and that means acting and dressing in a way they consider to be respectful. When Eric is with guys in suits, it doesn’t mean he has to wear a suit. But he makes sure to wear a nice jacket to show that he cares about what they think. If Eric showed up with flip flops and a hoodie, they might perceive that as disrespectful. It’s a big key to winning over people who are older and more experienced.

Now that you know how to dress for the meeting, what do you say at the meeting?

2. The best way to know what to say is to listen first.

First, before he says a word, Eric asks people to explain “The Plan.” He focuses on asking questions and having them explain how things work, really poking and prodding until he has a very clear idea of the company’s processes from their perspective.

Eric knows that you have to know the situation before you can give advice. By asking questions first, it allows him to let his audience know he really wants to understand their concerns. With every meeting, Eric wants everything he says to be 100% customized to their situation. The only way to do that is to listen before speaking.

What do they believe?

Eric says you can have a real conversation only after you understand the answer to this question.

In talking with Eric, it is clear that he focuses on uncovering elements in the questioning process that points to uncertainty. He does not tell them of any unpredictability; instead, he listens and keeps asking questions until he gets the company to admit that there is uncertainty in the current plan. This allows for an opening to make suggestions about reducing risk.

Now that you have listened, and see where you can add value, how is it best to say what you want?

3. Do your homework

Eric is a firm believer of doing your homework. If you are a professional, you need to be able to answer every question that someone asks you.

The lesson is simple: do your homework and people will take you seriously.

Eric stressed that you can’t be arrogant. Be humble, but be clear about what you’re saying.

During his meeting with GE, in the midst of regretting the suit and listening to people talk in order to uncover the uncertainty, Eric prepared himself to start talking. His preparation didn’t start at that moment, or the day before, or even the week before; it started years before as he developed his original thoughts on the Lean Business concept. His years of homework included reading anything and everything about different types of existing business management theories, from Design to Six Sigma to dozens of others.

He was able to talk with confidence in that boardroom because he did his homework. He knew everything that he needed to know to justify his plans for incorporating his Lean strategy into GE.

Channel your inner Eric Ries: work the hybrid look, listen before you speak, and do your homework.

Good luck in your big meetings in fancy boardrooms, you are going to do great!

Do you have any fashion tips, or boardroom tricks that you have found work well. I would love to hear about them. Please share via comments!