Folding nothing is a core entrepreneurial skill that concerns transforming value starting with nothing.
It’s how you get from $0 to $1 to $10 to $100 to $1,000 to $10,000, and so on.
It’s a bit esoteric to think about in abstract, so I’ll explain how it works through a story.
Two years ago I forked a company named, “Resurgent,” off from our original Blue Bridge dev shop.
Resurgent is a consultancy that helps member based associations transform their website into a tool to grow membership.
Because I was approaching it as a consulting model, based on trust and expertise, I knew that speaking would be key.
I started Toastmasters and began to develop my speaking skills. That was easy enough- just a matter of commitment.
The larger obstacle was how to get speaking gigs.
Conference organizers are evaluated based on the quality of their speakers. They need to put solid people on the stage who entertain and educate.
Consider your current situation. You probably don’t speak at conferences. You probably know very little about member based associations. You’re actually very close to the spot I was when I was facing this obstacle because we had only one previous association client.
If you were me, starting at zero, how would you convince someone to let you on a stage?
What I did was I completed a lot of research on the industry. I identified common values and pitched a speech based on what people in the industry cared most about and how it intersected with their website. I highlighted and magnified the experience I did have- 10 years building, programming for, and marketing websites, and talked about our non-profit and trade association work. And I omitted the experience I didn’t have- only 4 months industry experience.
This is pretty typical.
However, I also sent a video of me speaking to a crowd. Or at least that’s what it looked like.
I reserved a meeting room at a local library and took my entire team of 2 people down to the library. I had my lead developer sit in one corner of the room and I put an iPhone on a video tripod a few feet behind his shoulder at an angle. From the video perspective, he looked like the far person in a row and was just partly in frame. I had my project manager sit in the back of the other side of the room out of the frame.
Then I recorded a middle section of an imaginary longer talk. I held a dog training clicker in my hand and acted like it was a remote for a digital slide that was just off screen. I had my developer nodding his head and taking notes as I presented to an empty room. I asked for questions from the “audience” and had my PM hit me from off stage.
It was a paper thin illusion. But I figured even if they saw through it they would appreciate the commitment and see how I looked actually speaking.
That landed me my first speaking gig. Nothing to imaginary audience to real audience. 0 to 0-ish to 1.
I had no experience and no industry knowledge, but I folded nothing to create one small opportunity.
Nine months later, I spoke in front of a live audience at a conference for the first time.
Just prior, I recorded the speech as a screencast and had it transcribed into an ebook. Then I offered it as a bonus for audience members who signed up to our email list using an online form. I folded what had been nothing again. I gained a meager 5 people to my email list using this tactic.
I also offered to do a group mastermind post speech and no one showed up- a failed fold.
I recorded a portion of that speech, with more than just an invisible audience, and I used that recording to land 3 more speaking gigs.
All of them covered my travel expenses and conference pass. One allowed me to exhibit for free. I was getting compensated to market around the country and Canada. The equivalent direct travel value was ~$1,300 a trip. So $0 to $3,900.
Another fold of what had originally been nothing.
A Fold to the E-Book
The next time I gave my speech, I added another fold by creating a sales page on our website for my ebook version of the speech. I explained that we charged $20 for it, but the audience could get it for free by signing up to a *paper* roster I sent around (apparently navigating a single input online form was too much work.) I added 50 people to our email list and someone paid for the book outright. $3,900 to $3,920.
Authority & Experience Emerging
I cherry picked the best reviews of my speech and put up a speaking page on our website (https://goresurgent.com/about/speaking). Suddenly, we looked a lot more authoritative.
In the process of all this, by executing, thinking, researching, and learning I actually became a lot more authoritative.
I developed experience without clients.
Which is a little dangerous and also a little magical.
We got a lucky lead to an association through our original Blue Bridge business.
It was someone who didn’t know about Resurgent and never saw our content or my speaking. But I used these experiences to increase the project price point from $5,000 to $28,000 by showing them that expertise and offering consulting and additional work on top of what they came to us for. $3,920 to $26,920.
And the work we did for them fed our marketing with real world examples and is becoming a case study to gain even more momentum.
The last time I gave this speech, I added nearly everyone who attended to our email list. They all completed a survey and four of them agreed to sit down for 30 – 45 minute customer interviews. And we had a lead come through that effort.
Each time I speak we’re growing our email list, gathering hard-to-get market data, and marketing our services. More folds.
And I’m beginning to get event planners asking what my fees are to keynote their association conference.
What We’re Observing When We Say “Hustling”
This is a scrappy story. If you talk with veteran entrepreneurs most folks have stories like this. People often characterize these stories as “hustling.”
Hustling. Scrappy. That’s how we perceive these stories. What we’re recognizing by this categorization is the demonstration of this un-named skill that is core to entrepreneurship.
I call it “folding nothing,” but the skill being practiced is using value to create more value. And that value to create even more value. And so on.
You start with nothing but an idea and fold it over and over.
Like a smith with a length of steel, turning it in the fire again and again, hammering on it, and finally revealing a sword.
Image credit: Wikipedia