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Kelli Wood

Last week, I realized that I am closing in on a special milestone – breaking through 10,000 hours, working on the Little Big Words project. Things certainly look a lot different than they did at hour one.

For those who are unfamiliar with the school of thought behind ’10,000 hours’ – this idea was the thesis that underpinned Malcolm Galdwell’s international best selling book, ‘Outliers.’ While the book received criticism for its oversimplification and heavy reliance on anecdotal evidence, I’d argue that he has a very valid point in that practice - not just talent and circumstance - is truly the pathway to excellence in a specific discipline.

My friends would tell you that I’ve been a ghost at times over the last few years, while building Little Big Words, alongside an incredibly diverse skill set after dipping my toes into just about every facet of business. Many things of which, were seemingly absent from the degree at business school that I paid for.  I haven’t watched TV in 3 years. I forget the last time I went to see a movie or went to a shopping mall. Don’t ask me anything about foreign policy, any major sporting event or pop culture. Sometimes, I come up against shadows of my former self while walking the streets of Toronto and have almost forgotten what certain things feel like, or the drive to do them. But my return on investment is simply this -- my start-up survived, and is on firm footing.

In my previous job, it would have taken me years and a couple flights up the corporate ladder to gain access to the experience and opportunities that hustling at your own gig can get you. I guess I opted to take a strategic short cut to get the education that I was really searching for in the first place.

As a tribute to all of those hours, risk and hustle, here are ten things  that I know to be true and have learned through experience:

1.     Find the confidence to always ask. If you accept the fact that the worst thing they can say is no -- you will go far.

2.     When you have something special, people will try and take it from you. Invest in good intellectual property protection, trademarks and copyrights. While they are not cheap, a cease-and-desist letter FEDEX’ed with guaranteed express delivery before 9 AM is a wonderful little tool that can silence the sneaky.

3.  Moreover, when you have something special, people and companies will try to collaborate with you. While I don’t believe that the world is ‘out to get you’, I do believe that people are out for themselves. That said, four things must exist for a healthy business relationship – they will collaboratively share their financial statements, you are both clear on explicit, tangible goals with defined roles, they will not hesitate to supply character references and there will be a contract. If they burn, be sure that you don’t burn with them. Accept nothing less than clean professional hygiene.

4. Spend some time defining, ‘This is how we do things at…(Little Big Words/Company X.’) Be clear on what you care about and truly value. When you know who you are, what you stand for and where you want to go – this little tool helps you cut right to the chase for the most important ways to spend your time. For us,  our priority is our customers having all-around awesome products that inspire the kid in all of us. Period. I know my customers' names and they know mine. That’s really important to me and will never change. 

5.     The same exercise is really important when building your team. That statement, alongside the thought, ‘People like us, do things like this…’ can help you decide who you want to help you on your adventure.

6.     One of the hardest things that an entrepreneur can learn to do is let go.  But it is a must. You are the heart of the company – your job is to strengthen it and protect it.  But it’s something that’s an entity that’s independent of you and has the ability to be something much greater than yourself. Growth really starts when you understand that your core job is to put people with the right skills, in the right places that are often better than you at that function whether it be permanently or on a project basis. Regardless, inspire and unleash them.

7.     The educational system, particularly post-secondary education – is an exceptionally stifling place for those who dream of entrepreneurship. The system breeds compliance, conformity and at times, especially in business school, stifles creativity entirely. Your intelligence and prediction of future ‘life success’ is not congruent to an answer key.  It also does not teach you how to fail. Entrepreneurs skew closer to scientists with their approach -- ‘try, fail, try again’, more than anything else.

8.     If you are a female in a position of leadership, learn to say ‘yes’, instead of ‘sure.’ Further to that, if you are female, looking to level the playing field with males in leadership positions, speak in their language – succinctly, and with purpose. Before big meetings, listen to and channel your inner Beyonce for some extra confidence.

9.     The single most important thing you can do in life is make smart choices about who you choose to surround yourself with. The devil has plenty of advocates - the brave need supporters. Criticism or snide comments come from those who don't have the courage, confidence or discipline to do it themselves. They are not in your shoes, so their comments are irrelevant.  

There is not a day that goes by where I am not grateful for that warm, west coast voice that was in my ear almost daily, coaching me through decisions and getting me through what entrepreneurs call, the ‘survival swim’ before a risk shows reward.  I hope that I was half the amount of support that he was to me on his toughest days and am forever grateful for his friendship and confidence.  Find the ones who are in your corner from the very first day. And stay there. Trust only a select few with your grand master plans. They will help you find and keep your feet.

10. And above all else, this from my long time favourite teacher is true:

 'Hard work is about risk, not busy work. It begins when you deal with the things that you’d rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier. And after you’ve done that, to do it again the next day. And the next day. But this is the ticket to greatness. Greatness is frightening to many because it comes with responsibility. Persist anyway. Because what lies on the other side is priceless. With each barrier you pass through, you change. Each attempt becomes easier. And your sense of self becomes unshakable. The time you invest is worth every effort.'

- Seth Godin