I was asked the other day to give an answer to the question “What is your favorite customer story?”. This was easy, I knew the answer immediately. Working in the Research and Innovation field, I have had the pleasure to work with a few really great innovation customers (clients). But one in particular has, and always will stand out for me. He will remain nameless for this blog, but if he or someone close to him were to read it they would instantly know just who I was talking about.
I met ‘John Doe’ during the first year with my organization. During our first meeting I could tell he was kind, smart and terribly shy. It had become clear that John was onto something really innovative. John rarely met our eyes. At first I thought he was hiding something, as he continued to look down during the entire time. His idea had real merit, so much so that he was an instant candidate for our investor panel (think Dragon’s Den). The problem was John was going to have to ‘sell’ his idea to our panel of investors in order to go beyond his prototype stage. Remember, you can have a great idea, but if you don’t show that you believe in it, the idea falls flat. The investors need their new potential partner to show confidence in their own product intelligence.
We had three meetings in three days directly after that initial meeting; we worked towards his investment knowledge, investor pitch and overall presentation. It was a struggle….John knew his numbers, loved his innovation, but he was terrified. So much so, after the third meeting he decided he wanted to let his idea, along with all of his hard work go. John explained that he had struggled often with social situations and simply could not stand up in front of anyone, anywhere, to ‘pitch’ anything. I didn’t know how to react – he was visibly shaking. I immediately called in two team members; we sat down, closed the door and we talked – I will remember that conversation for the rest of my life. It isn’t so much the talk that was so remarkable (although my team members truly impressed me with their heartfelt insights) it was more how that young man reached out for help and clearly wanted to make a difference in his life. It was the honesty in which he spoke, the way he shared his story and fears. He left later that afternoon and returned the next morning. He looked (directly into our eyes) at the team and said he would to do it. He was genuinely moved that we cared enough to sit with him that afternoon and he wanted to do this for himself. It wasn’t about the product, it was about John. It wasn’t about the money, it was about John’s commitment to himself.
That evening John attended his first Toastmasters meeting, and pledged to work with my team member once a week on his investor presentation. He was terrified to go to his first TM meeting, but after the second meeting he said he began to feel safe. I am still in awe of the changes that started to happen right before our eyes. The transformation I witnessed over that month was unbelievable. I swear he walked differently, he talked differently and he had an air of confidence that few hold. To this day I still reflect on him and I am amazed by what a person can overcome if they simply make a decision.
Two months later John made his pitch, with confidence and enthusiasm to six investors. He was brilliant. The investors were impressed – so much so – that John received three separate investor opportunities. John’s business today is a success. But more importantly according to John he feels like success. He still stays in contact and we still talk about that meeting, and reflect on the way his life has unfolded. It is really remarkable to witness what compassion can do for the human spirit. John has not just turned his life over, but mine and my fellow team members. When we are struggling and looking at things that seem insurmountable we speak of John and remember his courage. Incidentally you wouldn’t be surprised to know that John has went on to mentor a few other struggling entrepreneurs. We have witnessed many accomplished stories of innovators over the years who have gone on to commercialize their product to market success, but to me there is no greater story of real success than John.