After scheduling 1,119 meetings and rescheduling 672 times in one year, Dennis Mortensen decided to build an AI-powered app that would do that work for him. The result is x.ai, the company behind Amy and Andrew, virtual personal assistants that use artificial intelligence to schedule meetings for you.
The startup is Mortensen’s fifth venture and has raised over $30 million dollars in funding. He is a pioneer in leveraging data, and has successfully delivered a number of company exits on that theme. For Mortensen, entrepreneurship has been a lifelong career.
“Entrepreneurship is a viable career path on its own, not a fallback option or a side project.”
Mortensen shared three strategies for making entrepreneurship a career path at a recent brunchwork event that I ran at Alley Chelsea, a community for creators powered by Verizon.
1. Change your mindset.
“Early on, I think most people latch onto being an entrepreneur the same way they latch onto the idea of being a rock star. It feels like a dream, not a career,” Mortensen said.
Instead, you should view entrepreneurship as a discipline. You can study and train for it like an aspiring architect or doctor.
Looking back, Mortensen admits that he wishes he thought of entrepreneurship as a lifelong, legitimate career path earlier in life. “If I had that mindset, I would have upscaled so many things earlier.”
Once you become serious about pursuing entrepreneurship as a legitimate career path, you can outline your personalized course of study, set goals for yourself and map out a plan that will keep you on track.
2. Hone your sales skills.
Sales is the most important skill you need to develop to succeed as an entrepreneur. As a founder, you’re selling every day and not just to potential customers. You’re selling employees to come work with you and to dedicate more time and work harder. You’re pitching to investors to fund your company and convincing press to cover you.
Sales didn’t come naturally for Mortensen, but he developed the skill early on after a stint of door-to-door sales. “If you go knock on 2,000 doors, at door number one, you are embarrassed and uncomfortable. On door number 2,000, you’ve got the hang of it,” he said.
With practice, you develop specific tactics. Mortensen’s best sales strategies are:
1. Accept the fact that whatever you sell, the other person will discount what you say. Don’t be afraid to add a premium to your offer.
2. Sell on yourself before you sell the product. Don’t be afraid to make people understand who you are. Sales is very personal.
3. Remove Noise. Stay optimistic.
A large part of being an entrepreneur is recovering from countless rejections and setbacks. You have to decide to be optimistic, which may sound easier said than done.
As an entrepreneur, the emotional outcomes are going to be volatile. Many times you’re going to be ecstatic and at other times, crying alone in the bathroom in the dark.
To stay optimistic and push through the difficult times that every entrepreneur faces, Mortensen recommends removing noise. “I remove noise by running Inbox Zero,” Mortensen said. “When I’m at zero, I have room to think.”
On weekends, Mortensen takes the train from Wall Street to the other end of Manhattan and walks back without music, his phone or any other distractions. The walk takes about three hours, which he uses as time to reflect and organize his thoughts. You need to find the best method for yourself and your lifestyle.