Like many entrepreneurs, I began starting businesses young. By 18, I was already pitching investors, hiring employees, and learning some hard lessons about what it takes to build a business.
A great pitch deck and an innovative product can only get you so far. What investors are really looking for is confidence, and no matter how much you can muster directly out of high school, many older business folks only see a kid asking for an allowance.
Figuring out how to be taken seriously was a challenge, but it was nothing compared to my other growing issue. Or, more accurately, my not-growing issue: By the age of 19, I was balding at a rapid rate.
Entrepreneurship is all about making tough calls, yet no other choice seemed nearly as difficult as the decision to shave my head. Prior to a ski trip to Japan, I found myself in a Los Angeles barbershop, considering my options. Shaving my head, at that time, seemed like a temporary decision – one I could walk away from upon returning to the US. And besides, I’d be wearing a ski cap most of the day anyway. I asked the barber to give me the full shave.
I thought that was the end of it. Turns out, the impact on my business and personal life was only beginning.
Adults In The Room.
My next investor meeting happened just days after I returned from Japan. Walking into the room of local businessmen, I wondered if I should have worn a hat. Being bald in public was brand new to me; luckily, talking to investors wasn’t. I went through my entire pitch, smiling and answering questions as I went along, praying my words weren’t being outshined by my new look.
Turns out, my fears were entirely unfounded. The investors stood up when I was done, gave me feedback on the pitch, and then smiled.
“That was excellent, and we’re definitely interested,” they said. “We can tell you’ve been doing this for a while.”
I thought about their response that night – so unlike the earlier feedback I’d gotten. Even when investors expressed interest in the past, it was always done through a somewhat patronizing lens – no matter how good I was, how far could they trust a kid?
The switch to a shaved head was like night and day. Nothing else about my appearance changed; the maturity they assumed I had come entirely from looking, well, a bit older. Yet coupled with my enthusiasm for my work, and the energy of a 22-year-old, investors now saw someone who could work hard for his goals while making the kind of informed, experienced decisions they expected.
It wasn’t the way I look that changed, however. In fact, that was the least of what happened.
The Entrepreneur’s Advantage.
The business world can be cutthroat, especially for entrepreneurs. Any advantage you have over the competition needs to be exploited – which means really thinking about what your advantages are.
The confidence I’d gained early on caused a snowball effect on my business personality. The false worry I’d faced upon first shaving my head taught me how often these ‘problems’ appear in business. Sometimes, you just have to take the plunge, putting worry aside so you can focus on leading.
Most importantly, being bald literally led me to my most prosperous and current venture. Realizing the market niche for grooming products for bald men came directly from my experience; the confidence I’d built from my experience made it a successful venture. The fact that I could talk to our customers from a similar perspective led to a hugely improved marketing strategy over our competitors.
There’s always a temptation to separate our personal experiences from who we are as business leaders. When you combine your own (sometimes difficult) personal milestones with entrepreneurial know-how, the effects can change the way you work – and succeed.
Founder & CEO of HED Skincare Chris Clifford was born and raised in San Diego, CA and studied at Loyola Marymount University with a major in Entrepreneurship and International Business. Chris founded his first technology startup at the age of 17 out of his dorm room and has gone on to co-found, advise and angel invest in a number of technology and CPG companies.