“What if you applied the skills of entrepreneurship to everything that you do?” serial entrepreneur Jeff Hoffman asked a crowd at Union Station on Thursday.
As Hoffman took the stage as Techweek Kansas City’s keynote speaker, he did just that. Applying the skill of “adaptability,” he decided to nix his slide deck and improvise.
A seasoned executive, Hoffman has served at several successful companies, including Priceline.com, uBid.com and ColorJar. He’s also a motivational speaker, published author, film producer and the producer of a 2015 Grammy-winning jazz album.
A jack of all trades, perhaps, but Hoffman is a master of one: self-determination.
“Every time I’d find myself on stage at the White House, or speaking to the United Nations, I’d ask myself — how did I get here?” Hoffman said. “And every time the answer was the same: I developed the skills of entrepreneurship.”
You don’t have to aspire to be the CEO of a tech company in order to identify as an “entrepreneur” Hoffman said. Entrepreneurship is much broader than that and can help anyone achieve their goals.
“I don’t know if it’s luck or just focus on creating the reality around me,” Hoffman said. “I think I’ve developed a set of skills or ‘toolbox’ called entrepreneurship. I started wondering, what else could you do with this toolkit? How else can you change a life?”
Here are some of the tools from Hoffman’s toolkit:
Envision a better future
A self proclaimed “dreamer,” Hoffman said one of the most important skills to have is to envision a future that is better than your current situation.
“I grew up in a small desert town in Arizona where nobody really wanted to do anything different, everyone was fine where they were,” Hoffman said. “That didn’t work for me. I didn’t like a future in which I could already see the next 20 years and what it looked like.”
Hoffman said as a young boy, he began to see a stark difference between the future he saw versus the one that he wanted. He knew that he couldn’t wait for change.
Use the power of self-determination
Once Hoffman began to envision a better future, he was able to design, create and own it. But, only with the help of self-determination.
Early on in his career, Hoffman realized he had many things to learn: how to craft a message; how to motivate people; how to manage people; how to budget; how to create products and how to understand markets. He learned each of these things step-by-step.
“If you really want to make the world a better place you unleash an army of entrepreneurs. Because you know what entrepreneurs do? They solve problems.” – Jeff Hoffman
“If you have struggles, start digging, because nobody does it for you,” Hoffman said. “But I realized that entrepreneurship is the shovel — the shovel you use to make a path toward a better future.”
Hoffman said that he’s never been motivated by money, and that wealth won’t necessarily help realize your dreams. He encouraged the audience to look within to drive themselves forward.
“Who’s to build the future of Kansas City?” Hoffman asked. “You. There is no ‘they.’”
Create significant impact
Hoffman said that the harder he worked, the more successful he became, thus increasing his power to solve more problems. He began to see the connection between his skills and how to use them to affect the world around him.
During a trip to Brazil, Hoffman came across a “grimy,” barb-wired church covered in locks. He sought safety and found an orphanage inside.
He sat down on the dirt, and met a 4-year-old girl who would forever change his life.
“The little girl came up to me, climbed on my lap and literally just put her arms on my chest and grabbed my shirt and clung to me,” Hoffman said. “She started talking, and she said to me, ‘I’m afraid every night. The bad men came into my house and killed my whole family, but they didn’t see me.’ This little girl started crying, and I started crying, and I thought ‘How will I ever sleep again?’”
After that moment, Hoffman said his mission became clear: He must teach others the tools of entrepreneurship. Going off of his earlier metaphor, he began to teach people how to use the “shovel.”
“If you really want to make the world a better place you unleash an army of entrepreneurs,” Hoffman said. “Because you know what entrepreneurs do? They solve problems.”
In 2012, Hoffman decided to partake in a social experiment: Say yes to everything. Four years later, and he is still going strong.
“Mentorship is the single most important element determining whether or not an entrepreneur succeeds.” – Jeff Hoffman
Instead of going into his office every day, Hoffman now travels the world guiding people’s futures by equipping them with as many “shovels” as he can. Often times, he receives valuable lessons in return.
A 19-year-old boy in west Africa reached out to Hoffman with an idea for a company. In search of a better life, he went to a internet cafe each night after working in the fields and took online courses, watched TED talks and researched investor pitches. Hoffman was blown away by the boy’s self-determination.
After Hoffman decided to fund him, the boy is now a man who employs 350 people and does business in seven African nations.
“This is the story that can and should be repeated down the street from here,” Hoffman said. “People have the ideas that will create prosperity, if only we say ‘Yes’ and show them how to get there.”
Make meaningful connections
Hoffman said that saying yes has offered him the opportunity to make connections and mentor people all around the world.
“Mentorship is the single most important element determining whether or not an entrepreneur succeeds,” Hoffman said. “It takes me 30 seconds to write a check, but it takes much longer to successfully mentor someone.”
In order to build community, Hoffman said we need to make connections, share the entrepreneurial toolkit and showcase local heroes.