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5 lessons from the Masterminds: An inside look at entrepreneurs’ elite conference

5 lessons from the Masterminds: An inside look at entrepreneurs’ elite conference

Rick Spence | June 22, 2014 7:27 AM ET

Did you ever wonder what goes on at those mysterious “Mastermind” conferences where well-heeled entrepreneurs pay thousands of dollars for a few days of rubbing shoulders with an intimate group of international speakers? What are the secrets they’re learning?

At an intimate Toronto gathering called Mastermind Talks, 40 entrepreneurs from across North America shared two days last week with diverse speakers such as Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist for Apple, sales guru Michael Port (author of Book Yourself Solid), and psychologist Esther Perel, who explores the connections between the boardroom and the bedroom.

Conference organizer Jayson Gaignard, a Toronto entrepreneur, invited me to attend the sessions and share the wisdom dispensed from the stage — no holds barred. The speakers talked about opportunity, self-improvement, design, and company culture. But if there are big themes to be derived from the following summary, think authenticity and willpower:

Look for opportunities in the weird. Ted Whiting, director of surveillance with Aria Casino and Resort, said it takes just three people to monitor the 1,200 security cameras at his Las Vegas casino. “We look for things that other people miss,” he says. “That’s where we’re alike,” he said, addressing the entrepreneurs. His team watches for guests’ nervous behaviours, such as chin-stroking, foot-tapping, and brow-wiping. “We look for weirdness,” he said. “The money is in the weird.”

“It’s all about energy.” Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Dave Asprey told the mastermind crowd to stop wishing for more time to get things done, and focus on increasing their energy and willpower. A pioneer in the field of “biohacking,” Asprey claims to have changed his body and his life by using advanced technologies to lose more than 100 pounds, upgrade his brain by 20 IQ points, and lower his biological age. He advocates brain scans, biofeedback techniques, “smart drugs” and better eating habits to upgrade your body and gain limitless willpower.

Bottle the passion you have for work, and bring it home. Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, noted that entrepreneurs tend to leave their passion at work, and see home as a safe, restful place where they don’t have to be “on.” The common result: a loss of intimacy with family and spouse, and sometimes, loss of spouse. Remember, Perel said, “Our partners do not belong to us. They are only on loan, with an option to renew.”

Value is more important than price.Apple co-founder Steve Jobs did more than anyone else to prove that great design counts in business, Kawasaki said. In a wide-ranging Q&A with the audience, however, he lamented Apple’s recent failure to introduce outstanding new products: “It’s been quite a while since you wanted to stand in line outside the Apple Store at midnight for a new iGadget.”

Asked which is more important in business, product or marketing, Kawasaki said products. “The key to great sales is to sell, evangelize and market great stuff. Because it’s much harder to sell crap. If you want to be a great marketer, find something great to market.” Sounds obvious, he admitted, “but it’s amazing how many people don’t get that.”

Naturally, attendees demanded Jobs stories: what was it like working for a creative despot? “Steve was the worst HR example in history,” Kawasaki reported. “We were all so productive [at Apple] because we feared Steve. We feared he would tell us we’re a piece of s–t, in public, in front of everyone. Contrary to what you’ve heard, fear is a great motivator.”

When I asked Kawasaki for his best advice for entrepreneurs trying to grow their businesses, he urged them to get to market faster: “Ship, then test,” he advised. “Just get your product out!” When I suggested that sounded more like the school of Bill Gates than Steve Jobs, he sniped back, “I don’t think Bill ever tested.”

“What’s your deep-fried car-tire story?” The most surprising presentation of the day came from Book Yourself Solid author Port. Instead of lecturing on sales, he recounted his harrowing journey. Slim and athletic, Port said he has always been plagued by self-doubt and food obsessions. “I have never in my life had the sensation of being satisfied or full.”

At night he would load up at the convenience store: Doughnuts, cheesies, fast food: Port says he would have devoured a deep-fried tire. At home, when his stomach ached, he would pour water over the snacks and bury them deep in the garbage. Later on, he would root through the garbage pail to dig them out again. As he gained weight, he declined speaking engagements and TV appearances: “As I got bigger, my world shrank.”

Port eventually overcame his obsessions through sheer willpower, eliminating from his diet “trigger foods” such as white flour, sugar and fried foods. As he did so, his energy and business success returned. Port challenged the audience to master their own unhealthy compulsions, and ignore the voices in their head that say they’re not good enough.

“I want you to walk out of this thinking a bit bigger than you are, and knowing what you have to offer the world,” he said.

“I hid my story from everyone for 30 years. Now that I’ve talked about it, I can truly think big,” he said.

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About bambooinnovator
KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (www.moatreport.com), a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia; subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities, some of the world’s biggest secretive global hedge fund giants, and savvy private individual investors who are lifelong learners in the art of value investing. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as an analyst in Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, value investing, macroeconomic and industry trends, and detecting accounting frauds in Singapore, HK and China. KB was a faculty (accounting) at SMU teaching accounting courses. KB is currently the Chief Investment Officer at an ASX-listed investment holdings company since September 2015, helping to manage the listed Asian equities investments in the Hidden Champions Fund. Disclaimer: This article is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute an offer, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any investments, securities, futures or options. All articles in the website reflect the personal opinions of the writer.

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