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Editor’s Note: In the new podcast Masters of Scale, LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman explores his philosophy on how to scale a business — and at Entrepreneur.com, entrepreneurs are responding with their own ideas and experiences on our hub. This week, we’re discussing Hoffman’s theory: to succeed, entrepreneurs need a good idea, good timing, money and luck. But more than that — they need grit.
Grit. Every entrepreneur talks about it, but not everyone defines it the same way.
“Some people mistake grit for sheer persistence — charging up the same hill, again and again. But that’s not quite what I mean by the word ‘grit,’” says Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder, Greylock partner and host of Masters of Scale, a podcast series examining counterintuitive theories to growing a company. “The sort of grit you need to scale a business is less reliant on brute force,” says Hoffman. He believes the person needs to be determined, innovative and efficient.
And one person Hoffman believes perfectly encompasses his definition of grit is Nancy Lublin, a serial entrepreneur who has founded and run a number of nonprofits, including Dress for Success, DoSomething and Crisis Text Line.
“Nancy Lublin is the entrepreneurial equivalent of Indiana Jones,” says Hoffman, speaking about her tenacity and focus on her own holy grail. “She is a 10 out of 10 when it comes to grit.”
In the seventh episode of Masters of Scale, simply titled “Grit,” Lublin talks a lot about how her determination helped her persevere in the nonprofit sector, a world Hoffman believes is much trickier to navigate than commercial. Here are just a few of the ways this all-important quality helped Lublin build and rebuild nonprofits that made an impact.
Turn failed cold calls into great stories.
The podcast opens up with a story about how Lublin desperately tried to get Donald Trump, then just a “builder,” to donate unused space in his real-estate empire for her nonprofit Dress for Success, an organization that provides professional clothing to low-income women trying to land a job. After a surprise visit to the luxurious Trump Tower with Milk Duds in hand (a candy Trump reportedly enjoyed), Lublin spoke to his assistant about her request. After being told “he’s broke,” she was sent one of the most beautiful – and expensive — rejection letters she’s ever received. Written on Trump Tower gold embossed letterhead, Lublin says, she could “scrape off that logo and make fillings for everyone I know.”
Take all the help you’re offered — when you don’t need it
In the early days of Dress to Success, Lublin and her team would have a clothing drive at big-name companies, like Goldman Sachs. Executives would donate their fancy suits to women in need, but there was a big discrepancy in sizes. “We would get beautiful suits and the largest suit would be a size eight,” Lublin recalls. The average size American is actually 14, and the average size Dress for Success client was a 22.
But they would do the drives anyway, even though some suits would stay in storage for years before anyone could use them. “Once you gave us your Armani suits, you gave us money,” says Lublin. “It was part of the whole cycle of Dress for Success — wealthy business women connecting with women who are going to go out and land their first jobs.”
Simple solutions, executed quickly, can create big transformations
Actor Andrew Shue (famous for his character Billy Campbell on Melrose Place) launched DoSomething at the height of his popularity. The nonprofit was meant to get young people involved in causes. But after 10 years, it was nearly defunct. Lublin found her next challenge.
“It was on fire,” she says. “When I got there they had just laid off 21 out of 22 people” and with $250,000 in debt, Lublin had to turn it around quickly.
Fortunately, the organization had a breakthrough moment: text messages. For years, DoSomething had been communicating with its young donors through emails, but wasn’t getting a huge response. After entry-level employees experimented with a text system, the organization began to bounce back.
“When you see someone do something really smart, grab it and elevate it, and be like, ‘Let’s do that’” she says. “So we pivoted, became a membership organization and did everything around text.” Under Lublin, DoSomething added 5 million teenage volunteers.