With more than 15,000 energetic high school students surrounding her on stage at Key Arena, Julie Sandler offered up a simple question: How many of you have ever had an idea to make the world a better place?
Thousands of hands instantly shot up into the air.
“Apparently, we have a ton of entrepreneurs here today,” Sandler said.
Sandler, a Principal at Madrona Venture Group, was among 44 other high-profile speakers at We Day Seattle, an event co-sponsored by Microsoft that celebrates youth empowerment.
Her message to the kids, who earned tickets to Friday’s big celebration by making a commitment to take action on at least one local and one global initiative of their choice, was three-fold: Have confidence in yourself; keep your supporters close but learn from skeptics; and finally, be bold and ask for what you want.
It was advice that not only teenagers could use, but also grown entrepreneurs.
“I am confident as I look around this arena today that I am surrounded by more than 15,000 people who have ideas that will dramatically change the world,” Sandler said. “And a lot of you are already starting to.”
She implored the students to have confidence about their world-changing ideas, saying that “you need to maintain that belief in yourself.” Sandler also said that while it’s important to keep your supporters close by, the naysayers are just as key.
“In my experience, the best entrepreneurs are the ones who listen really closely to what their critics and skeptics have to say,” she explained. “They learn how to make their idea better based on that feedback. Sometimes that feedback can hurt … but if you can put that aside and turn it into focus as you tackle your challenges, those critics can be some of your most valuable relationships.”
Sandler’s final point was about not being afraid to ask other people for what you want. Her message was directed specifically at girls — “we need more girls pursuing their entrepreneurial ideas in Seattle,” she told the crowd — and noted how they often get uneasy when asking for questions or advice.
“We get nervous about it,” Sandler said. “We get embarrassed about potentially being seen as demanding or impolite, or worry about being told that we’re not good enough to receive what we want. So we don’t ask questions and we don’t ask for advice.”
Sandler then shared her “secret.”
“Even the best entrepreneurs out there get told no all the time, but you know what? They know it’s part of the game,” said Sandler, one of the top women VCs in Seattle. “They’re tough, they get thick skin and they persevere. They work hard and they get better because they know if they continue to do that, then eventually those no’s become a yes.”
Also on stage at We Day Seattle was Microsoft executive vice president of human resources Lisa Brummel, who told the crowd that she wanted Microsoft and everyone at We Day to become “best friends forever.”
“When you’re BFFs, you share things in common — what we share is wanting to change the world,” Brummel said. “We’ll be together, we’ll invest in each other and share a common purpose.”
Brummel, who noted that Microsoft plans to sponsor this event for the next three years, also touched on her company’s YouthSpark program and the importance of technology after playing Microsoft’s inspiring Super Bowl commercial for the kids.
“We’re going to invest in technology to make your dreams a reality,” Brummel said.
The We Day Seattle initiative was put together by international charity organization Free The Children and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who helped bring the all-day event that celebrates students’ accomplishments to Washington. The is the second-ever We Day Seattle, which you can learn more about here.