Chutzpah, the Schmooze, and Entrepreneurship

Chutzpah, the Schmooze, and Entrepreneurship

Many Yiddish terms go hand-in-hand with the goal of marketing your invention

In my 30-year career of launching products, chutzpah is the one quality that is mandatory for becoming successful.


Yiddish is a rich, joyful language, filled with words that have double and triple meaning. Much of the lexicon is difficult to describe in English without an entire explanation, lots of hand gestures, and always a heartfelt smile.

A few examples of those words are mensch, mazel tov and putz. Bupkis, kvell and kvetch are also some of my favorites. But chief among those expressions is chutzpah (pronounced huht-spa), which means extreme self-confidence and which I see as synonymous with being a successful entrepreneur. Now that I think about it, I’d say schmoozing and spiel are also two important terms for an entrepreneur to understand.

For the etymologists in the crowd, Yiddish was originally a German dialect spoken by Ashkenazi Jews in central and later eastern Europe. It was written in the Hebrew alphabet, containing a substantial substratum of Hebrew words as well as numerous loans from Slavic languages. For that reason, some of the words originated in Hebrew or Slavic languages but have entered English via Yiddish.

My goal: To be menschy

Being a mensch is important in business. It means you are a good person.

But if someone calls you a mensch, it is indeed so much more; it also means someone who gives back and is well known as a kind-hearted type.

This word is sometimes used as an adjective—as in “Alyson is a menschy person.” This means she’s (hopefully!) a sweetheart of a human, someone who can be counted upon, trusted without question and whose heart walks in the room before her head.

Mazel tov denotes celebration, and big celebration! It’s often used as a congratulatory term, as in when a baby is born or a marriage is announced. But its meaning is deeply rooted in familial support. Mazel is a term used in Jewish mysticism to describe the root of the soul.

Getting a “mazel tov” is a big deal and may come with a hearty pat on the back. For skeptics, yes, sometimes the term is used as a backhanded slap and delivered with a twang of bitchy jealousy in the same way that “congratulations” can be.

Having a spiel (pronounced sch-peel) is like an elevator speech to pitch an invention but with good meaning that can be repeated with abandon. Schmoozing, my friends, is networking in a way that’s warm and heartfelt. It could be a little smarmy if you’re wearing a shark suit, but it’s a virtual business necessity if you want to get anywhere.

Kvelling is speaking about something with passion, beauty and love, as if you were a songbird twilling away. A putz is the dum-dum in the corner of the room who is too afraid to talk to others, has his invention in his pocket—and oh, he just dripped the teriyaki sauce from atop the rumaki right down his tie. And he doesn’t know it’s there.

Bupkis means you “ain’t got nuttin’,” as in you’ve come up empty-handed or your idea exploded into nothingness and it’s start-over time. A kvetch or kvetching can be both a noun and adjective. It is an angry bird-type of cackling, best characterized as a gnawing, incessant complaining that has no purpose other than to annoy those around you.

Saving the best Yiddish for last

In my 30-year career of launching products, chutzpah is the one quality that is mandatory for becoming successful. One might describe it as moxie, but that does not quite encapsulate the breadth of tenacity that “chutzpah” conveys.

Being an entrepreneur requires the ability to take action—sometimes on impulse or inspiration, but more important to do the work required to know if it’s viable. Someone with chutzpah might be characterized as a person willing to take risk.

Chutzpah has a minimal connotation of wildness: The danger factor is not just out of the ordinary but slightly bizarre and maybe even plain stupid.

People with chutzpah, like the beloved honey badger of popular culture, don’t give a (blank) about what others think. They are entirely courageous and willing to be stung by lots of bees just to get the honey.

Imagine the chutzpah of the Wright Brothers. They really thought a flying machine was a good idea. Einstein attempted to re-create fire in a glass bulb that didn’t need gas.

And Bitcoin is a modern example of serious chutzpah. Who in the world would believe that a new monetary system would really become a thing without the backing of a government?

To have chutzpah, you need to be in another paradigm. One of my favorite business books is called “Blue Ocean Strategy,” in which W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne explain why thrashing about in the “bloody red ocean of competition” is a bad idea and looking beyond to other oceans of possibility is the way to go.

I couldn’t agree more.

No chutzpah, no ka-ching

How many of us have had ideas run through our heads, never done anything about it, and then saw that idea in form later?

I remember one such idea of mine: As a younger publicist, I spent a good part of my career traveling the world for the Miss Universe pageants and doing international publicity for clients like Sun City, South Africa, during the fall of apartheid.

This was borne of my desire to make travel less arduous. My idea was to have massages in airports and on planes. I thought we needed on-the-go stress relief to dissolve those take-your-breath-away muscle spasms that inevitably and suddenly pang when lifting your suitcase into the overhead compartment.

Years later, the Massage Express Co. and XpresSpa showed up in airports. I felt both vindicated and a little sad that I never did anything about it.

Where was my chutzpah when I really needed it?

Nevertheless, I am now a happy customer and though it costs an arm and a leg, when those horrible layovers happen I’d spend any amount of money for some relief.