Archive for December, 2017

Hardest lessons from my third startup

Vireo Labs is now the third seed funded startup I’ve co-founded. And, it is by far my best work as an entrepreneur. But, its almost impossible to estimate how many hard knocks and lessons I’ve taken over the last two years. Running a startup — particularly in a market like Savannah with limited resources to support us (there are no first generation AOL or Yahoo! people and their money hanging out here) — is just plain hard.

Get a mentor and advisers. This wasn’t always easy for me to do as I have always worked in a network style — calling on my connections from all over the world to give me tips and advice on an ad hoc basis.  I think we’ve gotten further now than before because we as a team actually engage our advisers regularly and let them check our thinking back into reality. You can only process so much information to the point you go blind to what it is saying to you. A good mentor and advisers can add brain power, connections, motivation and guidance. The danger is using them as a crutch or as some kind of badge of honor that with them your company is somehow more relevant. It’s not. No one cares about my little startup and I know it. Until me and my team get traction and grow this thing.

It pays to be young. I had a colleague at LinkedIn once (pejoratively) tell me how anything worth doing was worth doing young (guess that was his way of calling me old and still grinding it out). My founding team is really driven, bright and qualified to build what we’re building and do what we’re doing. But as middle aged men, we have a boat load of distractions that the 23-year old versions of ourselves didn’t have — and we just can’t move as fast we once did. If you can recruit a founding team with a good mix of people at different stages of their career, it helps to have that diversity of thought, perspective and someone on the team who doesn’t have to pay a mortgage, feed kids or sleep more than 6 hours a night.

Recognize when you’re stuck. This is actually a bump I hit in my first two companies but didn’t know it at the time. Third time is a charm.  I recognized it about 4 months into our first product release and brought us back into a customer discover phase instead of continuing to bang our collective faces into the wall. The result has been one of the best pilot tests we could’ve imagined in the critical market of northern California (one of the biggest career and higher education markets in the country) and a smarter jumping off point for our go-to-market strategy.

Stay engaged in things outside of the startup. Its so natural to simply put your head down and work as hard and as fast as you can on your business. It’s how we’re socialized in this country — burn it at both ends and eat Ramen at your desk. Unlike prior endeavors, I’ve purposely been more involved with other activities by serving on the boards of directors of two other companies, speaking at and attending industry events, mentoring other entrepreneurs, consulting outside of my sector, and working part-time as a tech startup catalyst in my own front yard. Keeping a balance isn’t easy, but the relationships and connections I’ve created in those outside ventures have created immeasurable benefits for Vireo Labs that I couldn’t buy if I had the money.

Stay scrappy, my friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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