Yesterday I had the pleasure of giving a talk at Startup Grind Philly.
Startup Grind is a nationwide speaker series that invites some of the
best investors, entrepreneurs, and innovators to a fireside chat style
session – basically a mixture of interview, Q&A, and presentation
In the session I spoke about my journey, from my initial foray into making comics, then into the music industry, then film, then tech.
But mainly I gave advice to upcoming entrepreneurs that I’ve learned over the years. Here is the TL;DR version….
Don’t let other people define success for you. Build something that works and that you’re proud of and own that as your success.
Build a strong company first, worry about investors later. You can torpedo a solid business neglecting operations and sales to raise capital.
Investors are fickle anyways. You can have customers, revenue, and a great product and still not be able to raise capital. Investors should be nice-to-haves, not need-to-haves.
Do one thing well first. A lot of startups fail by trying to ‘boil the ocean’ with features and serving all possible markets. Nail one first, grow into the rest.
The worst thing in the world, which I learned the hard way, is to have a wide set of features for a wide set of customers. Either narrow the product offering, or narrow the customers you’re targeting, or both.
Diversity in tech is about “who’s in the room”. Whoever is in the room, controls who else gets in the room. It’s that simple. We have to focus on nurturing more minority and female investors who are good investors first, minority investors second. By changing who’s in the room you eliminate some of unconscious biases that exist.
The best way to become fearless is to fail epically at least once. If you can bounce back, you learn that failure is usually worse in your mind than it is in reality. If you can’t bounce back, you’ve still learned a valuable lesson about what NOT to do again.
I’m embarrassed to admit when TEDster Adam Burk reached out
to me to Portland, Maine to speak Maine Startup and Create Week 2015 a few
months ago, I had no idea that Portland, Maine even existed. Everyone knows
Portland, Oregon but Portland, Maine was about as familiar to me as Paris,
Texas is to most people. Meaning not at all.
So I’m glad I decided to come for a number of reasons, but
the first is I learned about this new great place. On top of that, Portland, Maine is
pretty awesome (in the summer). I will definitely revisit. Startup and Create Week was a unique conference in that it wasn’t all tech oriented, there was also a food track and a general entrepreneurship track which brought in a lot more people than those who might attend the typical tech conference.
While there I was interviewed by the local NBC affiliate WCSH 6′s Caroline Cornish about my work as an investor and my ‘outcome design’
methodology which I use to help companies mitigate the risks of innovation.
Over the years I’ve come to appreciate a phrase I first heard on the show Battlestar Galactica. One of the characters, General Adama, in a grim guttural tone turns to another character in the middle of a space battle and says, “Sometimes you gotta roll the hard six.” Meaning, that in combat sometimes you have to take risks, make tough calls and anticipate sacrifice.
The phrase originates from craps where a hard six is achieved by rolling threes on a pair of six-sided dice (3+3). Not only do you have to be lucky in achieving the right outcome, but you also have to avoid the wrong ones on the way.
It applies to startups as well. Sometimes progress means irking your colleagues by being the jerk who demands no one settle. As the CEO of Appfrica and having managed a number of teams large and small, I’ve found this is often the case when managing people. The reality is that any healthy team needs to have staff members who aren’t afraid to challenge each other.
Success is rarely convenient and rarer still is it comfortable.
If you’re an entrepreneur or collaborator with teams of any sort in 2011, don’t be afraid to make people uncomfortable by making the hard calls.