Why You Should Stop Pretending To Be So Important

please-help

I’ve been spending a lot of time helping founders and startups over the past couple of weeks. This week I spoke with 18 founders and answered questions, gave advice, or just lent an ear while they vented about problems. I won’t receive a single thing for my time, nor am I looking for anything. This isn’t said to brag but rather to share what I think the right thing to do is.

It has been shocking all week to see how appreciative these founders have been. Last night, one founder thanked me numerous times for “lending a few minutes of time.” While it is always nice to hear thank you, this trend is somewhat alarming.

As I started to pry deeper into why people were so thankful, I realized that too many people are being selfish with their time. Numerous founders explained that they have reached out to experienced entrepreneurs, corporate executives, fellow alumni, and investors, without much luck. The two most common responses they have received (informal poll) are “I’m too busy” or no response at all.

ABSURD!

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done – nobody is important enough to ignore someone asking for help. Each of needs help at some point in our career. Word spreads quickly about the individuals who fall into the “a-hole” category by not responding. Avoid being the newest member. It will probably ruin your reputation for a long time.

The cowardly answer of “I’m too busy” is almost as bad. Again, nobody is important enough to be too busy to help an entrepreneur. If you think you’re one of these individuals, I suggest you find the time. Take a shorter lunch break. Wake up 30 minutes earlier. Fall asleep an hour later. Take a phone call as you drive to work. Do something. Don’t take the easy way out.

The short story is that everyone in a startup ecosystem should lend a hand (or ear) when called upon. You never know how helpful you can be. I’m all for providing limitations (30 minute phone call, 10 minute meeting, etc) but don’t completely drop the ball.

Remember, karma is a bitch!

 

Photo credit: prosperitycoalition.org

Startup Ideas for 2014

2014

At the beginning of every year I try to predict the industries or verticals that are susceptible to disruption in the next 12 months. Sometimes I’m right. Sometimes I’m wrong. Every time its still fun.

If you’re interested in working on one of these ideas, let me know. I’d love to talk through the problems and solutions for each prediction. You probably can teach me a thing or two as well!

I originally made this list on a Raleigh-based startup, Avelist’s new platform.

1. Media and publishing – someone has to figure out a 2.0 model

2. Subscription products – think Dollar Shave Club and Birchbox

3. Same day delivery – Ebay/Google/Amazon are players but a startup can win

4. Real estate – much has stayed the same for 30-40 years

5. Wearable tech – Smart watches, Google Glass, etc are just the beginning

6. Bitcoin – This is probably much, much bigger than any of us understand yet

7. Education – Kids need to be taught differently to prepare for next 100 years

8. Energy – Lots of big stuff happening here, essential to future of existence

9. Sports – Personal favorite. Can we get a damn sensor on the football goal line?!

10. Finance – College is expensive. People are broke. Someone build a solution.

11. Space – No clue about this one other than I’ll pay to meet aliens :)

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

The ThinkHouse: A Different Kind of Accelerator

thinkhouse

Below is a guest post by Keegan Guizard. Keegan is a Raleigh-based entrepreneur who will be one of the first fellows in ThinkHouse. I really like his perspective and felt it was worthy of sharing!

As Raleigh is coming into its own as an entrepreneurial hub, the outlook of opportunity will start to change. There are plenty of organizations and events that cater to the success of local entrepreneurs, and I have experienced many of them first-hand. Over the past few years, these have become consistently more impactful; less hype and more results. There have been valuable partnerships between entrepreneurs, organizations, and the educational institutions that birthed the culture of innovation here. The three major educational institutions of the Triangle have each spawned huge entrepreneurial successes. Just to name a few: Ryan Allis of UNC at Chapel Hill sold his company, iContact, to Vocus last year; Jesse Lipson of Duke University sold his company, ShareFile, to Citrix in 2011; and Scott Moody of NC State University sold his company, AuthenTec, to Apple just earlier this year. All of these acquisitions were widely recognized as very successful.

These are not the only successes from the region, and many post-exit or high-profit entrepreneurs are giving back to their communities – in different ways. Andy Albright donated to NC State University for construction of its new Entrepreneurship Living & Learning Village; Brooks Bell and Jesse Lipson were co-founders and funders of HQ Raleigh, where entrepreneurs work and collaborate in Raleigh, NC; and Joe Procopio started ExitEvent, where he aims to help build stronger entrepreneurial communities throughout the Triangle.

Funding of other local companies are foreshadowing more success stories coming out of the Triangle area, and the question is now becoming not “if”, but “when”, “who”, and “why”. There are co-working spaces and accelerators that seem to be popping up everywhere to help support these young start-ups achieve their goals, such as Launch Chapel Hill, Groundwork Labs, The American Underground, and HQ Raleigh. It seems that the trend may be moving away from “giving back” and toward “paying forward”.

One of the newest projects being put into action by successful entrepreneurs in the region is ThinkHouse Raleigh. The ThinkHouse is an entrepreneurial co-living space for young entrepreneurs that are fresh out of the college setting. This space provides an opportunity for those to both give back AND pay forward. Co-founders of ThinkHouse Raleigh (Brooks Bell, Christopher Gergen, Jason Widen, and Jesse Lipson) have given back to their community by investing in this project that will undoubtedly bring attention and successful ventures to the Triangle region, and there is a great opportunity for others to “pay it forward” to help support these entrepreneurs succeed. I am really looking forward to being one of its first residents, and I speak for myself and on behalf of my new roommates in saying that there is truly a unique setting in place for the ThinkHouse.

A nuclear engineer, a maker space expert, a travel guru, and an extreme sports nerd all living under one roof are working on individual projects that make a beautiful mosaic of innovation. The house is built in a way that truly fosters collaboration. Each fellow has been handpicked for their progress in pursuing their venture as well as their personalities that will prove them to be driven individuals. Also, experts in the field have fabricated the programming built for ThinkHouse Raleigh. The ThinkHouse is designed to help grow successful ventures, and maybe as importantly, successful individuals, in the Triangle region.

Those who decide to pay it forward need only visit this Indiegogo campaign to learn more and donate to the next step in making “our region one of the top five centers of entrepreneurship and innovation in the country.”

 

Startups That Cheat, End Up Dead

 

no-cheating

Startups are constantly fighting to establish traction. The elusive product/market fit is held on a pedestal in the eyes of hungry entrepreneurs. I use the word “hungry” because I want to make a comparison to the human body.

Many people try fad diets that starve their bodies but ultimately end in failure. Although they start off strong, the individual usually fails due to hunger. This mental weakness is caused by cloudy judgement which can be attributed to the malnutrition that the mind and body is experiencing. After failure, regret and comfort food are all that remain.

A very similar situation occurs in early stage startups when entrepreneurs are hungry. Instead of taking the time to execute customer discovery, learn the value proposition, and identify a true product/market fit, most entrepreneurs try to cheat. These excited (and usually naive) founders rely on gimmick marketing and press bumps to create a sense of traction.

This leads to two main problems. First, if this garbage is working, the entrepreneur is probably analyzing the wrong metrics. For example if you have a consumer internet product, you should most likely measure paid conversions, rather than total page views. The second problem is that “cheating” is not sustainable. At some point the gimmick marketing will become overused and the press bumps will cease. If you don’t understand your business and what drives it, you will be left with a dream of what could have been (and probably lots of comfort food too!).

Lately, I have advised a lot of early stage startups to slow down and learn their business. How does it work? Why do people find you valuable? What drives revenue? Which message resonates with which audience? Once you can identify answers to these questions, it is time to put gas on the fire and accelerate. Everyone loves to accelerate but few people enjoy the slow, grueling process it takes to earn the right to go fast.

Stop cheating yourself and your team. Learn your business so you can eventually cross the finish line!

Triangle Startup Ecosystem Experiencing Good Growing Pains

There will be many growing pains as the Raleigh-Durham startup ecosystem continues to grow. Some of these will be good. Some will be bad. All of them are necessary.

One of these growing pains can be illustrated by the four events that are occurring on Tuesday, December 10th. Yes, there are four separate events that all surround entrepreneurship scheduled on the same night. This density of events speaks to the number of entrepreneurs, investors, and service providers who will be in attendance.

The events are Microbrews for Microfinance: Christmas Edition, RTP180: Philanthropy, Startup Grind Durham, and Bull City Forward Winter Celebration. (Thanks to Derrick Minor for highlighting these in his monthly email!)

Very exciting stuff. The more members we can add to the startup ecosystem, the better. This will lead to more innovation. More events. More successes. More failures. Most of all, we will have everyone playing the 20 or 30 year game that is necessary to reach sustainability as a region. I’m looking forward to it – even if it will be painful for awhile!

Brad Feld and Jim Collins Talk Leadership

brad-feld-jim-collins

Over the last year I’ve come to enjoy watching lengthy videos of varying content. Some of my favorites include Vice Media and PandoMonthly. The only rule is that I want to be entertained with interesting, thought-provoking content.

Here is a video that Brad Feld shared on his blog yesterday. Brad sat down with Jim Collins in Boulder recently and the talk was awesome. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

Click here to watch the video

Let me know what you think!

Stop The Madness – Don’t Become An Entrepreneur

inc.com

inc.com

Everyone is lying about entrepreneurship. A rosy picture has been painted for non-entrepreneurs. The idea is that you will become super-rich, very quickly, if you merely come up with a cool idea.

It’s complete bullshit and we are doing the profession (specifically the tech industry) a huge disservice. If you’re considering a path of entrepreneurship but aren’t really sure yet, save yourself a lot of time and heartache – don’t do it. You’ve already lost.

Entrepreneurship is hard. Like really, really difficult. According to the data, nearly impossible. If you aren’t insane, you’re not going to make it. Who else would leave a steady salary, with benefits, and a secure job? Only people who are so passionate about an idea, that it drives them to make unintelligent decisions that expose them to a ridiculously uncomfortable amount of risk.

Let me elaborate. Entrepreneurs are poor as shit. Most of them (especially young ones) live in frat-style housing while eating mac-and-cheese and trying to figure out which networking event will provide free beer and food. They work insane hours, sometimes to the point of collapse, and always to the determent of their personal health.

These people are so fanatical about their idea that they begin to retract from society and become obsessive. They self-identify their personal success or failure with the outcome of their venture. This eroding of mental health has led to suicide in multiple cases.

While all of this is going on, these entrepreneurs are trying to juggle the pressure that comes with being responsible for the livelihood of employees and employee’s families. If the company fails, the entrepreneur bears the burden of watching a family, usually with small children, scramble to make ends meet.

I almost forget to mention the entrepreneur’s family. Rarely do they have one. If they have a significant other or children, the pressure and stress can be so overwhelming that the family becomes dysfunctional. Pressure bursts pipes. Happiness is thrown to the end of the list.

Success never happens over night. The companies you read about in the news have been around for a long time. Sometimes multiple decades. Think of the hardest thing you have ever done – being an entrepreneur is at least 2X harder.

If I haven’t scared you away yet, you just may have what it takes to start the journey. My advice is to play the long-term game. Stay patient. Take breaks. Exercise. Be open, honest, and transparent. Talk to everyone around you about everything. Schedule time with family and friends. Live life. Smile. And whatever you do, prepare for success but expect to fail.

In this line of work, failure isn’t the end of the world as long as you pick yourself up and try again.

A Conversation Between Salman Khan and Elon Musk

This conversation between Salman Khan and Elon Musk took place at the Khan Academy offices on April 17, 2013. I thought it was extremely powerful and worth sharing. Pay attention to the abnormally large vision that Musk has when he describes projects. Enjoy!

The Startup Factory Showcase

the-startup-factory

The Startup Factory (TSF) is the most highly capitalized technology accelerator in the southeast. It is extremely advantageous to the region that the program calls Durham home. With three classes of startups under their belt, TSF is looking to make an even larger splash at the end of the current class.

On November 12th, The Startup Factory is partnering with Tech Media to hold The Startup Factory Showcase at Fletcher Theater in Raleigh. The partnership is important because it will allow the Showcase to precede Startup Summit @ Internet Summit. Having back-to-back events of this magnitude will provide knock-out value for attendees.

The current class has been hard at work defining, testing, and iterating on assumptions. The intensive program helps each company accelerate their progress and positions them for success. Winners breed more winners.

I’m a big fan of what Dave, Chris, and Whitney are doing with The Startup Factory. Do yourself a favor and register for the Showcase. You won’t be disappointed!

 

How Developers Will Become More Efficient

HTML Code

Most companies try to change user’s behavior. This can be painfully difficult, if not impossible, in many scenarios. Most changes in behavior happen organically. If you think about it, nobody likes being told what to do!

Great companies quickly see organic changes in behavior and build a product or service that creates additional value. Runnable is one of those companies. They have their hands full with a mission of becoming the “YouTube of code.”

Yash Kumar (Co-founder and CEO) and team are betting on the assumption that modern developers spend more time recycling existing code snippets than creating new ones. Many developers I know are spending time searching for pieces of code that they can patch together to create functional platforms and systems.

This search process can be difficult and time-consuming. If Runnable is able to execute on their goal, developers will experience a more efficient search experience, while also being able to edit and run the code directly on the site. I personally know a number of developers who would love this.

I’m rooting for Runnable to eventually make every developer in the world more efficient. Who wouldn’t like to get a feature shipped a few days earlier…