Thought it would be helpful to share my Venture Atlanta presentation. Eleven slides to tell the story in six minutes.
Put this together starting with a blank in about a week. Few words. Large fonts. I wanted people to pay attention to me, not the slides. I wanted to freedom to modify the words of the presentation after it was submitted. I actually thought about using no slides at all but was talked out of it.
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Over on Quora Paul DeJoe, the CEO at Ecquire (a lead management software company with the tag "data entry blows") and an Entrepreneur in Residence at Fairbridge Venture Partners, posed the perfect response to the question "What does it feel like to be the CEO of a start-up?" Something like 1,200 upvotes. It is republished here with permission. Great stuff.
Very tough to sleep most nights of the week. Weekends don't mean anything to you anymore. Closing a round of financing is not a relief. It means more people are depending on you to turn their investment into 20 times what they gave you.
It's very difficult to "turn it off". But at the same time, television, movies and vacations become so boring to you when your company's future might be sitting in your inbox or in the results of a new A/B test you decide to run.
You feel guilty when you're doing something you like doing outside of the company. Only through years of wrestling with this internal fight do you recognize how the word "balance" is an art that is just as important as any other skill set you could ever hope to have. You begin to see how valuable creativity is and that you must think differently not only to win, but to see the biggest opportunity. You recognize you get your best ideas when you're not staring at a screen. You see immediate returns on healthy distractions.
You start to respect the Duck. Paddle like hell under the water and be smooth and calm on top where everyone can see you. You learn the hard way that if you lose your cool you lose.
You always ask yourself if I am changing the World in a good way? Are people's lives better for having known me?
You are creative and when you have an idea it has no filter before it becomes a reality. This feeling is why you can't do anything else.
You start to see that the word "entrepreneur" is a personality. It's difficult to talk to your friends that are not risking the same things you are because they are content with not pushing themselves or putting it all out there in the public with the likelihood of failure staring at you everyday. You start to turn a lot of your conversations with relatives into how they might exploit opportunities for profit. Those close to you will view your focus as something completely different because they don't understand. You don't blame them. They can't understand if they haven't done it themselves. It's why you will gravitate towards other entrepreneurs. You will find reward in helping other entrepreneurs. This is my email: email@example.com. Let me know if I can help you with anything.
Your job is to create a vision, a culture, to get the right people on the bus and to inspire. When you look around at a team that believes in the vision as much as you do and trusts you will do the right thing all the time, it's a feeling that can't be explained. The exponential productivity from great people will always amaze you. It's why finding the right team is the most difficult thing you will do but the most important. This learning will affect your life significantly. You will not settle for things anymore because you will see what is possible when you hold out for the best and push to find people that are the best. You don't have a problem anymore being honest with people about not cutting it.
You start to see that you're a leader and you have to lead or you can't be involved with it at all. You turn down acquisition offers because you need to run the show and you feel like your team is the best in the World and you can do anything with hard work. Quitting is not an option.
You have to be willing to sleep in your car and laugh about it. You have to be able to laugh at many things because when you think of the worse things in the World that could happen to your company, they will happen. Imagine working for something for two years and then have to throw it out completely because you see in one day that it's wrong. You realize that if your team is having fun and can always laugh that you won't die, and in fact, the opposite will happen: you will learn to love the journey and look forward to what you do everyday even at the lowest times. You'll hear not to get too low when things are bad and not to get too high when things are good and you'll even give that advice. But you'll never take it because being in the middle all the time isn't exciting and an even keel is never worth missing out on something worth celebrating. You'll become addicted to finding the hardest challenges because there's a direct relationship between how difficult something is and the euphoria of a feeling when you do the impossible.
You realize that it's much more fun when you didn't have money and that money might be the worse thing you could have as a personal goal. If you're lucky enough to genuinely feel this way, it is a surreal feeling that is the closest thing to peace because you realize it's the challenges and the work that you love. Your currencies are freedom, autonomy, responsibility and recognition. Those happen to be the same currencies of the people you want around you.
You feel like a parent to your customers in that they will never realize how much you love them and it is they who validate you are not crazy. You want to hug every one of them. They mean the World to you.
You learn the most about yourself more than any other vocation as an entrepreneur. You learn what you do when you get punched in the face many many times. You learn what you do when no one is looking and when no one would find out. You learn that you are bad at many things, lucky if you're good at a handful of things and the only thing you can ever be great at is being yourself which is why you can never compromise it. You learn how power and recognition can be addicting and see how it could corrupt so many.
You become incredibly grateful for the times that things were going as bad as they possibly could. Most people won't get to see this in any other calling. When things are really bad, there are people that come running to help and don't think twice about it. Tal Raviv, Gary Smith, Joe Reyes, Toan Dang, Vincent Cheung, Eric Elinow, Abe Marciano are some of them. I will forever be in their debt and I could never repay them nor would they want or expect to be repaid.
You begin to realize that in life, the luckiest people in the World only get one shot at being a part of something great. Knowing this helps you make sense of your commitment.
Of all the things said though, it's exciting. Every day is different and so exciting. Even when it's bad it's exciting. Knowing that your decisions will not only affect you but many others is a weight that I would rather have any day than the weight of not controlling my future. That's why I could not do anything else.
As a company grows and starts to gain a little traction in the marketplace a wealth of partnership marketing opportunities can be pursued. These are business development channel type deals that can get a small but growing company much broader distribution and market credibility by associating with larger brand names if the right partners are chosen.
The key point being the last sentence. Once you reach a certain scale a small technology company needs to focus on continuing to grow by pursuing deals with larger companies that can give them more credibility and reach.
Way back in August of last year I recieved an email from Annette. It is still in my inbox. The subject line was "Some flattery and a question!" It reads in part:
I recently stumbled across your website and wanted to complement you on a really good blog, i skimmed longer than I probably should have (considering I'm working!) but your posts were so simple and to the point, I just kept going, lol. I was also impressed with your recent recruiting plan, that's pretty proactive and smart but I can't think of many people who would consider scouting through twitter, at least not yet. Anyways, I didn't stumble onto you by accident though and was hoping you could help me out.
I am currently interning with John Greathouse, venture capitalist and 'serial' entrepreneur (aren't they all?), in an attempt to reach more emerging entrepreneurs via his blog, infoChachkie. From the outside looking in, it appears John's content is a really good match for your readers. Please check out John's site. If you agree that his site is complimentary to your readers, we would appreciate it if you could share...
I checked out his site and started following John on Twitter. And over time I discovered that I was reading more and more of John's articles. I started to enjoy his Iconic Advice Series. Bascially startup tips from famous entrepreneurs. Eight Startup Tips From Mark Zuckerberg tipped me.
So I became a Startup Riot ambassador. Mainly because I believe that it is one of the most important events on the South technology scene. Startup Riot is growing and branching out. They have started MAKE which is essentially a startup weekend like experience and it is good to see someone picking up the ball there. But the big gathering is Startup Riot SHOW.
SHOW is an all-day pitch event that highlights 25 startups giving three minute pitches. If you want to see the latest early stage stuff this is the place to be. The prices are low, ranging from $30 to $70 for the day and it is free to present.
This year SHOW takes place on February 22. Registration closes on February 8. The registration to pitch has passed but if you have it going on you still might be able to make the stage. Drop me a line.
So one of the things that I am doing these days is having at least one breakfast/lunch/drink a week with an advisor/business partner/friend/mentor to catch up and talk about what is going on in our day to day worlds. It's just so easy to get too heads down and overly involved in a startup. I am sure that I am not alone in my tendency to do that. Startups can be all consuming. So it's good to get out and hear some fresh perspective.
I was recently having such a lunch. Part of the conversation went like this.
Me: "So I went and talked to the devs..."
She (interrupting): "Always talk to the devs, they know everything that is going on."
True. The geeky guys (and much more often than not they are guys) somehow or the other seem to know everything that is going on in the company. Kinda surprising from a bunch of staring at screens and not talking much dudes, but I have seen it in startup after startup.
While in many respects it is to soon to tell, the capstone of the program begs the question "is Flashpoint a success?" The early answer is yes.
This answer is based on my involvement in the formative stages of Flashpoint back in the second quarter of 2011. Call me a bit player but I was a member of Flashpoint's formative team. I was there when we hashed out the concept of "startup engineering", an idea of Merrick Furst's that I thought was brilliant when he first pitched it. I there when we defined winning (we actually used the word) as creating two or more fundable companies after four months. It is a real metric. So how is Flashpoint doing against it?
Flashpoint is winning. Pindrop Security recently received an investment from Sand Hill road based Andreessen Horowitz (a little cherry picking perhaps from Flashpoint's valley demo day event host). And word is, while a bit odd to be jumping from accelerator to accelerator, that two Flashpoint companies will be joining the next Y Combinator class where they are assured to get $150k in funding from Yuri Milner's and Ron Conway's Start Fund. Add in Social Fortress' executed term sheet to raise $2 million (they still have to fill out the round and that is often quite difficult), and you have between three or four companies that have become fundable. In terms of the goals of Flashpoint, that is winning.
And it is still early. The Flashpoint companies have come a long way in four months. It is going to be most interesting to see how they are received next week when they enter the land of Fred Wilson for demo day at Union Square Ventures in NYC and they week after at Andreessen Horowitz in Menlo Park.
VentureBeat reported today that Fab just closed a $40 million round led by Andreessen Horowitz. Fab is an oft talked about company in the halls of Half Off Depot. Before today I do not know about the company's pivot from a social network for gay men. Interesting.
(1) A laser-like focus on design. From the design aesthetic of Fab.com’s website and mobile applications, to the products that are featured for sale, to the end-to-end customer experience, Fab.com is all about good design. (2) Social commerce. More than 50% of Fab.com’s 1.2 million members have come from social sharing. (3) Innovation. Fab.com builds all of its own technology and is the world’s pioneer in integrating social and commerce features to enhance the product discovery process.
So October turned out to be another record month for Half Off Depot. Our more established markets showed some nice growth and our expansion markets came up to speed nicely, most of them exceeding rather aggressive growth plans.
But this week I had to let two people go. That's always tough to do. Hard saddening decisions. Every time a team member fails to perform to expectation disappointment abounds. While I am sure the folks departing will rebound nicely it is a major life occurrence. Something that they will always remember. It is something that I will always remember as well. Because regardless of the reason when somebody does not perform to expectation it is always a bit the fault of leadership. You hired the wrong person, did not manage them well, or did not provide them with the attention and support they needed to succeed. It hurts.
But in a startup people really do need to make their own way. They have to figure it out. There is not a lot of time for counseling or nurturing.
As a leader you have to do what is best for the company. Startups are leaving breathing things. For a startup the size of Half Off letting go two people is akin to cutting off 4% of your body. It's like losing the use of a hand or a foot. But it will heal. The scars will go away. We will be stronger for the challenge.
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The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone (with the exception of comments by others of course). They do not represent the opinion or position of any other person or entity. All postings adhere to my personal values.