Five Stages of Startup: Level 5 -- The End

Exit, Failure, Graduation, Next, Giving Back

6.27.16


The five stages of startup I'm discussing are not THE five stages of startup. They're just landmarks, broken down and generalized into something that we can all hopefully use as a guide, not gospel.

This is the final stage of the generalized startup timeline, and with this, we've now covered the entire roadmap, from humble beginning to glorious end. Level 1: The Jump is the period of time when you have a great idea that will become a great product. Level 2: Start is when the company is formed, it figures out how to operate, and launches that great product. Level 3: The Journey is about running and growing your company and selling your product. Level 4: The Grind covers all the ups and downs along the way.

But all good things…

The End can happen a few different ways. There are happy endings, horrible endings, and endings where you just shrug your shoulders and move on.

You shouldn't really do a lot of planning for the end. Your goal is to build an incredible business, one that you want to work on every day for the rest of your life. But let's face it, you're an entrepreneur, and you might find that there are other ideas you'd like to pursue -- ideas that may be totally different from the one that got you where you are today.

If you've done your startup right, there will be several knocks of opportunity at your door, people who want to buy everything you've built, and you'll need to listen to most of those offers. If you've done it wrong, failure -- inevitable, heartbreaking failure -- will come calling instead, and that's a call you've got to answer too.

Oh, and I need to tell you that you can do everything right and failure might just show up anyway. He's kind of a jerk.

Regardless of how you close the curtain on your startup, the end is also a new beginning, and you'll need to know how to start over.

read the rest at: http://teachingstartup.com/five-stages-of-startup-level-5-the-end.asp




Five Stages of Startup: Level 4 -- The Grind

Growth, Culture, Change, Trouble, Pivot

6.20.16


The five stages of startup I'm discussing are not THE five stages of startup. They're just landmarks, broken down and generalized into something that we can all hopefully use as a guide, not gospel.

This is the fourth of five stages that make up a generalized startup timeline. You don't have to read the previous installments, but it will help, especially if you're just starting out. Level 1: The Jump is the period of time when you have a great idea that will become a great product. Level 2: Start is when the company is formed, it figures out how to operate, and launches that great product. Level 3: The Journey is about running and growing your company and selling your product.

So far, everything about startup is straight-up awesome. The early days are the reason most entrepreneurs start their own companies in the first place. It's living the dream, writing your own ticket, creating your own destiny.

But not every day is going to be your favorite day at your startup. Sometimes, it's going to feel like a job. And there will be those rare times when it's going to feel like the worst job you've ever had.

Let's deal with that.

The Grind is the part of startup that is the least glamorous, the most difficult, and probably lasts the longest. Now, nothing about startup is easy. Coming up with a great idea is hard. Turning that idea into a product is hard. Building a company to sell that product is hard. Getting your first few customers and funding is hard.

But once all that machinery is in place, it's time to make it better, faster, stronger, and more efficient. This is the point where the steady state changes, and it changes often. Customers won't be happy, investors will meddle, competition will appear out of nowhere, costs will rise, employees will quit, and everyone around you except your core team will, at some point, stop caring about the success of your startup.

Did I talk you out of it? No? Good. Here's how to get through the rest of your startup's life cycle.

read the rest at: http://teachingstartup.com/five-stages-of-startup-level-4-the-grind.asp




Five Stages of Startup: Level 3 -- The Journey

Leadership, Making, Hiring, Funding, Customers

6.16.16


The five stages of startup I'm discussing are not THE five stages of startup. They're just landmarks, broken down and generalized into something that we can all hopefully use as a guide, not gospel.

So far in this series, I've covered the first two of five stages that make up a generalized startup timeline, beginning with Level 1: The Jump. This is the period of time before the thing is actually a thing -- when it's just a great idea that will become a great product. After that, the startup moves to Level 2: Start, when the company is formed, it figures out how to operate, and launches that great product.

Now we embark.

The Journey begins when the startup looks, acts, and feels like a real company. There is a product or service out there on the market, and customers are now the most important factor in determining success.

The Journey is the best part of startup. It's the early days when there are few rules and everything feels new and fresh and within your control. The Journey can last a few weeks, a few months, or a few years. Enjoy it. It's why you did this.

But the journey can't last forever, and you can't coast through this level. You're building on what you've accomplished and driving forward at top speed, trying to perfect the product, sell the product, grow the company, and scale the operation. Here's what you'll need to do that.

read the rest at: http://teachingstartup.com/five-stages-of-startup-level-3-the-journey.asp


How To Support An Entrepreneur

We Stand On the Shoulders Of Giants

6.14.16


Chances are if you're reading this article in ExitEvent right now, you're an entrepreneur. I should hope so, anyway. When I started this company some five years ago, I built it on the concept of “for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs,” because after doing startup for close to 20 years, I've come to the realization that the best source of advice in matters entrepreneurial comes from other entrepreneurs.

Note that I said “advice,” not “support.”

Entrepreneurs are terrible at support, and this is by design. We're so busy propping up our own thing that we just don't have the mental and emotional bandwidth to drag you through the mud of your struggle. It's how we're built. See you at the finish line and Godspeed.

So if you're an entrepreneur and you're reading this article, I want you to understand that this article is not for you. It's for everyone around you who isn't an entrepreneur. Send them the link.

If there's one single person who has made my adventure in startup possible, it's my wife. It's not that one awesome mentor I met 20 years ago, it's not that first investor who took a chance on a young kid with moxie and a bad haircut, it's not that powerful influence broker who opened up all those introductions after seeing my deck.

In fact, to be true to my own history, I don't even have any of those people in my past.

It's the woman who didn't blink when, while we were navigating toddler twins and she was six months pregnant, I said: “You know what, I've got a really good idea.” The same woman who, when that startup had finally broken $1 million in annual revenue, told me to go for it when I told her I wanted to change gears and get another company off the ground and that we wanted to teach robots how to write.

How insane is that?

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/how-to-support-an-entrepreneur


Five Stages of Startup: Level 2 -- Start

Risk, Creativity, Logistics, Planning, Execution

6.13.16


The five stages of startup I'm discussing are not THE five stages of startup. They're just landmarks, broken down and generalized into something that we can all hopefully use as a guide, not gospel.

Last time, I defined and discussed the first level of what's basically a generalized startup timeline. Level 1: The Jump, covers the period of time before the thing is actually a thing -- when it's just a great idea that will become a great product that can be sold to a market by a company.

And, of course, the moment when the entrepreneur has decided that they're all in on starting that company.

Read Level 1: The Jump if you haven't.

Now let's start making stuff.

Level 2: Start

Level 2 begins at that all-important point when the company is real and you arrive for your first day of work. Oh yeah, congratulations on the new job. Celebrate, but then get to work. This is where you make your new job into a real job.

Start is entirely about creating both the product and the company - they will work together as one symbiotic machine that, ultimately, will solve a big problem for your market. The company and product are usually indistinguishable, and the founders are tasked with getting both off the ground at the same time.

This is also the level that everyone associates with the Hollywood version of startup. This is the daring young genius tucked into a dorm room under a hoodie level. This is the Mark Zuckerberg wanna-be level. The Shark Tank level.

Don't fall for any of that, because despite everything you've learned from television and the movies, this is the level at which you will most likely fail.

read the rest at: http://teachingstartup.com/five-stages-of-startup-level-2-start.asp


Five Stages of Startup: Level 1 -- The Jump

Ideation, Creation, Formation, Community, Help

6.8.16


The map to startup success is really difficult to draw. Startup is about doing new things in new ways, and no two startups achieve success in the exact same way.

And because startup success is so hard to map, it's also hard to teach -- which makes it hard to learn.

So you have to teach and learn startup in new ways, but you also have to create a few universal ground rules, like landmarks on a map. That said, let me be very up-front about what I'm about to tell you:

The five stages of startup I'm about to discuss are not THE five stages of startup. They're just landmarks, broken down and generalized into something that we can all hopefully use as a guide, not gospel.

I broke these five stages into levels, because every entrepreneur should constantly be asking where they're at. It's the first thing they should think about when they wake up in the morning -- with the next thing being: How do I get to the next level?

It's important to define and discuss each level because there are different skills and actions required at each level -- because there are different rules and needs at each level.

Example: Level 1 entrepreneurs, those who are just starting out, need support, advice, guidance, and they need to be totally flexible about what they're building and what it is they're trying to accomplish. Level 4 entrepreneurs, those already living the dream, need some of those same things, probably less flexibility, but definitely more problem-solving, leadership, and crisis management.

Now, since the only way to know where you're going is to know where you are, let's figure that out, starting with the first steps.

read the rest at: http://teachingstartup.com/five-stages-of-startup-level-1-the-jump.asp


If You're Not Hurt, Angry, or Frustrated, You're Not Trying Hard Enough

Finding Value In Pain

6.6.16


Last year at this time, my son was closing out an incredible Little League season. It seemed like every time he got up to the plate, he put the bat on the ball, usually on the first pitch. It was a machine-pitch division, meaning 90% of the balls were in the strike zone, but he hit close to .800.

This year he's moved up to kid-pitch, and thanks to a late April birthday and Procopio genes, he's not as developed as the kids in this division. An early season batting slump didn't help his standing or his confidence. He actually nearly quit, right after the third game, when he had yet to hit the ball out of the infield and had been plunked twice.

But he stuck it out, and we wound up on what has been my favorite team experience thus far. This team isn't dominant, but it is awesome. There is mind-blowing talent, huge potential, and a keg of heart. But little mistakes here and unlucky hops there resulted in a 5-7 record and a third-place finish. Lots of great moments and great memories, but always the spectre of “Damn, we should be (insert better record here).”

This past Saturday was the first day of the playoffs, and we faced the second place team (five teams in all), one that had beaten us by a single run in the last inning each of the three times we played. It was our turn, we thought, but while we took a 3-run lead into the bottom of the final inning… we again lost by one run with two outs.

Devastating.

read the rest


The Summer of Startup 2016

Use Your Break To Make a Break

6.2.16


One of the beautiful truths about life is that no matter who you are, how old you are, or what you've decided to do with your daylight hours, everything slows down a little in summer.

Look, we humans tend to live our lives sprinting from task to task and responsibility to responsibility with an abandon that only allows time for the basics -- food, sleep, a little bit of fun now and then. Now, not all of us to do this, there are indeed grasshoppers dispersed throughout the ant farm, but for the most part, we run as kings and queens of our own universe, and we do it at top speed.

Summer demands our attention and begs us to take our foot off the accelerator. The daylight hours are usually too hot, too bright, or just too nice to work all the time. In response to this call, we create off-hours, downtime, and I'm not talking about weeks at the beach or weekends on the patio. I'm talking about the lump sum of minutes we sneak into each and every day.

So here's what I want you to do.

read the rest at: http://teachingstartup.com/the-summer-of-startup-2016.asp


Any Show Could Be Our Last

What Makes American Titans Great Is Its Fragility

5.20.16


On Friday night, May 27th, at Deep South in downtown Raleigh, at about 10:00 or so, American Titans will take the stage and blow the doors off for close to an hour. You should be there to witness this if for one single but extremely important reason.

This could be our last show.

You might never get this chance again. And listen, I know this doesn't sound like much in the way of motivation, me sitting here talking about music is, to quote Steve Martin, like dancing about architecture. And what's worse, I'm blogging about the potential for you to be blown away by music you've never heard by a band you've never heard of.

I get that.

But there is something special here, that I promise you. I wouldn't be writing this otherwise.

Get tickets, watch videos, hear music.

In all likelihood, American Titans will play another show someday, if not many more shows, and soon. But what I'm getting at is the inescapable fact that this show, this band, this music, shouldn't exist, at least not in the manner that it does.

This isn't throwaway music by three older guys grasping at a chance to relive their rebellious youth. This isn't a mid-life crisis or a hobby or a way to keep it real.

This is good. Really good. Unfairly good. Inexplicably good. The music will move you -- at least if you have any appreciation for rock or punk or pop or three-piece, loud, tight, intelligent music as an art form.

read the rest


When Great Big Ideas Become Great Big Lies

Keeping The Truth In Check

5.18.16


There was this old cliche back in the dot-com era about selling dollar bills for 99 cents. It was funny until companies like Enron and Worldcom started doing almost exactly that.

And I'm guessing that cliche wasn't invented in the 1990s, but it seems like everyone is starting to forget the past again.

To be sure, some great companies emerged from the dot-bomb, Google and Amazon come to mind. Monster successes like those mean that you can always count on the gold rush to charge forward unabated, fueled by the notion that the average Joe (not me, the average one), can make a million percent return by getting in on the ground floor of the right startup.

Diligence be damned. I mean, a million percent of $100 is a million bucks. Small risk, huge reward, right?

Well, what if you're not risking $100, but $23 million? Or more?

So last week, I read an article about questions and allegations swirling around UBeam, a company started by a 25-year-old first-time founder, and one with a technology that purports to charge your phone wirelessly using ultrasound.

Now, I'm not going to debate the viability of their product, I'll be the first to admit that I got by in my Electrical Engineering courses on a wing and a prayer and a tutor and a smile. Besides, there are plenty of folks already debating said viability these days, including a former VP of Engineering calling the product “vaporware.”

But what I can debate is the culture and, of great significance here, the media.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/when-great-big-ideas-become-great-big-lies-160518


Don't Be ABOUT the Job

All Work And No Play Will Kill You

5.12.16


"I had the chance to take a job across the country. It was a better job, more money, more exposure, great city to live and work in. All opportunity. She told me she wasn't coming. I went anyway. And for six months I was miserable. I had the time to realize what I wanted and what was important. And guess what? It wasn't the job."

This isn't me, although it easily could be. It could be me, or you, man, woman, freshly-minted graduate or grizzled veteran, corporate-lifer or serial entrepreneur.

Sometimes the buzzer sounds and you realize you just lost.

My friend was lucky. Extremely lucky. He had inadvertently left enough of a breadcrumb trail to get back across the country and pick up his life almost exactly where he had left off. Got his old job back, got his wife back, even stayed in his house. There were costs, and they weren't nominal. But he got it all back and then some.

He got a second chance and a new perspective. Which is priceless.

You don't need me to tell you that you have to work to live and not live to work. There are a million and one platitudes that can say all that better than I can and they come in bite-sized nuggets you can frame for your office or cubicle wall.

This isn't even about work/life balance. I'm not your mom.

This is about choosing to work, because it's what pays the bills, whether you're a CEO, a cubicle drone, a firefighter, or a rock star. And it's about how your life should influence your job, and not the other way around.

read the rest


You Must Be a Capitalist, You Can't Be a Douchebag

The Fine Line Between Not-For-Profit and Not-For-Revenue

5.9.16


This is as close to a political piece as I'm going to get, and you'll be heartened to know that I'm not going to get very political.

In fact, I'm only going to reference politics to strip them out of my thesis. “Politics” is a negative term in my lexicon. It's right up there with “parking ticket,” “root canal,” and “Nickelback,” in that anytime those words hit my radar I don't have to think twice about their connotation. Those things don't do anything but suck.

To make my point in this article, I'll be talking in the purist sense of both capitalism and douchebaggery.

I'm not talking about crony capitalism, or corporate capitalism, or capitalism run amok, but the basic concept of selling things people need for a profit. Your stance on the modern state of capitalism is noted, especially you millennials, of whom it's reported that 50% no longer believe in the merits of capitalism. I respect your perspective, even though I don't agree with it and would do everything in my power to sway you.

But I respect you, mostly because of all the douchebaggery, which for our purposes we'll also define in its pure state -- as the act of slighting others in the name of self-preservation.

To me, startup is the art of pure capitalism, maximizing the heat and the efficiency of the fuel that feeds the fire of progress. It's why I love startup so much, because it starts and ends with that definition.

read the rest


Don't Be Above the Job

Sometimes, an entrepreneur just has to go to work

4.26.16


I'm going to put an angel on one of your shoulders and a devil on the other. You'll have to figure out which is which.

I've been hearing this a lot lately: I want to be an entrepreneur but I have to put food on the table. Or pay off insane college debt. Or I'm starting a family.

First off, let me say I totally empathize. From where you are, this looks like cliff diving.

Then let me say, stop it. Do both.

Look, not a lot of people are going to tell you this and if it gets back to me I'm going to deny it and paint you as a filthy liar. Your word against mine. But yeah, go ahead and take a job or keep your job, and keep working on your idea.

Balancing a job and entrepreneurship is one of the hardest assignments you can take on in life. The stakes are high and it's not going to be the fun kind of made-for-TV startup experience. It's going to suck. It's going to be lonely and scary. It's going to be later nights and earlier mornings and slimmer chances and shorter runways than even your average entrepreneur complains about.

But if you're going to do it, you've got to do it. Now.

If you don't do it now, then when will you? When you retire? Let me tell you something, slick, you're not gonna be that limber.

A lot of startups have been spun out of career jobs that became day jobs that ultimately wound up the rear-view. In some ways, it's like getting a free head start, because most of the time, these entrepreneurs end up disrupting an industry they've been toiling away in for years.

But even when that's not the case, they have years of “this is not how I want to spend my career” lessons driving them on the business front, the operations front and the cultural front. But none of this is to say that the corporate world is inherently evil or bumbling or unworthy of your time. In fact, the corporate world and the startup world are symbiotic, and there are very good reasons for this.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/dont-be-above-the-job-160426


Contrarian To a Fault

Nobody Calls It Playing Angel's Advocate

4.20.16


You know that stupid job interview question where the interviewer asks you what your biggest weakness is? It's a punchline at this point -- I've even asked it recently just to see the reaction I'd get from the candidate. I don't recommend this however, as it's neither as insightful or as funny as it looks on paper.

In the past, I'd always had an answer for this question, and it wasn't the standard:

• I work too hard.
• I'm a perfectionist.
• I care too much.

My answer was honest and ugly.

“I'm contrarian to a fault. That's not to say I disagree with everything anyone says. In fact, the opposite, I'm a swell team player. But if you push me in a direction I don't believe I should go, I will vehemently push back. Hard. Just because. Even if I know I'm going to lose.”

This answer was solid for three reasons:

1) I got to use the word “vehemently” correctly in a sentence.

2) There was rarely any follow up, because the interviewer was really just expecting me to choose one of the above BS answers so they could jump on it.

3) If the company I wanted to work for was worth working for, this was the right answer.

read the rest


Why I Suck At Investing

4.14.16


After the acquisitions of both ExitEvent and Automated Insights over the last couple years, my life has taken a few strange turns. Nothing earth-shattering and nothing I wasn't prepared for; Inbox fills up pretty quickly, lots more unsolicited contact, more people know how to pronounce my name.

That last one is nice, but it's always been pretty simple. Pro Tip: All the Os are long.

One recent turn that sort of threw me for a loop was when I sat down last week for an hour-long interview about my investment strategy.

Because I've never really thought about it.

Well, let me walk that back a bit. I'm not new to investing. I've been investing in my own endeavors since college, and in other companies for the last 10 or 12 years. There's just a lot more inbound now. And with inbound comes questions. My answers to these questions usually raise eyebrows, not because they're necessarily contrarian or zany, but because they're honest. And maybe because I always feel like I get asked the wrong questions when it comes to investment strategy.

Q: “How did you get started investing?”

A: “A rock band.”

So yeah, that just sounds stupid. But I've touched on this before. Forming a rock band is a very good startup learning experience. You put together a diversely-talented founding team, you spend a ton of time perfecting a product, and then when you're ready, you throw dollars on top of time and make a run at it. I did that sophomore year. Twice.

Towards the end of my college career, I started to apply the same concepts to other pursuits that were a little more based in reality. After college, I founded and funded two companies that went nowhere. Then I joined my first actual startup and got an idea of what the process actually looked like.

Total A-ha moment.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/why-i-suck-at-investing-160414


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