Why We Should Stop Building Startups and Start Building Entrepreneurs

As long as we keep identifying great entrepreneurs, it's ultimately going to create more great startups here.


I've worked with a lot of entrepreneurs over the years, and most of them have had their act and their venture together by the time they got to me. They may be huge successes, mild successes, or neither, because there is no single executable path for an entrepreneur to succeed, and thus, no way to predict the outcome.

On the other hand, some of the entrepreneurs I've worked with didn't have it all figured out, and that's OK too. They may succeed without so much as a hiccup, especially if my instinct about them was right to begin with.

They have the talent. I just don't know about the idea. It might not even be a bad idea—I just can't get 100% sold in, and by 100% sold in I mean I'd work on it myself.

But this is a good sign, for a couple of reasons.

One, it says a ton about the caliber of the entrepreneurs who have taken the plunge recently. These aren't dreamers, they're not wantrepreneurs, they're not doing startup for the wrong reasons. They're my favorite kind of newly-minted entrepreneur, the ones who just feel like there's nothing standing in their way to bring their idea to reality. No more barriers, no more excuses, no more delay. They're all in.

The other reason it's good is that as long as we keep identifying good entrepreneurs and turning them into great entrepreneurs, it's ultimately going to create more great startups here.

At the most recent ExitEvent Startup Social, I ran into one of my entrepreneur friends, one that I hadn't seen in quite a while. He had a new idea, which he told me about, succinctly and efficiently, in 30 seconds. I was immediately excited about it, but it wasn't even the idea so much as it was the person who had it.

This person is a great entrepreneur, someone I've not only seen succeed, but I've seen that success work out in ways that were directly correlated to his skills as an entrepreneur. So in that sense, I don't care what the idea is. The headline is that this entrepreneur is kicking around a new idea. That's exciting.

A great startup happens when a great entrepreneur has a great idea. These are the no-brainers of the startup world.

read the rest at: http://www.exitevent.com/article/why-we-should-stop-building-startups-and-start-building-entrepreneurs-151130

Does Success Bring Happiness? Or Is It The Other Way Around?

Bumper Sticker Wisdom Says It's the Latter. Here's Why.


Throughout my recent writing, I've made several mentions of what I feel are the four key components to an independent and entrepreneurial life -- Growth, Achievement, Success, and Happiness. If you think about how we traditionally pursue goals, these components seem to flow in order -- the more you grow, the more you achieve, the more successful you become, the happier you will be.

But that isn't always the case. Nor should it be.

Growth is mandatory, and I honestly didn't realize how important this concept was until I had kids. Kids start from zero. You don't get a sense of what growth truly means until you have to tell a kid how to put on his socks.

But life is about growth. There are growth points with every difficult undertaking, there is opportunity with each mistake, and there are lessons in every failure. I'm constantly telling my kids to take their shot, to make their mistakes, to fail quickly and often. Not coincidentally, this is the same advice I give to anyone who believes they have an entrepreneurial mindset.

Achievement gives growth meaning. If growth is magnitude, achievement is direction, and it can be anything you want to tick off a list. Training for distance running brings growth, but achievement is your first 10-mile run. Starting a company brings growth, but achievement is selling your first product or crossing a revenue number or hiring your first employee.

Success seems pretty obvious at first glance, but the thing about success is it can mean different things to different people at different times in their lives. Success may be financial, or familial, or freedom.

Happiness is the one thing that everyone can agree on, definition-wise, but it's also the hardest to create. You know when you're happy, and you should have a pretty good idea of what makes you happy.

The problem is… most people think the wrong things are going to make them happy.

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How To Stop Spinning Your Wheels


Wasted time is your biggest enemy.

Think about that for a second.

Lost money you can make back. Lost stuff can be replaced. Lost friends are a body blow, but in most cases what we really lament is the time invested in building that relationship in the first place.

Failure is a loss. Failure is hard. But given the choice, I'll take the quick hard kick in the face failure over the long drawn out failure that always looks like it can be avoided.

Every morning when you wake up and scramble out of bed, you're blessed with a gift of choice -- a decision for how you're going to spend your day. Most of us don't think about this decision. We take the blue pill and we immediately fall into the trap.

Me included. I get my coffee, I open my laptop, and I'm buckled in. I'm usually working -- in one form or another -- within five minutes of waking up. But I recently learned that this isn't the right way to do things.

Now, I get up in the morning and I make my first conscious decision. Here's how I'm going to spend the day. A lot of mornings, it looks like the same plan I used yesterday, or the day before. But it isn't. Because I've started making conscious decisions about why I do what I do and I assign value every step of the way.

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American Titans Video: Close To Me


So first and foremost, if you're unfamiliar with American Titans, you should know that we play straight-up rock, all the time. We have no ballads, and I might never write a ballad again. I used to, but let's face it, we're not trying to win Grammys or otherwise prove our depth. We're here to rock.

We have one mid-tempo number, Apology, that's slower because it's evil and all evil music should be slow. Fast evil music is speed metal, and none of us have the haircut for that.

This is my favorite song to play at the moment and we closed the 11/1 Mystery show with it to enormous applause. It's just that kind of song: Happy, angry, and defiant. It's built off of a song I wrote years ago, with a few new ideas, crunchier guitars, and what was the bridge is now also the opening of the song. It's meant to get you up on your feet.

Mark and Eric do a great job of setting a solid foundation for me to play that riff over, and also the scratch intros into the opening lines of each verse stanza. Then they kill the chorus, Eric's backup vocals especially.

PLEASE share your feedback on the American Titans YouTube Channel or on Twitter @AmericanTitans

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When Should a Startup Founder Seek Investment?

Don't Raise Money For the Wrong Reasons


I'm going to take a few chances in this column, including the chance that I'm kind of beating a topic to death. Definitely taking a chance that some of this is going to be misunderstood.

When should you look for investment in your startup?

I get asked this a lot. Mostly from early-stagers who are just getting off the ground and are somewhere between mockup and minimum viable product. It's funny too, because I'd say about half the time I get asked this question, it's from someone who is already seeking investment, or at least has no plans to move their startup any farther along without some outside money to finish the product, promote, hire, etc.

It's like when someone asks you if they should wear a certain something. You know they've already made up their mind.

So if you're really asking the question, my answer is “not now.” It's one of those cyclical questions. If you need to ask when you should seek investment, I'm 99% sure you shouldn't be seeking investment yet.

Don't get me wrong. There's no magical moment where a light will go on and you'll realize that now is the time, but if you're building your company properly, so many things will line up for you that the question becomes a no-brainer.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/when-should-a-startup-founder-seek-investment-151109

Where Do Great Ideas Come From?

A Three-Step Process To Get Stuff Out of Your Head


If you ask a successful person where their ideas come from, and if they answer with anything other than some variation of “I don't know,” they're bullshitting you.

As I've said over and over again, ideas are easy. They're cheap. Anyone can have one. But then let me go all Catch-22 on you and tell you that ideas are also extremely valuable. Every great accomplishment, every bit of satisfaction, all those good things that make life worth living -- all of that starts with a great idea.

I can't tell you exactly how to capitalize on your idea. I can't even tell you if your idea is exceptional or garbage. Only you can do those things. But I can tell you how to get your idea into a capitalizable, judgeable state. And that, to be perfectly honest, is what separates people with great ideas from people with no ideas.

It's not their ideas that made them successful. It's what they did with them.


So when people ask me where I get my ideas, my answer is most definitely “I don't know.” But I do know this. I get them constantly. Sometimes, I don't even know an idea is an idea until I've written it down. And that's step number one.

Write your ideas down.

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That Moment When Everyone Gets It

American Titans at Mystery


The reason why you start a band, write songs, and risk so much rejection is for moments like the one that happened during American Titans' second song at Mystery Brewing Public House Sunday night. I watched as the crowd reaction went from “Oh, that's loud” and “Hmm, that's not what I was expecting” to “Hey wait, I really like this.”

I'm terrible at stage banter, so we choreograph our show a little bit to move seamlessly from one song to the next for two, three, four songs in a row. We opened the night with an original called “Blame,” and then a second original called “1000 Years Ago.” The former is kind of a moody, anthemic rocker and the latter is straight-up riff rock. The latter connected with the crowd, about 40-50 people ranging in age from two to 75 (no kidding, but most people were in their 20s and 30s).

I've known the founder of Mystery for about 15 years. Erik was pivotal in getting ExitEvent off the ground by serving beer (before he could even sell beer), and before that, he and I were in a band called Superlaser, one that was really good, but never got out of the drummer's basement, which, I believe, ultimately led to tension that led to our split.

Erik was kind enough to let us try our hour-or-so of original material, and we paid him back by bringing in his biggest Sunday night crowd in a long time, maybe ever, as he put it.

So we were already ahead of the game. We fortified the crowd with friends and family, and there were about a dozen people there we didn't know. We had luxuries like monitors and one of the best soundmen I've ever worked with. Erik even threw in free beer for the band. And since it was Mystery Brewing beer, that was a big deal.

But that connection though.

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When Confidence Trumps Competence

Proud Dad Story Masquerading As a Cautionary Tale


Last Saturday, on the last day of Little League fall season, my eight-year-old boy pitched for the first time. Much to my amazement and gratitude, he threw a no-hit inning, striking out two.

He had no business getting out of that inning, let alone fanning kids. He is younger and smaller than most of the kids in his division, it's his first time playing kid-pitch, and this was the last game of the season. I put him in there for an inning just because he had to do it.

My favorite part was when the opposing team's coach mumbled, under his breath, “Wow, he might strike out the side.”

I had a good rest of the weekend.

The thing is, no one told him he couldn't do it. If anything, he was fueled by his dad, who also happens to be one of his coaches, to walk that fine line where “you got this” meets “you might get shelled.”

He's an excellent ballplayer for an eight-year-old, and in fact made the All-Star team in the spring in the lower division. He hit something like .800, he's a better-than-average fielder, and if he can get under a pop-fly or line-drive, he won't drop it.

But pitching is a whole different thing, and he wasn't anywhere near ready to pitch in a real game.

I'm all for throwing my kids into the deep end, figuratively -- OK, literally -- but his lack of readiness wasn't due to lack of experience, it was due to arm strength, and that takes repetition AND time. He had just started putting them over the plate a week before the season ended. So this was his only chance.

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Why Corporate Talent Might Be the Next Frontier

We need managers, designers, marketers, salespeople and more to build the Triangle's next great tech companies


One of the dozens of conversations I had at the most recent ExitEvent Startup Social was with a guy who was there for the first time. He was itching to get into something entrepreneurial, but didn't consider himself to be an entrepreneur.

I love when this happens.

He had so far spent his career doing finance. In fact, he looked like he had just come from the office, removed his tie, and was now staring out over the sea (and there was a sea) of entrepreneurs, a handful of whom were students who had just come over from a (pitch coach) Tim Flood thing where he encouraged them go meet people at the Social.

They ran with it. So yeah, there were a number of young, fresh, fired-up faces excitedly moving from one conversational cluster to another, introducing themselves and having, seemingly, the time of their lives.

I can see how that would be a little intimidating for a first-timer coming over from his day job in finance.

I told him what I tell people who come to the Social directly from their day job because they've heard so much about startup and want to get involved.

Just because you're not holding the magic line of code that's going to create the next insert-hot-unicorn here, doesn't mean you shouldn't get involved with startup. Especially in the Triangle. Despite what you might hear about a dearth of technical talent, we've got our share of technicians, visionaries, game-changers and rock stars. What we don't have a ton of are people who can design, market, sell and grow a startup product to the next level.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/why-corporate-talent-might-be-the-next-frontier-151026

How To Be More Successful Right Now

Self-Help For People Who Hate Self-Help


I don't believe in self-help, and I don't believe in top 10 lists. But I'm constantly confronted with what amounts to terrible self-help advice shoved into a top 10 listicle.

At some point, you have to stop hating the game and start hating the player, so here are 10 things you can do, today, to start working towards success at the things you want to do with your life. I came up with this list in five minutes.

This won't change your world, it won't make you rich, better-looking, or smarter, and there are about 1000 more where these came from. But these are 10 changes you can make today. Now. When you get to the bottom of this article, do these things. You'll be happier.

Oh, if you already do any of these things, just do them harder.

1. Release yourself from worry -- whether that be financial worry or career-path worry or whatever. The only goal you should have in life should be your happiness, which is going to come from HOW you lead your life, not what you do with your life.

2. Get yourself a mission. You need an essential set of strategies that are unique to you. This is critical. None of the strategies should be “network more” or “lose weight” or “be thankful for what I have.” They should all have action attached. Put some thought into this.

3. Stop listening to what other people tell you defines success. No one has the roadmap to your success except you. There are common strategies and paths to get you to operate at your most efficient. Listen to those. No one has all the answers. Except you.

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When Is a Startup Like a Rock Band?

You'd be surprised


On November 1st, I'll be unveiling a new product, one that has spent the last four months under heavy development and testing, including a public beta test that had pretty solid results. The team is me, one other local startup founder who has been quite successful in his own right, and a career engineer whom I've always wanted to work with but never had the opportunity until now. We've done all of this in our spare time, while keeping our day jobs.

What this really is, is a band. A rock band.

On November 1st, I'll be playing live in public for the first time with American Titans, a band I put together about four months ago.

It's scary as hell. And it's starting to look exactly like a startup launch. Here's why:

Team & Idea

I'm a serial musical entrepreneur. I've been putting together bands for as long as I can remember, but I haven't been serious about one in years. I had the idea for this band during the close of the Automated Insights acquisition. I had just done something big, and I was about to have a little free personal time as a reward after weeks and months of nights and weekends. In other words, I was getting my Sunday nights back.

Plus I needed to get the right side of my brain working again. I think we all need that from time to time.

read the rest at: http://www.exitevent.com/article/when-is-a-startup-like-a-rock-band-151023

The Independent Life

I've Found My Audience, and It's Probably You


Four months ago, when I first decided that I wanted to restart my blog with a new purpose and a new energy, I didn't have a lot of focus. In fact, that was the topic of my very first post. I knew one thing though, I didn't want to be categorized. And in that, I didn't want you, the reader, to be categorized either.

Regardless, our roles as writer and reader here take a little too much explaining: I want to take everything I've learned over the last 20 years of doing hard things, and present those life lessons, up to date and easily and enjoyably understood, to help you do whatever it is you truly want to do, whether you know exactly what that is or not, probably more so if you don't.

That's a lot to put in a tag line.

I've done this kind of writing-as-help thing before. In fact, I created an entire company out of making it easier and more fulfilling to be an entrepreneur. That was ExitEvent, which I founded in 2010 and sold in 2013, spending no more than five hours a week on it at any given time.

I don't want to re-do ExitEvent. I've done it. It was fun. Someone else is doing it now, and they're doing it better.

I'm still an entrepreneur. I still want to help entrepreneurs, but not just entrepreneurs.

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Don't Be a Rock Star

Self-Destruction and How To Avoid It


Before throwing myself into startup full-time, I walked a split road between music and technology, as strange as that sounds. I was pretty good at both, and had very good career prospects at both. But the deeper I got into the music industry, the curtain of the music industry got pulled further and further back. I got to see what it was about, and it looked like a big scam.

Even today, with all the supposed democratization brought about by the Internet, iTunes, YouTube, and whatever, very few people actually make it. Go back and read the biographies and the memoirs, and you'll see a pattern. The ones that do make it lose a lot. They sacrifice everything -- marriages, friendships, health, stints in rehab. Most of them have been through bankruptcy at least once.

The millions that don't make it play the game as long as they can for the lure of attention. The dopamine that comes with someone faintly praising something you've created is more powerful than cocaine or heroin (which are two things many artists dabble in at one point or another, probably not a coincidence).

Now, the music industry, startup, hell -- the insurance industry, at certain levels, they're no different. One of these similarities is the gating of success. In business, it's the old-boys-club or the right country club or the right alma mater that supercedes merit. In the music industry, people who didn't give a toss about music seemed to control everything. So I figured out it would be a lot easier to make it, as it were, with a computer and some business cards rather than a guitar and a shitty haircut.

But like I said, the music industry and the startup industry have a lot of the same traits. One of those traits is that it's really easy to fall in love what you're doing.

And that can be a recipe for disaster.

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Do What You Hate


Earlier this week, one of my friends came to town. He's a big deal at a mega-corporation and was visiting clients, so we got together for dinner one night and lunch the next day. At dinner we ran up an exorbitant tab that was picked up by the mega-corp, and the next day I gave him a tour of our office overlooking the ballpark, with its lounge area, various gaming tables, kegerator, and workdeck over center field. Then we had lunch at a restaurant with its own deck overlooking left field.

He was in a crisp white shirt and tie, pinstripe blue suit, and uncomfortable brown shoes. I was in a t-shirt and jeans.

At one point during lunch, he sighed, got that far off look, and told me he really wanted to do what I do.

"No, you don't."

"Absolutely, I do."

"What makes you think you want to do what I do?"

"Because you get to do what you want."

I spit something out. I think arugula. Don't judge, it was on my burger special of the day.

I get it. A lot of people hear startup, small business, and "be your own boss" and equate that to having the freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it.

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Why You Don't Need Top Technical Talent

When Learn To Code becomes just code


I've always been passionate about technology, but I've never been a student of programming. I took a course here and there—middle school, high school, the required junk in college. I'm still shaky on the roots, the bits and bytes that make up the cred of any programmer with a degree. I've forgotten more about coding than I know today, and I've never been that concerned about keeping my skills sharp.

But I've built a bunch of tech.

Last week I had a meeting with a company who was looking to bring Automated Insights technology to one of its customers. After some discovery, we realized that what we wanted to do would essentially be enhancing the Nth generation of a system I built for that customer at the turn of the century.

Crap, I'm old.

I built that system singlehandedly, for the first startup I ever worked for. And I built it six months after realizing that computers could make me a lot more money than my degree could. I learned how to program in my spare time.

I'm probably of the first generation to realize that technology will always evolve faster than those who program it. That was a while ago, and today there are two types of coders.

The purists—those who make the tech that the rest of us call tech to use to make other useful technical stuff—and, well, the other group is the rest of us.

I get the purists. I respect them to no end. At some point it's like knowing everything there is to know about how an automobile engine works. That knowledge is necessary, but if you don't have the computer that plugs in and tells you what's wrong with the car, you're kind of behind the curve.

I can go online and figure out how to change a fan belt.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/why-you-dont-need-top-technical-talent-151005

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