Why People Are Talking About Wilmington Startup

Eight hours In North Carolina's coastal city

2.3.16


Wilmington reminds me of Durham five years ago. It's an exciting time to be there.

Last Wednesday, I was invited to speak at an entrepreneur event in downtown Wilmington hosted by Jim Roberts, formerly Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNC Wilmington and now leading the charge on a couple of Angel networks. Jim is also a serial connector, and set me up with meetings throughout the day.

I learned a lot of things. One thing I learned is that there are eight brewpubs in Wilmington, a few of them have been around for a while like Front Street, but most are brand new, like Iron Clad, where the event would be taking place later that evening.

If you don't see the correlation between momentum in the local craft brew scene and momentum in the local startup community, you're not paying attention. This is something I recognized immediately in Durham in 2011, which is why there was originally a “Beer” section in ExitEvent.

In fact, I think the startup community could take a lesson or two from the craft brew community. There's a tightness and helpfulness there that we need to emulate. Of course, how you can you not be happy and helpful when you're around beer all day, am I right? I get half a pint in me and I'm all “All right, let's MAKE something!”

In all seriousness, the components are starting to come together in Wilmington beyond the rise of craft breweries. There's leadership starting to gel in the form of these nine companies highlighted in ExitEvent just two weeks ago (and I'm sure there are at least two or three more who feel slighted, that's a good thing). There's money coming in from within and outside the city limits to get ideas off the ground. There's a vibrant and growing downtown that has always served a mix of commerce and tourism, but is now settling into a more DIY-oriented commerce vibe.

And probably most importantly, the entrepreneurs in Wilmington are starting to come together and cement the foundation of their own startup community.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/why-people-are-talking-about-wilmington-startup-160203


Why Am I Going To Wilmington?

I Don't Know But I'm Gonna Find Out

1.26.16


I'm going to Wilmington tomorrow and I have no idea why.

Well, I've got a reason, and it's a very good one. I'll be talking startup to about 150-200 Wilmington entrepreneurs at the Iron Clad Brewery downtown. They're gathering at the behest of Jim Roberts, a guy who has put the growing Wilmington startup scene on his back.

I'll be on stage with two other really sharp folks -- Mac Lackey and Brandon Uttley from Charlotte, and the News and Observer's Ben Brown is going to moderate. I have nothing prepared, but I rarely prepare for these kinds of things. I've got 20 years of prep in the bag, so it's just a matter of pulling out the right mental folder of stuff when I get there.

So in that sense, I'm actually a little giddy at how much fun it's going to be.

But if you were to ask me why I'm doing it, what's the payoff, the ROI, the reward for the risk (there's very little risk anyway), I couldn't give you a serious answer.

That's OK. It's why I do a lot of things.

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This Is What the Beginning of a Startup Looks Like

10 Years To Get To One Moment

1.21.16


Last night I played matchmaker.

After a couple weeks of wrangling the schedules of two particularly busy people I know well and respect, I finally sat down for a few beers with them. One of them has an idea and some means of getting it executed, the other has a ton of talent and an itch.

It took just minutes for these two personalities to gel and another half an hour for this idea to go from so-crazy-this-just-might-work to so-stupid-this-is-going-to-dominate. I got to sit back and watch it all happen.

Names changed to protect anonymity.

Floyd is looking to disrupt an industry that he's been working in for the past 10 years. He's become an authority and he's frustrated at how little progress is being made bringing his science into the mainstream.

Sarah is a techie who has dabbled in Floyd's industry as a hobby -- call it a fascination -- and before she got into tech she spent a few years out of college working at the fringes of Floyd's industry.

She didn't stay long because the industry sucked -- no innovation. So she's got ideas of her own, and getting to hear Floyd's thoughts on her ideas pushed just the right buttons, giving her the confidence to expand upon those ideas in a technical arena.

I have no doubt that Floyd's ideas will drive the company and Sarah's skills will push the tech to new limits. I got to sit back and watch and translate when necessary. It turned into a play-by-play of a startup formation and it was a beautiful thing.

Here's how it went down.

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Why You Need Competition and What To Do About It

Find It, Learn It, Love It

1.18.16


One of the first things I do when considering executing on an idea is conduct searches to seek out who the competition is. I don't stop until I find at least 10 companies that look like they have revenue and history, expanding the definition of my idea until I can get to at least 10.

Then I watch, and keep tabs, and learn.

They Come Out Of Nowhere

Once you get underway, you probably won't see any new competition coming until they're already well established. Your first reaction will always be concern. Get over that quick.

As the story goes, I first started ExitEvent because of my frustration at the fact that there was nothing out there like it. ExitEvent didn't start out as a business. It was more like “Here. I think I fixed this broken thing. Does this help?” And I got a resounding yes.

Almost immediately, there came a wave of revitalized startup events and new startup-related websites and organizations. Now, let me state emphatically that in no way do I think ExitEvent started this wave, I just happened to execute in the right place at the right time. But suddenly I found myself in a sea of competition.

That was fine with me. As far as I was concerned, the more energy that went into promoting startup, the better. It also turned out to be exactly what ExitEvent needed. It made me sharpen my focus on the original idea -- make it easier to do startup here -- and differentiate based on that.

Competition is great. You need it. You just have to stay ahead of it.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/Why-You-Need-Competition-and-What-To-Do-About-It-160118


How to Not Get Embarrassed at School

Letting My 3rd-Grader Take Over For the Day

1.13.16


Editor's Note: This is from my youngest, who has never read a word of what I've written. He put this together on Saturday, on his own. This is totally solid advice for your kids.

How to Not Get Embarrassed at School
By Joey Procopio

Chapter One: Entering the School
You may have a school that starts out in the cafeteria, when everybody meets and you get dismissed to your classrooms. If you do have that kind of school, this is for you. So, make a serious face, not too serious, but a little bored I guess.

If you like a girl (or boy) then avoid eye contact for as long as possible.

Chapter Two: Classroom
When you're in the classroom, you WILL NOT want to get embarrassed because your TEACHER is there. So don't:
• Pass notes
• Pee your pants
• Raise your hand too much
• Say a stupid answer
• Yell across your table
• And don't vomit while taking a test

Chapter Three: Bathroom
The most dangerous place of all… the dreaded BATHROOM!!! For years it has haunted the lives of children. So:
• Watch for climbers
• Lock the door if in stall
• Don't act like a grade A nimrod
• And don't aim horribly

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How Much Should I Get Paid to Work At a Startup?

When To Go All In and When to Walk Away

1.11.16


One of the toughest questions I get about startup happens to also be one that I get the most often.

“How much of a pay cut should I expect to go to work for a startup?”

I got that very question again last week, from someone I had just met. I could tell within a few minutes of meeting her that she was sharp. She had the talent, she had the drive, and she had enough sense to be asking the right questions.

It wasn't her fault that this particular question has no right answer. She just didn't know that there was no right answer. A lot of people don't know that there is no right answer.

So of course I'm going to answer it. I wouldn't be me if I didn't try.

Note that this answer also works for: How Much Should I Pay People to Come Work At My Startup?

In one sense, startups are just like any other company out there. They pay what they can for the talent they need. But in most cases, startups don't have the means to be able to offer a cash package that's going to be competitive with established companies. So they offset this gap with equity.

There is no standard calculation for how this plays out, but there are a few rules of thumb.

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Should You Start Up With a Cofounder?

Sometimes It's Better To Go It Alone

1.7.16


One of the first big decisions every founding entrepreneur has to make is whether to dive into the deep end alone or as part of a founding team. There are plusses and minuses on both sides. It's a lot easier, or so it would seem, to make the leap in tandem with someone you trust. Shared risk.

Many venture capitalists also prefer to invest in startups led by founding teams for that same reason.

On the other hand, taking on cofounders cuts equity, immediately. It also introduces a dependency on consensus to make major decisions, or any decisions. Those two drawbacks can seem irrelevant when you're talking about a six-week-old company worth nothing, but careful planning on the front end can save a world of heartbreak, and even the company itself, down the road.

I've never started a new company with a co-founder, but I've never started a new company alone. This hasn't been a rule, it's just been the way things worked out, and it has worked out very well for me.

But that's me.

For one, I'm technical, enough so that I can whip up a viable beta on my own. It's never pretty, but sometimes you don't need pretty out of the gate. For example, a well-known designer/UX friend of mine offered to redesign ExitEvent for free early on in its life. I respectfully declined (with much gratitude), telling him, “Ugly is how we roll.”

The truth, however, is that I didn't want to polish a moving object. I code in such a way that I can tear everything down and rebuild it within a couple days if not a few hours. This is much harder to do within the limits of good design.

Eventually, once it was acquired, ExitEvent went through a massive redesign. It's much better now.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/should-you-start-up-with-a-cofounder-150107


Released: The Independent Life

The Follow-Up to the Amazon #1 Bestseller for Startups

1.5.16


All that definition-of-success stuff was invented to keep you asleep.

My next book, The Independent Life, goes on sale today. It's a collection of entrepreneurial lessons, from a vantage point of real-world startup experience, delivered in frank, easily understandable terms.

It's also pretty entertaining. I'm told it's the kind of book you can read in a couple hours and then re-read over and over again.

The Independent Life is a collection of 20 stories, covering beginning to advanced entrepreneurial concepts, and emphasizing soft skills like leadership, decision-making, risk tolerance, ideation, and execution. I focus less on raising money and more on building the entrepreneur.

This isn't a self-help book. It's not really even an advice book. Like all good mentoring, it's based on what I did, not what I think you should do. The takes are contrarian, and it's all stuff I wish someone had told me a long time ago.

Oh, and this isn't just about startups. It doesn't matter if you want to be an entrepreneur or a writer or a corporate leader or a homemaker or a priest or a beach bum, The Independent Life speaks to anyone who wants to call their own shots.

The Independent Life is the follow-up to It's All Nonsense, which hit #1 on the Amazon Bestseller for Startups list on October 5th and has been in the top 10 ever since. By the way, you can now get It's All Nonsense for free.

If you know me, you know I hate talking about what I've done, I'd rather just put it in your hands so you can judge for yourself. If you'd like to review The Independent Life, just hit me up and I'll send you a copy.

For a limited time, The Independent Life is being offered at a promo price of 99 cents on Amazon.

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The Customer That's Always Wrong

Why you shouldn't take on every customer who comes your way, especially these six.

12.17.15


One of the things I bring to the table is my uncanny knack for sniffing out bad business before a contract is signed. Don't get me wrong, this is a rare occurrence. Extremely rare. I have taken 99% of the business that's been offered to me, from every single type and stripe of customer. And you should too.

But every once in a while, you're going to get an offer you can't refuse from a customer you should refuse.

As entrepreneurs, we're practically programmed to take any and all business that comes our way, especially at early stages. There are innumerable reasons to do this. You need revenue to survive. Revenue is the best kind of cash infusion. You need customer references, the bigger and more well known the better. You have no leverage, especially early on, so you can't say no even if you want to.

Just remember that every single one of those reasons can and will work against you.

We spend so much time doing due diligence on employees and investors and partners, but we rarely spend a second considering whether or not we SHOULD take on a customer.

read the rest at: http://exitevent.com/article/the-customer-thats-always-wrong-151217


Released: It's All Nonsense Revised and Expanded

The #1 Amazon Bestseller for Startups Gets Bigger and Better

12.14.15


Today I'm releasing a revised and expanded version of It's All Nonsense, and also announcing January 5th as the release date for the follow-up book, The Independent Life.

It's All Nonsense is still FREE.

This version of It's All Nonsense contains both volumes of the original series, with each chapter and each commentary getting an update and in some cases an expansion.

It's All Nonsense is 20 mentoring sessions — not lessons, rules, or steps. It's 20 insightful and entertaining stories, never boring, heavy-handed, or condescending, all taken from real-world entrepreneurial life, written by someone who is still living it.

You can't teach entrepreneurism with classes. You can't find independence with a roadmap. But you can learn from experience. It's All Nonsense is jam-packed with just that.

Here's what's in the new version:

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The False Promise of Retirement

It's Not About the Money

12.10.15


The other day, my daughter asked me when I was going to retire. It was the first time that the word had made it into her vocabulary and it was the first time I'd ever been asked that question outside of some cold-calling banker looking to get his hands on what he assumed to be my massive 401k balance (joke's on you, buddy!).

I thought about her innocent little question for a moment and then told her the first answer that came to my mind. “You know what,” I said, “I'm probably not going to retire.”

Now, if that scene were a television commercial for a brokerage or a politician, the camera would freeze-frame on me with a what-am-I-gonna-do face, and then either advice or rhetoric about the incumbent would be thrown at you.

It's not going to be a financial decision, although I'll be the first to tell you that the financial promise of retirement for me has always been and continues to be about 50/50.

But what the hell would I do?

And why would I suddenly decide to hang it up?

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What To Do When It All Goes To Hell

How To Deal With Failure or Loss

12.7.15


The first thing to do is to come to terms with how much this hurts. I don't care what anyone tells you, no one is immune to the pain and suffering that comes with failure or loss. No one. Sure, as you get older, gain experience, and go through the process a few times, it becomes easier to navigate, but there's still no Get Out Of Suck Free card.

If it doesn't sting, it wasn't worth having. If it was worth having, you're in a world of hurt. Let it happen.

The second thing to do is don't do anything stupid. Emotional reactions are good for your mental state, but they can be bombs, so try to let them happen in a vacuum. It's like you were told when you were a kid -- Go to your room, beat the crap out of a pillow, scream at the top of your lungs, use all the swears in one sentence if need be. That's all fine and good.

Do this as often and as long as you need to. Just keep your emotional reaction out of public, off of the Internets, and away from breakable objects and relationships.

But definitely talk to other people. You don't realize how much shit people have been through until you open up about your own. Talking about yours and hearing about others makes it easier.

Then wait. It's going to take a while to get over the burn. Again, there are no shortcuts and people are all built differently. Some issues I get over immediately and others take forever. I never really know what the timeline is, and that isn't important. At some point I can function again. The sooner I understand this, the quicker I can get into recovery. I'll still be grieving, but grief and recovery periods aren't mutually exclusive.

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Can Anyone Learn To Be An Entrepreneur?

12.2.15


You can't learn to be an entrepreneur in a classroom.

At least, I don't think you can.

I've thought about this for years, from the very first time I joined a startup and flailed madly trying to get a lay of the land that was never going to materialize. That company went from zero to acquisition in three years, and it was the most uncomfortable ride in the world until I figured out I'd just have to make shit up as I went along.

Which, I now realize, ten startups and five solid exits later, is also not the answer.

But seriously, you can't learn to be an entrepreneur in a classroom.

I guess you can learn some of the nuts and bolts -- the legal stuff, the financial stuff, maybe some code -- but that's left brain stuff, and I believe the vast majority of learned entrepreneurism is right brain stuff.

Can you imagine a class on leadership? I mean, I know they're out there but how do they keep everyone from stabbing themselves in the eyeballs. How about motivation and persistence? Is that just a 90-minute slideshow of inspirational quotes on idyllic backgrounds set to Kenny G?

And something tells me that the decision to enroll in a decision-making class probably seals your failing grade.

I've been learning entrepreneurism for 20+ years, all of it by doing. And I don't recommend that path. It sucks. It's full of costly trial-and-error, painful mistakes, humbling failure, crippling stress, and general peerlessness.

Actually wait, I do recommend that path, to a certain extent. You have to go through all that to truly call yourself an entrepreneur. You just shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel. Like everything I look at, I see the entrepreneurial journey and I want to streamline, reduce friction, and add more intelligence.

I believe you can apply those concepts to teaching entrepreneurism. But first you have to identify the right student.

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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.

11.30.15


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.

11.24.15


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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