Got a Big Idea? For a Big Market? Want to Woo Investors and Win Funding? Care to avoid Mistakes made by those who went before you who not only succeeded with one startup but went on to do it again and again?
9am. February 16th was a crisp, cold, grey day in Seattle, WA. Yet again, but I didn’t care at all.
Lucky local me was attending the latest offering of The Startup Conference organized in partnership with the Founders Institute. As the non-tech entrepreneur that I am, I had registered on an intuitive whim back in December. (Trust your intuition people!)
I was personally interested in the sessions on SEO, Building a Tribe, Fixing Elevator Pitches and Attracting Media Attention. I was particularly looking forward to hearing Rich Barton of Zillow (who originally founded Expedia) and Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz (the web’s most popular SEO Software provider and resource) speak.
It was the idea of hearing Rich Barton and Rand Fishkin speak about their Seattle-based startup experiences that initially “got me” to register in a flash. And, the WHOLE day was a content rich, dense, and well-organized daylong conference that introduced me to other fine examples of brilliant wisdom and business smarts that honored “people” consistently and at times above the idea.
I enjoyed every minute, all day, furiously taking notes as I listened intently. I was a sponge.
They were smart in how they ran the day. Held from start to finish in one large ballroom at the Westin in downtown Seattle, I spent the day with 350 other eager students, entrepreneurs, investors and a handful of media representatives. With wide open interest and no expectations, I discovered each and every presenter had valuable perspectives and insights and there was a common underlying theme the entire day that I heard.
It comes down to PEOPLE and who we partner with as we leverage emerging and evolving technology to solve the Big Problems in Business and Living. The Vision of the Founders and the Team incubating the Vision make all the difference in the end. People using technology. People make it happen.
Alain Raynaud, organizer of the Startup Conference and Director of the Founders Institute Paris warmed up the room with opening remarks that addressed “finding a co-founder” by way of illustrating the five mistake many founders make.
(I couldn’t help but ponder how finding a co-founder and dating and marriage (aka a long-term relationship) seem to have some things in common.)
Take it or leave it, his best advice for all the years he’s been starting and growing and selling companies (for profit)goes something like this:
1. Work with someone you know; for a month without agreement, before you lock in (sounds like dating to me). 2. Remember that people don’t copy ideas, they copy success, so don’t be afraid to talk about your idea with potential co-founders (have an attitude of abundance not scarcity). 3. Gather good “people” with skills who complement and supplement each other ( who is needed for your dream team?) 4. Splitting equity fairly is not always simply equal division (division of labor in relationships is seldom 50/50), a mix of full-time and part-time founders seldom works long-term (are all parties fully invested in success?) 5. And choose a CEO (so there is a head of household when needed).
And what if you are an idea guy who needs a developer to join your project! To attract that technical “rockstar” member of the team if you need one (that potential investors will also care about) consider these “carrots”:
- Can you show evidence of “traction”?
- Are customers signing up to your Beta version?
- Are investors interested but asking you for specifics?
What struck me about ALL that Alain Raynaud suggested: it was ultimately about choosing GREAT PEOPLE to work with. People you could imagine spending years with in times of struggle and hard work and celebration (again, to me this is sounding like a REAL marriage or long-term relationship!)
I was now officially primed to listen all day to successful business founders sharing stories of trials, tribulations and success, meaningful tips, smart strategies and practical tactics for creating my own venture.
What would fascinate me even more this day? Every CEO’s story of an idea (a GRAND Problem to Solve) that became a company that would succeeded and become profitable had its roots and story of origin in: Passion, Determination, Resilience, Creativity, Adaptability to name a few of the key qualities OF ITS PEOPLE, its Founders, its STARTING LINE UP.
And the Opening Keynote by CEO of Zillow, Rich Barton hasn’t even happened yet…
(My advice reader: If there is a Startup Conference coming to your city, run don’t walk to register early)