Success, Sanity, and Happiness as an Entrepreneur

Guest Author   |   March 25th, 2014

This FounderTalk guest post was written by Scott Lewallen. He co-founded Grindr in 2009 and is currently  founder and CEO of Mezic MediaYou can also find him advising entrepreneurs on the FD:Advisor network.

Five years ago, I launched Grindr, and found myself thrust into the spotlight as a leader and co-founder of a disruptive technology and social phenomenon. As I sailed into the wild frontier of mobile apps and location-based dating, I asked myself daily – Will I be successful?

The short answer is – YES!

If you put in the hours and passion to pursue what you want to accomplish, something will happen. Working hard pays off. Sometimes, you hit obstacles and they suck. But those obstacles are powerful moments of reflection that can change you, your company, and your life.

I want to share these so-called obstacles, and how the questions they presented to me helped me grow both as a leader, and as a person.

Am I Enough?

Grindr was the first mainstream gay geo-social app to launch in the iTunes App Store. We, the founding team who built a product in a garage, gained press coverage overnight. They called us “The Hot New Gay App.” Everyone wanted to join the party. The world wanted to get on Grindr.

So here I was, at a hot new company, with my hard work paying off, and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and I still felt inadequate at times. I questioned myself. Do I know what I’m doing? I doubted everything. Was this color scheme okay? Does the user interface have enough personality? Can the average gay guy figure this out? Self doubt haunted me. We had reached a certain app ‘celebrity’ status and I continued to wonder if I was good enough to be here.

An actor friend of mine, Robert Mercado, offered some valuable insight:

“We’re all flawed. We’re human. We make mistakes. If you didn’t screw up you’d be boring. You would lose your creativity. I try to make it a habit and make at least ten mistakes a day. Mistakes are a gift from the universe.”

It made sense to me; realizing and accepting the fact that I was human, that I was flawed, and that I would make mistakes made me feel empowered, but free. It was like inhaling a breath of fresh air at the top of a mountain. It was not only okay to feel this way, it was a part of creative growth. If I was going to lead and succeed, I had to accept that I was a human being.

Can I Please Do Everything?

I’ve always been a stubborn perfectionist – the kind of person who insists that the accent towels in the bathroom are for aesthetic purposes only and should not be used as a hand towel. Period. I do things the right way, or ‘My Way,’ mostly because I want to do everything, every last detail of every project. Every pixel, every word, and every edit.ScottLewallen_FounderDating_EVERYTHING.jpg 

During my journey co-founding Grindr, I learned to gradually let go of this minutiae or absolutely nothing was ever going to get done. I refocused my passion for hands-on creativity into building and trusting my team, and through that produced the success that lingers today at Grindr.

When a startup transcends from bar-napkin sketches to a fast growing company, it’s impossible to do everything yourself. I had to embrace the fact that I was just one person, and it was challenging to let go. I was so used to doing everything. The idea of delegation haunted me.

Sometimes I would be offsite for day-long meetings, or out of town at a conference; yet, the deadlines loomed. And I learned, through trial and error, by assembling a talented and trustworthy team, discussing timelines and goals as a group, and allowing my team to thrive and trust intuition, the results were vastly superior than if I had micromanaged every step of the way.

I set up daily standing meetings, favoring Agile/Scrum methodology over waterfall, where we’d collaboratively share each morning what we’d accomplished, what we were working on, challenges, successes, and anything else anecdotal or interesting.

I found myself empathizing with my employees, “If I was in his position, how would I want to be talked to? How would I want to handle this design project? How could I improve this product?”

And that’s how I talked to my team, to them, not at them, or down to them, but laterally with respect, as colleagues and equals.

Trusting my team opened up an arena of new ideas that I would have never thought of on my own. I know now that I don’t have to do everything myself, and honestly it’s quite a relief. It has given me the opportunity to focus on the bigger picture and enjoy what I do more than ever.

Am I Insane?

Absolutely. 

In the early days of a startup, there are moments of pressure and chaos that make you question your sanity. Especially in the early days, when it’s just you or a handful of people doing the heavy lifting, you will find yourself on the verge of breaking down. I have many times.

Guess what? One day you just get tired of it. You give in. One day you let go. You stop fighting against the stream of sanity. I realized that daily tugs of war were not only inevitable, they were vital to the success of business and personal fulfillment. Moments of chaos became moments of clarity.

Don’t be afraid to escape the office for a while and take a breather. Go grab some Starbucks, take out a sketchpad and doodle for an hour, treat your team to a movie, or do something you find relaxing. Don’t fight the insanity, or your humanity. Recognize that it is all part of the process.

Am I Happy?

Sometimes in the routine of managing a company, it becomes easy to create a robotic template of your life. Wake up. Clock In. Coffee. Meeting. Work. Eat. Meeting. Sleep. Repeat.

 I settled into this pattern, guilty of complacency. It was so easy to forget any world outside of what I was doing. I would forget to stop and ask myself if I was happy. I didn’t want to become a work zombie, so I decided I had to change my lifestyle in order to achieve an optimal quality of life, a quality of life that, for me, included more smiling and laughing.

Happiness cannot be bought or manufactured. Happiness is a state of mind above everything else, and a happy approach to businessstarts with you. It’s infectious, inspiring, and will challenge you to approach everyday with a spark. Creating happiness for yourself will spread to the people around you. It’s tangible, it’s breathable, it’s obvious, and as a founder and creator it is vital to YOUR success.I learned not to take myself so seriously, and appreciate the process and the journey. I began charting my moods, and checking in with myself daily to ask myself if I was happy. I made a promise to that if the answer was No, I would find ways of adjusting my approach to my work, my peers, and my personal life to change that answer to a defiant and beaming “Yes, I am happy!”

One year ago, I left Grindr with an award-winning legacy of design, experience, recognition, and the world’s largest gay mobile app community. I resurrected my consultancy, Mezic Media, to create brands, apps, and products that people love. I created happiness for myself, and hopefully for the people I touched along the way. It made me feel wonderful.

I make mistakes daily – often by chance, and frequently on purpose. I push myself beyond my comfort zone. I take risks, and get lost, simply to challenge myself to find a way home.

So go ahead and have your doubts, worries, and mental breakdowns. Madness is what makes you a beautiful, passionate, and flawed human being.

When you find that moment of clarity in the chaos of starting your own company, you will be happy.

 

Get more of Scott’s wisdom (along with other advisors) on the network here. Have an honest founder story to tell? Get in touch!

 
 

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Entrepreneurs, Advisors and Fools

Guest Author   |   February 25th, 2014

This guest post was written by Ro Choy, who is currently the COO at BitTorrent.  He is also an active advisor and board member in over 20 companies and former C-level executive at Formspring and Rockyou. He’s also an advisor in the FD:Advisors network

In business school, I had an entrepreneurship class where the professor classified all people who’ve started companies as fools, and entrepreneurs as successful fools. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s a difference between the two.  With that in mind, I’ve been a fool and advised fools/entrepreneurs for nearly 15 years.

I’ve always enjoyed the process of helping people take their best shot at the foolish life, having lived both the highs (assembling Ikea furniture for new employees, finding product market fit, raising quan) and the lows (bankruptcy, disassembling said Ikea furniture, saying goodbye to my team).  Here’s a short list of things I’ve learned in that process.

1. Call a spade a spade but don’t call it a f****** shovel

As an advisor, I’ve tended to be brutally honest with folks I’ve worked with, whether it’s a complete redo on the style and substance of a presentation, or explaining that a product isn’t ready for primetime. Being consistently honest builds trust quickly with entrepreneurs, and given the short timeframe for their success with limited capital, that time is critical. The faster they trust your advice and execute against it the better.

I also understand that the last thing an entrepreneur facing long odds needs is more negative feedback, so while brute honesty is important, I try and find ways to not only criticize but always suggest positive changes or alternatives to the task at hand. It’s easy to say something is wrong, but an advisor without a positive suggestion on how to improve it is just a critic.

2. I am Morpheus.

“Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”

One of the biggest obstacles to personal success is self-doubt.  Doesn’t matter whether it’s an entrepreneur or a line employee, career success is completely dependent on a person’s desire to set a target far above what seems plausible and to chase after it without reserve.  I classify most entrepreneurs as Neo from the Matrix, individuals who actually already are rockstars in just the mere act of starting something impossible, but just don’t believe it enough to assume it and succeed.  The job of a great advisor is to help a person find that uber version of themselves, a Morpheus to their Neo.

For me, this comes in a bunch of different ways, but the most critical is first realizing that my experiences and failures are a great tool. The constant s***-storms, politics, second-guessing and fail whales of a startup are a common, shared experience. Helping an entrepreneur realize that they’re not alone in that process helps remove some of their self-doubt. Self-deprecation and lessons learned from my own iterative failure are a massive help to an entrepreneur looking for advice and support when they need it most, when things aren’t going well.

In addition, once an entrepreneur has achieved a base level of success (initial traction, first funds raised), I consciously stay away and let them do their thing. Being Morpheus means letting go, until the next time you’re needed for good counsel. The most successful startups I’ve advised I helped heavily at the outset, and didn’t hear from them for 3-4 years, which was when the bankers called for a home address to send paperwork.

3.  “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”

I just read the Steve Jobs book by Walter Isaacson, and man was Steve off-putting. In many ways, his negative engagement with partners, employees and friends would drive most companies to abject failure. But one thing that drove his massive success was his unabashed desire to explore new things (drugs, philosophy, diet, technology).

I’ve advised a couple dozen startups to this point and worked at a half dozen. One thing I’ve gotten used to is constant change. Most folks hate it. Frankly, for a long time I wasn’t a huge fan of it either. If things were going well, I wanted things to continue going well and not have to constantly effort success. Yes that’s called laziness and it’s a common problem. It’s hard to tell someone to just work harder or smarter to deal with it. In fact that’s stupid advice. I prefer to repeat the Steve Job mantra instead.

“Learn to never be satisfied with the status quo, to constantly expand your understanding of users, audience, products or markets.”

Working with entrepreneurs to strive for that ideal helps them adapt to constant change. As an advisor, you should help an entrepreneur see that it’s something not only to expect and fear but to work towards and achieve for themselves. Driving their own constant change into an organization or market versus being the recipient of it can dramatically improve an entrepreneur’s outlook on a business, reduce their doubt and ultimately deliver success.

Being foolish and driving change may be the only way to truly succeed as an entrepreneur. Frankly, it’s impossible to be a great advisor if you haven’t been the fool yourself.

Want to stay foolish? Start connecting with great advisors like Ro or advise entrepreneurs  today. 

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Four Ways To Make The Most of a Technical Advisor

Guest Author   |   February 18th, 2014

This guest post was written by Will Koffel. He is a repeat entrepreneur and  is currently an advisor for BookBub and Chief Elucidation Officer at ClearlyTech.

 A strong relationship with a technical advisor is a necessity for all early-stage founders who are building technology products, whether you are using a contractor, off-shore team, or full-time staff. You would never write contracts without any attorney, or start building a bridge without consulting a structural engineer, so don’t go blindly building code until you’ve picked the brain of an experienced software technologist.  In later stages, your technical advisor can continue to be a trusted ear for you, and a useful resource for your own growing technical team.

Through my work as an independent advisor, and with organizations like Mass Challenge, Founder Mentors, and NEVCA’s Critical Mass, I’ve been a compensated advisor (cash and/or equity) to at least a half-dozen startups, a pro-bono advisor to a few dozen, and an occasional advisor to hundreds.  Sometimes, it’s a waste of time for everyone involved.  But I’ve had a ton of really enjoyable and rewarding advisory relationships, and with the right approach, you can too.

A good technical advisor will provide benefits including:

  • Vetting and Interviewing potential technical hires

  • Leveraging experience to suggest the best tools and services you can trust

  • Ensuring the right stuff is being built in the right order, protecting you from spending in the wrong places too early

  • Picking a development methodology and process that helps you work effectively with your development team and keep your product build on schedule

Finding A Technical Advisor

When you look for a technical advisor, you want to find someone who has deep technical experience, especially in areas you care about (big data? user-generated content? mobile applications?). But skip the techies who are coming to you with an agenda. You don’t want them pitching their pet technologies, but rather offering the best solution for your unique business.

Often, you can reach out to strong technical leaders (CTOs usually) at other startups in your area (or remote, doesn’t much matter if the communication skills are strong). Pitch them on your idea, let them know why you need their help. A genuine interest in cultivating the best technical operation you can goes a long way towards making us want to help you.

Make The Most of an Advisor

Now that you have the attention of a great technical advisor, here’s some advice from an advisor’s perspective on how you can get the best out of us.

1. Show a genuine interest in the tech and execution side of your business. We get excited by your entrepreneurial curiosity, and we’re proud of the tech and product experience we bring to the table. Ask us questions, dig in deep. We’re here to discuss with you, not to lecture at you. It’s not useful for anyone if we are spoon-feeding generic answers across the table.

2. Do your homework. It’s demoralizing to be asked questions that Google can answer faster and more completely than us. Don’t ask “How do I set up a Google Apps mailing list?” until you’ve taken a swing at it. If you come prepared into a conversation, it’s more productive and enjoyable for everyone.

3. Ask “Why.” Since you’ve done your homework and have a sense of what your options are, we’re happy to tell you which option is right for you. Unfortunately, not nearly enough of my advisees follow up with “why?” You should want to know why that’s the best option for your business or for your team. Why should you want to know? Because of the  ”teach a man to fish…” principle, and because your tech team will respect you more if you understand the why.

4. Teach Us Back. We’re not working with you for our health, or because of a community service court order. We think you are smart, interesting, and have something to teach us too. Make sure this relationship is a two-way street, and don’t be surprised when we turn the tables and start picking your brain in return.

What to Avoid

Here are some pitfalls I’ve noticed founders get into when working with me as an advisor. Heed these and I guarantee that everyone will get more from the relationship.

1. Stop Pitching Us. You wouldn’t believe how many times I sit down for coffee with an advisee, only to have them spend 45 minutes telling me all about how the business is progressing, what the latest product ideas are, how much money they are definitely going to raise, and why it’s all going to change the world. There’s a time and an audience for that, but you’ve just wasted a whole meeting with someone who was there to help you, and you’ve gotten no value out of it.

2. Don’t get defensive. We are spending our valuable time helping you out because we want you to succeed. We aren’t a competitor, we aren’t your boss, and we don’t have a hidden agenda to sink your idea. If you succeed, we look good and we’re proud to be associated with your success. Take our advice for what it’s worth, and then implement it or not. You are running the show here, no need to get defensive.

3. Don’t be excessively legal. Okay, so that doesn’t mean be illegal, of course. Rather, don’t start shoving NDAs and IP Assignment agreements at a technical advisor early in the relationship, or ever for that matter. Tech people are the most skeptical bunch when it comes to politics and legal mumbo-jumbo (we incorrectly believe we would never use such litigious instruments if we were in your shoes). If you do want to stamp an agreement to protect both parties, keep it simple. Check out the Founder Institute’s FAST for a good starting place.

4. We’re not your code monkey. If you are secretly hoping that you can get your technical advisor to fix your team’s code, or to build some part of your app in their advisory hours, put that thought aside. I had an advisee who actually asked me to re-install Windows on a laptop in their office, a task I thankfully managed to side-step. Many advisors will be happy to establish a separate consulting agreement if you want to pay us by the hour to get more hands-on. Keep those two parts of the relationship separate and everyone will be happier.

Armed with these Do’s and Don’ts, go build a really valuable relationship with a trusted partner.  It’ll save a lot of headache and give you a leg up on confidently executing a real product that lives up to your vision.

 

If you’re looking to get started with great technical advisors, apply to FounderDating today and get access to high-quality entrepreneurs and advisors. 

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Why I Gave Up My Front Row Seat in Silicon Valley

Guest Author   |   February 6th, 2014

This FounderTalk guest post is written by Jonathan Levi, a serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley.  He has one successful exit, is an angel investor and currently resides in Tel Aviv, Israel

Brazil, Russia, India, Germany, Israel, Canada, Mexico, and even Singapore. Yes, Singapore. In each of these countries, startup hubs are blossoming and growing – funded by governments, NGOs, and often private corporations. And yet, if you visit 500 Startups, YCombinator, or other leading incubators today, you’ll find representatives from these and many more countries – entrepreneurs hungry and eager to risk it all for a chance at making it in the legendary Silicon Valley.

So why would I, a 25-year native born and raised in the Valley, pack up and leave it all behind? In the words of so many Israelis I meet – What am I, crazy?

The Journey  

My journey to expatriation didn’t happen overnight. I found myself increasingly disenchanted with the values and lifestyle around me, until I could no longer see my future in the US. I had many personal reasons for making the move. In fact, the very essence of this post is perhaps to champion the relevance of “personal reasons” and preferences. These are far too often sacrificed for increased odds of success, better access to capital, or an improved valuation of your seed round.

In 2012, after selling my last startup and dabbling in angel investment, I was accepted to INSEAD Singapore, and decided to spend 6 months in Israel. Within two amazing, joy-filled months of arriving, I decided that I didn’t want to return to the US, even after INSEAD.

However, when I graduated I had an emboldened sense of purpose and potential, I was in hot pursuit of a new startup idea. Even though Tel Aviv is a hot-bed for startups and innovation, I felt as though a return to Israel would sacrifice our team’s chances for success, since it was a marketing startup serving U.S. brands primarily. So, I planned to go back to Silicon Valley, with Israel still in the long term plan. So much for spending my late 20’s in Tel Aviv – I should put my career first, right? …Right?

Upon landing in the Valley, I worked myself to the bone, setting up meetings, applying to incubators, and seeking out the kinds of top-level talent that Silicon Valley is known for. Three months in, like many entrepreneurs, I didn’t have much to show for it – but that wasn’t the issue. In fact, I’m no stranger to failure, and I realize the sometimes crooked and treacherous path to success when I see it. The issue, then, was something much more personal. Not only did I miss the adventurous travel, constant stimulation, and incredible diversity of my INSEAD experience, but more than anything, I simply didn’t want to be where I was. I no longer belonged in Silicon Valley.

I spent long nights talking to my very supportive and understanding friends and family, sorting through the emotions of defeat, unrealized potential, and selfishness that overwhelmed me. Indeed, leaving the Valley, my first home, would be a slap in the face both to my incredible family and to the tremendous privilege I had been granted. I grappled with the fact that to pack up and leave would almost guarantee me a less “successful,” less impactful, and less ambitious career. While Israel is, without a doubt, the #2 startup scene in the world, it is by no means Silicon Valley, and the chances of success here are significantly lower than they would be on my home turf. Indeed, so many of the most successful Israeli startups have clamored to establish US offices as soon as possible. How, then, could I justify leaving?

I ultimately made it just 2 months before I began arranging my return to Israel. Not long thereafter, I put the startup project on hold (where it remains today), packed my worldly possessions, and boarded a plane to Tel Aviv without the slightest idea of what I would do next.

Why do we do it?

I once saw a great interview with Silicon Valley veteran Guy Kawasaki, where he said the following:  “One of the things that’s pathetic about Silicon Valley, is [that] everybody wants to be something they’re not. If you’re the venture capitalist, you want to be the entrepreneur, if you’re the entrepreneur, you want to be VC. Me? I just want to be a hockey player, ok? So, everybody wants to be something they’re not.”

I’ve found this to be tremendously true when I was working in the Valley. I felt this tremendous pressure to be the next huge, 25-year-old success story. This pressure often drove me into an unhealthy cycle of comparisons, unrealistic aspirations, and demoralizing frustrations. Because of the mythic proportions of the Valley’s success stories, it has always been too easy for those of us “in the bubble” to lose track of what’s really important; meaningful work that inspires and excites us, and just enough success and freedom to live the lives we want to live. I didn’t get into entrepreneurship as a kid to become a billionaire; I got into entrepreneurship because it suited my desired lifestyle more than working for others.

Over the course of the last few months I’ve come to realize this: as entrepreneurs, the very reason we eschew traditional employment is to improve our own quality of life. Indeed, if you were simply passionate about a project or an idea, you could much more easily pursue it through “corporate entrepreneurship,” the safer, better-funded type of entrepreneurship that has brought about such innovations as Gmail, the SR-71 Fighter Jet, and Amazon Prime Air. Whether it is because we wish to set our own hours, answer to no one, realize our potential, or bypass bureaucracy, we’ve each turned to entrepreneurship for a similar overarching reason. We’ve decided that we are willing to risk it all in order to lead work lives that serve us, to make us happy, and give us purpose – no matter what the cost.

Given this framework, is it really that crazy to consider building your company where your heart is? One of my inspirations throughout this journey has been Zvi Band, the CEO of a startup called Contactually. Though Zvi made it to Silicon Valley through the 500 Startups program, he made a conscientious decision to return to his home town of Washington, D.C., where he has also founded Proudly Made in D.C. Though Zvi and Contactually might maybe benefit from some additional buzz, a bigger talent pool or  some extra customer confidence if their address read Palo Alto, Zvi has come to the same conclusion that I have: no amount of additional success is worth being somewhere you don’t want to be, and if you’re passionate enough about your project, you can make it happen anywhere.

More and more, I think entrepreneurs are coming to the conclusion that despite the added rocket fuel of being a Silicon Valley company, the cliché of the tireless entrepreneur who sacrifices anything and everything to succeed is simply outmoded. During my time as president of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Silicon Valley Chapter, I met scores of entrepreneurs with similar stories. Entrepreneurs who wanted to work from home and see their kids more often. Entrepreneurs who wanted to travel more than two weeks a year. Entrepreneurs who simply didn’t like how things were done at big companies.

For me, at this current junction, success means living where I want to live, pursuing projects not for recognition or for money, but for passion. I may still be looking for that next big, meaningful, and exciting project, but that’s not important. What’s important is that I’m very happy to be exactly where I am. Everything else is secondary.

Are you doing what you really want to do? The best way to get started is with the right people. Don’t wait.

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True Grit & 21 Black Hawks: A Tale of Entrepreneurial Leadership Training

Brittany Walker   |   January 8th, 2014

Anthony Garcia is a former Army Captain and helicopter pilot with eight years of military service.  Anthony obtained a MBA from Cornell and followed on as a general manager for SRI International. He is the Co-Founder and CEO at Adjacent Applications, maker of Call Dibs app

I entered the Army in 1999 as an air medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) officer. This meant I would spend my career flying Black Hawk helicopters, tasked with the mission to medically evacuate wounded soldiers from battlefields. More importantly, I would be leading crews in combat. It never occurred to me that I would be getting the best entrepreneurship training I could ever ask for.

Leadership Without A Roadmap

When I arrived in Iraq, I was given one order – Provide MEDEVAC support for the coalition forces in Iraq. No one told me how to do this, but fortunately I did not have to do it alone. I had some excellent officers and non-commissioned officers whose leadership was vital to our success. Despite what is depicted in movies, I can’t remember ever giving anyone a direct order. My goal was to provide intent and predictability as best I could so my team could run with it.

Leadership is the social influence one earns in order to drive a team of unique individuals forward and accomplish a task or mission. It is the ability to build a team with common values among different cultures, unique experiences, and diverse socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. It’s being able to understand where people have come from and where they want to be.

The Army is the perfect cross section of our society – it trains officers to do this. If they fail, they are removed. Leaders today move teams forward without capital, stock, or options. Just like in combat you can’t pay someone more and you can’t incentivize with stock or options. Leaders must know they are not the smartest person in the room, but surround themselves with smarter people. Valuing other professionals’ skills and talents and allowing them the freedom to grow and excel are signs of a true leader. Being able to make a decision in a timely manner with the best information at your disposal is invaluable to a leader.

“The Plan” Is Subject To Change

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it now, that being a combat officer in the Army is not unlike being an entrepreneur. Except the stakes are much higher: people can and will die. Officers are never told how to accomplish a mission or task – they are expected to make it happen with the skills developed as junior officers. If we don’t excel, we’re fired.

During my final tour to Iraq, I led 90 pilots, flight engineers, and flight medics. My organization was comprised of 6 teams spread across a geographic footprint half the size of California. When we completed our year-long mission, we medically evacuated over 6,500 patients and flew over 4,000 hours in combat without losing a single aircraft. I was responsible for 21 Black Hawk helicopters, medical equipment, medical training, crew training, and medical treatment. On top of this, I had to remain current as a pilot commander, flying over 300 hours. I was 28 years old and leading the largest Dustoff Flight Platoon ever fielded for combat. (Dustoff is the name warriors on the battlefield call us. When someone is blown-up, shot, or injured and Dustoff is called – we go without hesitation. In other words, we fly to the areas people want to evacuate from.)

I can’t name a single team, squad, platoon, or company in the Army that accomplished the extraordinary through strict direction and adherence to “the plan.” Once a first shot is fired, plans are used as a foundation to adjust direction. 90% of successful missions are realized from taking initiative. Army officers succeed because they work backwards from the desired outcome and are never hindered by current or desired resources. When I started my business I never took inventory of my current resources. I looked at what needed to be accomplished and acquired –  what was necessary to move forward – and then I found and hired professionals who knew how to take initiative. That is most valuable skill to have in abundance when starting up.

True Grit

To this day, I am not sure how grit can be acquired or developed. Grit is being able to put your head down, suck up the emotional and physical pain, and weather years of adversity to believe you will rise above an experience.

My combat experience was impossible. I look at what my organization accomplished and I’m really not sure how we did it. We were mortared and rocketed almost every day; we were flying missions at 0300 and landing into hostile environments where people were trying to kill us; we were seeing some of the worst trauma the human body can experience; and we were losing friends and fellow soldiers. I co-founded our company in May 2011. It’s been almost three years and we’re finally close to making money and raising the funds that can accelerate our growth. I’m not sure what keeps me going more than my team’s belief in our mission.

Starting a business is hard. But not harder than combat. After all, I can sleep in my own bed every night, take showers when I please, use a real toilet, and I don’t have to worry about getting mortared or losing the lives of my crew. Grit is what keeps me going when I struggle to find talent, have difficulty converting customers, and fight to raise capital.

The Greater Mission

What makes soldiers different than most other professionals is that we are incentivized by something greater than money, stock, or options. Our incentive is to live and come home. Every soldier does their best to ensure they’re buddy is taken care of. In many ways, this is similar to being a first time entrepreneur who is bootstrapping with a team of entrepreneurs. I know my team is extremely passionate about what we’re working on. Sure we want to get paid, but we’re also hoping to create something that will make a difference. Because we share the same values, principles and passion, we have each others’ back. In other words, we can depend on each other to complete duties to the very best of our ability. This trust is paramount in the Army and critical to the immediate survival of a startup.

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