This FounderDating Guest Post was written by Dan Martell for our new series: FounderDating Blog: Founder Talk – the Real Story.
Dan is a co-founder of Flowtown, a social marketing platform focused on helping small businesses achieve real results in the world of social media. He’s a serial entrepreneur, and a technologist by background who’s learned about startup business and marketing by being hands on, having founded his first web company at age 25, selling it four years later in 2008.
This is a new, Q&A format. We asked him some questions related to his experience as a two-time founder, and technologist turned general startupper. He gave us very honest answers.
Q1: As a technologist without “formal business training” (as in your bio), what do you think about the concept of the “ideal” startup team being a technical and business team? True?
A1: Totally disagree. There’s no ideal situation. I know engineers that can out sell MBA’s, and some folks who can’t deliver on what they sell.
Startups win because of attitude, not initial skill sets.
At the end of the day, you need to be able to build the product and iterate for free. This usually means a technical co-founder. If you incur cost ($) to iterate and learn, then you’re in big trouble. There’s a high probability that you’ll be wrong with the initial version.
Companies fail because they run out of time before they figure it out .. either building the wrong thing, or not being able to find a repeatable business model (i.e. customer / sale).
Q2. You were a technologist who “did it yourself” (no biz co-founder) with Spheric, your first startup. What were the benefits and what were the costs associated with that? What would you say to a technologist thinking about “going it alone”?
A2: You need to learn how to sell. I remember right from the beginning at Spheric I started reading books on sales & marketing. I probably read over 30+ books on these topics. I made it part of my job.
So, yes you can do it alone but it does mean you’ll need to learn these skills.
Q3. With Flowtown, you do you have a co-founder (Ethan Bloch) who is not a technologist by training. Why doing it this way this time?
A3: Ethan’s a freakin rockstar. Most people don’t know this, but he taught himself Ruby / JS / CSS so that he could contribute and push code (sometimes with negative side effects :).
The reality is that when we started Flowtown, I wanted a co-founder who played at the things I worked at. Ethan’s background is finance and he’s very detailed. I’m not. He focuses on the parts of the business that I don’t enjoy, and he loves. I think that’s the best type of co-founder regardless.
And this goes back to what I said above about attitude. Ethan’s the kind of guy who will just grab ahold of whatever needs to be done, at the time it needs to be done. It’s that attitude first that’s so important. Skills can be learned.
Q4. What’s the 1 piece of advice you wish you got sooner or wish you got and why?
A4: My answer to that question will be a bit of meta-advice–advice about advice: only take advice from someone who’s already done what you’re trying to do. I wish I had learned that a lot sooner. A lot of people are smart enough to match patterns part of the way, and reason their way partway to a solution that they haven’t implemented. But there are always gaps, and that sort of “knowing-doing” gap can lead to big, big problems.
Q5. What are the two pieces of advice you got that you’d now ignore and why?
A5: Well, related to the above, advice from folks who have not done the thing that you’re trying to do. When you’re building a company, you get so many people, for good or for bad, trying to guide you–it’s really important to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. And this is one way that I’ve found really works.
You can follow @danmartell