By Jonathan Sexton, Entrepreneur in Residence at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center
Entrepreneurs are the arbiters of “what’s possible” – they dream it before anyone else dreams it. But it’s more than being a prophet, because part of the job is actually making it happen, no matter who says “That’s not possible,” “It’s a crowded space,” “I’ll be the second investor in,” or “I don’t like your revenue model.”
All of these responses can be valid. Constructive feedback from experienced entrepreneurs is vital to success – however, often this feedback can be shortsighted, making it all too easy to derail an early stage idea.
I recently returned from a trip to the Bay Area, where I met with a myriad of startup founders, big VCs and took a tour of Facebook’s Campus. I looked very closely for the true differences between the Southeast and the Bay Area.
Over the course of four or five days and many intense conversations, certain themes kept coming up. Before I left, I wrote five of these themes down in my notebook. They aren’t truth, fact, or law, but they were consistently reiterated 100 different ways over these days of intense conversations about what it means to be an entrepreneur and more importantly what it means to think BIG.
Here is what I came back with:
- Technology > Revenue
I’m not saying revenue doesn’t matter, but I am saying that if you can build some amazing technology that someone else will find useful, build it. If someone else thinks they can figure out how to monetize it or it solves a problem they have…or they are afraid the competition is going to buy you to get ahead…then they will buy it, and you will have an exit.
- Show up and dream big
You can’t fake showing up. Anything is possible, and more importantly, you can reach ANYONE. So if you are trying to build a Finance app, find the executive who led the charge on Mint or Lending Tree and ask them for a coffee meeting. Love music? Find the investors who put money in Pandora and Spotify, pick their brain and ask them questions. People love being “experts,” so take advantage. Everyone’s success story has mentors behind it, which leads perfectly to my next theme.
- 10 minutes face to face > 100 emails and phone calls
In a text and email driven society – or should I say an efficiency driven society – it’s easy to lose track of who’s who. Everyone you meet becomes a faceless entity in the cloud (and I love text and email). But if you really want to build a relationship, share space with someone. Ten minutes face to face will infinitely increase your chances of being remembered. Also: make those ten minutes count! Relationships trump ALL. Your personal network is your greatest asset.
- Seed money is for proving concepts
It takes money to make money. Money is needed sometimes to get development going, to make business trips, and to go to key conferences and demo your product. In year one, you are out to prove that you can land a few KEY customers, build a working product and team, build a few fantastic case studies about how the technology or product can be used, and most importantly, that there is a big enough market interested in your product. That’s it. The idea of a startup breaking even on a $100,000 round of investment is short-sighted and damaging to young companies trying to build technologies that could have a global impact.
- The Burritos are better in California
Sorry Tennessee…but it’s the truth. (Good thing we have the music and moonshine!)