October 9, 2013

5 Start-up Lessons for Business & Life.

Stock Photo Business Man sayz: Yessss, I just nailed that sh*t.

Last night I attended one of the many entrepreneurial-focused events here in Boulder, Colorado: the CU Silicon Flatirons Entrepreneurs Unplugged.

The event featured Luke Beatty, Head of Strategic Partnership at AOL, and was moderated by Brad Feld, best known for his VC investment firm the Foundry Group and as a founder of TechStars and Brad Bernthal, Professor of Law at CU and TechStars mentor.

Although this group is heavily tech-focused, there were many take-aways applicable to an entrepreneur in any industry.

“We live in a ‘DOmocracy’ and people who do shit make progress,” Beatty told the crowd. The idea of a DOmocracy is essential to the future of business across industries.

We live in an Age of Independence, where you can create almost anything you take action on, as Seth Godin so clearly states, “reject the tyranny of being picked: pick yourself.”

Stop waiting for a program or permission to take the next step in your career, business or life and start taking action.

As Feld stated, “get yourself into an ecosystem and do something.”

What can you actually do today to move forward towards your goals?

Come from a place of service.

I bet you didn’t expect this take-away from a tech panel, but it’s true.

In describing the TechStars’ mentor-mentee relationship, the panel discussed that a true mentorship relationship is one of mutual gains. Over a long term, both parties in the mentorship relationship end up saying, ‘I get more out of this relationship that I give;’ meaning that both parties are serving the other while feeling totally fulfilled in the relationship.

It’s not what you can get, it’s what you can give.

“You have to be really good at people collecting” Beatty explains, crediting Feld for the term

The two went on to explain you need to collect the right people.

In a recent interview with Full Contact, Feld explains “With most failures, the easy thing to point to are people issues. Maybe it’s leadership, the people in the company, founder conflicts or the construction of the team. That whole sort of bucket of stuff all falls into people issues.”

With Feld’s statement, I’m reminded of the expression, you become like the five people you spend the most time with.

Whether in your business or your personal life, who are the people you are collecting? Are you hiring employees or building friendships with those who are smart mission-driving individuals who will take your business higher?

“Start-ups seem more fun today” Beatty explained last night.

I agree that start-ups seem more fun (from the outside looking in), but I contest that they are not any less work.

It was a bit serendipitous that when I returned from the talk last night, my cousin had posted the article explaining “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy.”

Beatty’s statement unintentionally aligns with the core argument of the article: perception of success is not reality and it is leading many to frustrated disappointment (see graphic below).

From The Social Network to Fast Company (one of my favorite reads), to the TechStars mantra of Do More Faster, there is a perceived sexiness about the start-up life. Yes, with life in a start-up you have amazing experiences and often have a more flexible schedule, but what isn’t typically covered is that it can also mean many, many, many nights and weekends spent working on your project (often alone, while your friends are out having real fun).

I am a Gen Y start-up-er and with the constant reminders from social media, it’s easy to sink into FOMO (fear of missing out) and feel frustrated with your friends who are giving the perception that their life is non-stop fun.

Having success in anything means sacrifice. I spoke with a friend recently,  who is a successful businessman in his early 40s, and I asked him, what were you doing at my age? He told me story after story of skipping parties with his friends to build his business.

Photo: Startup Envy Reality by Wait Buy Why

Nothing replaces hard work, so are you really working hard enough to achieve the level of success you desire? (Remember point one: people who do shit make progress.)

“If you’re important, people will wait.”

~ Chili Palmer, Be Cool.

The last take-away is a bit different. This point is not about the content of the talk, but instead about the fashion, in particular the fashion of Brad Feld.

For those of you who don’t know Brad Feld, he has been called the godfather of the Boulder startup community. Outside of the Boulder bubble, Feld has had huge success in the tech world, as an investor, as a tech-incubator founder, and a published author. Feld is very active in the Boulder start-up community, and at every event Feld attends, he draws a crowd of eager entrepreneurs hungry to learn the ways of his Midas Touch.

When I see Feld, I am one of those hungry entrepreneurs inspired by his talking points, but I also always note his non-traditional ‘business attire’.

Feld’s slacker-chic look, featuring his longer hair, 1970s style shirts, or perhaps one of the two sweaters he proudly states that he owns; is an fantastic departure from the conventional business attire of the corporate life. The reason I note Feld’s unique style is that he is helping to redefine what conventional success looks like, as I tried to do on a low level with my #BikeStylish project.

Feld’s style illustrates that when you practice living in a DOmocracy, come from a place of service, build a great network, and work hard, you can dress however you want and command the respect of everyone in the room. Don’t want to wear a suit everyday? Create your own path based on your merit and as Steve Martin says,

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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