This past week, I did a bit of travel. I spent a few days in Detroit and a few days in Atlanta. I have greatly limited the amount of times I speak (there are a couple of events that if asked I will speak — Big Omaha is one, and its coming up next week — but mostly, I am heads down with Graphicly).
The events I like to speak at are full of entrepreneurs, many of them first time entrepreneurs, and more and more, are not on the coasts.
I grew up in California. In San Jose. In the HEART of Silicon Valley (sorry San Francisco and Palo Alto, y’all aint it). My mom worked at startups for most of my life, with the common cycle of job — laid off — new job that comes with working at a startup. As an experiential learner, startups just seemed to fit my world view.
I never understood how people could feel geographically restricted about starting or growing a company. Here is the key – understand the resources provided by the local region, and work within that.
Does that mean a startup should never move? Of course not. What it means is that the founder needs to start with understand what CAN be done, and what cant. Rather than focusing on what CANT be done, and worrying about what can.
And then, once product/market fit is achieved, if the MARKET requires the move of the business, then, and only then, consider an adjustment to geography.
With that mindset, I headed to Detroit to participate and speak at Funded By Night. A great program put on by Ludlow Ventures and Detroit Venture Partners. 25 companies presented, and one won a $100,000 convertible note with no discount or cap. BLAM!
When I travel, I try to setup a Startup Breakfast/Brunch/Lunch/Dunch/Dinner – something that includes food and sitting down. No bars; nothing formal. Just a place, people and food. In Detroit, we ended up with about twenty folks.
In talking to Detroit area entrepreneurs, I heard much of the same issues that I have heard from communities like LA, Bloomington, Toronto, Omaha and others.
- We arent as collaborative as Boulder/SF/NYC. Everyone is just focused on their own thing. There isnt any great ways for us all to get together.
- When someone is successful, everyone starts talking shit.
It’s amazing that entrepreneurs in ANY community do the same thing: Look at the roadblocks in the road and have mad jealousy.
Here are my answers:
- Stop that shit. Celebrate yourselves and the other startups around you. Its FUCKING HARD to build a startup of ANY size. Celebrate the small successes.
- Understand that the success of the community outweighs the success of any ONE STARTUP. My success is not Graphicly’s; its Boulder’s. Do you think that the Bay Area grew over the years because of individual focus? No, effort, capital and pride were recycled into the region, until it became the place it is today.
- Stop pulling other entrepreneurs and start pushing them. Drive people around you with your own success. Reach out and both ask for, and offer, support and help. Being a founder is lonely, why should that loneliness be exacerbated by your pride?
- Participate. I meet with entrepreneurs constantly. Each time I learn something. While its not my job, nor do I need the deal flow, its my way to stay relevant and understand what people are thinking about. I find myself having to force myself to stay open minded about how things work. We are lazy by nature, but that nature can be overcome. Be curious. Ask questions.
- Be real. Stop lying. Your startup isnt that great. Its not going that well. Money isnt falling from heaven. Its a slog. Its hard. I understand that. I am also an entrepreneur, and other than your mom, we would rather hear that you are dealing with similar issues than skating by like Snoopy in a Christmas Special.
- Think big. This idea that the big ideas come from the San Francisco Bay Area is just crap. You can change the world from Lexington. Just believe it.
Detroit has a lot to offer, and I am excited to track and help out some of the startups that participated in Funded By Night. A few will be amazing. And they all will help put Detroit on the startup map.
Atlanta, and LessConf, was equally amazing. I spoke in front of 300 or so entrepreneurs, developers and other cool ass people. Allan and Steven do a great job of extending what I have always thought “southern hospitality” was supposed to be like. After all, other than these guys, who would let me talk about strippers for an hour on stage?
But, like always, I had a load more fun talking to attendees from all over the south (and a few from the North — including my new inspiration, Randy of LoseItorLoseIt.com, who built an entire business around his desire to motivate himself and others to lose weight. To date, Randy is down 105 lbs. fuckyeahrandy!).
We talked a lot about different ways of doing business in different parts of the country. I find it interesting that there is an assumption of difference between how startups are run in Florida versus New York versus Seattle versus the SF Bay Area.
Want to know a secret? Its true.
Its true, because the geography matters in how startups are birthed and curated. Geography defines the problems and issues that people have that become such painful itches, that they just have to be scratched. Geography matters in personality and personal importance. Canadians are super nice. Boulder folks love to hike and snowboard.
But what isnt different, is in the heart of entrepreneur burns the desire to make a significant change in the world. Stop letting where you live dictate how you live. Go build it.
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Yesterday, Mark Suster (if you are in a startup, thinking about startups, even just kinda like startups, you should be reading religiously) wrote a post about the importance of competitiveness in a successful entrepreneur.
I met Mark at last year’s Twiistup in LA, and we had some interesting discussions about startup ecosystems, and when it was time to raise money for Graphic.ly, Mark and GRP Partners, was high on my list.
I did a couple of pitches before meeting with Mark in LA to make sure that I had it down. I went in and sat down, excited to show Mark what we had built, and the vision we had crafted.
“Too early. Get traction. Gunna have to pass.”
Im pretty sure that Mark said other things that were extremely helpful, but those three short sentences sat in my brain as I left.
Now, I get it. We are early, we had no traction. We werent in a position to make it easy for Mark to champion us to his partners.
But, as I always do, I left the office thinking “Moron, you will be disappointed you passed.” Its not that I actually thought Mark, or the dozens of other folks that passed are ACTUALLY morons, I just think that their decision to pass was moronic.
Luckily we didnt need Mark or any of the other potential investors that passed to raise a round, but its something that constantly eats at the back of my brain.
Back to Mark’s post.
One attribute that I believe most VCs look for in entrepreneurs is competitiveness. I know I do. I like to work with people who hate to lose. Anyone who has ever been around me when I’ve lost at anything I care about will tell you I’m not pleasant. I’m not a poor loser at all. It’s just that I stew on it. I don’t recover easily. I lose sleep. If I have any angle of changing the outcome I will. I replay things in my mind about why I lost and I try to correct my mistakes.
I dont lose. Losing is for losers. I hate everything about losing. Even the word. At the same time, I understand the difference between losing (“an ending”) and failure (“a process”), and embrace the process. But, I dont ever assume anything less than success. No competitor scares me. No market shift. No new startup. No new technology.
They dont scare me, because I know, given the opportunity, I will win. I believe in myself completely. Is that narcissist? Maybe. Arrogant? Probably. Confident? Absolutely.
But beating everyone else is not my driving factor. I sent this tweet out:
I think often that the best startup CEO’s mirror Michael Jordan. He was not satisfied with being the best basketball player of all time, but he wanted to change the game.
I dont look at Graphic.ly as being the best online digital comic store, but as a segment changer. As a company that is focused on creating a way for creators and publishers to directly connect with their fans that could redefine an industry. To help creators understand that digital is not just another distribution channel or form factor, but a way to completely re-imagine the art and story of comic books.
A couple of days ago, at lunch, I was asked if someone offered Graphic.ly an exit that allowed me personally to go home with a check for $5 million would I do it. I said no.
Now its easy to say “well, thats easy to say, but harder to do.” Im not independently wealthy. $5 million would change my life in many positive ways. But I wouldnt do it.
Mark responded to my tweet this morning with:
Why did I say I wouldnt take $5million today for Graphic.ly? Because I know that we will win. The exit is secondary. It will be there when it needs to be, but before we get there, I want to leave a mark (haha! just realized the pun…). I want to see creators doing amazing things with digital; I want to see everyone enjoying the art and storytelling of comics and sharing and engaging with that content; I want to see an industry that is uncertain of the benefit of digital embrace it in ways that are yet to be defined.
I guess thats the type of entrepreneur I am.