David's Start-Up Advice

David shares his top ten tips for success.

I feel like I should be writing about the ridiculous gag gift strap-on that I bought for Hermione's birthday party and, to my surprise, witnessed her put on and parade around for all to see. But I think that whole situation speaks for itself -- it was a funny, priceless moment of entrepreneurs goofing off, and in a place where work is almost constant, having a good time like that was well worth it. And that's all I'm going to say about that!

So here's what's really on my mind right now: I read an article the other day that said something that's been resonating with me for every day since: "The default state of your start-up is failure, and the only one that can change that is you." (Source here.) Honestly, I have a big fear of failure and a fear of letting other people down, and it's the reason why I've been so resistant to look outside myself for help. I've kept from aggressively seeking funding. (I'll admit I've looked into it and asked around a bit, but then when I don't feel an immediate sense of excitement or interest, I tell myself I don't need it and go at it alone.) I've been really stubborn. But when I think about what my best moments with GoalSponsors have been (and worst, to be honest, haha), it's been when I've reached out to interact with other people for help.

Which brings me to Appcelerator. I've been really fortunate to have the help of this great company to build my business, GoalSponsors. I'm sitting in their office right now and continue to work with them to develop my app, and it all started literally with a cold email that I sent to their marketing team. I didn't know anyone there, and I was just hoping someone would take interest and respond. Thankfully, they did, and I'm eternally grateful for that!

But for every cold email I send that gets a response, about 10 go completely without a reply. And I'll be the first to say I have not replied to emails before, because I knew that replying would do more damage than simply ignoring, but being on the other side, I must say it hurts to get no response. Each email I send that doesn't get a reply feels like a failure, over and over again. Welcome to start-ups.I'm learning the hard way, for sure. Let me share some lessons to hopefully save the trouble for those who are thinking about taking the plunge...

1. Get a cofounder. If I had to do this whole thing over again, I would get a cofounder that I loved being around (in and out of the workplace). Because at times like this, where I feel like I'm trying to move a mountain by myself, having someone around to keep me afloat would be priceless. Even today I wish I had one. My next start-up won't have a single founder.

2. Fake it till you make it. I've seen time and time again entrepreneurs over-inflate their numbers, oversell what they really have to offer, and even blatantly lie (e.g. "our traffic is totally organic" when it's not), and I've always thought it was unethical. But I've realized that "hustling" is really what most of the effective entrepreneurs are best at. There's a way to do it without lying, and there's a way to do it that's ethical. If you can't sell what you're offering, nobody will want to buy it... and everyone has to start somewhere.

3. Have fun. I've been missing out on this at the workplace. I do it on nights and weekends, but the place where I'm spending most of my time is the place where I'm lacking fun the most, even though I do enjoy programming. I'll admit that doing the same thing for 60 hours a week, even if you love it, is too much.

4. Stay connected with others. Even though I work around other people, I've been generally keeping to myself. I haven't reached out to other people, even if it's just for lunch, because I don't want to get distracted and thus be unproductive. I've been getting feedback from customers and regularly reach out to them to make sure they're happy, but my lack of interaction with others, whether they are other entrepreneurs or investors, has left me still to fend for myself when I hit a tough roadblock.5. Know why you're doing it. It's amazing how easily we lie to ourselves -- in fact, it's basically programmed into us at birth. We rationalize why we are happy with what we have in our lives, whether it is our job, our house, our spouse, or our friends. But we need to know and feel in the deepest place of our hearts why we have something and be honest with ourselves. Not everyone is Mother Teresa, so if helping the world 24/7 isn't something that resonates for you, that's OK. Be passionate doing something that does resonate for you, whether it be painting, throwing parties, or eating cake.

6. Do what you love, but don't let the rest of your life fall by the wayside. If you love eating cake, then by all means, eat cake. But keep the rest of yourself in check or you won't be eating cake for very long! Life was not meant to be a one-track record -- make use of what you've got. If you're reading this blog you already have more than about half of the world, so take up the opportunities you have!

7. Be thankful for what you have. Every day of start-up life has a never-ending list of things that go wrong -- conversion rates aren't as high as they could be, customers aren't staying around as long as expected, someone wants to delete their account and won't tell you why -- but for each of those things that's going wrong, you have things that are going right (otherwise you wouldn't still be doing it). People are spending money, people write to tell you how much they love your app. You see people losing over 10 lbs within a couple weeks. Things like this make it worth it. This is why I keep a note by my bed that just says "3 things I’m grateful for."

8. It's OK to fail. This is one of the hardest lessons to learn, even in Silicon Valley where failure is embraced arguably more than anywhere else on the planet. All failures fade with time and are eventually forgotten, but usually their lessons are not. The world does not end. Brains don't explode. Angels don't lose their wings. Life goes on. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

9. Expect haters, doubters, and the like. In some people's eyes, every entrepreneur is a "wantrapreneur" until they have a big, successful exit and everyone in the valley knows their name. This is stupid and exactly the opposite of what Silicon Valley is about. If you want to be an entrepreneur, don't let the haters stop you. Live the life you want to live and ignore the hate. The good news is that if you don't let these things get to you, they will ultimately eat their own hearts out, not yours.

10. Do something that adds meaning to your life. There are many ways to make money, and not all of them give a person meaning in life. If you're doing something that doesn't give you meaning, it will feel empty, no matter how many billions of dollars it makes. You won't be happy. I had a business like this once, and I'm glad I gave it away. But that's a story for another day.I'll be honest that I don't know what the future holds for GoalSponsors. I'm hyper-present to what I have been failing at and am currently doing wrong, and I'm grateful to know that it makes me exponentially more likely to be successful in my next start-up to make these mistakes now. Sadly, I still have to go fix these mistakes and make up for lost time, and I'm hopeful it will make GoalSponsors successful. That said, I acknowledge that there's a 9 in 10 chance that my startup, like all startups, will fail. But I'm still here, still working on it. Today, I'm still in the game.

Keep watching Start-Ups: Silicon Valley Monday nights at 10/9c on Bravo! Also, feel free to check out my app, follow me (Facebook, Twitter), or book me for speaking engagements by emailing the address listed at the bottom of my website!

Cheers,
Dave

Kim Quits!

Kim dishes on her big decision.

New beginnings and sudden endings! Episode 4 we cover me FINALLY quitting my job to do my first start-up Shonova. Many of you saw this coming. We also cover the less glamorous side of start-up life, which happens to include emotional breakdowns (which we all have). Hang in there, Hermione!
 
Quitting
 
Moving to San Francisco was purely a career move for me. My original plan was to join an education start-up in New York. Like many people who move for work in the beginning, I had no friends, worked insane hours, and was terribly homesick. Most of my friends in Chicago I had known for 10+ years.
 
Quitting was a huge and very personal decision for me, since I felt I sacrificed so much of personal life the past two years for Ampush.
 
My boss Jesse is the best (and last) person I’ll ever work for. Needless to say I was nervous about giving my notice. When you are at an early stage start-up, you become a family.
 
Understanding the risk, I give up half of my equity to leave. A typical vesting schedule at a start-up is 4 years. This means if you own 4% of a company you will vest 1% each year. Equity a big incentive to join a very early stage start-up. You usually take a large pay cut but are also compensated with equity or stock options. If you leave before you are vested you lose the equity.
 
Sometimes you have to give up good for great. I don’t think everyone should quit their job and join a start-up, but in my case it was something I had been planning on doing for 3 years. I want to build a great product (and company) that delights users. I prepared for not being able to pay myself for a year or longer (not uncommon for a start-up founder).
 
Calling Mom: I'm So Gen Y
 
I didn’t tell my parents when I was quitting my job in Chicago to move to SF. Most people told me it was a dumb/terrible decision. It was high risk at the time. However no one understands your situation as well as you do. I'm 30 and it was important for me to make the decision myself. This case was similar.
 
Why leave without a concrete idea? Ideas matter but aren’t as important as you think. It’s more important to solve a problem in a big emerging market. For me it’s luxury fashion. Equally important is building the team and execution.
 
Oh and then I cry over my cabernet. It was an incredibly overwhelming day for me to share on camera. My job was a huge part of my identity and it was strange to be leaving it behind for the unknown. But this place does something to you and you become a product of the environment.Girls’ Night + Dwight: New Beginnings
 
I have a close group of girlfriends I lean on for everything, and yes, we buy our own bottle service! There are amazing start-ups out there that will also help you easily split this cost between friends like Crowdtilt and Pay by Group that can also be more economical options than paying for one off drinks – especially if you drink as much as we do! It's also really easy to get a ride home with Uber or Lyft, which are both computerized dispatch applications.
 
I’m not a big club goer, but I try to go to some a few times a year when I feel like getting dressed up. Dressing up doesn’t happen often in Silicon Valley. At Harlot we toast to “new beginnings, sudden endings, and female domination.” There is no way I could’ve done this without the support of all those women around me.
 
Yup, Dwight is extended an invite to girls’ night. Normally a party foul, but it’s my night, right? We’re really close friends and our relationship is, well, complicated. You’ll have to keep watching!
 
xoxo,
 
Kim
 
Thanks so much for tuning every Monday at 10/9c on Bravo to watch Start-Ups: Silicon Valley! Follow me on Twitter (@kimmytaylor) and subscribe on Facebook (www.facebook.com/kimtaylor10).
 
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