Jul 29, 2013 7:12 PM
Dr. AnnMaria De Mars: Five things I learned from start-up meet-ups
There are, or so I have heard, people who are energized by parties, meet-ups and social events. I am not one of those people.
If I had my choice, I would never go to any gathering larger than our family dinners for the rest of my life. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking to intelligent people nor that I don’t appreciate all of the great people that I get to work with in the course of the year – I really do. However, I have to confess, that is a fringe benefit. What I am most interested in doing is sitting at my computer solving problems. If there was some way to get anyone else to go to the meet-ups, demos, conferences and pitches, I would do it.
Most of our staff at The Julia Group is like that. When meet-ups or other networking opportunities there is more whining than taking a kindergarten class to church.
“Oh, man, do I *have* to go?”
“I just went last time.”
“Can’t I go next time?”
“Isn’t it somebody else’s turn?”
In fact, we DID hire someone, our new Chief Marketing Officer to handle these responsibilities because I got so tired of hearing the whining from everyone, including me. Now I only go when she tells me that I have to – and I still whine.
In my experience, most meet-ups will have from zero to one good point that is worth knowing. Usually that comes from whoever they have as a speaker, but not always. You’ll meet, if you are lucky, one interesting person with whom you wish to follow up, several people who want to sell you stuff and a couple of people who have an idea and are looking for someone to give them money so they can pay someone else to make it. Yet, I still go because that one point is worth hearing and the one person is worth knowing.
Here are five points I have learned from start-up meet-ups. Since you read my blog you can tell your CMO that you get to skip the next five (she probably won’t buy it, but it’s worth a try).
1. Cash is more than king. – From Jenny Q. Ta, founder of sqeeqee.comThis advice from a highly successful founder confirmed what I have thought for years. At one point our company rented an office because I thought we should have one to look like a “real company”. Almost no one ever went there. Most of us work at home and we have people in several states. Now we Skype, FaceTime , email or meet in the office downstairs in my house. If we need a conference room, I rent one at the business center a half-mile away. Sometimes people are unimpressed that we still haven’t permanently moved out of the downstairs, but what we save on renting offices for a dozen people goes a long way to making sure we are in the black every month. If you have a healthy cash flow, you can get by without investor money for a long time.
2. Put off taking investor money as long as you possibly can – This is another good tip from Jenny Q. Ta The sooner in the game that investors come in, the more of a risk they are taking and the larger percentage of your business they are going to want.
I find it ironic that the two things that might impress a casual observer – paying for office space and getting angel investor money are the exact points that she argued against. (She’s not the only one, check Paul Hawken’s wonderful book Growing a Business). We have people putting in considerably more hours than they are getting paid for a share of the business – those are co-founders and that is the best investment we can get because not only is it equivalent to funds but it brings the talent with it.
3. Don’t believe everyone knows more than you. I heard this at a General Assembly start-up event and it is worth repeating. There was a time when I thought all of these people spouting so confidently that the target market for their product was in the hundreds of millions (it isn’t) or that the best choice for an application was Ruby (it wasn’t) knew so much more than me. Now I realize that many of them are just posturing. They’re either trying to sound confident for investors, or they just have a different world view than me. I’m a statistician. If I tell you we’ll make $5 million on a product I believe there is a greater than 50% chance based on the facts at my disposal. Others, if they say they’ll make $500 million are basing it on an assumed 5% chance and convinced they’ll make it with the right strategy.
4. Find a co-founder or two. I believe the optimal number of co-founders is three. More than that, you dilute decision-making too much. Less, and you probably haven’t covered all of the key skills.
The fifth and most important thing I have learned and I have heard it several times – most of success is just keeping working even when it’s hard and frustrating.
Speaking of which, I was taking a break from revising our first game to write this post but now I’m going to get some sleep and hit it in the morning.
(And there you have five more things I have learned in almost 55 years.)
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