Last night, Boston Young Entrepreneurs (BYE) hosted a panel at Emerson College to promote Inc. Magazine contributor, Donna Fenn’s new book: Upstarts: How GenY Entrepreneurs are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit from Their Success. The panel was comprised of a trio of impressive young entrepreneurs: David Hauser from Grasshopper; Brendan Ciecko from Ten Minute Media; and Brad Weinberg from Shape Up the Nation. Despite their very different backgrounds and company types, they shared very similar thoughts on entrepreneurship.
There are many different key roles an entrepreneur can fill in a startup. David and Brad both emphasized the need for a partner to compliment their skills for theirs; these partners fill in for roles and responsibilities that they are neither proficient nor passionate about. David described the difficulty he experienced in hiring leaders; he found that leading the company as a whole, person to person wasn’t in his interests and that they were hiring many “doers,” but no one was leading. It wasn’t until he left for his “first vacation in 3 years” and didn’t answer emails that a few people started stepping up. When he returned, he recognized this and worked to cultivate those that emerged. As David said, “If you [stink] at doing something, hire someone who’s good at it.” Not every entrepreneur is necessarily the inventor, the salesman, or the visionary CEO. Find someone to fill the role(s) you’re lacking and make sure they’re as passionate as you are about the company.
Another major topic of discussion was money. They generally advised against pursuing significant outside funding (although Brad has received Angel investment). Their greatest concern was in taking VC money, because those investors usually aren’t keen on letting young entrepreneurs learn (i.e.- they’ll reduce your role / replace you with more experienced people). Also, getting money can lead to bad habits; if you have a lot of money in your corporate account, problems can be too often solved by throwing money at it (hire, try every option, etc) instead of digging down to the core. While it can be stressful bootstrapping your company, they emphasized the rewards are much greater and you’re much more focused.
The greatest point of the night related to two concepts: Focus and Growth. They all mentioned times when their companies took on more than they could handle or tried to scale too quickly. When this happened, the company either had difficulty delivering on all the business they had taken on, or worse, ran into serious cash flow issues. The best anecdote for these issues came from Brad Weinberg regarding a business opportunity called, “Fresh To You.” A woman had an idea for a startup and asked him and his company for help. What began as simple, quick assistance started taking away serious amounts of time from Brad and his employees. They finally had to say no to the company and refocus all of their efforts on their then strained business. To this day, when Brad’s company is concerned about whether an opportunity will affect focus, they ask, “is that another Fresh to You?”
Overall, this was a great event. The three young entrepreneurs brought unique, valuable experience that they shared with the audience. Donna also sprinkled in some interesting statistics related to her research such as the fact that only 1 of the 64 Gen Y companies she profiled went out of business during the recession. These are exactly the kind of events to motivate and inspire young entrepreneurs. I look forward to future events like these.