As I’ve been out on this journey to start a company for a couple of months now, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on why I’m starting a company now. From my perspective it’s really the only choice that makes sense for me. The last few years of my life have been filled with preparation for this. Here’s why:
1) I have a zen financial outlook
– I have a sizeable warchest saved up that means I don’t need a salary for quite some time (a year +). An incremental salary increase is not appealing to me; I have few wants/needs in life and don’t see it changing for the foreseeable future. One day, I’ll probably have a wife, kids and mortgage. That day, it will be a lot harder to bet it all on starting a company.
2) Customer development, homes
– For over a year at oneforty, I was eating, sleeping and breathing customer development. Before that, I did some consulting for John Prendergast cutting my teeth and learning from one of our local experts. I’ve since mentored at Lean Startup Machine events in NYC and Boston and wrote numerous posts about the topic (nothing helps you understand what you know like teaching/helping others). All this adds up to making me feel like I’m the Kathy Griffin of CustDev (aka- I’m on the D List : P).
– I’m ready to take this knowledge and understanding and use it to crush a startup. I’ve already used it to kill 4 ideas that have come up and am continuing the learning process, leveraging the knowledge of the greats in custdev (like @hnshah, @brantcooper and @pv).
– Any company I launch will be forged in the pits of lean startup-dom, which is much easier than bringing it into an existing company. A wise friend recently said, “Culture is like concrete in that it hardens and is hard to change later.” That includes being a customer-centric company.
3) I’m going to be a recruiting machine
– One of my favorite things about being Greenhorn is the opportunity to sit at the intersection of so much cool stuff in our ecosystem. As part of sitting at this intersection, I hear from people that are unhappy at their current jobs or just ready for a change, companies that are waffling and what companies are growing or shrinking. All of these are huge opportunities as we all know that often the best talent never goes officially “on the market.” Thus far, I’ve mainly been referring those people to friends’s startups, but I’m looking forward to the day I can talk to them about my startup and bring them in for an interview as well.
– All of this doesn’t even consider the platform I have with GreenhornConnect.com and beyond to reach a wide audience, not unlike Dharmesh is able to use OnStartups (although obviously at a much, much smaller scale than him).
4) It’s who you know…
– To be clear, I have yet to accomplish anything significant. However, as Mark Suster and many others talk about dots and lines in determining investment (which means showing progress over time to build confidence in others investing in you), I’ve already made a few lines thanks to Greenhorn Connect and other activities in our community. This makes me less of an unknown when I reach out for advice, introductions or investment. I’ll still need to prove it with the startup I work on, but it certainly helps.
– While I’ve been meeting and talking with many of the awesome people in our community, I’ve also been curating a list to understand what everyone is an expert in. When someone says, “Let me know how I can help,” I always come back now with, “Ok, what are you best at? What the best thing I should ask you for help with?” I’m noting what they say so I can leverage their offers the best way possible. I can’t wait to leverage this as my startup needs help in everything from leadership to technical questions, customer development to culture and beyond.
5) Greenhorn is a mini-startup
– Few investors see a lot of value in the experience I’ve had in building GHC or from similar side projects according to friends I know (they just respect the traffic and influence) but most entrepreneurs seem to understand the value of learning on the fly from it. Similar to how Dharmesh experiments with OnStartups, GHC is my little playground.
– I’ve hired and fired, managed a paper-thin budget, found 6 unique revenue streams and learned a little project management along the way. All of this with only a fraction of my attention for the majority of the time Greenhorn Connect has existed. I am anxious to leverage the learnings on a full scale startup and continue to use it as a low-risk avenue to perform experiments.
6) The skills I have are for a founder, not an employee
– Early employees and founders need to be athletes. They need to be able to handle any job and roll with the punches that come with an early startup struggling to find product-market fit. It helps as an employee to have a specialty that you can then grow into as the company hires more people and everyone gets more specialized.
– In my case, customer development is what I developed as a specialized skill. One of the things I learned at the startup I worked at was that a founder needs to own customer development; the person doing customer development is the line of sight to the customer and it’s impossible to relay that perfectly to a management team (although I tried with detailed notes, summaries, email wrap ups, meetings, etc).
It’s never been a better time to be a young entrepreneur and I’m not that young (26). I feel like I have a combination of plenty of chips to bet and a through-the-roof risk tolerance right now. You are who you surround yourself with and most of my friends are founders or really early employees, so it only makes me more excited to be a founder as well.
Technical and working on something cool that you’d like some business help with? Drop me an email at evanish.j[at]gmail[dot]com and let’s talk.
OMG I’m so excited! You are gonna kill it. It’s interesting that you point out how customer development notes are hard to transfer to management. I wonder how we can stay customer centric even after the startup phase
Jason, hit me up!
I think the way you stay customer centric is making everyone touch the customer. I’ve heard of a number of great companies making every employee spend a week in customer support when they start (I think Zappos is one of them).
There’s no reason it can’t scale; you just have to commit to everyone spending some time on the phones, observing customers, etc. I saw Eric Ries tweet last night that Twilio makes every employee build an app on Twilio and present it in the first week. That’s *being* your own customer.
I love this kind of stuff; I’m a startup geek to the core.
Wufoo is another company we can look up to for that =). Everyone in the company does support!
While I’ve been meeting and talking with many of the awesome people in our community, I’ve also been curating a list to understand what everyone is an expert in. When someone says, “Let me know how I can help,” I always come back now with, “Ok, what are you best at? What the best thing I should ask you for help with?” I’m noting what they say so I can leverage their offers the best way possible.
Well done with this. People are really good at falling into the “usual conversation” patterns.
I’d add one more thing that I think is good to ask for the purpose of understanding people’s expertise and how they can help: “what are your goals? 6 months? -18months?18+?”
Goal alignment is valuable for connections. You know how to help them. You also know how their active expertise is evolving.
Great point, Kevin. Helping is a two way street.
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