When Losing is Winning

I recently sat down with serial entrepreneur Jordan Weisman for a Founders RAW conversation and walked away a changed founder.  As we cracked our beers and adjusted our mics – we hadn’t even yet turned on the cameras – I asked him to give me a brief overview of his entrepreneurial journey.  Here’s a rough summary of what followed:

So I started out trying solve problem X…. that didn’t work.  So we tried something else…

Next, we founded a game company.  That was bought by company Y.   Boy was that crazy..

After that, I started a few more, one was sold to Disney.  Another I sold to….and  so on and  so on.

In total, Jordan has founded 14 companies over the course of his entrepreneurial life.  Many failed.  Some very much succeeded and you could sense he was very content with his journey.

I really wish we had captured those few precious minutes on camera!  I wish you could have heard it – and seen my face – during the conversation because my jaw was dropping lower and lower each time he said the words “…and then I started” and followed them up with “and that was sold to...”

It was during that specific moment I was struck by something very powerful, I realized I was grasping a strong lesson right then and there.  Of course you are going to feel like a failure if you start one company and it doesn’t work out.  But the truth of entrepreneurship is it’s a numbers game.  Or said differently, if you take just one crack at it most likely you are going to fall flat on your face.  But by simply getting back up and trying again you greatly increase your odds of succeeding.

At risk of sounding naive, pollyanna and cheerleaderish, I want to bring up a really important point.  The irony is the most successful people in our world have failed more than many of us, sometimes more than many of us – combined.  We all have seen the old Nike commercial where Jordan describes how many times he failed, yet he still is arguably the most successful athlete we’ve ever seen.  He says: “I have failed over and over and over in my life, and that is why I succeed.”  

Look at any billionaire founder (outside of Mark Zuckerberg) and you will see someone who did not make it on their first try at business.  Or second try.  It might have even taken them 3, 4, or 5 starts before the big one hit.

This is not a “let’s all grab hands, sing kumbaya and make each other feel better for failing” type of post.  This is about absolute truths of the world, and ones which are hard to truly understand when you find yourself in challenging moments.

The lesson here is all of us founders must understand the first few times are the most challenging.  If you didn’t achieve what you set out to achieve in your current startup, statistics tell you to try again.

Does a gambler in Vegas take just one shot at the craps table?

Was your your first job the best and highest paying you have ever had?

I am guessing no.  So don’t think your first startup is going to be your best.

During another recent FR conversation, Matt Schobe told me it took starting 2 other companies before starting Feedburner, which in the end sold to Google for $100 million.   Would you grind away at two tough startups before a third one gets acquired for nine figures?

I sure hope so.

And a subtle but important footnote in that story is Dick Costolo.  He was part of all of those attempts – there during the tough times and challenging days – which in the end led him to Google, and then on to Twitter where he is now CEO.

Oh and he recently took Twitter public, minting him many more millions in the process.  I am wondering if he would be there today if he quit after the 2nd failed startup?

Here’s Jordan’s advice to first time founders.

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A Great Conversation With Matt Shobe of FeedBurner And Google

I recently sat down with Matt Shobe for a Founders RAW conversation over some tasty beer at Easy Joe’s in Seattle.

Matt is a local entrepreneur and seasoned technology vet, he co-founded Feedburner in 2004 and sold it to Google in 2007 for $100 million.  Not bad.  You should hear what he’s considering starting next.

His story is amazing, entertaining and educational.  You will enjoy!

See more Founders RAW conversations here.

Founders RAW: Here’s What A Good Founder Looks Like To An Investor

In one of my latest Founders RAW conversations I sat down with Seattle VC and managing partner of Seapoint Ventures Tom Huseby to talk about entrepreneurship, investing, patents, and what he looks for in founders he might potentially invest in.

This clip encompasses what he considers a “good” founder – most important is the fact that it’s all about the relationship and the connection/alignment between entrepreneur and investor.

Watch more Founders RAW clips here >

 

 

Founders RAW: The Definition Of A Fundable Founder

I recently sat down for a Founders RAW conversation with Marc Weiser, a VC who started the investment firm RPM Ventures after a successful run as an entrepreneur.  If anyone knows a thing or two about the desired qualities of a founder, it would be Marc.

During the conversation I asked him what he looks for in founders the consider investing in.  His answer is great, and if you are thinking about raising money from outside investors you need to listen to what Marc is saying.  He’s right on the money (no pun intended).

Go here to watch the entire Founders RAW conversation with Marc.

 

 

Founders RAW: Startups Are A Lot Like Surfing

This post was originally posted on GeekWire.

Seaton Gras started a tech incubator because he wanted to help entrepreneurs more easily create companies.  He named it SURF Incubator — an acronym for Start Up Really Fast.

But If you prod a bit more and ask him about the name, he might just dive into an analogy of how startups and surfing are quite similar. SURF is a great name since founders are constantly working against resistance to get a business up and running, he says.

Bromium founder Simon Crosby brought up that same analogy during one of my recent Founders RAW conversations.

He says:

“So you’re in the waves… and you got a board.  And your board is your ‘idea’.  And one thing you quickly realize is you cannot control when the waves come.. you have no ability.  When the wave comes, you gotta get on the board and you gotta surf… and there’s reefs and other dangerous things under you.  So you cannot control time, you’re in a very precarious situation at all times… and it goes up and down a lot, sometimes several times a day.”

New startups are being created at a fever pitch — and we’re coming off Seattle Startup Week where we crawled, sang, danced, learned, lived and breathed startups. But it’s important to remember: Not everyone surfs.

And they don’t for very good reasons.

It’s dangerous.  It takes time.  It takes patience.  It takes learning the ins and outs of the environment  so you can start predicting what’s going to happen next.  It’s not as glamorous as most make it out to be, sometimes it’s cold, it’s always wet and a mouthful of salt water doesn’t usually sit too well.

See the similarities?

Let’s not forget it takes lots of hard work and dedication to build great and lasting companies.  Here’s to hoping you paid attention this last week, made some great contacts and discovered your next steps to take. I know I did.

Now, it is time to act on those next steps.  Make a promise that your excitement and energy of wanting to be a part of the startup movement doesn’t get washed away just like the “NICK WAS HERE” signature I place in the sand of every beach I visit.

Below is the short clip of the surfing analogy from my conversation with Simon.  You can catch more of Founders RAW here.

 

Founders RAW: Cameron Wheeler And The Crazy World Of China Manufacturing

In a recent Founders RAW conversation I spoke with a good friend and fellow founder Cameron Wheeler.

You may be familiar with Cameron and his company as I covered his startup ZappBug earlier this year.  Yes, they manufacture ovens to kill bedbugs:

The idea was to develop a bed bug oven that could use heat to kill bed bugs in luggage and other personal belongings, saving peoples belongings in the end. “We chose to begin with this product because we had the technical competency to do it. Heat treatment is a proven way to kill bed bugs. The product could be used for both prevention and extermination and would be a great revenue generator.”

 Although Cameron is a good friend of mine, I have to say I am very impressed with him and believe he’ll be extremely successful as an entrepreneur.  In my opinion he just “has it” and you definitely sense it when you sit and chat with him.

What’s “it” you say?

A deadly combination of: Smarts.  Intelligence.  Technical know how.  Social intelligence.  Persistence.  Understanding of markets.  Knowing where to innovate.  Youth.

Go ahead and watch the conversation.  From meeting Elon Musk to spending time in China, it’s a fascinating conversation.

Founders RAW: Find Problems. Create Solutions. Scale Quickly

As founders sometimes we dive so far into our own product we get lost, making everything more difficult than it needs to be.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a recent Founders RAW conversation I sat down with Adam Lieb, founder of gaming social network Duxter.  Early on in the conversation he brought up something I thought was interesting.

Wait…  Not interesting.  Actually, it was genius.

He basically said “find a problem, create a solution, and scale quickly.  It’s that simple.”

Wow, you would think we all figure that out.  But unfortunately we don’t.

What happens is we tend to 1) under-think the problem by not taking the time to talk to the target customer, thus missing the opportunity;  2) over-think the solution we provide and convolute our concept to the point of confusion; or 3) under-think the solution by simply copying another company.

Any way you slice it, the tendency for founders to veer off course is easy and happens often.  I call what Adam said genius because I am now convinced the real geniuses in our world are the ones that can take something complex and turn it into something simple for the masses to grasp.  People part with money only for things they understand.  Everything else, to the laymen, is gibberish.

From what I gathered during my conversation with Adam, he has seemingly nailed it with Duxter.  They do a ton of customer development.  They listen to what those customers are saying.  They then zeroed in on a problem, created a simple solution and then worked to scale it quickly.

Remember founders, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

You can find more short clips of useful conversations at Founders RAW.