Monday, August 31, 2015

The Power of Relationships

Last week I had meetings with 2 people who gave me their time purely because I was recommended to them by someone else.

Both people were CEOs of companies and extremely busy.  Neither hesitated to make time for me. That is amazing and powerful when you think about it.

The first meeting was with an angel investor, Marc Raber from IOP Capital in Charleston, who was well versed in the startup world and had first hand knowledge of investing in a robo advisor.  We were introduced by one of the Schedulefly guys and shared an appreciation for controlled growth.  He asked me tough questions that made my brain hurt and energized me at the same time.  He provided insights on startups, sales strategies, potential challenges, investors, and additional resources.

The second meeting was with Jim Zidar, CEO of Stealz.  His company is somewhat of a tech darling in the Raleigh area that created a mobile app that allows businesses (especially restaurants) to more effectively market on social media.  We were introduced by a mutual friend who I used to work with.  Jim is a good dude.  His passion and positive attitude are unwavering.  He will go far.  We both spend time at HQ Raleigh.  I see him get pulled in 1,743,224 directions every day.  Jim let me pepper him with questions one day uninterrupted (even though I could see his phone blowing up).  He gave me the good, bad, and ugly of a day in the life of someone a couple years ahead of me in the startup world.

Both of those guys provided tremendous insights to me and my business.  Would either of them have taken a meeting with me had I not been referred by a trusted friend?  Maybe.  Probably.  Eventually.  They both are good people and want to help.  The difference is both made it a priority to find time because of the existing relationships.

Moral of the story- be good to people.

Cheers!
Nick

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Dream is Not Stress Free

When people ask me how I'm doing I often reply "Livin' the dream!".

That phrase has many meanings and I'm sure people take it different ways.  Some may think I'm being sarcastic and just trying to get through the daily dose of boredom and bs.  Some get confused as they picture a tropical beach with a personal butler ensuring my Pina Colada is always half full.

When I say it I mean I'm lucky enough to do what I love and have a bunch of awesome people in my life.  In that sense, I really am living the dream.  The dream is not stress free, however, by any stretch of the imagination...especially as a solopreneur about to launch a business.  It is important to find ways to deal with stress so you can enjoy the ride.

When I left SoCal, I gave my board to the old crew.
It was in the lineup until the Cliffs got the best of it.
They signed it and sent me what's left of it.  
I thought about it this morning.  The first thing I saw on my computer was today's Google Doodle celebrating Duke Kahanamoku's 125th birthday.  He is known as the father of surfing.

When I lived in San Diego I surfed 3 or 4 days each week.  Looking back it was what I did to deal with stress.  I had a lot going on at the time (working insane hours, putting myself through college, mentally processing getting out of the USMC, trying to win my wife's heart...).  Riding a wave is a rush but the real beauty of surfing is the down time.  I'd float on my board waiting for the next set while looking back at the Ocean Beach Pier or Sunset Cliffs.  It was peaceful and helped to clear my head.

When I began this adventure I needed to come up with a new way to manage stress.  I knew I'd be busy but the surf isn't good in Cary, NC.  One key element for me is blocking out time and holding myself to it.  I block out time for various tasks for the business which keeps me organized.  I also block time to exercise.

I'm a morning person.  I like to exercise outside.  I'm not coordinated enough for ellipticals and fear being a part of a viral treadmill mishap on youtube.  I recently found the draw to podcasts.  I listen to a podcast about entrepreneurship while I exercise.  I get 30-60 minutes of business insight.  This does a few things for me:  I learn, I don't focus on the exercise, and I get motivated to take action today with a clear head.

It is important to find a way to deal with stress that works for you.  Implement it into your life and protect that time.  It will help prevent a potential wipeout as we ride this crazy wave of life.

Cheers!
Nick

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Enter the Entrepreneur..."HIYA!"

"If you want to learn to swim, jump into the water.  On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you."  - Bruce Lee



I thought about this quote yesterday at my son's swimming lesson (which I had protected on my calendar because I can).  He was scared going into the class because his normal instructor wasn't there.  He cried a bit but just continued to march forward with the substitute.   My son jumped into the water.  So proud of his bravery.

There is an element of bravery in starting a business as well.  It is scary.

I talked about starting Divvy Investments for over 5 years.  I read countless books about entrepreneurship.  I wrote several iterations of what I thought was the perfect professional business plan (all of which have been replaced by some chicken scratchings that I use as a loose guide).  I went to grad school.

The fact of the matter is that until I landed in the water I had no clue how to swim.  I am a long ways away from Michael Phelps but I can at least float, keep my head above water, and make it to the side when running the business.  I've learned more about business in the past several months than I learned in the previous 10 years.  Not from strategizing over a pint or two.  Not from books.  I jumped in the water and started a business.

I recently had the good fortune of being accepted to demo at the Innovate Raleigh Innovatours showcase and CED Tech Venture Conference (both in September).  I know next to nothing about effective ways to demo a company at an event.  Both are important events in the start up community and an opportunity to learn a lot more.  When I got accepted it was a bit of a HOORAY/oh sh*t  moment for both, excitement and fear rolled into one emotion.  The only way to learn how to swim is to jump in the water, right..."Cannonball!!!"

(this is where you imagine Bruce Lee destroying a 400 page business plan with his nunchucks)

Cheers!
Nick

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Divide and Conquer (only in my head I guess...)

Today is one of those days where being a solopreneur is exciting and crazy rolled into one.  There are a lot of tasks piling up in the different departments of the company.  There are decisions to be made and execution on them needs to take place.  Things are moving forward quickly, which is a good problem to have as startup.  Inertia.  Momentum.

One of the cool things about being a solopreneur is being able to make decisions and move forward quickly.  At the same time there are times it would be nice to bounce things off of teammates and make a collective decision.  There are lots of people around that are willing to advise and listen, but ultimately the decisions sit with me.

With a team, you can divide and conquer.  Without a team, you have to create an imaginary one.

On a sheet of paper, I created a column for each department (legal, IT, support, finance, sales/marketing...) and listed out the tasks under each that I know about.  I'm trying to spend as much time on tasks that are important but not urgent.  The tasks that are important and urgent (the fires) tend to take priority as they are blazing.  Act and move on.  Listing them all out like that helps me prioritize my time.

That's all for today.  I need to go deal with the head of finance.  He is being sort of a jerk about spending money...

Cheers!
Nick

Friday, August 7, 2015

Community- The Triangle

Shortly after I left the corporate world there was a startup event at The Carolina Theatre in Durham.  It was the first event I attended as an entrepreneur.  As an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert (depending on the day) I went into it with the expectation of just trying to learn a bit about the startup community in the Triangle and figure out how it all fit together.  I'd sit back, observe, and find out what made the people around me tick.

The event was a pitch competition (Rise of the Rest) put on by Steve Case (founder of AOL).  A handful of companies got up on stage and gave their pitch to a few judges.  The judges then deliberated for a few minutes afterwards an awarded $100k investment on the spot to the winner (Congrats ArchiveSocial!).

Whoa!  Super Cool intro to the startup world!  I was impressed by all of the companies that presented yet quickly realized I was a long ways away from where they were standing.  At this point I really just had an idea and a tax ID number.

I "worked the room" for a bit of networking.  Ok I actually just spoke to the people who were seated right around me (Neuro, Mati, Windsor Circle, and Stealz).  Pure luck where I happened to sit.  A lot of passion in that group and all of them shared a sliver of their stories with me.

I left pretty energized.  It was hard not to be energized just being in that room.  One thing stuck with me as I drove back to the burbs.  Steve Case mentioned that he liked coming here because the Triangle was different than all the other places he went.  He said there was a real sense of community here and a desire to help other startups succeed.  That is what separated us and why there have been so many success stories around the area.  It wasn't the cutthroat market that some other places were.

Truth be told when I heard him say that I pictured a rock star telling every city on the tour that they were the best, occasionally forgetting what city they were in.  "Boston, you guys are the best!  (sir, we're actually in NYC right now).  I mean, NYC you guys rock harder than everyone!"

Fast forward a few months... I was wrong to be a cynic about that.  Steve Case was 100% spot on with his comment.  Since that day I've reached out to dozens of business owners and people who helped build businesses (some of which I had very loose connections with).  Every single one of them was willing to give me some time to pick their brain about what made them successful and how they overcame various challenges.

To expand on that even further, I recently was accepted into HQ Raleigh.  I go there part time to feed off the energy and learn from people who are going through the startup phase at the same time.  The people there are amazing, willing to help and encouraging others to do the same.

Don't get me wrong, all of the people I've met with are laser focused on their businesses but they are willing to carve out some time to pay it forward because someone did it for them.  There really is a sense of community in the startup world in the Triangle area.  That is important.  Really important.  As a solopreneur you need those people just to stay sane.

Cheers!
Nick

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Mentorship- The Schedulefly Crew

 A couple years ago (in a prior life) I took over an account called Schedulefly (www.schedulefly.com).  I did my usual research on the web prior to the intro call.  I was more excited for this intro call than the 150 I had already done.

Right off the bat it was clear that this was not your everyday company trying to grind out every last dollar from their customers.  It is a small company with a cool, easy to use scheduling software for independent restaurants.  They had carved out a niche in a small corner of the world with an army of loyal customers and appeared to be growing.

I was really impressed after the initial call.  These guys were laid back and passionate about what they were doing.  It was a breath of fresh air in the otherwise stuffy business world.  They quickly became one of my favorite accounts to work with just because I was so interested in learning more about their business.

I used a lot of Marriott points that week.
I wonder if I could write them off as a business expenses now...
Fast forward a bit to a beach trip I took with my family.  My better half allowed me to carve out some time to meet with a couple of the guys from Schedulefly, not because they were an account of mine but because she knew how interested in their business I was.  A couple of the Schedulefly Crew live near the beach where we were staying.


We had lunch (and maybe a few beers), discussed technology for about 30 minutes, and discussed carving out a niche business in a corner of the world for over 2 hours.  I left completely blown away!  These guys had it all figured out (balance, passionate about their business and its customers, customers who were raving fans...) and were willing to share their time with me.

I left that lunch super motivated knowing that I was going to start a business and saw first hand what I wanted it to look like.  The picture was clearer than ever (I had talked about it for years but had trouble seeing what it looked like).

One of the first calls I made as I was leaving the corporate world was to Wes, the guy who started Schedulefly.  He was super excited for me and shared a few more success nuggets with me, including a book called Rework that would help me focus on simplicity.

Since then I've reached out to a few of the Crew for guidance on a variety of topics.  They are always quick to respond and willing to help.  Really they are just being themselves, a handful of good dudes who are doing what they love in the way they want to do it.  To me though, they have been great mentors.  Not in the Tuesdays with Maury sense, but in a way that shows me what's possible, keeps me on track, and confirms (at least to me) that I'm not completely crazy.

Thanks Schedulefly Crew.

Cheers!
Nick

P.S.  If you're in the independent restaurant business, you should check them out (www.schedulefly.com).