How To Find Your Startup Story

Just keep getting the damn words on the page! You're still very early in the process. Even though it may seem like you're been doing a lot of writing you're still in the process of peeling back the layers to understand the larger story you want to tell. The only way to peel is by writing--so keep at it, girlfriend!

This quote is from the instructor of my memoir writing course. I've been writing for about a year and a half but when you're reliving your life, trying to hash out the most important moments to find the real story, it can feel like well---a lifetime. During the class we have opportunities to get feedback on our writing. Although it can be cringe-inducing at times, the feedback is the most valuable part of the experience. People skip over stories you labored over and linger in unexpected places. For a writer, a reader's feedback is critical as it offers the most telling sign of what resonates with your audience, whether you're on the right track or if you need to rip up the floor boards and start again to build the right foundation.

Finding Your Story
Finding the story while writing a memoir is not unlike a startup or small business trying to find the most compelling story they can tell about their value proposition to customers and potential investors. In the beginning it's a bit like a game of hide and seek. First you'll look in one place for the story and then another. It can go on this way for quite a while until you find the story that your audience grabs onto and your business really takes off.

Don't Quit
Don't worry. This is game of hide and seek is just a part of the process to refining your message. Don't give up! Don't wait for the perfect marketing message to appear before approaching your audience. Just keep crafting your story. Find out which parts of the story resonate with your audience. Actively look for the feedback of potential customers and investors. When someone takes an action on your site ask for their feedback. Recently, TechStars Boulder 2012 company 27 Perry, who has just launched their site publicly, contacted me to get my opinion. CEO Kelly James asked thoughtful questions about what appealed to me the most and was open to my thoughts. If she keeps doing this she'll find her story--probably sooner than later.

Just keep crafting and getting feedback. A story that resonates with your audience will emerge. Whatever you do--don't give up. Just keep peeling!

8 Weeks Away From Having To Get A Job

The latest episode of TechStars shows the entrepreneurs at week six of the program. It seems that most of the teams are settling in. This episode was filled with many great sound bite gems. It was the Fred Wilson and David Tisch show in this regard. My favorite is this one...

"They're about 8 weeks away from having to get a job."

I love this quote by David Tisch because it highlights a real problem for most entrepreneurs: having a short runway money-wise. Many, many teams face this dilemma.

Here are a few others...

"Don't make it too complicated." Fred Wilson (about the product)

"He is mind numbingly frustrating." David Tisch (about OnSwipe CEO)

"Do they have the entrepreneurial DNA to create an interesting and innovative company?" Fred Wilson

"I've been disconnected with his ability to relate with me as a person." David Tisch (again, about the OnSwipe CEO)

The Themes of this Episode

1. Name issues continue
This week three of the teams officially change their names. Homefield became Urban Apt transformed to Nestio and Socrated metamorphosed into Veri. Generally better names. The name change of the latter actually made Fred Wilson proclaim that this made them go "from the outhouse to the penthouse." Wiji's name, although not loved, sticks. For now.

2. CEO leadership

This theme showed up all over the show. Particularly questions about whether the CEO's had the right skills to be a great leader. The questions range from whether a CEO can sell, if another one has the ability to connect with people and yet whether another one can really build a business. We'll see the answers to this soon and I suspect at least one or more of these CEO's will pull through.

3. Pivots

According to Bloomberg, 1/3 of TechStars companies pivot during the program. With Homefield and To Vie For looking at pivots it seems this class is on target with this. Some of the mentor's concerns with the Homefield pivot to a web-wide video recommendation site was that it's a crowded category and whether they had false passion for the category. To Vie For was also looking to pivot but to what? That still remains up in the air. As the CEO said, they're having an identity crisis. Looking forward to seeing what happens.

Pivots are common but tough to navigate. And sometimes they're something more akin to what I like to call Startup Schizophrenia under the guise of a pivot. Preparing a post about this. In the meanwhile, pivots are looking very possible for a number of our TechStars companies.

We'll see how this all plays out.

TechStars Ep. #2: Naming and Gaming and Rookies, Oh My!

Warning: Spoilers ahead! Don't read if you don't want to know who's zooming who on the TechStars series.

I watched the show live but DVR'ed it as well so I could watch it again. As you probably know already, TechStars feels like family to me so seeing their name on my DVR list rocks. These guys make the me even more proud to be a member of the tech startup community. The show is really well done and pretty realistic. Props to Bloomberg.

As for my list of shows--yes, I am a romantic at heart who loves romantic comedies and Glee. Who doesn't love a little singing and dancing? Now that that's out of the way. On to my thoughts on the second episode of TechStars on Bloomberg TV.

Let's focus on themes from tonight's show. As the program gets started, this show focused a bit more on some of the potential pitfalls the companies might fall into. So, the themes reflect that. In case you haven't seen the show here it is.


1. Rookie Confidence

The show highlighted this theme nearly from minute one. Many entrepreneurs have tons of confidence when they start their first entrepreneurial venture. You need to have this in order to push through the tough times and take the risks required. Confidence is good, cockiness can get you into trouble at times as the episode shows. As the mentors said a number of times, having humility is super important. Having humility keeps you grounded, realistic and helps you build strong relationships with others. All of the TechStars graduates I know are really humble and down-to-earth so I'm betting some humility will show up soon in these teams as well.

2. Names Matter

Wiji was praised having "great product, humility, boundless passion and energy and something that's really fucking cool" according to mentor Roger Ehrenberg. Which is absolutely true. They're great guys who are wicked smart and created cool technology (I've seen it in action). And, everyone universally hated their name. David Cohen put it on his Top 5 All-Time Worst Names list while Ehrenberg thought it sounded like a disease "Oh, my Wiji."

Yep. Names matter. You've seen all the brouha-ha about the name of Netflix new spin-off Qwikster right? Getting the name right can be tricky but critical. Luckily, the team recognized this and went back to their original name which is pretty solid. Based on the amount of research I had to do to locate these companies using their current names I'm pretty sure we'll see a number of  name changes along the way as well.

Bloomberg Fact: A third of the companies change their name at some point during the program.

3. Know Your Market

Team Home Field was contemplating a switch from a focus and passion for sports to building a media business--an industry they don't know--on the advice of their mentor Fred Wilson. I hear they're doing well so I'm curious to see where they go with this. By the way, eats Reece Pacheco (the CEO of this team) the screen like it's for dinner. He's very compelling to watch.

Both Urban Apt and To Vie For (who has a great name by the way) were also facing the challenge of working in an industry they didn't know well. Being an outsider to an industry can definitely allow you to find fresh new approaches to old problems because your lens isn't jaded or rigid. But if not careful, you can shoot your business right in its bottom line. Thinking you can change an industry from the outside sometimes comes from naivete. Other times it's more arrogance. And sometimes, you really can. You have to learn the balance between a fresh perspective and relevant knowledge of the market. I think some of these teams have the chance to do this.

I love what David Tisch (loosely) said about this: You have to know how to do it and why you're the one to do it."

4. Gaming is a BIG Trend

At least two of the companies talked about it tonight (To Vie For and Socrated). Although they knew adding this dimension would help their company, neither was very experienced with it. This prompted Gary Vaynerchuk to really, really, really, really, really, really highly suggest Socrated get an advisor on their board who has experience with companies like Zynga. That was 6 really's if you're counting. One of my favorite moments of the show. I asked Tisch what he thinks about this trend on the Facebook chat after the show





His answer is spot on. Looking forward to see how these companies use gamification to support their overall goals.

Front Runner So Far?

Wiji. Just to reinforce that? They got to visit their dream mentor and were featured on ABC News today for their Minority Report like view of the future. Super proud of these guys. Looking forward to seeing some of these other companies really start to rock. Although it's not the same as being at the Boulder Theater with everyone, I'll be on my couch next Tuesday cheering at the TV whenever Jason and team comes on the screen.

Props Go To...

All of the teams. I applaud these teams for allowing a camera to follow them around documenting their TechStars experience. Startups are hard at their foundation. Add a challenging program like TechStars and a camera on top of that? That's gotta be a pretty intense experience. I'm grateful they were willing to put themselves and their companies out there so we can learn from them. Well done all.

Things That Are Macgyvered #68

If you know me at all you know that my dad is engineer who finds it fun to rig things together so that they work better. One day when he was visiting I came home to find every cord in my house duct-taped down and fixed the broken spring on the lid of my garbage can with a paper clip. True story. Lie detector me.

Although this makes me blush I have to admit that I am just like my father. In this regard. I do not wear pocket protectors. I love to Macgyver things. It's a fun and useful skill. I once received a bracelet that didn't fit right so instead of getting rid of it I Macgyvered it by making it a necklace for my Buddha. Problem solved. I've been known to attach a heating pad to my back with a binder clip so that I could still work. I've even Macgyvered a bad dating situation. My definition is anything that helps you get out of a sticky situation.

Macgyvering is really more of a spirit than the letter type of thing.

Given the number of times I tweet, say this word or take photos of things that are Macgyvered I thought I'd start a new type of post.

Things That Are Macgyvered

Macyvering is not always linear.  So although this is actually the first post, in the spirit of Macgyvering all things I'm calling it #68. Who knows? Maybe the next post will be #3. The inspiration for this inaugural post came from my friend Chris (aka Ruckus on the Twitters). Since they didn't have an accurate name tag for his needs at the TechStars Smackdown last night he Macgyvered one to suit his purposes. Well done my friend.

As you can see by my friend's ingenuity you don't have to be able to diffuse an explosive device to be a Macgyverer. If you got out of a sticky situation, that counts as a Macgyver in my book. And I know there are plenty of examples of Macgyvering in the startup world.

Have a picture or story of something you've Macgyvered? 

Send it along--I'd love to share it.