Top Tech Entrepreneurs Offer Tips on Starting Up
Launching a new technology startup is a major undertaking. It's not for the faint of heart. There'll be plenty of mistakes to deal with, late nights at the office, and a hell of a ride all around. But if you're lucky and do a few things right, maybe you'll still be around next year.
Recently, I facilitated a mastermind weekend with a group of top tech entrepreneurs. All were set to launch new ventures, and none of them seemed to think starting up is a cinch, even though they'd each done it successfully at least once before.
Afterward, I interviewed two of the entrepreneurs in particular -- Dario Meli and Greg Isenberg -- to get their insights about the many layers of launching a new company.
Dario Meli is the CEO of Quietly, a platform for sharing lists and amplifying distribution of digital content. Prior to Quietly, Meli co-founded the popular social media management company HootSuite and was also the founder and CEO of Invoke Media.
Greg Isenberg is founder of 5by, a "video concierge" that helps viewers decide what to watch online. Previously, Isenberg was a partner in Eduvest, which owns a portfolio of stock market education and simulation Web properties, including Wall Street Survivor.
Both entrepreneurs understand the ups and downs of launching successful online ventures in the rapidly changing world of social media and digital content.
Challenge No. 1: Managing resources
Managing limited resources -- and trying to build a successful company with as little as possible -- is one of the biggest hurdles startups face. Depending upon how you manage the dollars and cents, you could have either a short or slightly extended runway.
"Resource crunches hit every tech company, so we're doing everything we can to minimize it," Meli said. "We've already started the process of lining up other resources so we don't have to slow down at all as we scale."
Sometimes this means getting creative.
"Salaries put the biggest holes in your pocket," Isenberg said. "Keep salaries low and invest a portion you'd save on salaries on perks like free lunches, happy hours and going on trips."
Challenge No. 2: Building your team
For an early-stage startup, it's imperative that the team buys into the long-term vision. After all, they're going to need to work hard to make it a reality.
"We don't get down with big egos or attitudes," said Meli. "The best teams I've ever worked with let the product speak for itself."
Egomaniacs could make a work environment hostile, according to both entrepreneurs.
"A startup is delicate as-is, so egomaniacs are a risk to hire," Isenberg said. "I'd rather hire someone less talented but down to earth than a rock star who thinks they're God's gift to the earth."
Challenge No. 3: Raising money
Raising venture capital or angel funds is a path that most entrepreneurs will seek for sustaining their startups at some point. Both Meli and Isenberg have successfully raised funds for their new ventures, but it's one of the hardest jobs of a founder.
"Raising money is never easy, no matter who you are," said Isenberg. "Build a target list of your ideal investors, find out if you know anyone connected to them, and get a warm introduction."
Once you get the meeting, it's about telling your story and finding people who believe in your vision and team.
"When you're pitching," said Meli, "it's an opportunity to read your audience and get some insight, so listen. They see many deals each week, so use that as a lens into the market of what might be coming."
Don't lose sight of what's most important. Keeping your team engaged and excited about the future is a skill necessary for success.
"Make sure you have a great team, with interests aligned and a common, succinct vision," Meli said. "This doesn't mean there can't be deviations along the way, but argue points respectfully and power forward through the challenges."
Also, you have to believe in the mission and keep pushing through.
"Being a founder or early employee at a startup is a beautiful and rewarding experience," said Isenberg. "The highs are high and the lows are low. It's not as romantic as people think it is. It's not like the movie 'The Social Network.'"