Venture Capital Investor Brad Feld on What It Takes to Succeed As an Entrepreneur
Last year, more than 1,400 fledgling companies applied to TechStars, the startup incubator run out of Boulder, Colo., Seattle and Boston.
Exactly 30 of them got in. It's not hard to see why the program is so competitive: Each person admitted gets $6,000 in seed money, a handful of expert mentors and three months to refine a business plan and pitch it to investors. TechStars alumni include the mobile social networking site Brightkite, online artisan food marketplace Foodzie and digital comics community Graphic.ly.
Now two leaders of the program are offering guidance in a new book, Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup. David Cohen, the program's founder and CEO, and Brad Feld, a mentor and managing director of the Foundry Group, a VC firm, have compiled a collection of essays with an insider's take on the good, the bad and the sucky in entrepreneurship. We caught up with Feld to get the scoop on the latest startup bible.
How is your book different?
We wanted to give entrepreneurs--both first-time and experienced--real, first-person accounts that are helpful and instructive. We wanted to get inside entrepreneurs' heads about how they felt about the issues they faced, and what they did about it.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
It's from Yoda, and it's the title of a chapter I wrote: "Do or do not, there is no try." A lot of people say, "I'm going to try to start a company. I'm going to try to be an entrepreneur." And those sentences don't make sense. You have to say, "I'm going to start a company. I'm going to be an entrepreneur." The declarative makes such a difference. It's OK to fail; it happens all the time.
Why is failure OK?
Failure is an integral part of any success. Entrepreneurs will try lots of things--some will work, some won't. "Failing fast"--deciding an idea or approach isn't working, killing it and trying a different one--is required if you want to be successful in the long run.
What's the most common obstacle?
Forgetting to follow through. A lot of people are great at coming up with ideas and starting things, but they struggle to complete them. This could be procrastination, lack of focus, avoidance of conflict or simply "a bunch of balls dropped on the floor." Great entrepreneurs are execution machines. They just get things done.
Not so easy in this economy.
Change your attitude! Entrepreneurs have to be optimistic. It's incredibly difficult to start with nothing and create something out of it. If you're pessimistic, you are immediatelzy stacking the odds against you. Spend time with optimistic people who want to change some part of the world.