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Ramblings of a first time startup founder

Unfocused Founders Yield Unfocused Startups

Unfocused Founders Yield Unfocused Startups

It’s been a little while since I made my first post on why I quit my job to go full-time on my startup. Over the past three months I’ve learned and experienced a ton, felt the often extreme highs and lows of startup life, and learned a little bit more about myself. Creating something new and running a startup will stress you both mentally and physically.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had to face is the concept of “focus”. Sure, you might be thinking that as entrepreneurs we’re naturally focused on the problems we’re solving, but that only helps at the macro level. At the micro level, we face everyday challenges and opportunities that can easily derail momentum and do more harm than good. How often have you come up with new ideas on partnerships, revenue streams, features, customer segments, or design changes? Suddenly, these new ideas seem like the ideal approach and that we should just throw away what we already developed to concentrate our efforts on some new, shiny object. This is especially relevant for a small team like ours where the most valuable resource is time. I know I’ve been guilty of this more times than I can count. I’m not saying that gathering feedback and iterating is wrong, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Getting feedback is great, because it shows that people actually care enough about what you’re working on to provide input; whether it be customers, advisors, or partners. It’s just that it’s all too easy to be attracted to something new and exciting and to ignore the progress that you’ve already made.

So how do we focus our efforts and still keep an open mind on what else we could be doing to make our companies more successful? I’ve found that by identifying our medium to long term goals and optimizing on my current efforts to achieve those goals resulted in the most success. Unless I’ve received an overwhelming amount of feedback or data showing negative results, I’ll continue to stay focused on my current execution. We should always be validating our assumptions and adapting fast, but there needs to be some overall goal or trajectory. An example that comes to mind is a potential customer of ours who wanted certain functionality that would work quite well for his type of events, but wouldn’t fit well into the larger context of what kind of events our platform is geared towards. It was quite tempting to throw in this functionality in hopes of gaining a larger distribution, but then I evaluated how it fit into our current product, roadmap, and overall direction we wanted to go. In the end, we didn’t incorporate the functionality because it didn’t align with the three items I just mentioned and was not validated by our current customers. Who knows, we may incorporate it someday, but because our focus currently lies elsewhere, we’re sticking to what’s working. I’m getting better with stayed focused, but it’s not always easy to avoid that new, shiny object.

I’d love to hear how you stay focused!

October 15, 2013 CommentsRead More
Why I Quit My Job To Go Full Time On My Startup Weekend Venture

Why I Quit My Job To Go Full Time On My Startup Weekend Venture

If you were offered an opportunity to do something you love every day even though the odds for success were heavily skewed against you, would you go for it?

I recently had to make this decision and it was one of the toughest i’ve ever made. I had two options: continue a career path that provided amazing long-term opportunities and stability or pursue a unique opportunity as a co-founder at a technology startup that provides no stability, more than doubles the number of working hours, and pays nothing.

Spoiler alert: I went for it.

It all started about eight months ago when I went to Startup Weekend Tampa. Being relatively new to the Tampa Bay area, my expectations were to dip my toe into the startup community and make a few connections. What happened next was completely unexpected…

During the 54 hour event I pitched an idea called EXMO, built a team, iterated on the idea, gathered feedback and spoke to potential customers. When it was all said and done, we gave the final pitch on Sunday evening where we won first place. To make things even crazier, since we won a Startup Weekend event during Global Entrepreneurship Week, we were entered into the Global Startup Battle. We only had 24 hours to create a 90 second video for the contest. We somehow ended up scripting, shooting, and editing the video in 7 hours. While we ultimately lost, it was a great experience. At the time of the weekend, the idea for EXMO was to be better connect people at events (conferences, conventions, seminars, etc.) and keep them aware of what’s going on, all while making the event organizer’s job easier.

Shortly after the event and the contest madness, the team shrunk from six down to two.  Over the course of the months that followed we started building the product and were able to get an early version on iOS out the door for a local event. We received great feedback and that’s when we knew we were onto something. For the months that followed that event, we continued to roll out new features, made an android app, and released a completely self-service web app for event organizers. This all culminated into our public beta announcement onstage at the following Startup Weekend Tampa in June. Since then EXMO has powered dozens of events from Florida to California. We’re continuing to test the platform, roll out new features, and spread the word. Currently, we are working towards our big public debut at the end of September and are trying to get some sleep in every now and then. We’ve completely bootstrapped the venture (only $2300 spent to date!) and have already started turning revenue.

So why did I turn down the safe path for a risky one? There are a multitude of reasons, but I believe they ultimately boil down to a few main themes:

Impact – We’re working on building a product from the ground up that could potentially impact millions of people. To me, that is nothing short of fascinating and I want to make that happen.

Passion – Being passionate about something is more than just a phrase. The reality is that passion is a prerequisite. I wake up each morning knowing that this is a problem I want to solve. There are great days and there are terrible days, but it’s my passion that keeps me going.

Experience – In my short time as a startup founder I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is more about the journey then the outcome. I’ve been exposed to challenges and opportunities that have impacted my life, both professionally and personally.

Learning – I’ve always been a big proponent of continuous learning. Running a startup takes everything you have and in return you will learn things that no classroom could ever teach you. I want to learn everything from how to effectively pitch investors to building an amazing user experience. Knowing that the harder I work, the more I learn motivates me.

People – Getting involved in the startup community is a unique experience in itself. Learning, getting feedback, and asking for advice from like-minded people is a powerful thing. The relationships I’ve built are invaluable and I look forward to creating more.

Outcome – I know that at the end of this journey I will come out a wiser, more experienced person. While yes, the potential financial rewards of starting a company are nice, I’m intrinsically motivated to make this venture a success.

It’s worth citing that some of the skills and experiences I gained from my prior employer helped get me to where I am today.  I’m a little over a year removed from college, but I’m quite fortunate to have gotten the start that I did at my prior employer. I was in an intense leadership development program at an outstanding organization. The people were great, the culture was fantastic, and the opportunities were plentiful.

But at the end of the day, I still had a drive, no an urge, to do more. While I planned to start a venture sometime after the program, I couldn’t turn down the opportunities in front me. I won Startup Weekend Tampa, built an amazing network in the Tampa Bay area, had great advisors, partnered with an amazing technical co-founder, and found a problem I wanted to solve. I always told myself to wait for the right moment to start a venture, but in life sometimes there isn’t a right moment. Entrepreneurship has been a part of my family for generations and I’ve had the bug since I was a young child. I believe that if you’re confident in your team and their abilities, you can achieve anything. I’m confident in what we’re capable of and know we can make an impact.

While I fully understand the risks of my decision, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was ECSTATIC for what awaits. Taking a leap like I just did requires a person to be completely honest with their self; they must leave any form of an ego at the door. With that said, I’m giving myself one year to either start turning significant revenue or raise funding. Failure is very real and statistically is the most probable outcome (9 out of 10 startups fail). While failures are learning opportunities, I plan to do everything possible to make this venture a success.

I’m 100% vested in this venture and am pursuing my passion. I’ve significantly downsized my lifestyle (no income), turned down the opportunity to live in the heart of NYC in corporate housing for my former employer, and moved into a 3 bedroom house with another tech startup founder. I’m completely committed and am putting myself in an environment that will help provide the catalyst to really get things going with EXMO. Ultimately, this was a huge decision that will have an even larger impact on my life. I consulted dozens of people from family to local entrepreneurs to people I barely know, all to get straightforward advice on whether or not I should take the leap. Surprisingly enough, over 70% of them were supportive of the move. Now I’m on the other side; I’ve made the jump. The best part? I now have 168 hours in a week that I get to decide how I want to spend on building the company. Even after all the sleepless nights, endless hours of testing, sales calls, design mockups, and demos, I love it more and more every day.

EXMO is on a mission to make events easier to organize and more interactive through mobile apps and activity walls.

Throughout my journey, I’ll be using this blog to share my insights as a first time startup founder. You can also keep up with our progress at www.getEXMO.com

Let’s do this!

-Todd

August 30, 2013 CommentsRead More
Howdy!

Howdy!

Hi There!

My name is Todd Goldberg and I’m the new guy on the block. I recently became a Co-Founder at EXMO and I’ll be using this blog to share my experiences and lessons learned as a technology startup founder. EXMO makes events easier to organize, more engaging for attendees, and provides measurable ROI for sponsors. In my free time (ha) I enjoy working out, learning about new technologies, traveling, and reading the occasional book on entrepreneurship.

I’m looking forward to this blog and I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

Cheers!

-Todd

August 8, 2013 Comments