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TimeHop is awesome and very clever service. If you are unfamiliar, go sign up and check it out, but the basic premise is that they send you an email summarizing what you were doing on this day last year by pulling from your old social feeds. Pretty sweet, right?

The other day I was reading my TimeHop email and got to thinking how crazy of a year it has been for me. Last year at this time I had a two month old baby at home, I was just leaving my job at Johnson & Johnson, and was wanting to strike it out on my own. It’s funny looking back because I really had no idea what I was doing; I just knew that I was passionate about building something of my own. My best friend Joey and I had made a couple efforts at starting companies, but none had panned out. But we wanted to do it again, and we wanted to do it right.

We heard about a program called TechStars and began looking in it. It seemed like it would be an amazing opportunity for us to get the business started the right way. We are both big believers in mentorship and learning from those that have already done what we want to do, so it seemed like a great match. Little did we know how much it would change the trajectory of our business.

Nicole Glaros, the brave leader of TechStars Boulder, asked us TechStars grads to write up a quick piece on our experience at TechStars to encourage applicants to apply for this summer’s program. So, being the guy that is always striving to be somewhat creative, I thought I would do a little TimeHop exercise with fake tweets from the perspective me and my company this time last year, to where we are today.

Product

Last year: working on our awesome mock ups…this is all you need to raise, right?

This year: getting lots of feedback from our current users and paying customers on the latest release…

Team

Last year: looking at outsource tech dev firms now…we don’t need a tech co-founder, this dev shops are cheap!

This year: holy shit, tech co-founder Bart has built everything! we’d be dead without him.

Customers

Last year: our great idea is about to take off…just need to finish making it and millions will come!

This year: sifting through lots of feedback emails from customers…turns out they have lots of interesting insights…

Fundraising

Last year: just saw Color raised $41m, expecting our check for $50m any day now!

This year: just got off the phone with an awesome investor…lucky to have raised a seed round from such an amazing group!

TechStars

Last year: this TechStars thing seems pretty cool, but giving up 6%? that sounds like a lot, right? probably worth $100m in 2 years…

This year: turns out giving up 6% to build a viable business is nothing…

Ok I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. TechStars was an amazing experience that helped us move the business forward in ways that we could never imagine.

You will get a dose of reality, learn from the best, and have the opportunity to spend 90 days working like an absolute maniac.

It is a blast, you make amazing connections that will help you in so many ways, and I guarantee you will look at it and say it was one of the best summers of your life.

You may not be at the stage that we were at when we applied (read: very green), but that is the best part about TechStars: no matter where you are at, you can get the mentorship you need to dramatically move forward. You’ll learn how to listen to customers, build something people want, manage conflicting advice, pitch your business, and ultimately how to raise some money (if that is what’s right for your business).

Do it - apply today before the deadline on March 16!!

http://apply.techstars.com/

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One of the toughest things about being an early stage entrepreneur is learning how to eat your fair share of humble pie. This comes in many, many forms (believe me), but here are some of the most apparent:

1) You don’t make any money for a long time. When you are starting out as an entrepreneur, you do not have the luxury of taking home any sort of salary. Even after you get some legs under your business in the form of early customers and/or funding, you are not taking any more salary than the absolute minimum you need to get by. As an entrepreneur, you understand that you are taking a big hit in short term monetary compensation for the opportunity to own a large portion of what could (and hopefully will) be a very large asset. Still, it doesn’t mean it is easy to have your social life driven by “what can I do/eat/etc for as little money as humanely possible?” and never “treat” yourself to anything. Note: this is especially tough when you have a beautiful girl by your side like I do, because you want to shower her with gifts, but it just ain’t happening (sorry babe!). To quote a great band:

I want to buy you something

But I don’t have any money….

- The Drums

2) You don’t know shit about shit and the best way to get by that is to ask for help. I was hoping for a more eloquent way to say that, but that seems to be best. I cannot tell you how many times I have people tell me “oh my brother/boyfriend/mom/sister/cousin REALLY wants to start a business - he/she is so full of ideas and would love to talk to you about how you got started!” I always respond the same way: “Sure, here is my email and cell phone, have them reach out at any time, I am more than happy to help.” More often than not, I never hear anything from that person. The reason why is that it kinda sucks to be the guy/girl that is “clueless” and learning the ropes. The problem is that in order to be an entreprenuer, you better get used to be being in that position. People think that because I have a business I now am some wise dude that gets “it,” whatever “it” is. Sure, I think I have a lot better understanding, but I am still “that guy” that is learning and in need of help EVERY DAY. But I have gotten to where I am now because I have no problem being that guy. It’s not easy or comfortable to be that guy, but in order to learn, you gotta hide your pride and be willing to ask for help.

3) Most people have no idea what you do and do not think that being an entrepreneur is cool. I’ve always been fascinated by entrepreneurship, but that is because I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. It’s a huge passion of mine. But most people don’t share that passion. And even more people don’t have any idea about what it is like to be an early stage startup. “Wait, so you do what for who? Why? When are you going to get a real job? Don’t doctors make a lot of money? You aren’t too old yet to go back to Med School!” Many people won’t have any idea why you are starting a business and they won’t look at you like the star you think you are. But the good news is, if you are a real entrepreneur, you won’t care about people like that. Fuck ‘em.

Being an entrepreneur isn’t always glamourous and you need to learn how to deal with things like having no money, no idea what you are doing, and no respect. The good news is once you can accept those things, I guarantee you won’t find anything where you have more fun. 

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I remember a couple years ago, I set out to build a company to sell a fresh salsa recipe that my friend’s mom had created. There will be a post someday about everything that went down with that business, but that day is not today.

The salsa

What strikes me about looking back at the experience is the team. The idea to try to commercialize this recipe came at my buddy’s mom’s house one Memorial Day weekend after a few brewskis. 

The great part about the team that we assembled to launch this product was that we all loved this salsa. I mean we really thought it was the best thing in the world (and I still contest to this day that it may very well be the best thing in the world), and we were all best buddies from college.

The problem was that there were 8 of us. That’s right. Literally 8 cooks in the kitchen trying to build a business around a salsa product. But I’m not talking 8 people working full time; it was 8 people giving their nights and weekends to the cause.

It was a blast. We had an amazing time getting together to go over logo designs, talking about potential sales, packaging, line extensions, our inevitable chip line, etc, etc, etc.

But truth be told, you can’t build a real business at it’s earliest stages with 8 people. There are simply too many opinions. Too many side conversations and projects. Not enough important work to go around.

So my salsa business failed. It was awesome and I’d do it again (just for fun!) but the best part was how much I learned about an early stage team. 

With GoSpotCheck, I think we found the perfect medium. Four people who are working like crazy and making huge impact in incredible ways. And the team is awesome and a ton of fun, so that helps too.

The funny thing about startups is that the work is seemingly never-ending (honestly, you don’t want to see my to-do list) but the amount of people that can meaningfully move the ball forward is very limited.

Early stage companies need people that are overextended and forced to ruthlessly prioritize. They need people that take huge ownership and accountability for what happens. They need people to focus on the absolutely most important things and, maybe even more importantly, not focus on the things that don’t matter. 

So how big of a team does that take? I would say 3-4 is best, but really anything from 1 to 5 can work. After that point, you’ve got too many cooks. You’ll start creating unimportant work that will ultimately distract you and slow you down.

Don’t get too many people involved too early. Focus on building a small, passionate team that will be forced to understand what is really, really important about your business.

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The most difficult part of being a great entrepreneur is having the ability to constantly juggle the day to day minutia with the big picture.

The mountain of small things that come up everyday can be totally consuming. These small things can end up taking a lot of time and can really drain your energy. Your job is to get through these small things while still making sure you are steering the ship in the right direction, and that isn’t easy to do. 

Now this has been said a million times before, but I thought I would offer some advice as to how I try to cultivate this skill everyday.

1) IMMEDIATELY RID YOURSELF OF THE SMALL STUFF: What I mean by this is that you need to take care of the small things (emails, returning phone calls, running payroll, following up on requests, etc) as quick as you can. These small things can very quickly add up to big things and it is in your best interest to get them off your plate. Never underestimate the way that seemingly small tasks can add up and stifle your ability to think about the big picture. No excuses here - the worst thing you can do is to let small things add up. It’s like cleaning a shower - it’s really not that bad if you just take a minute each day, but if you let it go for too long, you gotta commit an afternoon to scrubbing that thing. 

2) DEFINE YOUR VALUES: If you have well defined values it will be the framework for you to make quick decisions and move the ball forward. I often think of the Southwest Airlines case study I read in college where Southwest’s CEO would use their key value “To be the low cost airline” to make decisions quickly and effectively, like whether or not Southwest should offer it’s customers peanuts or not. 

3) STEP BACK: Set some defined time for yourself where you can sit with nothing more than a notebook and a pen and explore different thoughts about your business and market. Be creative. Have fun. This will give you good perspective and help you maintain a clear head, even in the crazy times. Use this time to think outside of the box about the important things. Don’t spend any mindshare on payroll, finances, unreturned phone calls, small features, etc. Instead, focus on the change you are making on the world and how you can do awesome things.

If you make a practice of these three simple things, I guarantee you will develop a better ability to constantly juggle the day to day with the big picture.

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"

You can’t connect the dots looking forward
You can only connect them looking backwards
So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future
You have to trust in something
Your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever
Because believing that the dots will connect down the road
Will give you the confidence to follow your heart
Even when it leads you off the well worn path

And that will make all the difference

"

- Steve Jobs, Stanford Graduation Speech 2005
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Fred Wilson posted an amazing guest post yesterday about a company’s “Minimal Viable Personality.”

As funny as this post was, I think it definitely resonated with lots of people as seen by the 347 comments (as of 7:45am ET on Friday Sep 30).

It got me thinking a lot about what personality can do for a brand. I know the brands I connect with most certainly have a lot of personality:

Chipotle - comedy on cups, close associations with music as long as I can remember, a shying away from mass commercial advertising

Martin Guitars - focus on quality and craftsmanship, amazing customer service, “open” model where anyone can stop by and tour the factory

But the power of a brand’s personality changes as the brand grows. For someone like Chipotle or Martin, their products are well established and they already have a passionate group of customers.

For the young brand, like ours, it takes a lot more work to figure these things out but the good news is that there are advantages to being a small brand.

A young brand has something that a big brand simply cannot have: the ability to closely communicate with a significant portion of it’s user base. 

This is where personality for a new brand comes to be so important. Open and constant communication from a young brand to its early adopters can shape the way that the brand grows.

More importantly, it creates a bond between the early adopters and the brand. This bond can be what allows an up and coming business to screw up a few times (whoops, our app keeps crashing!) and still maintain the support of the users.

Why? Because no longer is the brand some nameless business trying to get you to use their products; the brand is a friend that you are watching grow and want to support.

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Ira Glass from This American Life (one of my favorite radio shows ever) talks about how to overcome the gap between your taste and what you create.

He says there is a phase where what you create will not match up with the standards you have. Basically you think what you create sucks because you have knowledge and passion for the art form you work within and you can tell what you have done isn’t quite there yet.

Unfortunately, this phase of “ok I’ve made something but I think it isn’t any good” can last for years. And even more unfortunate, many people don’t make it through that period of time and never reach satisfaction with their art.

Becoming great at expressing yourself through your medium, whether it is painting, music, writing, or business, takes time. The most important thing you can do is keep going. That’s it. 

Keep creating, keep trying, keep pushing through. Do a huge volume of work. That’s what will get you through.

I think that this point can be lost in the startup world all the time. Our game is one of speed and agility. Yet the thing that rings true more than anything in any form of creative work is that it takes time to become a master. Just ask Malcom Gladwell.

The game of starting a technology business is this: the moves in the game are quick and frequent, but don’t be fooled into thinking it is a short game. No matter what, it takes a concerted effort over a very long period of time to reach success.

I’m aware that I’m at the beginning. I see that as a entrepreneur I’m not as good as I want to be because I love startups and entrepreneurship. What I do know is that I’m working every day to get better and I know that if I keep working as hard as I can, I will get there.

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Good, short interview and the key tenets of innovators.

I sure like to think that we work under these tenets every day at GoSpotCheck. The “test” method of innovation seems especially relevant in our world. 

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GoSpotCheck Blog: Are You in Love with Brands that Don’t Love You Back?

gospotcheck:

I could eat Chipotle twice a day… for reals.

When the first Chipotle opened up in Denver in the mid-90’s, my best friend Matt and I were in HEAVEN! We would trek twenty-five minutes across town to go to, what we will forever refer to as, the original Chipotle’.

THE ORIGINAL!

And…

(via gospotcheck-deactivated20120926)