Scrappiness Helped These 3 Entrepreneurs Succeed

After reading several articles about the “draconian” cost-cutting measuressome heavily funded Silicon Valley startups are facing — such as cutting out company chefs and perks — I am reminded that startup life may look very different from one company to another. I am also reminded that while capital is vital for survival, too much of it can prevent founders from being hungry enough to be scrappy.

Last October, Raju Narisetti, Senior Vice President of Growth and Strategy at NewsCorp, posted a tweet with a rather scathing list of ways startups fake innovation:

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It was such a stark contrast to the way we launched our own startup or the way my cofounders launched or operated their previous startups, that his post actually inspired me to begin a list of entrepreneurs who took bootstrapping and being scrappy to a new level.

One Computer, One Bedroom and One Annoyed Girlfriend

Today, TYT Network is said to be the largest online news show in the world — with 215 million views (that’s almost 1,000 years of viewing time) each month. But the early days of developing that online presence were anything but glamorous for founder Cenk Uygur.

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Cent Uygur, Founder, TYT Network

“We did the show out of my living room for over a year. It was a one bedroom apartment, so my girlfriend would sometimes come out in her bathrobe in the middle of the show,” says Uygur. “She would also ask in the middle of the program when we were going to be done — because we were using the only computer in the house and she needed to write a paper.”

And when TYT Network’s launch party in 2006 ended up being poorly attended, Uygur refused to toss the leftover food. “We were so poor. I didn’t want to waste any of the money we had spent on that party, so I ate the sandwiches and finger food from the party for the next month.”

He adds, “Food poisoning is the least you can do to get your company off the ground.”

Bootstrapping the online news network also created challenges when interviewing guests. “We would sometimes have guests come into our “studio” only to find out that is my living room. I’m pretty sure a couple of them thought that we were going to kidnap them and hold them for ransom once they saw that dingy apartment off of Sunset.”

Today, the Young Turks Network, has an easier time attracting guests. Their recently broadcast one-on-one interview with Bernie Sanders generated more than 640,000 live views on YouTube and Facebook and more than 1 million views in less than 24 hours.

Scrappy Travelers: Gaming the Gaming Industry

Byfar, one of the most creative approaches to funding business travel was shared by Shaun Abrahamson, the CEO and Co-Founder of the civic tech venture firm Urban.Us:

George Heinrichs says that he and his cofounders struggled in their early days of bootstrapping their new startup, SCC Communications, to fund the expensive trips required to demo their technology to potential clients of their startup which sold large systems to government agencies.

“We always gave them a choice: Cleveland, St Paul, Nashville, Las Vegas. They almost always picked Las Vegas,” says Heinrichs. “This was in the days before all the tracking systems implemented by the casinos, and we figured out it we took $5,000 out of our checking account (which was a lot of money to us).”

“We bought chips and then traded them in immediately at a different window. They would flag us as big gamblers and would comp our rooms and meal. We did that for a couple of years just to keep the darn company afloat with all the travel and the long sales cycles.”

Heinrichs has since retired from the company and now invests in other startups.

Founder, CEO (and Part-Time Janitor)

When Alexa von Tobel founded LearnVest, a fintech company based in New York City aimed at making financial planning ‘affordable, accessible and delightful’, her office space was not quite up to par with some of the fancier digs of other startups.

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Alexa Von Tobel, Founder, LearnVest

“During the early days of LearnVest, our office was part of a co-working space that wasn’t exactly beautiful. This was pre-WeWork or any of the trendy spaces that exist today,”says von Tobel.

“Before any major meeting, I would scrub the bathroom floor tiles, wipe down the walls and mirrors, arrange flowers in our shared bathroom … anything I could do to make it feel the teensiest bit more professional — and clean. Entrepreneurs joke that they’ll do any job to get the company off the ground, but I literally cleaned the bathrooms.”

Von Tobel raised nearly $75 million in financing for LearnVest before being acquired by Northwestern Mutual in May, 2015, in one of the biggest fintech acquisitions of the decade.

This article originally appeared on Inc.

 

 

Are Women Entrepreneurs Better Off Than A Year Ago?

APPCityLife cofounder and COO, Lawrence Abeyta: Tech Fiesta ABQ Women In Technology Luncheon 2014 © Gabriella Marks

APPCityLife cofounder and COO, Lawrence Abeyta: Tech Fiesta ABQ Women In Technology Luncheon 2014 © Gabriella Marks

During yesterday’s second annual NMTC-WIT Luncheon, a reporter in the audience asked the panelists if things were getting any better for women.

In an article published this year in ForbesGeri Stengel predicted that 2014 would be the breakout year for women entrepreneurs. “While the number is still small —  nearly 20% of angels in 2012 invested in women-led businesses — the percentage grew more than 40% from the previous year, according to the Center of Venture Research, which studies early-stage equity financing for high-growth ventures. Even venture capitalists have increased their support of women-led companies. It’s still paltry, but the percentage of VC deals going to women-led businesses was 13% in the first half of 2013. That’s nearly a 20% jump over 2012, according to Pitchbook, a venture-capital research firm.” Encouraging statistics that point to better opportunities ahead. But the real question is, as individuals, do we see new possibilities or more of the same status quo?

The answers from the luncheon’s diverse panel of men and women, including our own COO at APPCityLife, varied from some panelists seeing no change at all to a few answers that, yes, things have changed. As a female CEO, I am well aware of New York Time‘s annual report that of the top 200 highest paid chief executive officers, only two are women. I’ve also seen first-hand at least one venture capital door close because of gender. I could easily see the glass as 87% to 95% empty (the percentage of venture capital currently funneled into male-founded companies in the US).

I choose to see it differently. In my experience over the past year, I’ve seen both significant and subtle changes that make me believe there is more respect, opportunities, and equality for women founders than ever before. Despite a few fairly disheartening experiences with investors, I’ve also found passionate support from others. Our company raised almost $500,000 in angel and family fund investments over the past twelve months, and we’ve been selected as one of only ten New Mexico companies invited to pitch for a larger round of investment at the upcoming Deal Stream Summit. Because of our focus on solving problems in the civic space, I’ve had the incredible privilege of being invited to meet with leaders from around the globe and participate in discussions about civic innovation. And I have yet to find an instance where my gender created any barrier of entry into any office when I’ve reached out to civic leaders – even in some of the biggest urban centers in the US.

But more than anything else, the topics of discussion at the luncheon were a strong indicator to me of just how far we’ve come as a community in New Mexico. Last year’s luncheon opened with the very uncomfortable topic of the jerk tech apps pitched from the stage of TechCrunch Disrupt. Almost the entire hour of conversation last year was focused on the unfairness, the bias, and the simmering anger of those who’d been passed over, ignored, and not taken seriously simply because of their gender. This year’s luncheon definitely covered some of the same challenges – the funding disadvantage, the challenge at being taken seriously – but what inspired me most was the questions that had to do with the real meat of running a business. Those questions were new. Topics ranged from the value of having Non Disclosure Agreements and Employment Contracts to implementing sales channels for international businesses. Instead of simply focusing on the problems women face, the panelists were able to share valuable insight and knowledge that were real takeaways for the rest of the crowd.

Perhaps the only reason we were able to focus on questions about business and expertise this year is because we did address the more uncomfortable topics in the past year. But I, for one, am heartened by the notion that as women, perhaps we’ve come to the place were the conversation can begin to change from how do we let women in at all to how do we help more women grow international, high growth companies.

It’s certainly what I and my cofounders have set out to do, and I am inspired by the growing support and opportunities making that more and more possible.

This was originally published on Huffington Post.

Identifying 3 Types of Negativity That Prevent Success

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When I think of negativity, I am always reminded of a man I’ll call Joe. It was the late 80’s, my husband was fresh out of college and working at a tech startup. We were attending his first official holiday party and visiting with several of his colleagues when Joe joined our group.When I think of negativity, I am always reminded of a man I’ll call Joe. It was the late 80’s, my husband was fresh out of college and working at a tech startup. We were attending his first official holiday party and visiting with several of his colleagues when Joe joined our group.

Joe had an empty wine glass in one hand, and by the volume of his voice, I was pretty sure it wasn’t his first drink of the night. He thrust his other hand out at me and said, “Hi. I’m Joe.”

I shook his hand, and, making polite small talk, asked him what he did for the company.

“Not a damn thing,” he replied, loud enough for two of the company’s founders to turn around and take note.

After some nervous laughter on my part, Joe continued, “I haven’t done a damn thing here since 1986.”

The Complainer

We quickly made our escape, but I listened to Joe as he moved from group to group complaining about the projects he was being assigned and just how underused his many talents were in his current position. Joe was obviously not satisfied in his job, but it was also obvious that he enjoyed the attention he gained from complaining and making shocking statements about his plight. He’d found just enough pleasure in complaining that it kept him from taking action to change his situation.

Whether or not we’re like Joe – making just enough bluster to avoid facing difficult change – here are two more types of negativity that will hold us back from realizing our dreams.

The Fault Finder 

One of the easiest ways to avoid facing the scary parts of ourselves is to focus on the faults of others. When we feel inadequate, it can be a lot easier to tear someone else down to our level than to acknowledge our own insecurities and figure out how to move forward. In the best-selling book Wonder Women: How Western Women Will Save the World, we find this advice: “If you feel jealous or envious, examine the reasons why you are experiencing that emotion instead of projecting your negative feelings onto her choices.”

Listen to yourself the next time you’re sitting with a group of your peers. Do you gossip about someone who isn’t there? Do you find reasons why someone else’s success, award, or promotion isn’t due to their hard work? Are you the one with a quick quip, a snarky joke about others? If so, you may be using negativity to cover up feelings of inadequacy or envy, and when we’re focusing on why someone else shouldn’t be getting ahead, we’re preventing ourselves from moving forward. What is it that you’re afraid will happen if you go for an opportunity? What’s the worst that can happen? We can live through humiliation, defeat, or losing – and we usually find that we are the better for it. But it is really hard to live with the disappointment we feel when we hold back from taking risks that could move us ahead.

The Problem Solver

One of the most effective ways to mask negativity is to wrap it in the guise of solving problems. We all need to have the voice of reason as part of what we listen to, but if you find yourself continually offering advice on why something won’t work, you might need to take a step back. If your voice of reason usually results in not taking a step forward, not trying something before all of the wrinkles are ironed out, then you might want to ask yourself if fear of failure is behind the litany of negativity. While we must be willing to see the pitfalls that we might not have considered, we should also embrace Thomas Edison’s attitude when he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Despite the trend among some in startup culture who celebrate failure as some kind of badge honor, it shouldn’t be celebrated. It can make us cavalier about the costs associated with failing. But neither should failure be so feared that it paralyzes us. Failure is part of the process, and we have to be prepared to get back up and find a different way around a problem if we want to find success. When we focus on the ways something hasn’t worked, it is so much more difficult to see the possibility of success. If we find a better balance between hopefulness and negativity when solving problems, we’ll be better equipped to move forward with the appropriate preparation to find success.

I well remember a moment in my own journey when negativity just about derailed not only my own happiness but also my family’s. Despite flourishing as a wife, stay-at-home mom, and writer, the regret of quitting college – especially the regret of wasting what my father had worked so hard to pay for – it ate at me. When my youngest enrolled in school, I decided it was time to go back to school and finish my degree. But it soon became clear that our little family needed me to be more present. Although I knew it was the best choice, it didn’t keep me from spending a great deal of energy feeling sorry for myself.

And then I remembered the words of my great-grandmother, “Your pity party will never make you happy, and it won’t make anyone else feel sorry for you. It’s your job to find your own gumption, so figure out to be happy with what you have.” I made the conscious choice to see this change in my plans as a new opportunity to spend more time with my children. Not only was my family happier, but I was, too. And I found that when I finally started pursuing my own career a few years later, I had absolutely no regrets. A couple of years before my father passed away, he told me how proud he was of me. I learned that his approval didn’t depend on a piece of paper but in finding a way to let go of the negativity of regret and fear and in finding courage to pursue a different path to success.

Three Traits of Highly Successful Women Entrepreneurs

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Hautepreneurs Cofounders Jessica Eaves Mathews and Lisa Abeyta

I recently had breakfast with a group of women, all owners of their own businesses, board members on multiple charities, active volunteers in their community, and mothers who volunteered at their children’s schools – by all standards highly successful women. These women had already found success while living in one of the poorest states in the US and were gathered for the sole purpose of launching a nonprofit to lift up other women not yet equipped to create their own success. The ladies sharing breakfast that morning were smart, creative, and driven. But there was also a commonality of three other significant traits that helped them find success.

If you are wondering what it takes to lift your own career to the next level or to find the courage to launch out on your own, you might cultivate these three traits many successful women possess.

Be Generous

While it might make for a more interesting stereotype, truly successful women are not usually greedy. Sure, they put in incredible hours with the purpose of building a highly profitable business, but, by and large, these women are also generous. Earlier this year at an event honoring women who had been named the most influential in our state, a reporter asked me what it meant to be influential. My response was that influence is nothing more than a tapestry of relationships where individuals have supported or helped each other in some way. Influence is a result of being generous and accessible, not something that grows from serving self.

I well remember the first time I reached out to Joanne Wilson, the author of the popular blog Gotham Gal, and a renowned angel investor who focuses much of her efforts on investing in and supporting other women. I wasn’t finding the help I needed in my own back yard and decided to be brave and ask for advice. She wrote back almost immediately, not only to share advice but with an offer to introduce me to a friend that she thought might help. She offered expecting nothing in return, likely cognizant that there wasn’t anything I could give back in exchange. Not long after, I applied to an incubator for women in mobile, and while our company was not chosen to participate, the founder, Kelly Hoey, reached out to encourage me to continue my efforts. I not only gained a deep respect and sense of gratitude because of the generosity of these successful women, I understood the value of being accessible. When I am now asked to mentor, to speak at an event, to go to coffee, I do what I can to make it happen. I take time to mastermind with other women business owners, realizing that our collective experience and knowledge is of so much greater value in growing our businesses than working in silos in the same city.

If you want be successful, learn to be generous with your time, your efforts, your knowledge. This does not mean you let others take advantage of you or that you agree to so much that you’re overwhelmed and left with no time to meet your own goals; it means you give when and where you can provide value without expecting anything in return. The interactions will likely bring more value than you realize at the time.

Be Fearless

There was a pivotal moment I had as a woman entrepreneur that taught me the lesson of being fearless. I was sitting alone in our board room with a potential business partner. We had already met numerous times, completed due diligence, and all that was left was to negotiate terms. He knew I had my back against the wall with several looming deadlines that were dependent on outside help, and he was counting on this being my weakness. What he didn’t count on was my understanding that if I agreed to his predatory terms, I would be setting our company up for eventual failure anyway. In the end, I walked away. It was the scariest decision I’d ever made, because it wasn’t just my future but the future of every person who’d believed in my vision enough to work alongside me. Within days, we developed a solution that not only avoided a bad partnership but assured our independence moving forward.

If you want to climb higher in your career, don’t let your fear rule your decisions. Be brave, take calculated risks, learn to say no when you know you should, even if it is the scariest thing you’ve ever done.

Be Intuitive

It just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes, even when it isn’t apparent what specifically is right or wrong with an opportunity, we need to trust our intuition. When we do, we often make choices that prevent future difficulties. A fellow entrepreneur was recently weighing a partnership opportunity, worried what she would miss if she passed it up. Despite the upside, she expressed that something about it just didn’t feel right. Eventually, she followed her instinct and turned down the offer. Not long afterward, news broke that several legal problems were uncovered in the business she’d been considering for a partnership. Instead of a missed opportunity, she’d avoided serious consequences.

Intuition can also move us to leap quickly when we know it’s right. I founded my second company with my current cofounder by the end of our first lunch together. Her vision and values aligned with mine, and I knew in my gut that this was the right move. We formed the company within a day, and over a year later, I can still say it’s been one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made. One of the best measures that I’ve learned to trust is this: when it’s wrong, it won’t feel right event when it looks good on the surface; when it’s right, there is joy even when the going gets hard.

Success isn’t just about moving up in your career or making money. It’s learning what you can accomplish by facing your fear, making hard choices, being generous with others, and learning to trust yourself.

 

Pioneering Women in Venture Capital: Kathryn Gould

“Make unconventional choices that fit YOUR OWN aspirations.”

Steve Blank

I met Kathryn Gould longer ago than either of us want to admit. Kathryn has been the founding VP of Marketing of Oracle, a successful recruiter, a world class Venture Capitalist, a co-founder of a Venture Capital firm, a great board member, one of my mentors and most importantly a wonderful friend. During her career she made a big point of not telling you: she was one of the first women Venture Capitalist’s in Silicon Valley (along with M.J. Elmore and Ann Winblad) – “I’m just a VC.”  Or one of the first women co-founders of a VC firm – “I co-founded a great firm.” She was twice as smart and just as tough as the guys. She has been a mentor and role model not just for a generation of women VC’s and CEO’s but for all VC’s and CEO’s – and I’m honored to have been one…

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Midnight Musing: Opposition

It is a rude awakening to discover that there are those who would find greater joy in our failure than our success. But finding a path to success in the face of opposition builds self-assuredness and inner strength that cannot be found any other way. When we succeed without opposition, the only real enemy is ourselves. When we accomplish our goals despite opposition? That is when the chance of failure is much higher – and the reward even more satisfactory. So don’t be discouraged when you discover those who hope for your failure; use it to strengthen your resolve.

 

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