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.

 

 

Mission Over Impossible: Fueling Resolve

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When Sara Corry entered her yearlong HauteHopes Entrepreneur in Residence program with us in February of 2015, Sara told my Hautepreneurs cofounder, Jessica Eaves Mathews, that her biggest barrier to success was the lack of an e-commerce site to sell her company’s hand-sewn scrubs. Sara’s company, Batiks for Life – Scrubs on a Mission was partnering with another company which would alleviate many of the other barriers to begin working with women in need in Ghana. With the partnership in place, it allowed Sara to focus on her website.

After only a few weeks, the partnership dissolved. Sara now faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds of achieving her goals. Instead, she used her goals as fuel, believing that the significant need of women living in untenable situations was far more important than her new barriers to establishing a permanent sewing cooperative which would teach employable skills to these young mothers living on the streets. Her positive mindset was tested many times during the months she has been in our program, but she turned each difficulty into a stronger resolve to move forward. This past week, Sara finally landed in Ghana. The new Batiks for Life website is not only live but already selling scrubs, and she is now independently launching her sewing cooperative with funds raised by her successful Kickstarter campaign which exceeded its original goal in the first 48 hours.

There is this moment in the experience of every entrepreneur where all seems lost. Whether it is an investor declining to come in on a desperately needed round of funding, a pivotal customer passing on the opportunity, a partnership dissolving or a key team member choosing to leave, every startup faces dark moments when survival looks impossible. But I firmly believe that it is our self-talk, the story we tell ourselves in those darkest moments, that determines which startups survive and which ones die.

This isn’t to say that a negative outlook has no value; it does. We all need an Eeyore on our startup team. It’s the Eeyore on our team that keeps us grounded, reminds us of the dangers of drinking too much of our own Koolaid, that points out the problems that lie ahead. The Eeyore in a startup is aware of the increasing competition in a similar space and constantly worries about a competitor getting traction. We all need an Eeyore on our team to be our voice of caution and instill a sense of urgency.

But when the loudest voice we hear – whether inside our own head or from our team – is negative, the focus shifts away from growth and, instead, sees danger around every corner. Instead of being used as fuel to work harder, every post on social media about a potential competitor becomes a distraction and where we might have explored potential collaborations, we only see is the enemy. The toxic voice of negativity can turn every setback into a death knell, becoming a self-fulling prophecy. Entrepreneurs must see the impossibility of it all and still believe there is a way to make it happen. They must be champions of hope – not ignorant hope that pretends difficulties don’t exist – but hope that sees the difficulties and still believes that with some creativity and hard work, success is possible.

Sara will miss our upcoming HauteCon 2015 National Women’s Conference, with two days of content cultivated to help others aspire, achieve, and elevate. And while I am sorry others won’t get to hear her tell her story, I’m pretty sure she’ll find ways to continue putting hope in the forefront through her blog about her experiences in Ghana. On days when things may feel a bit dark for me, I am sure her voice of hope will remind me that our future is what we choose to see ahead. It really is whatever we decide it will be.

The Hidden Cost of Quitting

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We’ve all heard some version of the saying that begins “when the going gets tough…” But the reality is that when things get difficult, even the tough find it very tempting to look for reasons to give up. And to be fair, quitting can be the right decision – but the hidden costs of that choice mislead us into thinking that the relief of giving up is worth the disappointment of not finishing.

When we come upon a massive barrier to accomplishing a goal, the level of desire to gain whatever we see as the ultimate reward is directly related to the price we are willing to pay to overcome the barrier.

If our goal is to earn a specific degree in college, it isn’t the degree itself that keeps us going through the difficult classes or enormous financial costs – it’s the ultimate reward of a coveted lifestyle or opportunity to work within a specific field that forces us to dig deep in the difficult moments where quitting seems to be so much easier than continuing. The degree is just a piece of paper; it’s what that piece of paper makes possible that we see as the ultimate reward.

If we’ve chosen to become an entrepreneur, it is rarely the job itself that we see as the big reward; it is seeing our idea becoming a reality, our solution to a problem put into action that fuels us to give up so much to see that vision through to fruition.

But, whatever the goal, when things get difficult, we begin weighing the cost in front of us with the value of that ultimate reward. We start to doubt whether we are actually capable of finishing the goal, whether we’d really like the results of finishing, and we begin to think of ways to lessen the goal to something that wouldn’t take nearly as deep a toll on us financially, physically, emotionally or mentally. We allow ourselves to rationalize why quitting would be better. We would have more time again. We wouldn’t be so broke, because we could do something easier to make money right away. We would have more time to pursue a hobby. We could put all of our energy into a new interest that looks easier to do and like a lot more fun that what we’re trying to accomplish now. The reasons, really, are limitless.

Quitting brings instant relief. The pressure is off. The fear of failing is over since quitting isn’t the same as failing (or so we tell ourselves). And the temporary disappointment we feel and that others may express will pass. Besides, it’s not their life, it’s ours, so if we’re ok with the decision, everyone else can just get on board or keep it to themselves. Ah, yes, it is so alluring to quit.

But what we don’t take into consideration nearly often enough is the hidden costs of quitting. That temporary disappointment we feel in ourselves? It’s not temporary. It’s permeates every facet of our psyche and has a powerful effect on our future decisions. When we find a new goal for ourselves, we begin that goal with the knowledge that we might quit without reaching it. It makes it harder to begin again and easier to quit the next time. When we measure ourselves up against our competition, we secretly believe that we may not go as far as they will, because we might quit when they’re still committed and willing to pay a higher cost to get to success. We start making smaller choices, safer decisions, and we start seeing ourselves as less-than.

Sometimes we will fail. But the long term cost of failing isn’t nearly as devastating if we’ve given everything we could to try to achieve our goal as it is when failure comes by quitting. And, yes, sometimes the right decision is to quit. Sometimes the price is too high. Sometimes we weren’t realistic when we set out to achieve some goal. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right. Sometimes a need arises that supersedes our desire to accomplish a goal. And when that is truly the case, the challenge will come in reminding ourselves of the actual facts of why we quit when we begin to doubt our ability to see something through to the end. In those instances, we must remember that sometimes the sacrifice of giving up is the right price to pay to meet a higher need.

But far too often we tell ourselves we’re quitting to meet a higher need when the reality is that the cost of continuing just looks far too expensive. It gets harder before it gets easier. It looks more impossible right before the solution becomes clear. And we will never, ever know the incredible joy and satisfaction of success if we quit when we’re on the dark side of difficulty.

The next time you’re tempted to give up on a goal, ask yourself if it is worth living with that choice the rest of your life. Ask if the future regret will be worth the relief now. Your answer may surprise you, and it may be the fuel you need to push through when the going gets tough.

 

The Trait That Ruins Entrepreneurs

file4911265967621I don’t believe there is one single trait that, absent all others, can deliver success for entrepreneurs. It’s really a unique blend of traits and talents within each individual – as well as many outside factors – all converging at the right time in the right way. If it were as simple as a specific trait, then those individuals possessing that trait would be successful every time – and that is certainly not the case. Many a successful entrepreneur has gone on to live through colossal failures. And while there are just as many reasons for a startup’s failure as for its success, I do believe that there is one trait that, if given room to grow, will ruin an entrepreneur. When an entrepreneur stops being willing to be coached, their days are numbered – and understanding the underlying root of this resistance is vital, because the solution often depends on what is causing us to shut out the advice of others.

There was a phase early in my own journey as the founder of a startup that I was far too resistant to the feedback and ideas of those around me, and for me, it was my inexperience that was getting in my way. I had clarity on our ‘big idea’ and knew it was my job to protect our focus so that we, as a company, didn’t end up chasing every shiny thing and every dollar that looked like a possibility. But in my very worthy goal to protect my team from being pulled to and fro by contrary paths and indecision, I become implacable. Thankfully, I had the good fortune to survive those growing pains without losing momentum, and I’m grateful that the experience helped me become much more willing to hear the cautionary words of others and to entertain opposing views. I’ve learned that while it’s right to protect the goals and vision of a company, a founder must also be open to advice and correction from others and synthesize that feedback into a more refined path forward.

Entrepreneurs can also become uncoachable simply because we are so afraid of taking the step we’re being prodded to take. We can easily confuse fear with intuition and believe that our inaction is actually being wise. Intuition tells us the truth when we are missing warning signs that something is not right, but fear is a liar and operates from our weaker selves. As entrepreneurs, fear is often the thing we experience right before a breakthrough. When we start rejecting advice that is pushing us past our comfort zone, we become paralyzed by inaction and ruin our chances for success.

But when being uncoachable is driven by hubris, that is really the most destructive reason of all. Hubris is defined as excessive pride or self confidence. Hubris turns almost any trait’s value into a detriment. It changes confidence into cockiness, single-mindedness into disdain. When that happens, the very traits that initially resulted in early progress become the very traits that lead to failure. It is the difference between someone forging ahead into the unknown and choosing the road less traveled and the individual who drives over a cliff, despite the multitude of warnings and cautions along the way.

While an entrepreneur absolutely must possess thick skin and the ability to filter through doubts, fears and bad advice, there better be an understanding that in the midst of the cacophony of feedback, there may be invaluable insights and guidance that could make the difference between failure and success. When we are coachable and receptive, we increase our chances of success.

Perhaps a good test is this: if you think everyone around you is an idiot, and everyone who shares advice with you is a fool who just doesn’t get it – especially if your own vision isn’t leading to your expected outcomes – then maybe it’s time to serve yourself a slice of humble pie and realize that they may not be as much of an idiot as you thought. You may well be in that same category yourself for summarily rejecting all feedback as beneath you. You have to want success more than you want to be right, and when that is your goal, you’ll find the humility and grace to accept difficult advice and hard truths that can help you succeed. I know from experience that hearing difficult advice that goes against what we want to be believe is painful and difficult, but I’ve also seen the results of it and know that without finding a way to be coachable, there is no way to get where we want to be.

Teaching Entrepreneurship: Educational Boondoggle or Brilliant Innovation?

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Everywhere you turn today, it seems there is an event, program or class teaching you how to become an entrepreneur. And everyone wants in on the action, from government agencies, nonprofits, foundations, incubators, and accelerators to new programs like the brief immersion experiences such as Startup Weekend. A wide variety of certificate programs, bootcamps and elective courses are also cropping up at both accredited institutions as well as community centers. Entrepreneurship is today’s cool kid on the block.

But, for me, the question is this: is it even possible to teach someone to become a successful entrepreneur in a classroom setting? I’m not convinced, especially in the case where the student has little or no on-the-job experience developing the leadership, business acumen, and marketing skills required to run a startup.

I’m not sure anyone has all of the answers, but why it is worth pursuing the answers is pretty clear. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that almost half of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product comes from small businesses, but according to the Brookings Institution, new startups have dropped by 28% over, roughly, the past thirty years. If small businesses are the backbone of the American economy but fewer are willing to join the ranks of small business owners, that trend must change if we are to prevent further havoc on the economy. Thus there has arisen this implicit imperative to somehow churn out individuals who are capable of launching a startup, possess the creativity to dream up innovative solutions – not to mention also having the right characteristics to scale those startups into thriving businesses which can employ others within the community.

Character Traits Can’t Be Taught in Seminar or Lecture

As someone who is entering my sixth year as a founder of a civic tech startup and who has also lived for over two decades in the startup world as my spouse and his cofounders launched, grew and successfully exited tech companies, I have a hard time believing that the character traits needed to become a successful startup founder can be taught in a classroom. There is no way to simulate the roller coaster of emotions or to train someone to have the drive they’ll need to overcome obstacles threatening a startup’s success. And while I believe it is vital to seek out mentors and role models – sitting in a classroom with twenty other individuals while listening to a guest speaker, especially if that speaker doesn’t have an impressive history as a successful entrepreneur? I’m just not convinced that a parade of personalities can prepare a student for much of anything beyond adding a few new war stories to the mix and gaining new contacts for future networking.

The Problem With Partypreneurs

It also concerns me that some of today’s very well-intentioned initiatives may be feeding the wrong ideas and even attracting the wrong demographic altogether. For startup groupies who go from event to event, it is so easy to gloss over the loneliness and isolation that often happens as founders focus on building their startup. Instead, those I’ll call the Partypreneurs thrive on the sense of belonging and excitement they feel events and mistake those emotions as an indication of success. Partypreneurs want the lifestyle without paying the dues. Entrepreneurship is far more about sacrifice and personal cost than any kind of hip lifestyle, glory or fun. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that building a startup isn’t exciting or fun. It is. But entrepreneurship is not a lifestyle; it is a calling that often requires deep sacrifice to build a better future not only for oneself but for those the startup serves.

The Challenge With Teaching Entrepreneurship

I recently had an interesting conversation with Stacy Sacco, who currently serves as the Director of the Small Business Institute and Parker Center for Family Business as well as a lecturer for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management. He expressed concern that such a small segment of the university’s population were currently enrolled in the entrepreneurship program. “Our schools, several economic development agencies, etcetera, are creating an extensive infrastructure for start-ups, but only about 150 students out of over 28,000 students at UNM are enrolled in the entrepreneurial studies track.”

Despite my contention that the traits of a successful entrepreneur cannot be taught, I do believe there are a few things we can do to make entrepreneurship programs more useful and relevant to those currently enrolled and to attract higher attendance in the future.

Require Internships and Mentoring

Just as many other programs require internships and student-immersed, hands-on learning, it should also be a requirement for entrepreneurship programs. If a student is working at a local startup, the relevancy of the curriculum will immediately increase. And for startup founders, the opportunity to use the coursework within their own business will be seen as a bonus, not a burden. Because of the skill sets required to run a startup are so diverse, entrepreneurship programs must also deliver a curriculum with a broad knowledge base to attract the serious entrepreneurs or produce students properly equipped to launch a startup. As one student recently told me, “I have no plans to start a company, and I’m not sure I even want to work at a startup. I just took the entrepreneurship track because it looked like the easiest coursework.” We need to raise the bar not only of coursework offerings but in requiring hands-on experience if we are going avoid setting up founders for failure.

Provide Cross-Discipline Electives

Most of the entrepreneurship programs I’ve seen that are attached to university curriculum seem to be imbedded as an optional component towards a business degree. Because entrepreneurs come from every field of study and background, entrepreneurship programs would likely enjoy higher enrollment if relevant elective options were available within other fields of study, such as engineering, science, or medicine. With the background knowledge acquired through entrepreneurial-focused electives, scientists, engineers and even those in the medical profession would be far better equipped to launch their own startup long after graduating from college.

Bootcamp, Certificate and Not For Credit Courses

While the more conventional higher education institutions might benefit by extending entrepreneurship electives to a broader sector of the student body, there are many individuals who have no intention of enrolling in a degreed program. Recently, some of our team met with leaders from the University of Phoenix and the Apollo Group to explore opportunities to foster a more inviting environment for underrepresented groups such as women and minorities within technology-based programs as well ways to present real-world, hands-on experiences within current course offerings. Because most current student loan programs and grants do not cover these more unconventional programs which are often much shorter in duration and more focused in content to serve specific needs within the entrepreneurial community, it is often difficult to find an affordable model to reach these more unconventional learners. It is a challenge our team has begun to explore because we have seen such a positive response to our platform among these very groups at our civic hacking events.

Communities Must Foster Cooperative Ecosystems

If entrepreneurs are to have the best chance for success, it is vital that any entrepreneurship program be tied into the rest of the community’s ecosystem so that there is a contiguous line of support from the classroom to the real world. When competing support entities become territorial and make it difficult for the founder to move in and out of segments of support as the need arises, it makes it far more difficult for the entrepreneur to engage in the wide variety of support and training that might be needed for success. When universities, alternative higher education private institutions, accelerators, incubators, investors and business centers all work together as a cohesive ecosystem, everyone comes out the winner.

While I am still not certain anyone can actually be taught the character traits required for entrepreneurship as an academic exercise, I do believe it is important to continue finding ways to empower more within the community to launch their own business. There is also much that can be done to make technology less intimidating, more accessible and affordable to those who are disenfranchised by the current options. There is much about entrepreneurship that cannot be taught, but we can focus on these opportunities to improve to better prepare entrepreneurs to be able to face the real work that will begin the day they launch their own company.

This post is also available on Huffington Post.

Scrappy, Dogged and Just the Right Dose of Crazy: What it Takes to be an Entrepreneur

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At a recent Startup Weekend, one of the attendees asked me what I thought were the most important traits for an entrepreneur to posses to be successful. I’ve thought about it some since, and while I don’t pretend to be an expert on whether any of these are true or not since I only know my own experience, these are the traits I think best prepared me for the life of an entrepreneur:

Scrappy

It never occurred to me as a kid that my parents owed me anything, and if I wanted something badly enough, it was my job to figure out how to make that happen. That mindset stayed with me when my husband and I were newlyweds. He was finishing up his electrical engineering degree while I worked at the public school. We couldn’t afford new storage containers, so I started thinking of ways to get some. Looking back on it now, it was rather an insane decision, but instead of asking for a few containers, I asked my grandma for help getting started selling Tupperware. Even after paying her back the money I’d borrowed for my starter kit, I still earned more money that year selling Tupperware than I did working at the school. And the containers I needed? I’m still using them after more than 25 years of marriage.

I honestly think one of the most important things I discovered over the years was the value of being scrappy. Learned helplessness and over-dependence on others have no place in the entrepreneurial mindset, and when I hear others say that something is too hard or that they deserve help, it sets off warning bells in my head. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help or deciding that the physical, mental, financial or emotional cost of something isn’t worth the payoff, but to give up easily because there isn’t enough from within to draw from when things get difficult – that is never going to help an entrepreneur find success.

Outsider

I think to a great extent, I’ve always felt like an outsider, even if it didn’t appear that way to others. For me, feeling like an outsider had nothing to do with being an introvert or extrovert. I simply never felt like I fit in, like I belonged. In school, I had a great many friends who I liked a lot. But when I was in a group, I never quite related or felt like I was like the rest of my peers. And as much as I liked most of my classmates, having to work on a group project was far worse punishment that anything else I could imagine. I despised group projects, mostly because I would have preferred to just finish the project on my own and then d0 something else with the rest of the time.

Even now as a grown woman with grown children, when a group of girlfriends are talking about their lives, it sometimes seems so foreign to me, and I end up feeling a bit bad that I can’t relate. I just can’t get into who said what to whom or who isn’t talking to someone else anymore. I can’t understand why any of that news should be any of my business or why I should want to know.

It’s actually been an unexpected benefit as an entrepreneur that even if I don’t feel like I fit anywhere else, I am quite comfortable in this space I’ve carved out in my corner of the world. Entrepreneurship is a lonely business, and if someone constantly needs the companionship of others, it’s going to be hard to spend the solitary hours focusing on the needs of the business rather than socializing. I love an event and a party as much as anyone else, but I’m just as happy being alone building on the vision that drives me day and night. As odd as it may seem, feeling like I don’t quite fit has made it easier to adjust to the life of building something that has never existed before.

Argumentative

My mom accuses me of causing her to back into a light pole one night in a parking lot because I just wouldn’t stop arguing, and I’m pretty sure she has plenty of reason to blame me. There’s a negative connotation to being argumentative, and I actually spent quite a while looking for a more palatable word to describe this trait. But being argumentative, when it is not contentious or rude, isn’t necessarily a bad trait.

All the time I was selling newspapers to my neighbors, persuading young parents to let me babysit and working retail at the local mall, I was refining my argumentative nature into a more gentle approach. I learned that no quite often meant maybe or help me get to yes. Sometimes it meant no, and that was ok, but if I dug deeper, it sometimes meant they had doubts or fears that just needed dispelled.

Entrepreneurship is probably the longest, most unrelenting series of rejections, disappointments, closed doors, and negative feedback anyone will ever experience in such a short amount of time. If a founder doesn’t believe a yes lies beyond the litany of no’s, they will never possess enough fortitude to take all of that negative feedback and rejection to turn it into fuel needed to push forward. The very trait that frustrated my mother – and probably every teacher and boss I ever had – has also turned out to be one of the most important traits I’ve used to move forward as an entrepreneur.

Dogged

Being dogged is a bit different than simply being competitive or driven, and it’s been a trait that has helped me persevere through some of the worst moments I’ve known as an entrepreneur. Among the most difficult experiences I’ve faced has been having to show up for an investor meeting just a couple of hours after my mother, sister and brother and I held each other as we watched my father’s body being wheeled down the sidewalk of my parents’ home to the waiting hearse. That was a dark, dark day for me, when the responsibility that I carried on my shoulders was the heaviest I’ve known, because there were others depending on me to be strong enough to put my own grief aside and keep a meeting that mattered for the future of our company. It wasn’t that I wanted to win bad enough to put my company before my grief, and it wasn’t my drive to succeed that helped me get through that meeting. It was a dogged determination to keep my promises, to live up to the trust others had in me, that got me through it with the answers I needed to take back to our team.

While it is vital for entrepreneurs to possess a competitive drive, it is not enough on its own. Not to pick on Tonya Harding, but her behavior in pursuit of a gold medal so horrified me as a young girl that it imprinted on my psyche that no award, no win was ever worth harming others to get to the top. There are plenty of examples of getting to the top without losing our integrity, and remembering that it’s not only possible but better to win with our morals intact – especially when the temptation to get dirty to win is right in front of us – that is one of the most difficult challenges many entrepreneurs will face.

It isn’t just about having drive, either. We can be so driven that we lose the context of the rest of our lives. I eat, drink and sleep our company’s growth and needs, but I am also a daughter, a mother, a wife, a friend. And having that foundation keeps me human and grounded. Doggedness keeps our eyes where they’re supposed to be – not on our competition or some shiny new idea but firmly on our own goals. Being dogged means not quitting when others doubt your qualifications or the first five investors you pitch tell you no. It means not losing focus when self-doubts nibble at your confidence or begin to sway conviction of your vision. Doggedness, to me, is simply not giving up when giving up would be acceptable, because when you convinced others to quit secure jobs to join your efforts and found investors willing to back your vision with their own money, quitting just isn’t acceptable without having first tried absolutely everything to succeed.

Crazy

One of my first jobs after getting married was working with a psychologist testing students with limited cognitive abilities. I remember one particularly sweet young man who, when asked what he wanted to do when he graduated, quickly said, “I want to be an astronaut and walk on the moon. But I’ll probably just do yard work.” My heart broke a little bit at his pragmatism, of understanding his dreams weren’t within reach but still worth holding on to.

I felt a little like that when I first expressed out loud to another person this idea that had been percolating for several weeks in my mind, a really big idea. I wondered if they would think I was a bit crazy, reaching well beyond what my dreams should be. And then I realized that it didn’t matter, because it was a little crazy to think about launching out into the unknown, to take incredible risk, all to pursue an idea that could change possibilities for others all over the world. When someone believes their idea has the power to affect the lives of people all over the globe, does that make them visionary or a wee bit crazy?  I think it likely takes a little bit of crazy, at least in the world’s eyes, to walk away from security and a steady paycheck to set about building a concept into reality because of a belief that one day it can and should change the world as we know it.

For me, I cannot believe an entrepreneur’s success is determined by whether they were a straight-A student or struggled in school or whether they were popular enough to be on the homecoming court or got through childhood with two good friends. I’m not even sure it matters if someone went to an Ivy League university or skipped college altogether. At least from my experience, the true drivers of success are at the inner core of a person – their depth of character and integrity, resilience in the face of adversity and the unrelenting pursuit of a vision, especially if that includes just the right dose of crazy.

Travis Kellerman: Watch New Mexico Rise

Travis Kellerman: Watch New Mexico Rise

 

Travis Kellerman, Cofounder / CEO Bandojo

A few weeks ago, I went to visit Travis Kellerman, an inspiring young entrepreneur who is pursuing several new interests including Bandojo, LLC, a startup making it fun to learn music through a blending of mobile tech, scientific research and creative play where he currently serves as Cofounder and CEO. As I climbed the steps to his front door, I recalled the early days of APPCityLife when our team frequently met either in my living room or around our dining room table. He opened the door and welcomed me in, and we chatted on our way to the upper floor that is converted into a large workspace. We spent about an hour chatting about his vision for his young company, the challenges he’s faced and the direction of a pivot that needed to happen. The hour went far too fast, as it often does when sharing the dream of an entrepreneur.

A product of rural New Mexico, Travis grew up in Silver City, New Mexico before pursuing a political degree at the University of New Mexico. For someone with most of his life still ahead of him, Travis has already built an impressive resume, initially deeply involved in the world of politics, including stints as Regional Director, Campaign Manager and Field Organizer for big name New Mexico politicians like Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich as well as Majority Liaison for the House Majority to the Senate –  before landing on the management team of a young startup innovating payment systems for restaurants called Lavu, Inc. He spent four years working for the startup, building distribution and reseller networks, operational structure and managing the company’s PR, social media and branding.

About a year before he left Lavu, Travis launched his first company serving as a consultant offering expertise in business and channel development, branding and marketing. Travis also recently joined the Board of Directors of the Coronado Ventures Forum, a New Mexico organization focused on education and networking opportunities for the entrepreneurial and investor communities in the state. Along with his involvement with Bandojo, Travis, like many entrepreneurs, has many passions and interests.

In March of 2014, Travis closed the chapter on his time at Lavu and began building the foundation of his own startup which launched a month later. Travis cofounded the company with Dr. Panaiotis, a talented musician, composer and educator who designed the software at the core of Bandojo’s musical application and website based on his research and experience. And in a city where talented software engineers and programmers are often hard to find, Travis has had little difficulty building an early team of developers – including local developer Andrew Stone, a successful entrepreneur and mobile app designer.

Having cut his “startup” teeth previously with a successful young team before launching into his own startup, Travis comes to the world of entrepreneurship with a deeper level of understanding and experience than many of his peers. Travis often avoids the limelight and would prefer attention and praise be focused elsewhere, and his quiet and unassuming demeanor make him very approachable and well-liked. But it would be a gross miscalculation to interpret his quietness as a lack of the passion required to build a startup. One has only to look at his fast rise to positions of leadership within the political arena at a very young age to understand that behind his gentle smile, there is a strength of purpose and a tenacity that will carry him past many of the roadblocks and difficulties that are almost always a part of growing startups from initial idea to the version which gains traction. Travis Kellerman is a shining example of why we will continue to Watch New Mexico Rise.