Friday, June 11, 2010

In the company of addicts: Serial Start-up Entrepreneurs

Last week, I was honored to sit on a panel for Colorado University's Studio Series at Boulder Digital Works. BDW brings together digital professionals and tech leaders to share what they know about business and entrepreneurship. The Studio Series meets the first three Wednesdays of every month during the summer.

The topic last week was Serial Startup Entrepreneurs and I was in good company with fellow panelists Tara Anderson, COO Quick Left, and Tim Wolters, founder and CEO of RoundPegg. We spent an hour talking about what attracts us to starts-ups, why we keep at it even when things look dismal, and what keeps us going back for more. We shared stories of our biggest blunders, what we learned, and what characteristics serial entrepreneurs seem to share. Here are a few of the characteristics we all agreed were important:

  1. One thing serial start-up entrepreneurs seem to share is a passion for creating something from nothing. There is simply nothing like having a good idea one day and doing something about it the next. Just you, your partners, and the few crazy people you managed to talk into taking the plunge with you. No one says "its not my job" or puts off till tomorrow what they can jump on today. Everyone is in charge and all ideas get considered.
  2. You have to be willing to be wrong. You won't survive in a start-up if you have an attachment to being the smartest person in the room or are afraid to be wrong. You will be wrong more often than you will be right. Accept it, embrace it, and let it work for you.
  3. Have a mentor (or several). No matter how much experience you have, there are people who are better at certain things than you are. Seek them out, make friends and don't be shy about asking for advice. Ask if they'll meet with you on a regular basis and learn what you can from them.
  4. Know what feeds your passion. Being passionate about an idea is a big part of what will make you better at it than someone else. When you are passionate about something, you have more curiosity, more drive, and more fun. When its stops feeding your passion, its time to move on. I've heard so many stories about entrepreneurs who felt compelled to leave full-time positions to start companies because their minds were consumed with thoughts of a new venture.
  5. Serial start-up entrepreneurs seem to better tolerate risk. Many of us have mortgages to pay and families to feed and we are not independently wealthy (yet!). We know that only a few start-ups make it, that competition is fierce and funding is scarce. But we do it anyway because the game is just too good not to play. We don't mind driving junky cars and bringing our lunch to work because we are hedging our bets on a bigger game.
  6. Most of us get bored easily. Its not ADD, its just that we have high standards for how interesting life can be. When I moved from New Jersey to DC back in the early 90s, I knew no-one. I thought about what activity I could get involved with that would have me meet interesting people. So I decided to learn to fly. I met several of my closest friends and had some of the biggest adventures of my life. It also helped keep the rest of my life interesting.
Its hard to capture everything we talked about in that hour but we covered many aspects of start-ups including funding, hiring, role models, start-up vs corporate culture, and lots of other topics. You can read more of my posts on start-ups like 13 ways running a start-up is like having a baby, what happened to my career?, and what I love about start-ups.

Here's me tweeting pics during the panel:

The audience included CU students and those from the local community. Sean Baxter did a fabulous job of moderating and huge thanks to Jo White for organizing it all as BDW's 60-week Program Director.

You can find out more about Boulder Digital Work's Studio Series on their Facebook page.


Stephanie Lee said...

We need to have you come back again!

SigridNolen1志正 said...


Mediamum said...

The panel was great and you were such a key part of it. Thank you so much for being such an incredible example and support - to other startup women, startup founders in general, and also being prepared to jump in and help the upcoming students who are trying to understand it all. I really appreciate you. You rock, Holly!

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