Creating new startups with lessons from the past
I am an entrepreneur, and I’m looking to start another company. I had a cosmetics manufacturing enterprise, Vonne, and my two biggest clients were Walmart and TvShopping. I did it alone the first time, and I realized it makes sense to find a cofounder because starting a company is a hard and lonely road. I always strived to be the jack-of-all-trades founder and do everything alone so that I would not have to compromise on my vision.
Once I started having paying customers, I quickly realized I couldn’t do it all: managing production, product development and sales and marketing. I didn’t look for a partner because I was focused on meeting sales goals. I longed to have someone to share my struggles, passion, tasks, successes and brainstorming sessions with — especially the brainstorming sessions. After being here at MIT, my perspective changed even more. When I learned that investors do not like investing in solo founders, I quickly understood why.
In the past, what annoyed me most about having a cofounder was the thought of having to rely on someone else. I needed to learn that we all fill certain roles. I needed to accept that I can’t possibly learn every discipline I need to make all my startup ideas come true. While struggling with these feelings, I wondered if all business and technical folks go through this internal dilemma as well. What do my frustrations say about my identity and how I operate? Does everyone on the business side feel my annoyances? How do technical cofounders feel about business people? Do they also question their own worth and the value of what they bring to the table?
Listening to the “How I Built This” podcast, I realized many founders lacked technical expertise but had enough drive to execute their mission. It is also a matter of confidence. Entrepreneurship is about the road one has to travel to understand one’s own passions, perseverance, resilience and skills. It is also about getting to a level of confidence where you can execute the tasks that need to be done while battling fear and uncertainty. Entrepreneurship is about getting things done. For example, in the podcast, the Kickstarter founder, Perry Chen, and his cofounders didn’t have technical skills, and they were able to build a tech startup without a CS background. Even though they didn’t have a technical background, which is not recommended, they had each other.
After listening to the podcast, I made peace with myself and accepted that I will not be the technical person on the team. I will bring the hustler business expertise to the table, and that is equally valuable.
Something I learned while doing my undergraduate degree at the Parsons School of Design also helped me make peace. A professor brought an interesting speaker to class: a professional storyteller. Her message stayed with me: “Trust in your mission and remember that the message you want to deliver to the world is more important than your insecurities. Focus on delivering the message in the best way possible. Do not let your fears interfere, because the message is more important than the messenger.” Now, every time I pitch an idea, I focus on communicating the message effectively rather than worrying if I am a good public speaker.
My mission right now is to help connect entrepreneurs with early adopters and followers that could potentially become the first ten customers. Early adopters are people who are always searching on blogs and forums for the next new product, pledge to them on Kickstarter and like finding waitlists to get early access to product launches. I want to create an online meetup space, a marketplace of ideas, that engages these two groups. I want to find a technical cofounder who is as passionate about this problem as I am.
To see this mission through and resolve the “business versus technical” issue, I set up two chairs in a room. One chair is the technical hacker and the other chair is the business hustler. I switch from chair to chair and have the two sides negotiate with each other. They negotiate what classes I should take this semester and what skills and knowledge I need to succeed. They disagree on whether certain skillsets I have or want to build are strengths or weaknesses, and they disagree on how I should spend my time here at MIT in the most productive way. In the end, this exercise is a very egocentric process, but it all focuses on what my mission on earth will be instead of my insecurities. When I cannot come to an agreement with myself, the verdict is, “Do what you need to do to deliver your message.”
Laura Facussé is a second year student at MITidm.