There have been a few times in my short career where I needed to find a new job. As I sat there stressing out about what my next move would be, I asked myself the typical questions: What do I want do? What position will help me for the next step in my career? Where can I make good money?
After answering these questions as thoughtfully as I could, I pursued a couple of positions that I initially loved but weren’t as fulfilling as I had hoped. As I transitioned out of my last job, I decided to stop answering questions related to ‘What do I want to do?’ and solely focused on answering the questions, ‘What do I want to learn?’ and ‘Who do I want to learn from?’.
When I decided to jump on board with Joe and Jeremy at Terrible Labs, it wasn’t because I was enamored with the idea of starting a company. In fact, I told myself that I needed to find a company that had a team with years of experience so I could focus on growing my skill set
When it finally came time to make a decision, I focused in on the skills that I wanted to acquire. For example, I knew that I really liked building web and mobile products but lacked the formal experience of working with an engineering team. I also knew that in order to build great products, it would be valuable to have an understanding of at least one tech stack.
Once I narrowed down what was important to me, I weighed my options. Terrible Labs was a risky opportunity as it was a new venture but it put me in the middle of building and deploying products, all day, every day. It also gave me an opportunity to work with two of the best developers in town who would take the time to help me pick up the basics of Ruby on Rails.
After being at Terrible Labs for over a year, I’m really happy with the decision I’ve made. Every day forces me to learn something new and I have a solid team to learn from.
For those of you considering a new job, stop thinking about what you want to do. Figure out what you’re interested in learning and who are the best people you can learn from. I think you’ll find that the job you enjoy the most is the one where you are learning the skill set you care most about.
After many recommendations from friends I started watching the HBO series The Wire. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a fantastically written show about the Baltimore drug scene, seen through the eyes of both drug dealers and law enforcement.
As I make my way through each episode, I’m struck by the business thoughtfulness in which the Barksdale drug operation is managed. The acting head of the operation, Stringer Bell, runs his team meetings as if they were in a courtroom and teaches his guys principles akin to those that we use when building successful companies.
What I loved about this clip in particular is that Stringer touches on possibly the most important lesson for anyone building a company… Your product will either make you or break you. Check out how Stringer explains to his team that their current focus on owning the best street corners and territory isn’t as valuable as providing the best product.
Like the Barksdale operation, we are all trying to deliver the most addictive product out there. However as early stage companies, most of us not only worry about product but also tend to focus on the territory where our product will be pitched. Think of it this way, you can own some of the best territory out there like the front page of the NY Times, WSJ, and TechCrunch, but unless your product delivers value to your user, it will be all for not.
Take it from Stringer Bell and streets of Baltimore: Don’t get caught up with where your product is being pitched, if your delivering the best product, your customers will flock to you.
Now adjourn your asses and get building.
Realistically, whatever product you’re building at this moment is going to flounder over several iterations. The good news is, there are a lot of people who want to see you succeed and will continue to use your product, iteration after iteration… Right?
Through my experience, I’ve watched power users and influencers evangelize products not based on the product value but based on how much they care about the people behind it. Therefore, if you’re a founder or CEO of a company, make sure you’re not solely focused on building your product but also focused on building your personal brand.
The easiest way to build a positive, personal brand is by helping others. Before I jump into this, realize that you shouldn’t be helping people for the sake of building your brand. You should be helping because you actually care about seeing others succeed.
That being said, I believe the most effective way to create value is to help others solve their problems. Everyone you come in contact with has some problem they’d like to solve. It’s your goal to diagnose that problem and solve it quickly.
This may sound hard but it can be done easily in one of two ways. Either suggest a book or article that sheds light on potential solutions to their problem or introduce them to a person who has the knowledge or connections to help them succeed. I personally love making introductions because I find it offers a ton of value for the person I’m trying to help and it also helps me to stay top of mind with people in my network. Most people I make introductions to would have never received an email from me otherwise. So every opportunity I have to make a quality introduction is a good excuse for me to keep in touch with those I probably otherwise wouldn’t.
Another impactful way to develop a positive personal brand is to improve the community that you’re a part of. Let’s take the tech/startup community in Boston as an example. While I’d argue the scene has come a long way since when I got involved, there are still plenty of improvements to be made.
Take a minute to diagnose the problems that you currently face in your community and find a way to fix them. This could be done by mentoring another company, helping an event by speaking on a panel or even by creating an event that helps others overcome the same problem you face. You may think this is a daunting task but I’d argue that if you do take action and truly solve a problem, people will take notice and reciprocate by helping you succeed more than you could ever possibly imagine!
Don’t forget that your personal brand will long be associated with your product and company so take the time to make it a positive one. Just remember that as your brand and company grow, continue to make a positive impact otherwise you’ll feel the backlash.
Last week Greg Gomer from BostInnovation and I had the opportunity to chat with Callie Crossley about startups and failure. It was a fun conversation where we got to answer a bunch of questions from callers and share our thoughts about the Boston ecosystem. If you missed it, have a listen.
It’s been great watching the cultural transition of the Boston startup community. I remember a couple of years ago how every event in Boston seemed to be stogy, formal, and focused on old school networking. Name tags were a must, and socializing was kept to conversations about work.
After heading out to SF and witnessing the TechCrunch Disrupt party, where MC Hammer headlined, I felt that DartBoston had an opportunity to help set a new tone in Boston with the goal of creating a better social environment for the tech scene. Thanks to the support of many incredible people including, Katie Rae at TechStars, Dave Cappillo at Goodwin Proctor, Karl Buttner at MassChallenge, Gus Weber at Polaris Ventures, and Abby Fichtner at Microsoft we were able to piggy back off of Boston’s TechStars demo day and throw a party with Coolio headlining and the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup on the 9ft screen behind the performers. If you missed the evening check out this awesome video by Apolis Media.
Dart has been one of many organizations pushing to set this new tone but there are many others who are contributing. For example, one of the stars of Boston’s angel community, Jennifer Lum, has pulled together big wigs and new members of the Boston startup scene for her Boston Boogie events at Saint. Each Boston Boogie event has helped create tons of valuable connections within the startup scene and Jennifer continues to be a huge influence on creating a more connected community.
Alex and Andy Cook from Rentabilities along with Howard Davidson put together the 1,000Pirates event where hundreds of people from the tech and digital communities boarded a ship to sail around Boston Harbor while Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor DJ’d. The event was a huge success as tons of people were able to meet one another in a casual, fun, social environment.
Which brings me to Dave Balter’s Tech Prom and how hosts Sarah Hodges, Dave Balter, Mike Troiano, and Jennifer Lum aren’t just creating an excuse to party. If you break down each event you’ll be able to see they are not about people drinking but about creating an event that offers its attendees a unique and memorable experience.
Experiential events have the ability to bring a community together better than any panel discussion or lecture. Yes, people are able to take a mental break from work, unwind and be themselves but I’d argue the real beauty takes place the days and weeks after the event ends. If you think about it, the day after the event, the 25-1,000 attendees can now relate to one another based on a shared experience rather than the usual, ‘Where do you work?’ or ‘What do you do?’ conversations that typically occur.
To all of you out there looking to engineer an event with the intention of bringing the community closer together, ask yourself, ‘What experience are you creating for your attendees?’. If you want to experience this type of event yourself, I’d encourage you to come out to one of the many ‘social’ events going on around town, especially DBTechProm!
I’ve had a pretty incredible ride over the past two years. It was about this time in 2009 when Jake and I moved into an apartment on Dartmouth Street which eventually became the hub for all things startup among the twenty-somethings in Boston.
Watching Dart evolve from 5 people hanging out in an apartment to what it has become has been a lot of fun. I’ve been lucky enough to meet hundreds of people at Pokin’ Holes and Capitalize to Rule 53 and Family Dinners (Yifei and Victoria get all the credit for Family Dinners). Pursuing Dart not only allowed me to connect with tons of great people in Boston’s startup community but also inadvertently landed me a job at SCVNGR
Over the past year at SCVNGR, I’ve experienced what it’s like working at an amazing company and more importantly with incredible people. I’m grateful to Seth and Michael for the opportunity they gave me to be a part of the team that took SCVNGR from a $15MM valuation 12 months ago to a $100MM valuation today.
Before taking the job at SCVNGR I was really nervous committing to working on a startup that wasn’t my own. However looking back it was the best decision I could have ever made.
One of the biggest draws for me to go to SCVNGR was the opportunity to learn how to sell (which I believe is completely overlooked in the startup scene). And sure enough, from day 1, I was launched into a sales role, tasked with opening a new enterprise vertical that leveraged SCVNGR’s platform. I had to learn how to build a pitch, cold call and so much more.
Now, after being at SCVNGR for nearly a year I’ve gotten the itch to get back out there an find the next challenge. I’m looking forward to the next couple of months as I find what’s next. If you’re ever in the Kendall area and want to catch up, shoot me an email to cort [at] dartboston [dot] com and we can grab a coffee at Voltage.
If I hear one more person ask me ‘How do we keep young entrepreneurs here in Boston?’ I will run headfirst into a wall. Not because it’s a bad question but because in my experience the people asking the question are blowing so much hot air that I can’t take them seriously anymore. My head might actually feel better after plowing through a sheet of drywall.
Now let’s deconstruct why I believe Boston fails the young entrepreneur and how you can help.
1. How to build a business
In Boston, we spend way too much time focusing on how to raise capital and nearly zero time on how to build a business. Ask yourself the last time you saw an event on how to sell a product or how to acquire users. The lean startup events have been a great start, but there is a serious need for more.
Boston startup culture focuses on sucking up to the capital/angel community. The investor ends up telling the entrepreneur all the things that they don’t like about their business and why they won’t invest.
Great, you’re not going to invest but after you say no, why not mentor these entrepreneurs and help them achieve those milestones you want to see? I know a lot of you guys in the capital community have a ton of experience building businesses, so let’s get our hands dirty, get back in the trenches and share some of that incredible insight with the young entrepreneurs in Boston.
Forget money being the rocket fuel for propelling a startup. If you’re not going to invest you can still provide rocket fuel in the form of helping the company sell it’s product or acquire users. Who knows, with your help the startup might actually generate revenue and maybe even achieve positive cash flow.
2. Building a network in Boston
Boston startup events feel more formal than a White House black tie dinner. Over the past 18 months I’ve gone to a lot of events. . . a lot. There are two things in common between 90% of them: suits and Sam Adams. Imagine how difficult it is for a young guy to approach a group of ‘buddies’ at one of these events as they sip on their Sam Adams, and chat about their golf game.
In order for this kid to have an effective conversation, he has to have the insane confidence to breach the group, command everyone’s attention, and sell himself within 10 seconds before the suits’ eyes glaze over and they tell the kid anything they want to hear in order to get them to go away. I’ve seen this happen a million times.
What’s the solution? I wrote an article in MHT a year ago on how to help the twenty-somethings in Boston build their network and I still think it rings true today. If the experienced entrepreneur/capital crowd stepped up and was more proactive in introducing themselves and their colleagues to the young guys, we would drastically change the feel of Boston for the young entrepreneur. I might even venture to say that by giving the community a more inviting feel, we might actually see more brilliant students coming out to let the investment community in on their new venture.
So the next time you’re at WebInno and you’re nursing your Sam Adams, look for a young guy you haven’t met before and ask them what they’re working on. I promise the young entrepreneur won’t bite and you might actually be doing a little bit to put a suture on the mass exodus of young brilliant minds to the West Coast.
3. “Please promote our event.”
Jake and I get about 20 requests a month to promote some event or program around town. Now don’t get me wrong, I would love to promote everyone’s event and we try to do as much as we can. But let me tell you what makes me want to take a baseball bat to my computer:
If you ask us to promote your event, it better not cost money for the young entrepreneur. Most young entrepreneurs are at the same financial level as starving artists. In plain English, they are poor. The reason you aren’t getting many young people out to your event is because they can’t afford it.
If you don’t know what your event’s value proposition is for the young entrepreneur, do not ask us to promote it.. If you tell us your value proposition is relationship building, how will you run the event to make sure these young guys will leave with one more great relationship than when they arrived? If the topic is on helping entrepreneurs learn how to raise capital, I won’t be able to respond to you because a baseball bat has destroyed my laptop. If you have a compelling topic of conversation, great, let us know what it is.
Alright, you have a compelling topic— you’re going to be a serious connector and make sure people who don’t know one another are introduced, but your event is during the day on a weekday. Ask yourself how you expect twenty-somethings who are moonlighting or treading water with part time work are going to be able to show up to your event?
Finally ask yourself what you’ve done to reach out to young entrepreneurs personally. Have you come out to a Dart event to introduce yourself to the 100+ twenty-somethings and college students we have at our startup parties each month? Have you gone to a startup event at a university (not just at MIT mind you)? Have you gone to a One in Three event? If you really want to kickstart college and twenty-something involvement in the broader community you need to reach out to them on a grass roots level. In fact if you come out to a Dart event I’ll introduce you to everyone there personally and, better yet, you don’t even have to pay for a beer because they’re already on us (Gansetts, not Sam Adams).
So if you want us to promote your event to our 1,000+, twenty-something, entrepreneurial focused DartBoston list:
a. Provide us with free tickets to give away
b. Help us to understand why your event is valuable for the young entrepreneurial community
c. Tell us which Dart event or any other Boston young entrepreneur event you’ve recently gone to and how you’ve introduced yourself to young entrepreneurs.
4. Why smart young people who have created a business leave for the West Coast
I’ve had conversations about this topic with several successful entrepreneurs, angels and VC’s over the past couple months as I’ve watched my friends take off for the West Coast. While it’s awesome that I have plenty of couches to crash on when I go to the Valley, it’s a real bummer that we’re losing these highly motivated kids who are willing to take risks and create startups.
It’s understood that many first time young entrepreneurs won’t have huge exits from their first venture. However the ones who succeed do so because they work with other young experienced entrepreneurs, have solid networks, learned how to build a business, raised seed rounds and were mentored. But unfortunately that’s only happening out West and not in Boston.
If we want to keep young, smart, motivated entrepreneurs in Boston, who are willing to risk everything on building a company, it is going to take action on everyone’s part and not idle chatter at the Unconference, Future Forward or Nantucket Conference.
Michael, Debra, Nicolas and I landed in St. Louis a day before our latest regional promotion’s campaign called the Jay Wolfe Toyota Race for the Ride to turn St. Louis into a frenzy and give away a brand new Toyota!
Alright before I get into all the fun I bet a bunch of you are asking yourselves, ‘What in God’s name is regional promotions, I thought SCVNGR was a mobile gaming company?’
Part of what we do at SCVNGR is leverage our mobile platform and work with regional retailers like jewelers, auto dealerships or real estate groups to put on a huge city-wide mobile phone games that ultimately generate a huge amount of publicity for the client and drive sales. The city-wide mobile phone game has teams of two running around a city to various locations, completing challenges and earning points. The team that accumulates the most points will win something like a $15,000 diamond engagement ring, a brand new car or even a $10,000 down-payment on a house (yeah it’s awesome!).
So this campaign was all about building a game in St. Louis and ultimately giving away a brand new car. You can hear Michael talk about what we were doing in St. Louis (This was just after we all ate an incredible breakfast at our hotel so Michael was in an exceptionally good mood).
Part of our preparation requires walking through the entire game to make sure the game we originally designed months before is still going to work flawlessly. So that morning Debra and I woke up at 5:45 am and took a two hour run to every clue and challenge location in the city. You are probably thinking we are insane for waking up that early and aside from being absolutely correct we wanted to be sure we’d have enough time to get through all of the day’s tasks and still have time to get to the top of the Gateway Arch by the end of the day. Read the rest of this entry »
‘Never late for an appointment Salmon Chase had no patience for the sin of tardiness which stole precious minutes from the life of the man left waiting.’ – Said of Salmon Chase (6th Chief Justice of the United States and Treasury Secretary under Lincoln) in Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
If you are like me you’re hustling to meet with those who can teach you how to be a better entrepreneur and how to build a better business. There’s nothing better than developing a relationship with an experienced, well connected person within the startup community who takes an interest in what you’re doing. Not only do you get an advocate for your project but more importantly you get someone who will give you their undivided attention and provide you with guidance.
If you are a young entrepreneur bootstrapping a start-up in Boston your last thought should be about finding office space. Personally, thanks to a lack of funds for renting an office or getting a desk at a co-working space, I’ve spent my fair share of time finding the most productive spots around town to get work done.
A few quick notes before we get to the work hot spots. I judge every place based on a few things… WiFi access, energy level and tolerance.
WiFi – There had better be a connection and it had better be free
Energy Level – I go to these locations because I want to be surrounded by other motivated people
Tolerance – How many hours can I park myself at a table, only having purchased a small coffee, before I’m given the boot?
So here are my Favorite 4 (yes, I love alliteration). Now because I’ve lived in the Back Bay/South End for the past year they are pretty much located within a 10 minute walking distance of my house. I would love to hear where everyone else goes… Brighton? Cambridge?
Now many people might be saying, ‘Cort, there’s no free WiFi at Starbucks, how could you possibly even put this on the list?’ Because I usually buy a coffee to get my caffeine high on before hammering the keys, there is a way to get ‘free’ WiFi for a month by buying a small coffee. Just grab a gift card at the counter, throw 5 bucks on it and use it to buy a coffee. Once you use the card you can activate an account through AT&T’s network to get a month’s worth of WiFi access.
So now that we have that out of the way, the Starbucks on Boylston offers a ton of space, tons of people constantly pouring through the doors and lots of friendly conversation. There are always students hanging out getting work done and even better, I’ve met several people working on their start-ups at their antique dinning room table. Plus let’s face it, you can park yourself at Starbucks all day without buying anything.
If you have never been to Trident you need to get over there. I think it’s a fantastic night owl location to hammer out work. Aside from great diner style food (for the times when you need to eat something during your 6 hour work stint) and awesome wait staff, the bar offers the perfect work location. There are mounted power strips under the bar to plug your computer into, there’s free WiFi for as many hours as you can stay focused and I’ve gone there many times only spending a couple dollars (yes I leave a good tip) and have never gotten the evil eyes.
This is possibly my favorite spot. Cafe 939 is owned by Berklee so the food is super cheap, the setup is conducive to getting work done and students are always in there rocking out on their instruments (these kids have talent!). Make sure though if you do go to sit in the front of the room so you can access the Hynes WiFi, otherwise you might be in trouble. The only downside to this place are the hours. It’s usually closed on the weekends and when school isn’t in session. But when it is open I recommend getting in there.
Boston Public Library
There is nothing better than sitting in the reading room at the BPL. It could be one of the most beautiful settings in Boston and it’s free for all of us to use. There are always a ton of people in there studying, working and reading which is motivation enough for me to get myself in gear. Naturally the WiFi is free and you can stay there for as long as you want.
So there are the spots where you will find me working. Where does everyone else go to be productive?
Hi, my name is Cort and I live in Boston, working in the startup scene. I'm a co-founder of DartBoston and Terrible Labs. I am all about getting out into the community to meet other passionate entrepreneurs and see what people are working on.