Takeaways from Founders Dinner with Jay Myers


jaymyersseated20130618_webOn the evening of Monday, July 18th, Jay Myers, the founder and CEO of Interactive Solutions Inc. (ISI), visited the Start Co. Lounge to speak to our Accelerator teams at our weekly Founders Dinner. Interactive Solutions integrates the latest components and software into customized systems that connect organizations to their workers and to the world. They deliver solutions in corporate communications, distance learning, telemedicine, digital signage and more. Inc. has named ISI to its 500|5000 list of America’s fastest growing companies seven times. We were honored to have such an accomplished entrepreneur on site to share his wisdom. Here are some key takeaways from Mr. Myers’ talk:

Overcome Adversity

Mr. Myers has faced an unbelievable number of challenges on his path to building a successful company. At one point his brother passed away unexpectedly. Less than a year later, he discovered his accountant had embezzled $250,000 from him. Then, within a single month in 2007, he had two friends die, lost employees that accounted for 80% of his sales revenue, and his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. All of these experiences left him emotionally distraught, but he learned that if he didn’t allow that negativity to seep into his business, he could use them as growth points. When he had a negative response to that adversity, his business suffered. But when he had a positive response and chose to overcome that adversity no matter how difficult, it resulted in substantial growth. The year following the fraud incident ISI doubled in size, all because of how Myers chose to deal with the challenge. “It’s gonna come at you, you just have to be able to deal with it.” He’s discovered that that ability, more than anything else, is what separates success from failure.

Hire the Right People

A common theme at our Founders Dinners, but Mr. Myers stresses something different: think outside the box when Cnr7Kj5UIAA9LsZdefining who the right employee for your company is. At the time when ISI experienced that exodus of employees, every company in the tech industry hired older employees with years of experience in the field. But when Myers looked at the tech industry, he saw a rapidly growing field that older generations wouldn’t be able to keep up with. He saw the future, and knew he couldn’t be stuck in the past. So he bucked industry standards and hired a bunch of millennials, choosing to focus on energy, determination, and a desire to join a cause rather than simple experience. Then he trained those employees, building what he calls an “employee farm system”. Other tech companies thought he was crazy…until he more than doubled the size of his business – from $11 million to $25 million – in the middle of the Recession.

Community Involvement is Rewarding in More than One Way

Community involvement is often weaved into the very fabric of an entrepreneur’s company; after all, ideas for startups usually come from a problem the founder witnessed in their own community. But once you’ve reached success with your project, it’s never a bad idea to give back to your community in other ways, such as through service or donations. These actions can even reward you with more than a full heart and clear conscience. Mr. Myers is a living testament to this. He’s heavily involved in the Memphis community, and told us that through one connection made within seconds of beginning involvement in a certain service project, he secured a deal that he estimates has netted him at least $15 million. We’re not trying you to encourage you to do good for the wrong reasons, but we won’t judge you either.

Grant Hechinger is a Start Co. Summer Associate and a rising senior at Rhodes College. He can be reached at grant.hechinger@neverstop.co.

Keys to being a Master Chocolatier and Marketer: Founders Dinner with Phillip Ashley Rix


AAEAAQAAAAAAAAcyAAAAJDc0NmIzNWNlLWVmZjQtNDU2Mi04M2JhLWNmM2FmMzI2MzQ3NwOn Monday evening, July 11th, Chef Phillip Ashley Rix, founder of Phillip Ashley Chocolates came as our guest speaker for our weekly Founders Dinner accelerator meeting. The now notorious Chef started out working in sales positions for corporations such as FedEx, UPS and Apple. He flourished in sales because he enjoyed working with people, it was where he found a niche. However, he sensed early on that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and had an “itch” throughout his corporate career. He decided to take a three year period to focus on himself; he ended up starting his own company and getting his “PhD” and became a master chocolatier. He “learned the rules so he could break them” and differentiated his chocolate company as much as possible, and ultimately created a luxury brand. We were glad to have Mr. Rix in the office to share some of his experiences in building his company.

Being B2B

Although he is a small business, Rix built his company on many of the same building blocks that startups do. Many chocolate shops don’t consider themselves B2B, but Rix found a niche in the market after working for corporations. There, he realized that there was dysfunction in the way corporations handled corporate gifting; meanwhile the rest of their company functions were very much structured. His solution was to work closely with his clients through retainer programs for a more efficient and structured schedule for gifting chocolates. This move ultimately shifted his company into a partially B2B category.

Gaining Traction

Today, Philip Ashley Chocolates has small storefront locations in cities such as L.A., New York City, and Miami. To name just a few of his many other crowning achievements: he was the official chocolate provider for the 2016 Grammy Awards and the 2016 Oscars Salute, and was also named the “Real Life Willy Wonka” by Forbes. To gain such a status, Mr. Rix said he surrounded himself with the right people, the “top” people, and his network became a major “door opener and deal closer” in the early stages of his company.download

Stories Matter

One of the greatest things the accomplished Chef has learned is “people gravitate towards good stories”, so he made telling stories a major part of his company. Part of being a luxury brand is paying close attention to detail, which is why the company puts in a lot of time and effort to carefully and creatively naming each piece of chocolate, choosing which types of chocolates to use, and focusing on the presentation of the chocolates. “We tell stories that taste like chocolate” said the Chef. A prime example is the ‘Taste of Memphis’ box, which the chef says tells the story of the Bluff City in 12 unique flavors. Attention to detail and appealing to customers through stories is a major component in differentiating his brand from the rest of the major players in the chocolate industry.

Elegant, But Simple

To close, Rix emphasized that he patterns his business much like a tech and medical device company. He closely evaluates scalability, investment offers and branding. Through the years he has found it important to stick true to your brand as well as your vision and the model you’re trying to follow. Lastly, he advised that the most complicated part of the process is to be simple in piecing together your business’ brand and product. “Try to make everything elegant, but simple so your product can easily connect to people.”  Achieving that to the level Mr. Rix has is difficult, but a good goal to aim for nonetheless.

Alec Marshman is a Start Co. Summer Associate and a rising senior at Rhodes College. She can be reached at alec.marshman@neverstop.co.

Mike Bruns on Leadership and Community: Three Key Takeaways


image15-56Mike Bruns, the founder and president of Comtrak Logistics, a national transportation and logistics company that’s headquarters are located in Memphis, TN visited the Start Co. lab last night to speak to the founders about his story and the importance of leadership and community. His company, Comtrak Logistics provides trucking services including full truckload, intermodal, depot and logistics services and operates in terminals across the country. His company was named one of the 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies, as well as Business of the Year by the Memphis Business Journal.

Mike Bruns has an intriguing quality that was immediately displayed in his presence when he walked into the Start Co. lab. It was his genuine care for community. He believes in worthy causes and people that are passionate about solving a specific problem. Mr. Bruns has worked with multiple non-profit and profit organizations within the Memphis community, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, University of Memphis Board of Visitors, Church Health Center, WKNO, Assisi Foundation of Memphis, Society of Entrepreneurs, and Youth Villages (where he helped them raise $20 million in private contributions that allowed them to triple in size). Not only does Mr. Bruns believe in the true power of community, but he also stresses the importance of the leadership that drives the development of that communal space. “Anything can happen with a good and respected leader,” he says. A good leader never demands respect because they understand they have to earn it from their team. Here are three ways that Mr. Bruns detailed of how to be a good leader:

Don’t try to change anyone on your team.

You can never change a person because they are who they are. “Get out some sand paper, but forget the chainsaw,” Mr. Bruns said. Recognition is highly underutilized though very important when trying to build a community. A good leader recognizes the different pieces of the puzzle and has the ability to put them together into a system that works. Identify your team’s separate talents and assemble them in a way that allows them to learn and do great things for the company. Don’t try to change people to fit your needs, but instead find the person that has the talent to fulfill that need. “Part of leadership is looking at various people and picking them out and making your home runs.”P1170085

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room.

You don’t always have to be 100% sure of yourself. The reason being, if there is no failure than there will never be change, and change is what sparks progression. Mr. Bruns confidently admitted to the founders that he was never the smartest guy in the room, but because he surrounded himself with intelligent and driven people he was able to learn a significant amount by doing.

Make the home runs

“If you do only what you’re supposed to do then you break even, but if you go above and beyond then you hit a home run because it’s a surprise.” Do more than the bare minimum. Do more than the minimum. Do more than what is expected. Mr. Bruns heavily stressed that good leaders lead by doing, therefore if you aren’t doing anything and value propositions aren’t in place then nothing will be achieved. Empowerment is key, but it’s a learning process. No one will do anything exactly the way you do, but once progress is being made without you then recognize that you have empowered the people that surround you.

~               ~               ~

Everyday Mr. Bruns takes 2 ½ hours to make rounds at his office to establish and secure the community that he has built within his team. He takes time to look, see, listen, and observe. So it was no surprise that at the end of the session he stood up and shook every Start Co. founder’s hand that was present as they introduced themselves and thanked him. He left the founders with a quote that resonated with them, based on the silence that filled the room when he spoke, “Never get too big to forget where you came from.” As the founders continue through the Start Co. 90 day accelerator program with 43 days left, Mike Bruns was the perfect speaker to have at the halfway point to remind them that good leadership and community establishment is as important as anything to the success of your company.

Lindsay Gess is a Start Co. Summer Associate and a rising senior at Rhodes College. She can be reached at lindsay.gess@neverstop.co

A Typical Week in the Start Co. Lab


0e20472Anyone who is familiar with Start Co. understands that it runs accelerator programs for startups with a goal to stimulate the Memphis community with technology and innovation jobs. Then there are the people who simply ask, “So what does Start Co. actually do?” People either know what we do or they have no idea who we are. I was one of those clueless people when I decided to intern for Start Co. this summer of 2016. The only word I could associate with Start Co. was “startups” because as an undergrad student at Rhodes College studying English I was never exposed to the village that it takes to grow startups and grow communities. I thought, why not see how the startup world functions and gain some perspective? This would afford me the opportunity to acquire some knowledge about the business world and make connections with people who have intriguing ideas. While Start Co. has definitely presented me with all of these insights; I have also caught a glimpse of the Start Co. world that many people don’t see. This is what makes us a unique team.

My first week working with Start Co. was the week of Memphis in May’s BBQ festival. Start Co. has been participating in the festival for the past 3 years and hosts a tent to bring Investors, Sponsors, Mentors and other entrepreneurs outside of Memphis to enjoy the Memphis culture, or even experience it for the first time. This gives the startups a chance to make connections and network in an environment outside of the lab. The entire week was consumed with planning, walking, lifting— along with a lot of sweat, alcohol, good conversations, many connections, and all around enthusiasm. The event was only two days and I kept being told that it was an “unordinary” week compared to how the rest of the summer would go. However, now after working with Start Co. for a month I have to disagree. The event was the perfect introduction as to exactly how the rest of my summer experience at Start Co. would continue.

I soon learned that the “normal” schedule of Start Co. was anything but “normal” as it changes all of the time with different objectives each day. We’re always focused on the day-to-day usual programming, coordinating, organizing schedules and planning sessions. However, the next day our main goal might concentrate on driving all around Memphis to gather furniture for our 6th floor expansion. This is what makes the working environment of Start Co. one-of-a-kind. I watch pitch practice every Tuesday and Thursday to witness the team’s pitches get stronger every week. I also do inventory weekly to make sure the office has everything it needs to function properly. I sit in on office hours to go through the team’s business development and model canvases, but I also email them to remind them of when the next session begins. I spectate many of the sessions that take place in the lab such as customer discovery, interview preparation, talent development complex, social media training, content creation, brand strategy canvas, etc., but I also have the privilege of managing the Start Co. Instagram and Facebook page. The Start Co. schedule never stops producing intense energy.

Working in the lab that’s located in downtown Memphis on Main St. has exposed me to more of the Memphis community than I have seen in my past three years of being a Rhodes College student living in Midtown Memphis. I have sat in on numerous meetings around the city such as the City Council, members of St. Mary’s school, members of the Assisi Foundation, and many business partners of Start Co., such as Archer Malmo and Baker Donelson right around the corner. I have been inside the Memphis Federal Building, seen the Mississippi River from the rooftop of the Madison, played Werewolves with my co-workers and experienced my first concert at the Levitt Shell theatre. I have stepped inside the Orpheum and Halloran Theatre downtown, experienced Memphis in May for the first time, visited Nashville for the first time, and have had the opportunity to meet a number of people inside and outside of Memphis that have taught me more than just how to make coffee and use a fax machine. Between the core programming that Start Co. offers to its startups and the outside networking events that are constantly occurring throughout different locations within the city of Memphis, a day at Start Co. is never boring. Constantly surrounded by inspiring, interesting and driven people that are trying to solve a problem that they are passionate about is what makes this company far from insipid and makes the Start Co.’s motto of “Never Stop” nothing but accurate.

Lindsay Gess is a Start Co. Summer Associate and a rising senior at Rhodes College. She can be reached at lindsay.gess@neverstop.co

5 Key Takeaways from Founders Dinner with David Hoffman


AAEAAQAAAAAAAAPdAAAAJDlhMmE4MzMxLWEyNTItNDMzOC1iOTg4LTRlNGZlNzhkMGUyZAOn Monday, June 13th, Next Big Sound Cofounder and Head of Product David Hoffman came to talk to our accelerator teams at our weekly Founders Dinner. Next Big Sound is the leading provider of online music analytics and insights, tracking hundreds of thousands of artists around the world. They analyze the popularity of artists, comparing them to a benchmark set by artists of a similar level of recognition. They then use this to predict how they will perform and answer their root question, “How does a band become famous?” Based in New York City, Next Big Sound was launched in 2009 and acquired in the summer of 2015 by Pandora. It was named the most innovative company in the music industry and one of the top 50 most innovative companies overall by Fast Company. Here are some key takeaways from David’s talk with our founders.

  1. People make the idea work, not the other way around

A common theme among successful startup investors is that they invest in people. Great ideas are a dime a dozen, but people who are capable and driven enough to turn those ideas into a reality are a rarity. When David and his cofounders showed up to the TechStars accelerator in 2009, they had just decided to completely scrap their original idea that got them into the program in the first place. They were afraid the program leaders would boot them out of the program, but instead they said, “We invest in people, not ideas.” A once in a generation idea is great, but every founder must know that if they aren’t fully committed to the process and driven to action then they won’t be successful. On the other hand, those who possess these qualities can achieve success, even if their original idea falls flat.

  1. Find a problem to solve, and go solve it

When the Next Big Sound founders were first starting their business they wanted to answer one question: how does a band become famous? It took them a while, but every time their idea failed they went back to that original question, and eventually began to uncover the answer. They saw that the music industry was progressing to the online space and designed software to track online listeners and compile it in a database that record labels could use to easily evaluate talent. They found an area in which the industry was lacking and they came up with a solution. Your startup must solve a real, measurable problem in order to find success.

  1. Choose your team carefully

David counseled the same caution in picking team members as Brad Silver did a few weeks ago in his Founders Dinner talk. “Hire slow, fire fast.” If you don’t follow this policy you can end up with a couple of bad eggs infecting your company’s culture, as Next Big Sound experienced. They learned from their mistakes, however, and are now more cautious when hiring. They also feature a constantly evolving company culture handbook that allows for employee P1160751input and suggestions.

  1. Know when to pivot

Another echo of Mr. Silver’s talk, David stressed that you must be willing to completely change your business if it isn’t working. He described the first idea he and his cofounders had as “fantasy football for music”. Not surprisingly, this failed, but they quickly realized their mistake and were willing to switch paths. They had to go through this recycling process multiple times until they found out what worked. If your idea isn’t working, let it go.

  1. Failure is a part of the process

“You’re going to try a lot of things and they’re not going to work, and that’s okay. As long as you’re persistent and stick with what you believe in, something great will happen.” When starting a business, you must be accepting of failure. In order to find out what works, you first have to find out what doesn’t work. Take every failure as a learning opportunity. The Next Big Sound founders were dedicated to the music industry and making an impact within it, and they didn’t let their failures sway them from their true passion. You must be willing to evolve while also sticking with your foundational values and beliefs. It’s a difficult, yet necessary balance to maintain.

Grant Hechinger is a Start Co. Summer Associate and a rising senior at Rhodes College. He can be reached at grant.hechinger@neverstop.co.