On Tuesday, May 31st, Revelry Executive Advisor and Business Coach Thomas Knoll Skyped in from Minneapolis to talk to our accelerator teams during our weekly Founder’s Dinner. Knoll has nearly 20 years of experience with building startups and cultivating communities. He is currently working with his third startup, Revelry- a custom software and digital product studio that works closely with startup companies. Knoll took some time to discuss some of the obstacles entrepreneurs face and some of the expertise he often shares with startups.
Knoll introduced himself as someone who loves to help his clients at Revelry with their products. How he came to work with Revelry was largely due to his passion for figuring out how to help businesses, and mentoring and advising other founders. These were his favorite parts about going through two rounds at 500 Startups accelerator. He also cares about developing company culture, which he worked toward at Zappos as a community architect. Here are a few key takeaways from Knoll’s experience.
- Think about growing a great business not necessarily how to sell it
Startup founders are faced with managing many aspects of the company. When asked the question of where their company is going to be in 5 to 10 years, many early stage founders stop and are tempted to thoroughly evaluate this question. Knoll addressed this dilemma by advising that founders should focus on making sure that there is a functional company in the first place, and not to worry quite yet about how to sell it. Knoll’s experience with selling his past two companies meant to him that the opportunity cost of not going after the ‘next big thing’ was greater than the option to keep pushing for the business- a matter that came to him as he was further along in the development of his companies.
- Community building comes with some major benefits
For Knoll, a professional community cultivator, there are a number of benefits that come with creating a community. First, he pointed out that community building differs from crowd building, stating that “true communities are living, breathing things”. This organism brings a major factor to a company: retention. Part of the appeal and offering that a company can have is loyalty. The more people that feel connected to the community, the more likely people are to share with others. This creates a sense of loyalty and cultivates a group that shares values, culture, beliefs and, ultimately, a sense of belonging.
3. Be accepting of criticism
In response to being asked if startups should listen to those saying ‘fail fast and prove what works in your company’ versus ‘neverstop’ and don’t give up, Knoll responded that there isn’t necessarily a difference between those concepts. Instead, he says, be accepting of criticism and take those risks. He cautioned founders to believe that the most dangerous thing that happens to startups is advice. Founders should always listen to advice but not always follow that advice. Rather, they should think through it, discuss it, and pattern match before taking any action on a piece of advice. Then would be the appropriate time to make changes.
Alec Marshman is a Start Co. Summer Associate and a rising senior at Rhodes college. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Monday, May 23rd, Quire CEO Brad Silver came to talk to our accelerator teams at the weekly Founders Dinner. Quire seeks to make the deep resource of doctor-patient interactions more quantifiable and transferable by translating clinical notes into useful, searchable data. With an abundance of experience in management and entrepreneurship, Mr. Silver shared his knowledge of the difficulties that come with starting a business and managing a team of employees. Here are five key takeaways from his talk with our founders.
- Make sure your team is right
“Slow to hire, quick to fire.” This may sound a bit ruthless but when building a company, you have to be extremely careful that every member of your team is a good fit. Mr. Silver emphasized that you must be purposeful about your culture and not be afraid to drop a team member that is disrupting that culture if you want to build a successful business.
- Part of your role as a manager is to shield your team’s stress
It’s your team’s job to focus, but it’s your job to keep them focused. If you want your team to be productive you have to take some of the burden of stress and responsibility off their shoulders. That also means serving as the chief supporter and barrier breaker within the company. This may seem like a lot of responsibility, but as the manager you have to be stronger than the rest of your team. You have to “find it within yourself to stay strong,” or your employees won’t have a source to draw strength from.
- Be an agent of change
It’s hard to be caught off guard by change when you’re the one initiating it. When you are that agent of change it helps you to better manage the change that is unwanted but inevitable. Mr. Silver says that his willingness to enact change, take initiative, and be productive has helped him to know what he can and should take action on.
- Know when to pivot
The world of consumer wants is an ever-changing landscape. It can be an incredibly difficult decision to change your company’s direction, but if you don’t you could end up with a failed business. A different company is better than a dead one. Listen to your customers, and be willing to modify your company’s offering if it becomes clear you’re in the wrong area, as Mr. Silver did with Quire.
- Focus on what you can control
The entrepreneurial lifestyle is a “bipolar existence”. There are huge hills and valleys, ups and downs. For Mr. Silver, one of the ups included closing a $2.6 million investment round, while a down was being given the go ahead on a proposal only to have it completely shut down at the last minute because the internal dynamics of the situation got in the way. As a founder, you must be able to motivate yourself in both the good and the bad times, no matter how hard that may seem. “Take solace in the things you can control,” and don’t dwell too much on the things you can’t.
Grant Hechinger is a Start Co. Summer Associate and a rising senior at Rhodes College. He can be reached at email@example.com.
A graduate of the 2015 Upstart accelerator program, Front Door is changing the game in real estate. Founder and CEO Jessica Buffington, a former real estate agent, saw a problem in the industry and decided to correct it. Front Door’s mission statement states: “We believe that selling your home should be a simple process and one that does not drain your wallet. We match homeowners with real estate professionals who are the best in their class. Our network of agents have already agreed to fully represent our homeowners and sell their home for one flat price of $2,500, instead of a 3% commission fee. Because everyone deserves to sell their home with peace of mind and save money in the process.” We sat down with Jessica and asked her a few questions about the business and their experience in the Upstart accelerator program.
Q: Why did you start Front Door? What problems did you see that needed to be addressed? How does Front Door address them?
A: Front Door is founded by real estate professionals who have worked the grounds in the industry. Over the years we saw a huge pain that could not go ignored; real estate was not affordable nor innovative. So, we set out on a mission to empower homeowners to keep more of their home equity and revolutionize real estate once and for all. Front Door was born and within three months of launching, has already saved home sellers $151,000 in commission fees and counting.
Q: How did you discover Start Co. and how did the Upstart accelerator program help Front Door grow as a business?
A: I actually read a blog about Start Co. 48 hours before the applications were due. I knew we had an idea that could be taken on a national level, so I applied and here we are. Upstart was huge in our company’s success. Mara Lewis was a great mentor, turned advisor. We owe a lot of our success to her and her network. Upstart gave us many tools to empower us as female entrepreneurs.
Q: How has Front Door progressed since going through the Start Co. Upstart program in 2015?
A: Since beginning the Upstart program, we’ve grown a lot – both as individuals and a company. We’ve hired a CTO and are expanding our team gradually with people who share the same passion for real estate as we do. We’ve maneuvered the startup world and are constantly learning to improve ourselves and the company. We’ve gained traction and now have 95 listings under our platform and 50 realtors nationwide.
Q: What’s the best advice you could give to new startup founder’s on how to move their business forward?
A: I think the best advice to give to a new startup founder is to be open to different pieces of advice. Even if you think you know what is the best for your company and business, you should leverage your network of mentors and advisors. Sometimes a different view looking in could provide insight on how to grow and help it succeed.
Q: What’s the plan for Front Door’s future?
A: The future of Front Door is to change the way real estate is sold. We want to be the company that dominates this space and with our one-of-a-kind technology, we know we can do that.
Q: Is there anything else you want readers to know about Front Door?
A: So far, we are the only women-led company in the real estate space. We’re also the only company with real estate backgrounds.
Front Door is a 2015 Upstart alumnus. To chat with or contact them, visit their website at www.listyourfrontdoor.com.
The Homey team
HomeyLabs (Memphis, TN) – A start-up company from Slovenia, Europe joined Start Co’s summer accelerator program, Upstart, a cohort for women-led startups. Their iOS and Android mobile app – called Homey – gamifies household chores for families, motivates kids to do chores and enables easier chore management for parents. The team behind Homey decided to come to Memphis after they discovered the majority of their users come from the Mid South.
The app launched 5 months ago but the story began long before that. It started when the founders were living together as students. They had the same problem many families face: nobody was doing their chores!! And that’s where Homey began. Truth is, there is a demand. Right now, 61% of parents in the US pay allowance to their kids and 89% of them require their kids to work for money. With it clear that small rewards and recognition are great motivators for kids, their business idea was born. When the beta version launched, parents started reaching out to them and before long they had hundreds of families waiting in line to try Homey.
It’s getting hard to reach children with paper chore charts, especially since they spend so much time on their smartphones. But Homey is fun, motivating and social. Homey’s biggest advantage: it works with photos, so kids have to take a photo of each chore they do. The photos motivate kids to do a better work and but they also show parents what’s actually being done around the house.
Homey also connects chores to rewards, so that the kids or the whole family together can work towards the rewards the adults set – the reward could be anything; weekly allowance, screen time or a family trip to the zoo.
HomeyLabs was founded by Sanja Zepan and Saso Pompe. The couple has been together for eight years; that’s a lot of chores!! Sanja studied communication, with a focus on how modern families communicate. She works on marketing for Homey. Saso is a developer, former CTO, who studied business economics and marketing. They’ve both been involved in educational tech startups, and that’s where they met their two excellent developers – Sandi Mihelic and Vid Staric – who joined them last Summer.
The Homey team came to Memphis to talk to parents and kids already using their app and to try and grow their product more by making business partnerships and connections in this region.
If you want to try out if Homey app works for your family, you can download it on the App Store and Google Play, or you can visit their website at www.homeyapp.net. If you have any feedback about Homey, they would love to talk to you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sanja Zepan is the Co-founder and CMO of the Homey App
At first it may seem that entrepreneurs are facing insurmountable competition from huge multinational corporations. They assume that because their established competitors have larger budgets and more manpower that they are better positioned to be competitive in the marketplace. Start ups face many other challenges to such as few customers and low credibility, that are inherent in all new businesses. However, these do not always need to be disadvantages. There are many different ways that startups can utilize all the factors working against them and turn them in their favor. In his chapter, “Do More Faster”, David Cohen discusses several different ways start up companies can do leverage these apparent obstacles to their advantage.
- Start ups don’t have the bureaucratic baggage of larger corporations. Bureaucracy slows down larger companies by discouraging risk. Risk takers have a higher chance of a political fall in a large established business because when they are wrong they usually are fired or lose credibility. In a good start up environment the opposite of this happens. Risk taking is encouraged, and failures are not looked down upon. They are seen as lessons.
- Start ups can better adjust to their customers’ input. One of the best qualities of startups is that they can be so open minded to what their customers want. An example is how one startup began as an image sharing website, but when its customers started using it for something totally different (embedding photos on other sites) they were able to shift at a moments notice and start making the customer’s new found use for the service easier and more direct.
- Start ups only focus on one specific market. This specialization allows them to perfect one small specific product to best cater to their customers’ need. The wide variety of products that the larger competing companies offer can actually act to their disadvantage. This could happen when a company with a broad product line lets one of their products slip. If they lose credibility for that product their customers are likely not to purchase other products from them. This prompted Jeffrey Powers, co-founder of Occipital, to warn startups against trying to grow too big too fast in his chapter titled “Be Tiny Until You Shouldn’t Be”.
Matt Renzo is a junior at Rhodes College completing an academic internship at Start Co. You can reach him at email@example.com.