Key Takeaways from Founders Dinner with (virtual) Thomas Knoll

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30223-largeOn 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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 alec.marshman@neverstop.co.