F*#ked It Up…Now Fix It

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We all make mistakes sometime.  As individual we are taught to apologize and hopefully the transgression will be forgiven.  However research shows us that the a mistake can impact trust and my friend Ed Trolley used to say that with trust, “you take the elevator down but have to take the stairs back up.”  Some research shows negative stories are more than 4x more viral than positive ones and that it can take 10+ positives to overcome a negative.  Perhaps this is why roses come by the dozen.

This is not to say that the effort required to recover is not worth it. Especially as a startup.  Loyalty to a brand has been shown to INCREASE after a mistake is recovered from.  This is especially true when the recovery exceeds the expectation of the impacted.  Think Zappos, Nordstrom and others that are storied as “over-recovery” companies.

Acknowledge

You start by admitting it.  Tell your users, clients and team that something went wrong.  Don’t ever try to ignore it.  This is the time to channel your inner Stoic warrior.  Focus on what is not what you wish it was.

Accept

Missteps often have a strange gravity on us, turning our focus to the past rather than the future.  Acceptance does not mean internalizing it.  You and your team are not the mistake.  You remain a smart, focused, execution machine.  You just had a bad day.  The key is to not let that day become a week.

Recover

Now it is time to get to the fixing.  There are plenty of resources, such as root cause analysis, to help you here.  My contribution to this is simply to go back to where your startup began…focused on the problem to be solved and user to be delighted.

We all try not to make mistakes.  But in a world where we are also required to constantly be trying new things, it is inevitable.  The key is to focus on the recovery and the learnings that come from the process.  In doing so, you may be creating even more loyal customers.  And that is no mistake.

NOEW 2015

Last week New Orleans officially added a new season to the calendar…Entrepreneur Season.  The annual New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, NOEW (pronounced “no-ee” since nothing down sounds like it looks) is in the books and this year was one that may go down as the tipping point, not just for New Orleans but perhaps even the regional ecosystem.

Last year I wrote about my views on NOEW 2014 and stated that I thought that Idea Village and the ecosystem were at a point where roles and responsibilities needed to change.  As entrepreneur-in-residence this season I had a ringside seat to watch those changes begin to take place.

Uppenteaux Da Rite

Jim Coulter’s keynote provided the perfect left-brained showcase of the growth and impact of NOEW, balancing out the stubborn, perseverant right-brained passion that is Tim Williamson.  With attendance, start ups and partner organizations rapidly growing it was a set of charts that every startup should aspire to.

Friday’s Demo Day pitches were another example of the growing strength of the ecosystem.  My co-EIR Hank Torbert and I had the privilege of working with 15 amazing companies ranging from a freshly launched app to an industrial technology led by a former EIR. What all these companies had in common was quality.  Many of them were announcing new partnerships, accelerating progress and even funding. From the founders to the traction they were getting these were all companies that had earned the right to be in the room.

And what a room it was.  Over one hundred investors both local and national crammed into a conference room to get a look at what many across the nation have overlooked.  Our goal as EIR’s was to create a sense of FOMO for those that were not in that room and based on the buzz, business cards and emails we may have succeeded.  This year’s room was filled by the hard work of Alex Rawitz and his tireless networking.  My guess is whomever has the job next year will have a much easier time of it.

One Festival.  Many Tents

The partner organizations pitches were a joy to see as well.  Leveraging the NOEW platform to elevate their efforts both locally and regionally they brought energy and passion to the party.  Idea Village’s open platform has become a Jazz Fest for entrepreneurship and festivals are what we do best down here.  The Delta Regional Authority brought startups from the many states within its domain and once again New Orleans served as the gateway to the Mississippi. This time for new ideas rather than barge loads of goods.

Second lines, cocktail parties, celebrity chefs on panel, Saints announcers and brass bands reminded everyone that this was not your typical conference but this was a truly a New Orleans style festival.  One that is not only for the locals but one that can and should draw entrepreneurs from everywhere. If you want to read a great piece on this check out this post.

My Mission

The 300th anniversary of New Orleans is only a couple of years away and I think it is time to go back to where it all began.  I want the upcoming NOEW’s to be made up of the same crazy gumbo that started it all.  I am looking for French, Spanish and Caribbean entrepreneurs and ecosystems to partner with the Idea Village and to see NOEW and New Orleans as the perfect platform for highlighting their accomplishments and journey.  So if you are one or know of one please let me know.

Yeah You Rite

The team at Idea Village did an amazing job and I will add my voice, applause and gratitude to the multitudes that have already shown their appreciation.  I would especially call out the team that worked with Hank and I and the 15 demo day companies; Alex Rawitz, Amelia Lane Johnson, Leilah Bundesen-Magier and James Arney.  Without you guys Hank, me and all the companies would not have made it.

I am not sure what my role in NOEW 2016 will be but I am sure I will be there.  I hope to see all of you there too.IMG_0268

Craft Cocktails & Crafting Pitches


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Last month I, along with Tim Williamson, had the honor of hosting the second Barpreneur at SoBou restaurant. This event was a fun gathering of local entrepreneurs pitching to Tim and I. There are a number of things that I really like about the event (pic above is from the last one). I like that even if you aren’t pitching, or an entrepreneur the whole bar gets into it. You can see everybody listening, nodding and of course clapping as the treps deliver their pitches.

Another thing that I really enjoy about the event is the structure. Startups deliver a one minute pitch trying to get chosen in the top 3 so that they can come back and pitch for 3 minutes. After the second round one entrepreneur was selected to join Tim and I for lunch. What I like about the process is that it is identical to real life. As startups we often get so focused on our decks, our one-pagers or our website that we forget the cocktail party, dinner table, hallway introduction. These are places where the objective of the pitch is different and you have to earn permission to continue the dialogue.

Following the Barpreneur process, here are my thoughts on one approach for making that first cut.

One Minute Pitch

The objective here is actually not to tell us all about your company (surprise) you are pitching to earn 3 more minutes. There are two parts to this pitch the first is your infomercial. Capture your audience’s attention with a wow fact, a big win, a mind-blowing benefit of your startup. You want the audience leaning forward, curiosity piqued wondering, “how can they do that?” Stay away from operational details unless they build credibility that would win over non-believers but keep it brief. Only tell me that 4 out of 5 dentists prefer you don’t give me the details of the study. This part should leave your audience thinking, “I want to learn more about this amazing product.”

The second part is the passion. Let your audience know why this is your mission and why you are the right person to lead this charge. Personal stories that show your commitment and dedication are “pitch gold” here. However, make sure its authentic. Where as you can often use hyperbole, etc. to good effect in the first part don’t try it here. Audiences have little tolerance for overstating personal details. Keep it real and don’t be scared to open up a bit. Vulnerable can be very compelling. This part should leave your audience thinking, “I want help/work with/buy from this person.”

I am looking forward to the next event and maybe even having lunch with you.

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Pay It Forward

One of the things that has consistently impressed me in startup communities is the willingness to pay it forward.  It seems to be a universal agreement in every ecosystem that I have seen.

Entrepreneurs have a heightened sense of the many contributors it requires to achieve success.  The potential customers willing to spend 20 minutes in a customer development interview, the other founders willing to lift their heads up from their own startup to offer feedback and advice as well as the advisors, mentors and others who pitch in to lend experience, expertise and extra hands are all part of the journey.  Like the volunteers who hand water and power gel to runners of a marathon, they all cheer when the runner crosses the finish line.

While many cities are looking to entrepreneurship as an economic driver what is overlooked is that this attitude can be the ultimate catalyst.  We just saw a great local example of this in New Orleans where the Jolly family just made a large donation to the Newman School. Tarun Jolly (TJ) is the founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Renaissance RX, a rapidly-growing medical services business based in New Orleans that has attracted funding from TPG. At the announcement TJ said “As medical practitioners and entrepreneurs, Rupa and I believe strongly in the power of science education to fuel innovation and improve lives.”  I love that he identified himself as an entrepreneur and I love that he has not lost his commitment to paying it forward.  And hopefully it is contagious.  You can see the full announcement here.

In this spirit, I try to end all my conversations with, “is there anything I can do for you?”  So I will end this post with it as well.  Let me know if there is anything I can help you with.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

tired runnerThis is a phrase I seem to being using a lot and one of the ways that I think New Orleans startups are beginning to develop an advantaged approach. Here in New Orleans we frequently have to remind visitors and new comers of this important distinction. Surrounded by so many opportunities for great music, food and fun it is easy to find oneself worn out or moving zombie like through the motions of experiencing this great city.

 The Startup Marathon

A quote went around on Twitter a few weeks back that said something like, “Most companies are overnight successes. And that it happens somewhere between the 1,000th and 2,000th night.” We all know that startups are hard but we must also be prepared for the fact that they are hard…for a long time. Not 6 months hard but 3-10 years hard. And that is if you are one of the lucky ones.

Seasons and Rhythms

Down here we operate in seasons. And not necessarily calendar ones. Although Summer is one sticky slow one you learn to get through, most of our seasons are tied to other things. Saints football, Mardi Gras, Jazz fest and Crawfish season are all more important dates on the calendar than any solstice or equinox.

Down here you don’t schedule meetings on Thursdays or Friday late afternoon during Carnival for fear of being trapped on the wrong side of a parade route. And you don’t schedule a Startup Weekend if the Saints play on that Sunday because your teams won’t get anything done. Some find this annoying (I did when I first got here) and think that startups can’t waste that time and should be at it 24/7. I have come to embrace it, recognizing that it teaches an important lesson. Push when you can but if you can’t then take that time to recharge, refresh and prepare for the next push.

Acceptance that some things take time and that everything follows its own rhythm, including startups and cities, is an important lesson that allows you to run the marathon.

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Tom Hanks Released a Typing App

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Accelerators and Parades

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I have been thinking a lot about accelerators and incubators recently.  The rapid rise of these startup ecosystem players has been interesting to watch. I remember the run up of incubators during the web1.0 craze as everybody sought to offered shared space, services and Aeron chairs in hopes of creating the next IdeaLab. All but the original failed.

Accelerators todays are the storefront that startup communities put out to signal they are in the market for disruptive innovation.  But too many are mistaking the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself (last night’s super moon still on my mind obviously). Accelerators are, as the name implies, taking what is already there and making it faster.  They are the pedal, not the engine. Below are some thoughts from my readings and recent discussions on startup accelerators. As always, the IMHO disclaimer applies and your comments are welcome.

Build on what you have

In order to ensure an accelerator is not an event, but rather a sustainable catalyst, accelerators need to be authentic to the communities they serve.  Startups only get 10-12 weeks of support.  If after that all the mentors, service providers and fellow ‘treps scatter or close their doors so will the startups.  An accelerator should focus and rally the resources startups need but not “import” them.  If you don’t have them in your community already maybe that is where your energies should go.

Accelerators need a superpower

The basics don’t count for accelerators.  Most quality startups can get access to the space, lean methodology expertise and even cash they need.  What accelerators need is to figure out what their uniqueness is.  When we started the Delaware startup ecosystem we turned our “weakness” of small state into our “superpower” easy access.  Size matters took on a new meaning and they are seeing startups that value small choose them as a place to launch.  You won’t win on your accelerator’s brand or platform, Techstars/YC/500 Startups have that cornered.  pick something else.  Protip: If you don’t know what it is ask someone who just got there.  A transplant or other outsider frequently sees things you don’t.

Turn some people off

Dave McClure used to do a talk where he suggested that you want customers to either want to f&@k you or want to kill you.  The middle ground has little value.   They aren’t passionate.  I know it is safe to have the proof of an existing model in another city but too many accelerators seem to be city agnostic.  Accelerators are competing too and if you don’t have startups that look at your program and say “not for me” you won’t have passionate ones that say “that is perfect for me.”  Startups are not cookies and accelerators can’t be cookie cutters.

NOLA

As EIR for the Idea Village accelerator this season I am excited to try and put these and other learnings into practice. One thing I am sure of is that our program, like the city that birthed it, will be full of rhythms, rituals and great relationships.

Stay calm and ‘trep on.