Today, the Thunderbird Entrepreneurship Winterim (#eWinterim) met with the co-founders of Fanminder, Paul Rosenfeld and Tracy Grover. With Fanminder, a small business owner can create unlimited offers and promotions that reach fans on Facebook, Twitter, and mobile phones, with no marketing expertise required. The company specifically focuses on small businesses that have a storefront (retail space). In this blog, I will discuss the three major takeaways from our time with Paul and Tracy.
We first touched on the immense amount of creative destruction when you are playing the startup space. Many startups go down, with only a few actually getting going—this is demonstrated in both Tracy and Paul’s history. Both have worked for several startups that eventually went under for various reasons. But neither could stay away. In fact, with a good sense of humor Paul self-admitted that his track record has shown (until Fanminder) that he has been “a marketing genius but a financial failure.” As for Tracy, she comes from an entrepreneurial family, though she didn’t want to be an entrepreneur initially (in fact, she purposely avoided it). She mainly thought she wanted to have an outside life—while growing up she saw how much her father worked (who was an entrepreneur), and thought she wanted to do something different. But, in the end, she came full-circle and got sucked in to the startup scene, and now firmly embraces it—she says it’s “in her blood.”
Lesson 1 was on the importance of a co-founder—their biggest advice was to find a co-founder with a complementary skillsets to yours. Tracy and Paul are a perfect example. Paul comes from the “PowerPoint background” as he puts it (aka corporate) and is an idea and strategy person (he can do the “what”), whereas Tracy comes from the scrappy “just do it” mentality, and she brings the “how” along with principles tactics of good execution and excellent speed. However, neither of them have technical backgrounds (although Tracy previously did manage technical products)—so it’s definitely possible to be a founder, or part of a co-founder team, lacking an engineering or science degree. What’s harder is doing it alone—it’s lonely, boring (there’s no one to bounce ideas off of), and it’s easy to lose momentum, go on tangents, and get hung up on minutiae without someone to keep you on-track.
What is the hardest part, to Paul, about starting his own business? Put very simply, “the balls to do it;” to take a huge leap of a cliff, without any certainty of success, especially having come from a corporate job (Paul was working for Intuit at the time as a chief marketing officer). But, to him, there is a litmus test that is really quite simple, and asks each one of us to pose the following question to ourselves before deciding whether to embark on, or pass on, a venture: the question perpetually is “when you’re on your death bed, will you be happy with the choices you made?” These are words we should all live by—therefore, Lesson 2 is to live without regret. For Paul, he is most proud of being able to leap off the cliff at his position in life, considering he had a family. What other advice did he have? It’s better to do startup when you’re young, but not impossible to do it late in life. In fact, it’s a myth that startups are all founded by 25 year olds. The majority of businesses are founded by people in their 40s. “You get there when you get there,” reminded Tracy.
The final lesson is on attracting quality people to work for you, especially in the situation of a co-founder team sans programming ability (in need of engineers). Tracy and Paul had an all equity team in the beginning, and many people told them that it couldn’t be done (but this didn’t stop them). “Everyone has an opinion,” says Paul, “but it really doesn’t matter. If you’re successful then it means that you have broken through all of these barriers.” The duo found that their engineers, although “working for equity” in the technical sense, weren’t really “working for equity.” In reality, the Fanminder engineers were working to learn new skills, working because they believed in the company, working because they wanted to do something cool and new, and working because they believed in Paul and Tracy as leaders. It took a certain type of person, to be sure, and Tracy and Paul were quite choosy. So this is Lesson 3—choose the right people and don’t be desperate. Don’t have the ONLY requirement be people who are willing to work for equity. Rather, hire the employees that are “oh by the way, working for equity” but really working for all those other intangible reasons. Take the people who will make the venture succeed and will do whatever it takes. Find people who will not only do what is sufficient, but also what is necessary. For Fanminder, some of the hardest working employees in the beginning actually had families, even with newborns, and a 9-5 job, but still were able to make it work because they believed in the business.
Stay tuned for more tomorrow on day 9 of the Winterim.