The key to any entrepreneurial venture is taking that very first step, even if you aren’t sure about step two or three. That was some of the advice passed on Thursday night by Maveron co-founder Dan Levitan, Cozi CEO Robbie Cape and Earth Class Mail CEO Sara Carr who participated in the “Startup And Scale Up” panel at The Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island.
“Taking step one is the hardest of all,” said Cape, who co-founded Cozi in 2005 after a long career at Microsoft.
Once that hurdle is cleared, Levitan added that you will need resilience and tenacity. “Things will never go as you expect,” he said. “You need to listen to the customer, the market and react dynamically.”
Launching a startup does have its financial risks.
Cape talked about how he approached relatives to secure the necessary funds to help him support his family while getting his business to a point where he could actually raise money.
And when it comes to raising outside financing, Levitan emphasized the importance of doing research to identify the VC’s that best understand your business idea. Maveron, for example, is strictly consumer focused and wouldn’t be the right place for a B2B startup.
So how do you get a VC’s attention? Levitan says he has seen some interesting presentations over the years, including one entrepreneur who sent him an hourglass with 15 minutes of sand. The attached note read: “If you give me 15 minutes, the hourglass is yours.”
Most ideas, however, arrive via personal referrals. Levitan says he looks for a good team with complimentary skills, the size of the prize (a potential for a $100 million dollar plus income) and whether the product will resonate with consumers.
According to Cape there are three important considerations when launching a new startup. The first is finding a great partner. The second is creating a business idea that is market inspired — in his case it was the family market. And finally, it is important to find a “guiding light” — in his case it was his father who inspired him to be an entrepreneur.
“Everyone should be doing today what they want to do for the rest of their life,” added Cape.
Having a mentor and drawing on the experience of someone who has done it before was a common theme that ran through the night’s discussion.
Carr suggested that women entrepreneurs should choose a man as a mentor in order to get a “male perspective” on how your actions are perceived. The CEO of Earth Class Mail says she encourages other women to get involved in startups, adding that first few years are tough, but eventually you will achieve a work-life balance.
The panelists also touched on recruiting, agreeing that it is one of the toughest challenges for a startup, but one of the most important tasks.
The first ten employees will help define the future direction of the company, guiding it through those critical early stages, said Cape. Because of that, the entrepreneur said that he prefers to be directly involved in the hiring process. “The best talent are those who are happy with their current job,” he said.
Thursday’s event attracted a mix of people, including Oudi Antebi whose company, OffiSync, was recently bought by Jive Software.
Antebi said that he hasn’t really had time to celebrate acquisition. He’s already working on his next business plan.
Barry Elad is a Seattle area technology journalist. He previously covered the Seattle area tech scene as the managing editor of internet.com‘s Seattle bureau. He has also worked as a news writer for CNN Headline News.