Startup vet Bob Crimmins: A huge chasm between good ideas and good businesses

Bob Crimmins

SURF Incubator, Seattle’s newest startup incubator, celebrated its launch last week at its new facility in the Exchange Building in downtown Seattle. We got an inside look at the incubator a few months ago, but now Seaton Gras’ dream is brimming with activity.

To kick off the festivities, Seattle area startup veteran Bob Crimmins — the CEO of MoonTango — delivered a keynote speech in which he discussed three of his key axioms for startups.

“I see a lot of startups, and I see a lot of ideas,” said Crimmins. “And there’s a huge chasm between a really good idea, and a really good business.”

Here are Crimmins’ three axioms (with full video below):

Your Startup is Made up of People

“People is the number one thing that you need to worry about. Your startup asset in the beginning, and for pretty much the whole trajectory of the company, is going to come down to the people that you can get together to share you vision and work really, really hard — blood, sweat and tears — to try to make something a success. Startups are so hard. It is so easy to have a great idea. It is really, really hard to build a business. As (entrepreneur) Dan Shapiro wrote about recently — I guess paraphrasing Tony Wright — you do yourself a favor if you can increase your luck surface area. So much of startups is hard. So much of it really does come down to luck. And when you expose yourself to lots of other people who are sort of tilting at windmills and driving at a dream, you increase your surface area for interactions that make a difference in your startup.

This is hard-earned experience. You want talent and experience and you want someone who is passionate about your idea…. Pay attention to integrity too. Integrity is really, really important. It is often left off that list of three or four or ten things you care about. You need to be able to trust these people with your life. Because your startup is your life.”

Passion is Not Enough

“I think passion is very important. I’ve been passionate about every startup I’ve ever done. It is really, really important. You need that in order to get yourself through the dark days. But passion is not enough, because the itch you want to scratch has no idea how big the market is. It has no idea if there is really a customer who is going to pay you enough to create a sustainable, let alone a scaleable, business based on this wild wacky idea you had in the shower or in the middle of the night. It just bugs you, and you feel like you want to solve it. But if you are solving a little tiny problem in a little tiny market, you are going to have a really hard time attracting a team, attracting capital, attracting customers who will pay. So, when I think of passion, I think it is necessary, but not sufficient.”

“You want to find really awesome qualified critics. Don’t ask your family or your friends if your idea is good. It is. They will love it. They are going to support you. ‘Oh, that’s so awesome.’ You want to find folks who know the space really well. My favorite person to go after when you starting a startup to see if there is some ‘there, there’ are investors who say they won’t invest in you. As soon as an investor says: ‘You know, I know this space, but you should probably count me out.’ Then, you buy that person a 5-course dinner and just have them explain to you why it is a bad idea because they have seen 1,000 deals and they know your space and know all of the things that are possibly wrong — not wrong, at least really, really hard about your startup. Another great group to go after are other entrepreneurs. Serial entrepreneurs are great. But any entrepreneur who is actively trying to solve their own problems is going to be a good asset for you to go talk to…. They are struggling with the same problems you are… And that’s going to bleed into you.”

Build Your Network

“Whatever your network is, it is not strong enough. You are not done. In my own head, I always tell myself, virtually everything good that has ever happened in one of my startups, came from someone that I knew. Right? Somebody didn’t call me up out of the blue. Walmart didn’t call me up and say: ‘Hey, let’s do a deal.’ Pfizer didn’t try to find my address and take an Uber car on my house to knock on my door to tell me that they wanted to do something with me. Right? The things that are good that are going to happen for your startup are going to come from people you know. Get used to that, and start now building your network, meeting as many interesting people as you can, so when you need them, they are there…. That’s one of the things that really helps startups find that ‘luck’ space.”

Here’s the full talk with Crimmins’ remarks about startups beginning in minute eight.

  • Tim

    Great event and new space for Seattle Startups. Glad to help produce this one and be part o the SURF community. Tim R.

  • http://www.facebook.com/neilbergquist Neil Bergquist

    Bob, you offered some keen advice. I could easily
    tell apart the entrepreneurs in the room from the general audience because they
    were completely captivated. I really enjoyed hearing a more realistic, down to
    earth portrayal of life as an entrepreneur. Definitely something to be said for
    the value of humility.

    • http://twitter.com/bcrimmins Bob Crimmins

      Thanks for the kind words, Neil. The event was a blast and I look forward to watching (and helping) as you and Seaton continue to evolve SURF.

  • http://twitter.com/mel_fry Melissa Fry

    Bob, happy you could make it to the launch party–really motivating words of advice. SURF Incubator is an inspiring place for startups, thrilled to be part of this community!

  • Connie

    Had an awesome time at the event, definitely a unique space and I am excited to see what happens next!