[Editor’s note: Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price was the winner of the “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” category at the 2013 GeekWire Awards]
Sometimes, when recapping a meeting at Gravity Payments, we will summarize by determining three things we should stop doing and three things that we should start doing as a result of the information learned in the meeting.
With that in mind, here are my three “stop” and “start” ideas for young entrepreneurs.
1. Stop taking advice, start rapidly learning.
Shortly after starting Gravity, I had to deal with a worst-case scenario, which most entrepreneurs will face at some point; a well-funded competitor sued me. First, there was the temporary restraining order we had to defeat. Next, we had to go in front of the judge again to defeat a requested injunction. Shortly after that, the case was dismissed. While the final result worked out great, the process was ugly and expensive.
Through this process, I had an epiphany. If I get bad legal advice and there are serious consequences, it is me, and not my attorney that will suffer those negative consequences.
You see, during this time, my attorney would say: “Do this” and I would do it. We blindly follow instructions from accountants, attorneys, and other professionals, but where does it stop? Do we blindly follow advice from friends, advisors, mentors, and hairdressers? Many times, the answer is yes. If someone we perceive as smarter than us tells us what to do, we blindly follow.
The problem is that you are accountable for your business, and the person who gave you the advice is not. So how do you get real learning value from your social and professional network without putting on the blinders? Ask those you respect to share their stories with you. Maybe I could have asked a fellow entrepreneur: “Tell me about a time a competitor sued you.”
Listen with curiosity. Give yourself a break from analyzing your problem and just empathize with your friend’s story.
After a break, ask yourself: “Do I know the right thing to do?” If the answer is no, get some more stories, read some more books, do some online research. Eventually, you will intuitively know what you think is right to do.
This allows you to follow your heart. Your execution will be better. Most importantly, if it works out great or terrible, you will be building your intuition and being yourself instead of trying to turn yourself into someone else.
2. Stop raising money, start building value for customers.
I have watched my friends go through it so many times. The early stages of building a company are a 12-18 hour per day proposition. For a first time entrepreneur, raising money with the right process and due diligence might be just as time consuming.
I like the way my friend — and fellow young entrepreneur Kabir Shahani and the other founding members of Appature — did it. Instead of raising money, they built a really cool technology for other companies on a project basis. They then used those funds to build their initial internal product set.
After bootstrapping to over a million dollars in revenue, they had a much better shot at raising money. Seattle VCs Madrona and Ignition were more than happy to invest.
I have yet to take an outside investment at Gravity, but I do have a side project that is venture backed. You may not believe this, but the fundraising process consisted of being at a casual poker game, talking with one of my friends that I talk to all the time, and him asking me if I had any projects in which his fund could invest. I said yes and he pitched me on a structure.
We negotiated the three or four sticking points over the next fifteen minutes and although we did both hire attorneys to draft up the documents, there was no further material negotiation and there was two million dollars in our bank account within a week or two. Contrast this process with the many entrepreneurs I have seen desperately trying to raise money for months, and, sometimes even years. They would be better off putting that effort toward working for clients and getting funding through revenue rather than outside investment.
3. Stop searching for work/life balance, start finding work/life harmony.
Being all about work can hurt you in many areas of your life. Health, relationships, and spirituality are some common struggles. There are only so many hours in the day and if your competitor is outworking you, they are likely to beat you over the long run.
Should you work more or work less? The answer is to look for harmony and even synergy between your work life and the other areas of life that are important to you.
My former romantic partner really liked trying out new restaurants. Because restaurants are one of Gravity’s top verticals, I was determined to find a synergy between her interests and my work. We started going to three restaurants a night. The first restaurant we would order salads or a healthy appetizer.
Then we would walk to the next restaurant so that it wasn’t completely sedentary and order an entrée to split.
We would then walk to a third restaurant and get a beverage or some tapas if we were still hungry.
So how is this related to work? All three restaurants were clients or prospective clients of Gravity.
As we were getting settled in to each place, I was speaking with the owner or GM, who appreciated that I was supporting their business, and setting business meetings or getting referrals to high value clients. I literally generated hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue using this technique, had a great time with my partner, and strengthened Gravity’s standing in the community.
This is an example of harmony or synergy instead of balance. This particular example might not work for you depending on your business, so try to think of three to five examples that would fit such as taking a client to the symphony or doing a whiteboard session with a friend or family member to get an outside perspective.
With this and all of the tips, the key is to STOP limiting yourself, and START being creative to take yourself to the next level!
Dan Price is CEO of Gravity Payments, a Seattle company he co-founded with his brother in 2004.