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Kristen Hamilton at Startupday 2015
Kristen Hamilton at GeekWire Startup Day 2015

In the past few months Kristen Hamilton’s startup Koru expanded its services to Boston, made GeekWire’s Seattle 10 list of innovative new companies, and closed an $8 million funding round. The company also boasts an 85 percent job placement rate for graduates of its intensive four-week program.

But when Hamilton took the stage at GeekWire Startup Day she didn’t spend much time touting her new company’s successes. Instead, she shared lessons from her last company’s failures.

Hamilton co-founded Onvia, which evolved into a resource for government business intelligence, when she was 27. The company rose quickly during the dot-com bubble and suffered during the subsequent burst.  It took 14 years before she decided to launch another startup.

“When we hit our brick wall, our team didn’t hold together and our tribe turned on us,” she said. “Our team crumbled. I would go on the Yahoo chat room and I would read true and painful stories about us personally. It felt like somebody was stabbing my baby.”

Hamilton attributed the problems at Onvia to a lack of intentional company culture — a recurring theme during the GeekWire Startup Day sessions. Actively cultivating your culture, she said, is the only way to propel your startup forward when the “sh– hits the fan.”

“At Onvia it was not OK to not have the answer,” she said. “When we were blindsided, we weren’t honest with ourselves and we weren’t honest with our team. At Koru we take failure bows. We have each others’ backs and there is no shame in making mistakes. We own those mistakes.”

Watch the full video above, and stay tuned for more insights from Startup Day speakers in the days ahead.

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