If you’re in the loop with the Verge Startup family, you’ve probably gotten to know our buddy, Chris Palmer, pretty well. In addition to pitching on the Verge Indy stage and his presence at the Innovation Showcase, Chris won the Startup Chile pitch competition and was just named Techpoint’s “2014 Rising Star.”
Between Foxio and BoxFox, Chris has become a grizzly startup veteran, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots. Chris recently visited Verge West Lafayette to impart some wisdom to the young entrepreneurs in the crowd. After witnessing three student pitches, Chris delivered a fireside chat that nailed a few things that every entrepreneur should be focusing on when trying to build a company that will last. Here are three things that every startup needs to learn how to truly value, whether they’re in their initial stages or their IPO.
Valuing True Mentors
It’s easy to get caught up in the myth that young entrepreneurs can do it alone. Many young founders make the mistake of believing that, because they’re more well-versed in today’s technology than the next guy, they’re destined to succeed. This is patently false. Today’s technology will come and go, the underlying principles behind the technology – and more importantly, the business – will live forever. These are things that can only be learned through true mentorship from those who have been through the obstacle course of entrepreneurship before.
“The best mentorship is not an official relationship, it’s a more casual curiosity about what older generations have done before you.”
– Chris Palmer
By recognizing and embracing the value of true mentorship, you’re granting yourself access to a time machine. This is the only way that you can have access to advice from entrepreneurs just like you 5, 10, or 15 years in the future. This can help you mitigate risk and navigate the minefield that is entrepreneurship.
Chris’ Quick Tips For Finding Awesome Mentors
- Meet a lot of people: Like Chris said above, the best mentors don’t come in the form of formal mentorship setups. They often more closely resemble friends than colleagues. When looking for mentors, you’re really just looking for friends who are immensely smarter than you. Approach meeting mentors the same way you’d approach meeting new friends.
- Don’t come on too strong: Once again, this relationship doesn’t need to be official. Unless you really hit it off, it’s highly unlikely that the founder you met for the first time at the last Verge event is going to be stoked about you asking “Will you mentor me???” Take it slow. Treat it like a date. It’s easier to ask someone out to a networking event or for beer than it is to ask for some long-term commitment.
Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. While some solo-preneurs have been successful, in Chris’ experience, they’re the minority. It’s far more common to see partnerships or teams of founders succeed. The reason behind this is simple, collaboration only makes you better. Differing and dissenting perspectives are essential in building a product that people will actually care about.
This isn’t limited to your founding team, though. When trying to get out there and find help, be it in the form of investment or talent, it’s essential that you don’t hide your idea under a bushel basket.
“Being vocal about your ideas really helps. The more you tell that story, the more your idea will spread.”
– Chris Palmer
At the end of the day, no one at a networking event is going to steal your idea. Even if they did, ideas are worth nothing. Ideas aren’t special, execution is. Collaboration and open discussion about your ideas can help vet the good ones so you know where you should be focusing your attention, allowing you to execute more effectively.
Valuing a Dollar
I don’t care whether you raised a $50M seed round or are bootstrapping, money is important. If your revenue model isn’t solid or your valuation is a house of cards, you should be concerned. At the end of the day, you’re building a business and a business’ only job is to make money. What most tech entrepreneurs overlook, however, is that the traditional approach of “I’ll build an audience and eventually, someone will pay me for access to it in the form of advertising!” is unlikely at best and misguided at worst. With many startups, the challenge is how can you generate revenue today – even if it won’t pay the bills – as a proof of concept?
“The biggest factor in our success has been flipping the traditional model of startup success on its head. I used to think that I’d just sit there and a big money idea would come to me and that would be it. What I’ve found is that the best way to go about entrepreneurship is to find ways to make small amounts of money. Eventually, you’ll learn how to take that and turn it into larger amounts of money.”
– Chris Palmer
That’s one thing that I personally have found to be remarkable about Indianapolis startups in general. The reason so many investors are hot on Indy right now is because of the massive movement in the midwest to build revenue-centric, no nonsense businesses as opposed to trying to chase short-term technology trends.