3 Short Stories from 3 NYC Startups
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Our society celebrates the buzzy and bubbly – acquisitions, funding events, mergers, new hires. As entrepreneurs, most of the buzzy stories we read are rather useless. They serve no practical application to help grow our respective businesses. This is why great entrepreneurs get out in the field and engage in as many conversations as they can with those they respect. They want to hear firsthand how people have succeeded and how people have failed. They search for tried and true lessons so that they can apply the takeaways to their own ventures. And in this process entrepreneurs uncover key insights that may lead to a critical pivot in a business model or perhaps may lead to a simple validation of an already held mindset. From my vantage point, all of these little stories serve as an important backdrop for anyone looking to build a great business.
So here are three short stories from three up and coming New York City startups. Maybe you’ll uncover a gem of insight that will help transform your business or project.
“No Silver Bullets” by Aaron, CEO & Co-Founder of Tutorspree
The hardest lesson I’ve learned since co-founding Tutorspree is that there are no silver bullets – even when charting something as amazing as the future of one-on-one learning. It may seem a bit strange that I need that as a lesson when everything else I’ve ever done has required huge amounts of hard work. Intellectually, I had no expectation that a startup would be any different. But emotionally, entrepreneurs are continually confronted with stories in the popular press full of the one huge a-ha innovation/decision/partnership that “made” a company. While I know that those may be possible in extreme edge cases, that they’re nowhere near the norm, and they create an irrational expectation that one is just around the corner.
The truth is that start ups are hard, they’re a slog, they’re a huge amount of all consuming work – but that’s also why they’re amazing. You don’t find a single silver bullet – that’s the just the story people tell afterwards, you find a whole bunch of little steps and you figure out how to string them together until you have your success. And looking back, that’s a bigger achievement than a single fell swoop, which might be as much luck as anything else. That’s a lesson I take into work with me every day, and it is a critical piece of what makes this the life I want.
“Motivation by Inspiration” by Mike Dirolf, CEO of Fiesta
For me, motivation has been the principle benefit of working from a co-working space in New York City; collaboration is a distant second. It’s great to have smart people around to ask for help and feedback, but it’s far more important to see how hard those people are working and to be inspired to keep up. At almost all hours of the day the space is filled with people working as hard as they can to turn their fledgling companies into successful businesses. It’s impossible to walk into the place and not feel energized.
A little over a year ago I set out on my own and was ostensibly working from my apartment. The reality was that I had a lot of trouble staying focused. About a month later I moved into a co-working space; since then staying motivated hasn’t been a problem. Now that Fiesta is growing and I’ve brought on a co-founder that external motivation might be less essential, but I’m convinced we never would’ve gotten this far without it.
“Colloboration” by David Reich, CEO & Founder of Assured Labor (Disclosure: David Reich has no relation to Dan Reich
Our company, Assured Labor, is an unusual start-up. Started at the MIT MediaLab, Assured Labor connects employers in emerging markets with local sales, operations and administration candidates using cell phones and web technology.
We have a staff of 15 (including our outsourced engineering team) distributed between Mexico, Brazil, Pakistan, Nicaragua and of course, our headquarters in New York City at Dogpatch Labs. We’ve often been asked why we keep our headquarters in New York while all of our operations are based in the emerging markets. The answer is collaboration. Our New York base allows us to collaborate with the world’s best engineers and business innovators, ensuring we can outcompete our local competitors. I’ll give an example of each.
Engineering. While we have been happily working with an outsourced technology team based in Lahore, Pakistan, we keep our senior technologist and product manager in the US. This is for two reasons: first, this is where the worlds top talent is, and second, to provide our talent with the opportunity to collaborate with likeminded entrepreneurs. In our incubator there is no shame in asking questions or fear that collaborators (from other companies) will steal our idea. This ecosystem allows our engineers to learn from peers other and build better services faster.
Business Innovators. Over the past year dozens of startups have come through Dogpatch Labs, each with it unique ideas on how they’ll monetize their business. I’ve seen Groupon models, Ad based models, Subscription models, Freemium models, Co-marketing models, and a dozen more. Each month notable experts come through Dogpatch to meet us, ranging from the Scott Heiferman of Meetup.com to Eric Reis the author of “The Lean Startup”. But best of all I’ve had the opportunity to learn from my fellow founders while sharing my opinions on what I’ve seen working both internationally and in the US. As technology is only part of building a successful startup these opportunities to collaborate with business innovators is a tremendous advantage.
Beyond the opportunity to collaborate in engineering and business innovation the collaborative environment of our co-working space has provided us with introductions to investors, employees, interns and partners. We also lean on each other for energy and motivation, sharing in each other success. While few things can match the business learning that comes from sitting with your customers, few things can match the business building to be gained from collaboration with other entrepreneurs, in the trenches, working to change the world.
Do you have a great startup story to tell?