At a recent panel discussion sponsored by Windstream, a provider of advanced network communications and technology solutions, we asked three Lincoln-based entrepreneurs to identify the characteristics that are imperative to creating a successful startup. The panelists--each with a different background, industry focus, and level of experience— offered this collective view of what really drives success:
Chris Davis, a software engineer and co-founder of Travefy, an online group travel planner, learned the importance of resilience early on.
"Even if you experience success at the beginning, you will still experience failure after failure after failure," he said. "The ability to persist and stay focused is critical. All my mentors learned from their failures, were better afterward, and succeeded as a result."
That's a lesson he learned at an early age. "All my life I have been building things for fun,” he said. "I built a Pinterest-like site a decade ago, but I let it fizzle out."
What Davis discovered along the way is that personal resilience is strengthened when you break out of your go-it-alone mentality and enlist the help of others. "I knew I needed a partner to help with the business and marketing side of that early business idea," he explained, "but I didn't go the extra mile to get the help I needed. It's such a unicorn for someone to do something amazing completely on their own." Now, he understands the value of surrounding yourself with the right people so you have a team with diverse skills and the ability to work together to overcome obstacles.
Stephanie Jarrett co-founded Bulu Box, an e-commerce business that offers monthly subscriptions to health, nutrition, and weight-loss products. She cited what she calls "shamelessness," which other people might label fearlessness, as another crucial strand of entrepreneurial DNA.
"One of the challenges of being in the Midwest [the company is based in Lincoln, NE] is that we don't have as many connections to big companies for partnerships or acquisitions," she said. "On the coast, you might have one degree of separation. Here there are several degrees of separation."
Fortunately, her business partner is relentless – shameless even - in seeking out connections. If he wants to meet someone, he'll research and call dozens of people until reaching the right person and arranging a meeting. "I wish I had that gumption!" she said. Still, that Jarrett can rely on her partner for that particular quality further demonstrates the value of building a strong team.
Jennifer Rosenblatt, who founded MusicSpoke, a sheet-music marketplace for musicians, believes that entrepreneurs are, by nature, risk-takers because they "see things as they could be, not as they are." She continued, " At some point, you realize that the rules in life and the world are all made up, and you want to be the one making them up."
There are many ways to make sure a risk is reasonable, such as testing different versions of your marketing plan to see what's most effective with your customer base. Still, you can never completely eliminate risk, partly because you can’t predict the future.
"Another company could come into my space and spend $5 million to create a competing website faster and better than I have the resources to do," she said. "You just have to accept that kind of uncertainty and appreciate this for the ride it is."
At the end of the discussion Rosenblatt proposed that the suggested characteristics of a successful entrepreneur describe an overarching approach to success. "You need to be a risk-taker because what you're doing is crazy and there is no safety net. So you need to make decisions quickly, and if you make a wrong choice, correct it and keep going. You just shamelessly keep putting yourself out there."