Growing on Trees

by Eric Koester

Founder/COO at Main Street Genome, Founder at Zaarly, Peer Economy ‘economist’, UP Global & Startup Weekend Board Member, Writer of books on startups, Reformed Lawyer & CPA, Super Fortunate

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Don’t Found a Company unless you Love Excel

“(Venture backed) Startups are all about math. Sooner founders realize that, the less emotional trauma & confusion they’ll experience.” - Om Malik (@om)

Excel. Yes, you may scoff at it because it is a Microsoft product. Or you may thumb your nose at it because only accountants use it. Or heck, you may not see at all why it relates to a founder of a startup.

Startup Math isn't for Dummies But you’d be wrong. Don’t start a company unless you love Excel.

The reason is pretty simple. Your job as a founder is to make a math equation work. R > E. You need to show how you can make the revenue you earn from a customer exceed the expenses you incur to get that customer. And you need to do it at “scale”, whatever that means in your world. Of course there are other costs and all, but at the core you need to prove on a small scale that you can get revenue above the costs to get...

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“I’m an assistant to…” Who would you give up your life to join on their journey?

I’m 36. I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing (being an entrepreneur and starting a company I’m inspired by). I’m married to an incredible woman. I have a group of friends who keep me humble and laughing (great combination). I’m happy.

However, I was asked a question by a friend of mine who said, “Who would you drop everything for to be their Assistant, their Chief of Staff, their EA?”

I responded with the obligatory, “I’m exactly where I want to be…” blah blah blah.

“No,” she interrupted. “Who would you drop everything to work for, today? Not like report to them, but to be their assistant. Follow them around. Be in every meeting. Be like Leo in West Wing. That guy — the true assistant and guy who gets to see it all? Who would you give it all up for?” Would you be the Leo to his President Bartlett

The Ultimate Mentor It’s a challenging and thought-provoking question and something I couldn’t even answer at the time. This isn’t...

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For Sale: My iPhone Homescreen

As I flipped through the apps on my iPhone the other day, I wondered “Why am I uninspired by my Apps? I’ve got the same ones on the homescreen for the past 6 months.”

Now I’m not really a guy that goes to the AppStore to browse for new apps — mostly I discover through friends or through social media or a blog article. We all can admit discovery sucks for Apps and advertising sucks for App makers.But as an app users, I’d love a reason to try apps and explore new ones. However, I believe I/we need urgency to make it work.

So, here’s what I would love for someone to do:

I want someone to pay me to secure an App spot on the home screen of my phone. Right up front. Each week, they get to update that App to a new app. I don’t care what it is, but when I update my Apps, I’d love to see a new one replace the one from last week.

  • Urgency. If I liked the one for that week, I am forced to add it...

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Customer Discovery Hacks: You’ve Been Miyagi'ed

The following is the first in a series of posts about using customer discovery in your company. Over the past 9 months, I’ve had the opportunity to teach customer discovery nearly a dozen times to hundreds of students, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Steve Blank and Bob Dorf directly on building a customer discovery course/curriculum for Startup Weekend, and I’ve been using customer discovery in my current startup process. These are a few of the tricks, techniques and ‘hacks’ I’ve learned during that time.


Selling. It sounds scary. You probably think of the guys on the used car lot or the telemarketers that call during dinner. And worse than hating the guys that make their living doing it – you can’t imagine yourself making calls and selling to people.

Selling sounds scary. That’s a fact.

But what if I called it something...

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Sucking in your Entrepreneurial Gut

I’m right there with you. We all do it – well, except those genetic freaks who basically started doing crunches at birth to get their fourteen packs. But for the rest of us… we stand in front of the mirror and suck it in.

Truffle Shuffle

It’s human nature. My guess is if lions or tigers or gorillas had guts, they’d probably suck theirs in. Turns out animals in the wild with guts get eaten by some other animal without a gut. So guts aren’t really a thing in the wild I’m guessing (or that’s my logic anyways).

Your (Entrepreneurial) Gut We all have our own sort of gut. It’s that thing that you wish wasn’t there or didn’t exist or could be better, but you just don’t quite have it nailed. So you suck it in. And this is true for entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs – but today, I’m looking at all the other entrepreneurs...

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Are you pursuing your goals, or just the “prerequisites.”

Over the past month, I’ve spent a ton of time with MBA students, recent grads considering their next job and folks a little bit into their career trying to find their path. What’s consistent across the board is that the happiest people are on their road towards their goal and those struggling are worried about what to do next that might one day help them reach that goal. So, which are you?

Are you doing what you want to do, or are you doing some prerequisites to eventually do what you want to do? It’s a question you should ask yourself – is what you are doing today the best and fastest way to get started becoming the best at something; taking you towards your goal?

Prerequisites to Your Real Goal A dozen years ago or so, I decided I should go to law school. Even now, my logic seems modestly sound – turns out more CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are JDs than...

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Software. You could learn something from Hardware.

How do you decide what to focus on? How do you say no? How do you figure out where to spend your day? How do you deliver an amazing experience? These are questions that all entrepreneurs do (read: should) be thinking about. But not every company and entrepreneur are created equal.

Constraints Last week I met with two entrepreneurs in the span of two hours – one was trying to solve a consumer problem with a software solution and the other was trying to solve a consumer problem with a hardware solution. Both were solid people tackling interesting problems. And in many ways, the meetings were exactly the same: customer feedback, MVP, designing experiments, team dynamics, fundraising, etc. etc. Lots of what we do are the same no matter what the company does.

But I was struck by one difference that was making the software guy look lost, struggle with focus and be unwilling to make...

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UP: Leveling a playing field with a Startup Weekend & Startup America combination

Startup Weekend and Startup America are combining forces to create a platform for entrepreneurship. That’s f-ing awesome. More brains, more resources, and more support – all good.

But does UP really matter for entrepreneurs?

As an entrepreneur, I often have asked myself does it matter that there are conferences like TC Disrupt or Launch; does it matter their are coworking spaces like CoLoft or 1871; does it matter there is a place like San Hill Road or the Silicon Beach/Prairie/Alley; or does it matter that there are publications like Techcrunch, Geekwire or Tech Cocktail?

Yup, it does matter. Starting a company, growing a company or joining an early stage company aren’t really established things yet. It can feel isolating to do these things and as a member of all of those circles above, without support networks, these activities won’t happen as much. Turns...

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App-Market Fit: If You Aren’t On My Homescreen, Your App Is Probably a Tombstone

A friend of mine asked me last week, “So, what apps do you use?”

It was a good question, so I whipped out my iPhone and started looking through. I was shocked to see I have 102 apps on my phone. Wow, that’s a lot of apps, I thought to myself. Then I started scrolling through and realized how many of them I hadn’t touched in… well, since I could last remember.

Dead apps. Tombstones of a great app description and a non-compelling solution.

Row after row of dead apps. And surprisingly, all of them lived on screens after my homescreen. The homescreen. Turns out it’s home to all of those apps I’d say I use either daily, weekly or really frequently during short infrequent bursts. iMessage, Google Maps, App Store, Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, Couple, Zaarly, Instagram, Tripit and even Tetris (my guilty pleasure while wasting a few minutes). Go one...

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The ‘Valley’ Attitude and Why You Need to Get Some of It

“The Valley is not just a place anymore, it’s a mind set, it’s a way of looking to things.” - Shervin Pishevar (@Shervin)

As someone who has ‘lived’ in three different startup scenes in the past five years (Seattle, San Francisco Bay Area and now DC), I get asked a lot about what separates them all and whether people should just up and move to the Bay Area if they really want to win.

Startups-a-roni, the San Francisco Treat There is something incredibly unique in the Bay Area, but it’s not the weather, the tax rates or the smart phone penetration. Turns out, the Bay Area (or the Valley as I sorta hate to call it) has something damn important: attitude. It’s that attitude that pushes people to think longer term, dream a little bigger and team up a little more. It’s a bit of a “we don’t really care what you think unless...

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