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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Online to Offline: The Magic of Building Community

Kudos to the Zaarly SF team. Turns out there is magic in helping humans connect… great to see an online marketplace help make in-person community.

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Forked: Founder vs. Early Employee

It’s funny how much hero worship there is out there about being the “founder” of a startup company. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate it – to some degree. But the reality is that how different is it to be the “founder” or the first group of folks to really put your shovel in the ground versus on of the early team to pour the cement, build the frame and get a roof on that building?

Is it better to take your shot as a founder or join up as an early employee?

For me, I’ve wondered about that question after announcing I was leaving Zaarly. Lots of great folks have asked if I’d join their company, go to the dark side (as an investor), cofound something with them or simply help lead something that was moving up the hockey stick. All of these were great opportunities and things that made me pause. In some ways its that proverbial “fork” in the road for me and my career. And so I’ve

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Stop creepy cofounder ‘dating’ and start convincing someone you are awesome enough to work with

I had a phone call a couple weeks back with someone who was looking for a cofounder (not an uncommon thing, right?) I asked what he’s been doing to find a cofounder and his response nearly made me spit out my coffee.

“I posted a few ads on job sites,” he said. “Then I’m interviewing the people who reply to see if they’d be a good cofounder.”

What? Are you serious? Like seriously serious? WTF?

Please Stop Being Creepy
Listen, let me explain this to you quite simply: you don’t hire a cofounder. You convince someone awesome that you are worth working on something together. Key word “convince.” Not key words like “connive”, “surprise”, “manipulate”, or “hire”. None of those words.

You don’t go to the “cofounder store” and pick up a lovely Rubyist, with a side of adaptive design. You don’t stand on the street corner on Wall Street and yell, “Anyone good with metrics, data and

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Why Your Idea Sucks, but Your Inspiration is Inspiring

I really don’t give a damn about your startup idea. Less than damn in fact (1). Listen, no one is going to steal your idea and if they do, they are probably going to screw it up anyways – in fact, you’ll probably wind up screwing up the idea yourself. Ideas are worthless. Much smarter people than me will tell you the same (I always ask myself, WWPGS - What Would Paul Graham Say… and so here’s what PG had to say about ideas.)

The problem is that when you hear that ideas are worthless and ideas suck and no one cares about the idea, you are kinda stuck in a “Well, if ideas don’t matter, what actually matters then?” game.

Inspiration. To me THAT is what matters here – not some idea that’ll change a hundred times or morph as you learn or go out the window for any number of reasons. Inspiration should be much more constant and consistent. It’s the “why” you do it versus the “what” you

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The Decision to Move On

Startups are hard. It’s not the long hours, the uncertain future, the fear of failure or anything like that – those are each challenging, but to me they aren’t why startups are so hard.

Startups are hard because they involve people. And not just any people, but people all working towards something they believe will happen, but not sure exactly how, when or if it will. It’s also the same people that you get to work with that is both inspiring, humbling and awesome, but also so hard.

It’s also the hardest reason to move on.

A few months back I began telling co-workers, friends and family I was moving on to my next journey after Zaarly. Sounds simple enough but when it is your company, it’s not quite that simple. Turns out it’s not just like moving on from any other job because in many ways you are always associated and connected with the company you start – once you are a founder

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Building a Syllabus for your Startup

I remember the days in college when you’d show up on that first day of the semester and get handed your syllabus for the semester (I know, I’m dating myself as now those get published online and emailed out.) But that first day of the semester was really a way to frame out the objectives of the course – what you needed to learn, what you were prepping for and when you’d be expected to show off what you’d learn.

This made it pretty simple to drop the key dates and assignments into your calendar and prepare for the four months ahead (so you’d hopefully ace that final exam.) Recently as I was preparing a syllabus for a class I was teaching at Georgetown, I realized that this process of creating my course syllabus was actually really applicable to starting a business. Eureka – the startup syllabus.

For those of us in the “starting up” phase of the business, the reality should be that

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Cancel the Hard Ones, Not the Easy Ones

Meetings. It’s the bane of many people’s existence and the butt of thousands of comic strips. I’d be willing to bet that in 85% or more of all meetings with three plus people, that at least one of the meeting participants utters to themselves, “That was a waste of my time.”

It’s okay to hate meetings.

But, I think we are too quick to cancel the wrong meetings – because we are guilted into holding the meetings we really should cancel.

When I’m busy, I look at my schedule and typically see two types of meetings: internal meetings and external meetings. The external ones are those that are with customers, partners, recruits, investors or countless other people outside of my company. And it turns out that because I don’t have to look them in the eye or see them in the hallway or share the elevator, the external meetings are really the easiest meetings to cancel. If I’m busy, I simply

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Just Why Can’t Your Business Advertise it is Seeking Funds (Yet?)

In April 2012, the JOBS Act was passed – which was seen as a huge victory to help businesses raising capital for growth and expansion.

To say I’m a huge fan of the changes in the JOBS Act may be an understatement – I’ve testified on Capitol Hill about how these rules help entrepreneurs (you can read my written testimony here and here). There were lots of pieces of the JOBS Act that helped larger businesses on the public markets, that supported investors and that will pave the way for crowdfunding.

I was most excited about a relatively small provision – the removal of the ban on general solicitation. In short, it lifts the ban preventing companies and individuals from advertising that they are raising funds for their business. It has the potential to be incredibly powerful.

Here’s the bad news: SEC has not yet changed the rules, which means small businesses still cannot

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The Problem with Seeing the Future

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. Jonathan Swift

The world is full of doubters. it’s hard to do a startup when you are doing something no one has done before, without much money, without enough experience and with the odds stacked vastly against you. Don’t feel sorry for entrepreneurs – especially today where everyone wants entrepreneurs and startups to succeed – but it’s still a lesson in perseverance.

The hardest thing about a startup is that fine line between vision and delusion. It’s one that the best entrepreneurs walk across often – back and forth as the hours and minutes go by – but never fully confident of which side you’ll end on. You are seeing the future if you are an entrepreneur; knowing (confidently as you can) how the world will one day be. Even uber guru [Steve Blank](www.steveblank.com) describes startups as “faith-based initiatives.”

But

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Belting. My Simple Resolution Reminder

Resolutions around the new year are sorta cliche, but turns out it’s a great excuse to make a public proclamation about something you’d like to do or accomplish in 2013. Lose weight? Eat healthy? Blog regularly? Meditate? Learn Spanish? Whatever you want really.

A few months back, I was doing a little introspection and decided that I needed to smile more. For those who know me, I’m usually a pretty happy guy and someone that always looks on the bright side. But for whatever reason, I’d found myself not smiling enough – and for me, smiling is something that sets my mood right, keeps me focused and helps me to approach problems directly and productively. It’s simple, but something key in my life.

So, I set a goal: I want to smile more.

Seems easy enough, but it was something I really wanted to make sure to accomplish. I needed a way to remind myself to smile. I didn’t want a

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