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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9 Lessons Learned from NEXT + Steve Blank + 24 Early Entrepreneurs

This startup game is a challenging one. Honestly it is challenging as hell. What many people forget about startups is that the successes (however you define it) are the results of hundreds of thousands of failures along the way. I get why there is some level of hero worship in startups; it’s because anyone who has been through the gauntlet from idea to scaling something has made it through a [Tough Mudder](www.toughmudder.com) where they use real knives and bullets.

So I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but it’s easy to forget that BIG gap that exists going from a decent idea to really having a business on your hands. It’s f-ing hard and so those who have gone through it forget.

Three weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to go through one piece of that early (and super difficult) journey with 24 entrepreneurs here in DC. The program, called [NEXT](www.swnext.co) is powered by

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Advice is to be processed, not to be followed

The other day I was chatting with a seasoned entrepreneur and talking about some of our favorite young companies and entrepreneurs. We started chatting about a team of entrepreneurs we both knew and he said, “Listen, I gave them some great advice and they didn’t take it, so I’m not wasting my time with them anymore.” [1]

His comment got me thinking about all the advice I’ve gotten as an entrepreneur. Turns out, everyone is an expert and everyone is willing to offer their opinion. And that’s a good thing – you should get lots and lots of advice and feedback as entrepreneur. This job is difficult and if someone can offer you something that helps you do it more effectively, then that’s a bonus.

But the more important thing I got from this unnamed entrepreneur’s comment was the following:

No one knows better than you what you should do.

It’s true. You are at the epicenter of the

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The Things All Unexceptional Entrepreneurs Do

“The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

I very intentionally used the word all in the title of this article. I’m bound to get people yelling, cursing or screaming about that word, but it turns out the clarifier immediately following it is designed to help.

Unexceptional.

I am proud to admit I am an unexceptional entrepreneur. Proud as they come in fact. Turns out there are some exceptional ones – folks that have been exceptions to the norms most entrepreneurs face. It’s an exception that Mark Zuckerberg really didn’t have to “fake it” because Facebook just started working when he turned it on at Harvard. I’m proud to say he’s an exception… which makes me unexceptional. Same with entrepreneurs who raise boatloads of money before ever even founding (ie. Color) – they are exceptional in that they don’t have to put in their own

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Understanding the Underlying Economics Problem of your Startup

As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to overcomplicate things. You are deep in trying to change the world and turns out that big vision in your brain requires a complicated story. We’ve all been there – pitching the hockey stick story that has some reference to billions while balancing feedback from everyone you’ve spoken with.

But the reality is, startups are about a simple economics problem: figuring out how to optimize the supply and demand lines. Markets want to be efficient (or so I learned in my Econ 201 class), but sometimes it takes technology to solve the inefficiency… and hopefully that is your technology.

Seems almost too simple, right? But there is truth in that very statement:

  1. eBay. Nationalize the supply and demand (take collectibles and list them online), and suddenly supply has higher demand (better prices) and demand has more choice (better selection). More efficient

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Twelve year olds have iPhones and eight other things I learned from my in-laws at Thanksgiving

Ah, thanksgiving. That time of the year when everyone gets their ‘cheat day’ and we watch football from Wednesday to Monday… magical.

This year I had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws just outside of Dallas in a town called Cleburne. Let’s just say my sister-in-law has two horses, a miniature goat and three dogs that live outside in the “backyard” of their property. So it’s that kinda town. The extended family (my sister-in-law and her boyfriend, plus my twin four-year-old niece and nephew and their sorta-step-by-boyfriend brother who is 12, as well as my wife’s early sixties parents Steve and Julie) all got to spend a long weekend together, including watching the Redskins whip up on the Cowboys live at Cowboys Stadium.

No less than five hours after arriving in Dallas while watching RGIII rifle a 60 yard pass for a touchdown, I turned to Blaine, the twelve year

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Your Employees Better Be Living in the Future Too

“Live in the future, then build what’s missing.” - Paul Graham (source)

Paul Graham offers another doozy of a blog post about startup ideas. Like his usual writings, be prepared that you’ll probably need to go take a walk, or a nap, or maybe even go to church after reading this one. (If you haven’t read it yet, this means I highly recommend consuming it.)

I was particularly compelled by the quote above from the article – referencing that entrepreneurs (particularly the best ones) are people that live in the future, and build products or services that make that future a reality. Box founder Aaron Levie summarized Graham’s thesis saying “Startups = (What the future looks like) - (What we have today)”. Whether that be applied to Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates (to name a few wildly successful visionary founders), Graham hypothesizes that it’s really about having the confidence

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The Embarrassment Test

“Use your gut to make big decisions; use data to drive tactical changes” - Rich Barton

In startups, it is easy to find a dissenting opinion. Turns out if you are doing anything that is half-way interesting in your company, there will be a myriad of opinions, pontifications and explanations of a better, different or other course of action. And most times, you are offered these opinions all for free (except if those ‘opinions’ come from those investors who actually gave you money for the right to offer their opinion).

As an entrepreneur, it’s a tough thing to sit there and wonder if your gut is right. In particular in an industry with so much grey in the normally straightforward concepts of right and wrong, you are sorta forced to use your gut, interspersed with some data and feedback, to make a surprisingly large number of decisions.

So just how do you look yourself in the mirror

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Being Awesomer

I was recently asked if I had any resolutions for 2013, which made me realize it’s almost 2013. Holy cow… where did 2011 go?

As I pondered what i wanted 2013 to be known for, I thought to myself, “I’d just like to be awesomer this year.” I’m going to judge that based on the number of times people say to me, ‘That was awesome.’ Hopefully they were referencing something I did rather than what’s on television, but I may count both because I was in the presence of something awesome.

So I decided to start writing my Svbtle blog with the goal of being awesomer. I’m not really sure what that means, how to measure it or if it matters, but I think it’s one thing in the journey of being awesomer. This is my first post of hopefully many. I make no promises, but Mr. Curtis has made something very cool here that deserves some words.

I’ll try and write with a dose of honesty, self-deprecation

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