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A raw account of life inside of a brand new startup

Every entrepreneur loses sleep over something, be it a learning curve, a need for more programmers, a decision about financing, or otherwise, and there are always multiple ways to skin a cat. This is but one account of the “why” behind a budding startup.

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The inner workings of startup-life

The goal of my column here is to reveal the inner workings of start-up life, and with that life comes an entire spectrum of emotions. I feel like I should post a large emoticon board on my wall so every day I can circle one of the emotions as to how I feel. That changes minute by minute depending on what I am dealing with. No, I am not bi-polar. That’s just how it feels to have a startup.

I was recently asked in a private Facebook group “why do you do what you do?” When I first read the question I did a double take just to read it correctly. That felt like a metaphor because I needed to think about what I was reading and then actually think about the answer. Why DO I do what I do? Because i’m passionate! I’m passionate about the consumer, transparency, being an entrepreneur, the need to make a living, disrupting, creating something people like, technology, the schizophrenic highs and lows of success and failure, seeing if others think like I do, making a great product, efficiency, useful data, the unknown, asking the question “why” and “why not,” and because someone told me once…”you cant do that!”

I have no idea if anyone will relate to these answers or not.

A third business venture

This is my third venture in business and I can happily say I wouldn’t trade my first two experiences for all the tea in China. They are what has made me who I am today, for better or for worse.

We were labeled “pioneers” at my first company. What did that translate to? Nothing but experience. What we did do was blaze a path for many who followed. We pushed forward the evolution of an entire industry. A lot of people who followed in our footsteps made a lot of money. I did not. But I helped changed the way an entire industry operated and I helped champion a cause for the consumer.

My second journey was by accident. It was after my first company was no longer in operation that I accidentally fell into homebuilding. The time was right. I had been raised in a family that was extremely architecturally conscious, I had an eye for design, I am crafty by nature, and many people over the years had said, “you should be a homebuilder. You would be great with your eye for detail.” So, I said what the heck? It was a great run for 10 years building million dollar plus spec homes, but we all know how that ended.

Back to the question of why

Which brings us to today. Why am I here? Why do I do what I do? I already listed the reasons. The problem is that doesn’t make it any easier and it doesn’t always make it fun.

Lately I have been struggling with the issue that nothing can happen fast enough or be good enough. One of my favorite commercials on TV is for Staples where a single person named Dave is cast in his office doing 12 different things all by himself. He walks down the hall, saying “Hi Dave”, as he waves to his alter ego. As an entrepreneur with my own startup, that is my life.

The real frustration for me is the reliance on others to do things I wish I could do myself but aren’t qualified. On the top of the list…WRITE CODE. I would give anything to be a programmer.

Currently, my programming is outsourced. This was the only option to create my beta product. My team is excellent! There are, however, inherent issues that I face. They have other projects. I am not in control of their time. I rely on them for application management. As an entrepreneur starting a company, there is NO ONE willing to work as hard as me, as long as me, or to create a product as well as me! If I could do all of the things I pay others to do, I would never sleep. It is very difficult to get others to share your start-up passion.

Getting others to share your start-up passion

Case and point: on occasion, we will push out a release to our production site. After the fact, I might notice a bug. If I was able, I would work tirelessly to push a fix, but I CAN’T. It kills me because no one feels quite the same about that [bug] as I do. Yes, I want perfection. Is that so bad? Everything I am creating depends on delivering the best product and the best customer experience possible and once it makes it to www, it is a reflection on us.

My team does their job and does it well, but I will soon face other issues. I need better controls on what we are doing. I am a one man show right now. Our dev takes place in a completely virtual environment. I work daily with a team of four. Three live almost an hour away and one is in London. We are extremely agile.

Two ways to develop

For those of you who dont know what I mean, let me explain. As I see it, there are two ways to develop:

First, you can sit down with a company, pay them to do a Scope & Discovery with you for a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 dollars where they will go over as many details of your application as you can think of. They will help you develop user stories, functionality, workflow, and if they provide assistance in business consulting, they will throw in some strategy planning as well. Strategy might consist of pre-launch planning such as creating a buzz, capturing sign-ups to keep prospects “in the know,” beta testers and when to take out your MVP (minimum viable product).

The BIG problem is after you have spent a week with these guys, they will want a big deposit. Then they will want you to GO AWAY! They will try to create and code your product, working from what they have as their understanding, with as little contact as possible. The reason for this is logical. They want to knock out as much code while not allowing for any scope creep. This is actually a good business practice [for them]. If you are a hands on type of person (like me), you will not be sleeping for an indefinite period of time.

Then you show up to review your deliverable and, VIOLA, it’s nothing like you expected. Now you have to pay for the time already spent in dev and the time it’s going to take make corrections. It becomes a “he said, she said” argument about how it was SUPPOSED to be. Everything becomes subject to interpretation. The developers say…”you never said that”. You say…”I thought that was understood,” and the cycle begins. I have painted a worst case scenario here, but it happens.

The second method is developing in a very agile environment which is more of a “make it up as you go along” routine. This is more favorable for the hands-on entrepreneur, and arguably better for the team because there are less mistakes along the way, and things are constantly being refined to be exactly the way you want it. However, with this model exists the dreaded “scope creeeep.”

Scope creep is when you want to add one “neat” little thing. That turns into three “neat” little things and so on and so on. Now you are off track from the prioritization of the deliverable. The devs have spent time appeasing your need for instant gratification, and the project is taking twice as long as anticipated on twice the budget. As ugly as this may sound, it is still my preference.

Every day, subject to their availability and other projects, my team and I are banging on IM’s, group calling on Skype, emailing, sharing files and previewing work on our dev site. This is as close to being a developer as I can be, without actually being one. I love that!

My next challenge

Now comes the first problem as we move forward. I want a dedicated code team. I want more input on a more frequent basis. When there are bugs, I want them fixed immediately. I dont want my project subject to someone else’s time based on commitments to other clients. I want a group that can brainstorm together and not feel like I am imposing on their time. I like a cohesive team working together in a single environment in a single place. I want a team that feels such a strong sense of commitment to our project that they will stay until it is done, and done right. Maybe I live in la la land. But that brings me back to… if I could do it myself… I would!

There are time to market concerns. I wrote last week about the blistering pace of technology roll outs in the real estate technology space right now. That keeps me up at night. I know of only a handful of companies that seem to be headed in the same direction as NuHabitat (my company), but I’m sure there are others. Some of these guys are the big boys with deep pockets, and others are like me.

My next challenges lie ahead and there is a great deal more I have to do to get my company where it needs to be, but that is the life of a start-up – constant pursuit of perfection.

As the leader of NuHabitat LLC, Jeff brings a unique qualification to the table with 10 years experience of buying and selling homes as a high-end luxury homebuilder while working with clients, agents and brokerages. Motivated by a unique set of circumstances, his goal is to provide a more efficient and economical approach to prospective home buyers and sellers in the modern day world of residential real estate.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Ken Brand

    April 20, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Everything about this is brilliant. God bless the unreasonable men and women.

    “Reasonable men adapt to the world around them; unreasonable men make the world adapt to them. The world is changed by unreasonable men.” ~ Edwin Louis Cole

  2. Drew Meyers

    April 21, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Lately I have been struggling with the issue that nothing can happen fast enough or be good enough.”

    ugh…I know the feeling all too well.

    “I want a dedicated code team. I want more input on a more frequent basis. When there are bugs, I want them fixed immediately. I dont want my project subject to someone else’s time based on commitments to other clients. I want a group that can brainstorm together and not feel like I am imposing on their time. I like a cohesive team working together in a single environment in a single place. I want a team that feels such a strong sense of commitment to our project that they will stay until it is done, and done right. Maybe I live in la la land.”

    La la land without a budget. Having that development team you want is entirely possible, but it’ll cost you a fair amount of money.

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Business Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs: You’re unemployable in your own company, must define your role

(ENTREPRENEURS) Once you’ve built a successful business, it’s time to reexamine your role and determine where you fit in best.

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startup optimize to key metric

In my experience, most entrepreneurs are “accidental entrepreneurs.” They happened to be good at something, or they had a unique one-time opportunity to provide a product or service to the market. Then years later, they wake up one day and realize that they’re running a big business.

As an entrepreneur, one of the unintended consequences of building a business is that you become essentially unemployable within your own organization. After living the life of freedom, flexibility and responsibility of being a business owner, it’s difficult to go back to a “nine-to-five” job. This is why many entrepreneurs don’t enjoy staying with their businesses after they’ve sold to other organizations. Within months, they are frustrated that they’re no longer in control and the new owners are (in their opinion) making poor choices.

I see many situations where entrepreneurs are bad employees in their own organization. In fact, they may be the worst team members in the organization by having inconsistent schedules or poor communication skills and/or by inserting themselves into areas that aren’t useful. They can also have too much freedom and flexibility. And while most entrepreneurs insist on clearly defined roles, expectations and goals for all of their employees, they don’t always take the time to define their own roles, expectations and goals.

So why do entrepreneurs become bad employees?

I believe that it’s because they don’t have someone holding them accountable. Think about it: Who do they report to? They’re the owners. Part of the definition of “owner” is being accountable for everything but not accountable to anyone. Having a board of directors, a peer group or a business coach can provide some accountability for them, but another solution is to clarify their roles in the company and then abide by those definitions.

If you find yourself “unemployable” in your business, it’s time to define your role. It starts with outlining your main focus. Do you concentrate more on day-to-day execution or strategic, long-term decisions? Do you consider yourself an owner-operator or an investor?

Most entrepreneurs start as an owner-operator and put in countless hours of sweat equity doing whatever needs to be done to build the business. But over time they reinvest earnings in the business and hire a management team so they can step back and take on a more strategic role. Sometimes it’s not clear when the entrepreneur makes that transition, which can lead to challenges for the entire team.

Focus: Strategic Overview

If your main role is in dealing with long-term, strategic decisions, then it’s important for you to communicate that to the team. Clearly delegate tactical roles and responsibilities to the leadership team.

I’ve seen many instances where owners do more harm than good by haphazardly injecting themselves into tactical decisions that should be handled by the leadership team. Instead of jumping in when they see something they disagree with, I encourage owners to actively “coach” their leadership team to be better leaders. The approach of micromanaging every decision of others will frustrate everyone and lead to an underperforming organization.

I have one client that decided his role was to build strategic relationships and work on a new service offering. He was confident that his leadership team could handle the day-to-day operations of the business. Over time he discovered that being in the office every day was actually a distraction for him and his team. So, he moved his office out of the building.

To maintain his ownership responsibilities to the company, he scheduled one afternoon a week to physically be in the office. Team members knew they could schedule time with him during that weekly window when he temporarily set up office space in a conference room. Not having a permanent office in the building also sent a message to the team that he was not responsible for day-to-day decisions. Sometimes not having an office in the building is better than the team seeing the owner’s office empty on a regular basis.

Focus: Day-to-Day Execution

If you decide that your role is in the day-to-day execution of the business, then clearly define your role in the same way you would define any other team member role. Are you in charge of marketing? Sales? Finance? Operations? Technology? R&D? Or, some combination of multiple roles? Take the time to outline your responsibilities and communicate them to the team.

Just as you define your role, also define what you are NOT going to do and who is responsible for those areas. After all, sectioning off some tactical work does not abdicate you from long-term decision-making. You must set aside time to make the long-term, strategic decisions of the company.

Being an entrepreneur sounds glamorous to those that haven’t done it, but ultimately, the owner is accountable for everything that happens in their organization. It can be quite sobering. And while some entrepreneurs have a delusional belief that they can do everything in a company, it’s not a path to long-term success.

All entrepreneurs have to decide what their role should be in their organization – even if it means that they’re contributing to their “unemployable” status.

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Startups love pondering inclusion, yet half have no women in leadership

(STARTUPS) Tech startups are a huge part of discussing diversity and inclusion, but something as simple as hiring women in management somehow remains elusive.

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women in leadership lean out

According to the Silicon Valley Bank’s annual report, over half of startups have no women on their leadership team. None.

As hard as this fact is to believe, it is also hardly breaking news. Organizations who have surveyed startups and technology companies for the past several years have seen that long-standing trends that disadvantage women and other genders in the tech space are still at play.

Like many other gendered debates about the treatment of women and other minority workers, this problem is seemingly a Catch 22 or a chicken and egg situation. Critics will continue to argue that the reason ladies aren’t in leadership roles is because they don’t have innate leadership qualities or that once their non-male employees have proven themselves, then they will start getting the resources and promotions that they say that they desire.

Like many other myths about women in the workforce, these beliefs only serve to reinforce the status quo by transferring the responsibility for these frustrating conditions onto the marginalized party.

These beliefs are busted not only because they’re tired gender clichés, but because we have hard data that proves the financial and cultural benefit in long-term effects of women leadership in tech.

However, for all the discussion of diversity initiatives, the likelihood of traditional funding going to women-led startups is still small.

For now, startups with women in leadership roles were more likely to get their funding from investing teams that were also led by females. Wouldn’t it be great if other investors began to not only understand that in 2019 it’s imperative that a company’s leadership reflect the diversity of the employees that comprise it? That workers will be more motivated, feel more understood, and have greater buy-in when they identify with their management?

Empowering women is how more get involved in tech. Diversity of leadership helps organizations thrive. And if something as simple as binary gender diversity is such a tremendous challenge, all other diversity issues are still (unfortunately) a large mountain to climb.

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Business Entrepreneur

C. J. Walker: America’s first self-made millionaire was a black orphan

(ENTREPRENEUR) When you think of our nation’s first self-made millionaire, C. J. Walker is probably not the picture that may come to mind, but this generous genius made it to the top, breaking every glass ceiling possible.

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These days, it seems like Oprah gets all the bragging rights. I don’t think it’s quite fair that some car-gifting mogul gets to bask in the glory of a path that was paved a century ago. **No offense, O Great Winfrey. You’re cool, too. Please don’t take my Altima back.**

It’s time to pay our respects to the first female self-made millionaire in America. My friends, I’d like to introduce you to your new idol, Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C. J. Walker.

This gal had just about every card in the deck working against her. Both of her parents and all of her siblings before her were born into slavery. Her mother died when she was five, and her father passed the following year. Orphaned, she lived with her older sister until she married at age 14.

As if that wasn’t enough, a mere two years after her first child was born, Sarah’s husband died. I mean, she just couldn’t catch a break. Unfortunate event after unfortunate event. She then moved to St. Louis to live with her brothers, working as a washer woman for a mere dollar a day. Classic rags-to-riches stuff.

Her brothers worked at a local barber shop, and she wound up learning a thing or two about hair care while sharing a home with them. This planted the seed that would lead to her working with Annie Turnbo Malone, selling African American hair care products. As she learned more about hair, she must have realized she had a knack for it, because she decided to roll up her sleeves and put some indie elbow grease in.

After moving to Denver to work on her own products, she married Charles Walker, who provided the advertising know-how that would help her venture succeed. She adopted the name C. J. Walker and began traveling and training women in the fields of beauty and sales.

Eleven years later, in 1917, she called her first convention of so-called “beauty culturists” in Philadelphia. Here, she rewarded her top agents as well as those who were the most philanthropic towards local charities.

What I love about C. J. is that as her business grew, so did her awareness of the social climate around her. She never forgot where she came from, never hesitated to give back, and never gave up. She lectured on topics such as women’s independence, helping educate other black women in the ways of business.

Upon her death, it was determined that she was the wealthiest African-American woman in the country. In true C. J. style, she left two-thirds of her future profits to charity.

If I ever get mega-famous, I’m doing it the C. J. Walker way: Keep a level head, educate and help others, and put your community first.

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