Valuable Advice From Startup Founders

Week One at Startup Institute Chicago saw three founders come through to say hello and share some insights. While each gave amazing talks and shared a lot of wisdom with us, there were a few standout pieces of advice I took away from each.

Ethan Austin of Give Forward suggested the best startups clearly understand why they are in business.  It is pretty easy to identify what a company does and how they do it.  Give Forward, for example, is an online fundraising site that makes it easy to rally around a person in need by donating money toward their medical cause.  Ethan suggests, though, that understanding the reason they provide that service is critical to maintaining a great culture and team.  In their case, the why is to “create unexpected joy.”  He suggested that when you start considering job opportunities, spend time truly understanding not only what the company does and how they do it, but why they do it in the first place.

Rick Desai of Dashfire had us work on our own personal “elevator pitch” that we can use at networking events.  He suggests you need to be concise and to the point, but be interesting enough that the person remembers you. The best way to do this, Rick says, is to know your audience so you can tailor your story to be more meaningful.  My elevator pitch, more or less, to Rick went as follows: 

 ”I worked in finance for eight years.  Around year six, I started to get the startup bug. I invested in a couple and finally quit my job this past January to launch my own.  While it is still operating it did not really take off as I had planned so I enrolled at Startup Institute to improve my skills and get better at it.”

Rick said my story and delivery was pretty good; but recommends going into a conversation with a specific ask in mind so that there is a takeaway.

Dave Gardner of Color Jar did a more informal chat where he told us about his background and took questions. Dave was full of perfect metaphors describing his take on running a startup.  My favorite had to do with customer acquisition.  Dave said most companies, when launching, are thinking about how they can get 10,000 customers.  He likened this to trying to figure out how you can fill up the United Center.  The best approach, in his opinion, is to look for that one crazy fan that will show up with his face painted waving a huge foam finger around.  He stressed the importance of knowing who your customers are and focusing on creating an amazing experience for those first core customers.  

Ethan, Rick and Dave set a really high bar for future founders coming to visit our program.  I cannot wait to hear more startup and founder advice over the coming weeks.

Brian is a Chicago native who joined Startup Institute Chicago after eight years in the finance industry.  He is in the technical marketing track and is looking forward to starting what he sees as his real career. Say hello to Brian on Twitter @cuttz40.