July 7, 2016

5 “Knows” for the Brandery Class of 2016

We rock at dawn on the front line
Like a bolt right out of the blue
The sky’s alight with the guitar fight
Heads will roll and rock tonight
For those about to rock, we salute you

~”For Those About To Rock” by AC/DC

Congratulations to the Brandery Class of 2016! #startupcincy welcomes you with open arms. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of you, and most importantly my mentor assignment, Datazar. We look forward to spending more time together over the coming months. Before I get to the recommendations, I should also congratulate the Brandery founders Dave Knox, J.B. Kropp and Rob McDonald, as well as Tony Alexander, the Executive Director. Andy Brownfield provided our community with a well-written cover story for the Business Courier, “The Brandery Put Cincinnati on the World Map.” Well done!

To the Class of 2016: You will be blessed with top-notch slate of mentors and guest speakers. The Demo Day in October is frequented by world-class VCs. Guests from all over the country will come to see your ideas, and bear witness to the progress you will have made over these 4 months. You will build bonds with your co-founders, classmates, mentors and the #startupcincy community we hope will last a lifetime. I couldn’t be more excited for you.

1) Know Those Whom You Intend to Serve

It reminds me of a saying attributed to Albert Einstein: “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.” You were accepted into the Brandery because you have developed an interesting business concept and because you are uniquely qualified to create it. Before you recruit more team members and bring in outside investors, make sure your grasp of the problem is rock solid. Who is it you intend to serve, and how will their life or situation be different now that you exist?

Cincinnati is chock-full of consumer and market researchers who can help you peel back the layers and go as deep as possible into the conditions that you desire to address. What is the profile of the customer? What are the jobs they aim to accomplish, and the pains and gains they experience/aspire to along the way? How will they experience your solution?  This should be the guiding light that defines your purpose for years to come. Getting this right now has a lot to do with determining your success.

2) Know No Bounds

As you learn more about those whom you serve there is the potential that the market opportunity is even larger than expected. Continue to dream big and confidently re-imagine the world with you in it. Your vision as a founder has the potential to inspire hundreds, and maybe even millions. If you run into roadblocks that seem impossible, ask for help from your mentors. It’s the things that seem impossible that have the potential to create the biggest impact. This is your time to dream and ask “what if?” Invite people challenge you, but don’t give up on the big idea.

We want you to be successful here. I think you’ll be amazed how many people will be willing to rally to your side and offer to help if they are infected with your vision.

3) Know Thy Self

You will be getting a lot of great feedback (starting with this post) from many different people. Practice active listening! Invite criticism and know that people are trying to help. Consider keeping a journal everyday with the comments and suggestions you’ve received. Also know that it won’t be unusual to receive feedback that is contradictory. Sometimes that can be the most useful. At the end of the day, it is up to you to absorb the information and make a decision. Most importantly, whatever you decide, make sure it is consistent with who you are, what you aspire to be and the culture you want to create. The company will be a reflection of the values you hold dear.

4) Know Startup=Growth

Most of you are at the earliest stages of the startup lifecycle, and will spend the bulk of your time focusing on your idea and your customer. Remember, the ultimate task of founders is not to create a great product; it’s to create a replicable, scalable business model. As Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator says, “The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate from startups follows from growth.” We measure growth as traction: the rate at which your business model captures monetizable value from its users. Investors are interested in the size of your market, how you plan to generate revenue, and how you’ll defend against competition. But what gets their attention above everything else is traction.

5) Know How to Give

I will leave you with a final request: Give us all you got! Push yourself and your partners to go beyond your comfort zone. Don’t settle for mediocre. Worse case you will learn a ton about yourself and the challenges associated with creating a successful company. It will be one of the most rewarding things you do. But don’t just give of yourself or give to your team. Give to your classmates. They are with you on this journey: find a way to help them. Finally, while you are here, find one way to give back. #startupcincy is a special place because talented, determined people have come together to better themselves and a cause bigger than themselves: the community.

I wish you the best of luck and look forward to seeing you in Union Hall.