Utah Tech’s Tipping Point: For Founders, By Founders

Utah Tech’s Tipping Point: For Founders, By Founders

Co-authored by Andrea Houchens, reprinted from Silicon Slopes Magazine, Spring 2017 In 1994, Hush Puppy shoes were on their deathbed. They had sold a weak 30,000 pairs of shoes the previous year, and the parent company was about to kill the brand. Two years later they sold approximately 1.7 million pairs. Malcolm Gladwell, after recounting this story in his book The Tipping Point, then asked, “How does a thirty-dollar pair of shoes go from a handful of downtown Manhattan hipsters and designers to every mall in American in the space of two years?” The answer? Preferences of a few quickly escalated to the appeal of many, and tipped the scales to success. Without the initial interest of a handful of trend setters, Hush Puppies would likely have disappeared. Every entrepreneur faces the harsh economics of tipping points. In 2007, my Zinch cofounders and I had burned through most of our $750K angel investment. We needed to grow enough of a critical mass to survive. We needed a tipping point, but fighting on our own we would never get there. When we laid off most of our team—paying the remaining members in equity alone—it was local entrepreneurs who came to our rescue. They saw our potential and stepped in with capital and coaching. Their involvement tipped the scales, and the business was ultimately acquired and taken public. I remember like it was yesterday sitting in a Santa Clara hotel shortly after our company had been acquired, staring at a celebratory bottle of wine left for me (and that I couldn’t drink), remembering one of those who had lifted me up along...
Entrepreneur Is Just Another Label

Entrepreneur Is Just Another Label

This startup scene is familiar: we’re sitting on a comfy green couch in a wall-to-wall glass room; I’m surveying the room and feel at home. A dozen employees in an open work format sit on bar stools, with wooden floors below them, brick walls around them, and an etched wood carving of the company logo on the wall. Each employee sits in front of two screens, listening to music and chatting excitedly about the next product launch. Freshly Picked—a darling of the Provo start-up scene—has all the trappings of a successful, trendy, fast-growing tech company. The conversation, however, quickly reveals a difference in this startup, or at least its founder: the CEO talks about her startup success, and just as quickly transitions the topic to her other priorities, each just as important, some perhaps more so, than her successful venture. For most stargazing startup founders, achieving success comparable to that of Freshly Picked is a once-in-a-blue-moon scenario; Susan Petersen seems to have arrived, is relatively casual about it, and talks to us about other stars in the distance. In a community spilling over with startups, an all-in culture has emerged. Entrepreneurs make the company’s agenda top priority and tightly align those driving it. Commitment to a startup plays to our tribal tendencies and produces somewhat of a badge of honor. As a founder myself, I recall all the military-like comparisons: “I pulled the cord and left my job . . . I’m starting a startup!” “We’ve burned the ships!” “You’ve got to get in the trenches!” “It’s a battle!” You get the idea. And there is an all-out startup...
Out of the Office, Into the Paint

Out of the Office, Into the Paint

Two years ago we started playing basketball with local startups.  The purpose is to get to know people in a setting different from the way you typically meet VCs. It was spur-of-the-moment at first– a way to simply get a foot in the door with a company we were interested in. And all our team enjoy the sport, so why not? For me, it’s turned into something more fundamental to how I think about the relationships in my corner of the venture capital industry. This past week we enjoyed a best-of-five series with an exciting Utah company, ObservePoint (pictured). The time together was valuable, the sweaty exercise a plus. Here’s why: Know your people, business aside. I’m not talking about life philosophy or feel-good business tactics here. Look, every venture capitalist is in the business of backing great people. We all say this. And it’s not lip service. We track all our best deals back to remarkable individuals. Fighters. Scrappers. Winners. And if VCs at large are people-focused, then early stage VCs are hyper-focused. Why? Because with more business uncertainty & greater odds of failure that’s a recipe for “you better have massive belief in these people.” And belief in a person in the very earliest of stages is all about knowing everything you can about them other than their business. Their business has little to no history for goodness sake! I will frequently stop an entrepreneur from telling me about how they started their business to repeat, “No, please tell me about you, before your business, aside from your business, and what will make you tick after your business.” Press the flesh. A friend of mine and now fellow investor, Nobu, hails from Japan and happens to...
Startup Milestones and Broken Bones

Startup Milestones and Broken Bones

Let me take you back to a time in my startup, Zinch, to an afternoon that was almost typical.  Change was in the air as the Utah autumn shifted leaves from green to bright reds and yellows–and so, too, our startup was a-changin’…  We had outgrown our office and had hired more sales people.  They brought with them new competitive fire, and, on this day, aggressive ambitions took an unexpected turn for the worse, as the office expansion had unintentionally created a struggle over who got what in the new space.   In the early days of startupdom, you learn to give just enough guidance to your salespeople and then let them have at it. What this meant for the team vying for the best desk space that day was a head to head match at arm wrestling. I was in a neighboring office when, after a few whoops and hollers, I heard a distinct “pop!”  I thought someone had punched a wall.  As I entered the room, I saw one of the arm wrestlers on the ground, his right arm hanging limply at an odd angle. His opponent (let’s call him the ‘arm breaker’) stood dumbfounded, trying to process what just happened.  A broken arm bone was what just happened!  A few hours and an ER trip later, Lance’s arm was declared to have a spiral break at the bicep.  Unbelievable!  To this day, it’s still unbelievable! Just like moving into the office and expanding the sales team created a momentous (and memorable) milestone, startups experience notable transitions.  One of those is summiting the $1 million mark of annual...
Why You Need Those Willing to Block for Your Startup

Why You Need Those Willing to Block for Your Startup

After the local parade of friends, family, and all those rah-rah’ing your startup, comes the reality that there are many more who would rather you not enter the race. What’s more, time is your enemy, assuming you require money to live. But since you started, and certainly once you start making some noise in that race, both the incumbents and time are coming after you… “I’d never been manhandled… and the physical power and swiftness of the attack stunned me.” Last year my 11-year old chose to do her U.S. history report on one of our nation’s heroes, Kathrine Switzer. I got the chills every time she would practice reciting her report in our home. If you’re fuzzy on the name, then tune in, it’s quite the story: Kathrine was the first woman to ever run in and complete the Boston Marathon. She had registered for the 1967 race as “K. V. Switzer,” in a group of 3 male friends, after checking both the rule book and the entry form to find nothing about gender. From the initial milling before the race with the other runners until mile four, she was received amicably by the officials, spectators and other runners. But then came a dramatic near-end to her race, which she weathered thanks to her 235-pound ex-All American football player boyfriend. I’ll share this part of the story through her own words, below. As for the marathon, she eventually completed it. Since then, Kathrine’s pioneering example transformed the sport of running, from the Boston Marathon which accepted women officially the year after her race, to the Olympic Committee, which...
Page 1 of 612345...Last »