Jason Scherr was the CEO of Tivity, a StartFast 2012 team. When Jason announced he was closing down Tivity and joining the leadership team at Echolocation, we asked him for his reflections and key lesson learned. Here are his thoughts.
1) Make sure your team is as invested in your company as you are. For me, it was really hard to be part of a team where the equity stakes were equal but the level of commitment to the business was not. Side projects and second jobs are early indicators that the person you are working with may not be the right choice. It’s irritatingly frustrating to put your heart and soul into something while those around you have one foot in another door. Avoid this situation at all costs while building your executive team.
2) Along with team commitment, team quality is of the utmost importance. I’ve been with Echo for two months now and I already see a difference in execution based solely on our team’s differing backgrounds. I am in charge of business development and customer acquisition efforts, Rocky is in charge of design, and Brian is in charge of programming. This allows us all to move forward in different directions and, most importantly, come back to each other with new, executable information. And don’t settle when it comes to whom you hire. You may not have a lot of money, but it’ll cost you more than money if you hire the wrong people just to get things done quickly. You get what you pay for.
3) Speaking of money, budgeting is beyond crucial. The only thing you have less of than time is money. We were fortunate enough to have some money, but didn’t budget properly. Getting an extra 5 – 10k every time you are low on money is much worse than getting 30k upfront. Know your expenses, what you are paying for and the length of your runway. If your team is really into what you are doing, ask them to take a pay cut in exchange for equity long before you have to. Even if they say no, you’ll get a better idea of their commitment to the company and you’ll still have money to pay them up until your runway ends.
4) Ideas are worth shit. Don’t be afraid to tell anybody anything. It’s all about execution.
5) Meet with as many people as possible that use your product, would use your product, or understand your product. Your goal is to learn as much as you can in the shortest period of time. “Start Fast” and build something better. You need to find your niche as quickly as possible, and that doesn’t come from sitting behind a computer all day. Get on the phone and on the street. Last week I met with someone out on the other end of Brooklyn because he was using the Echo app to promote his business. We met with him, grabbed lunch, and then got some of the most valuable feedback we’ve ever received. Check out my depiction of the experience here blog.echolocation.com.
6) Test every single idea you have. Write everything you think down and then do you best to execute. Connect and follow-up with every mentor possible, and if they don’t answer, email them a second, third and fourth time. Chances are they are just busy and don’t hate you that much. Out of everyone I’ve met through StartFast, 98% have gotten back to me and only 1 or 2 have actually told me they are no longer available for contact.
7) If you’re not learning you’re standing still, and if you’re standing still you’re doomed. Any feedback is good feedback. If you aren’t making decisions everyday about how to improve or build your business, than you aren’t building your business.
8) A crappy product can get you feedback, but a crappy team cannot. If you see habits or problems delaying your output, nip them in the bud before it’s too late (i.e., you run out of money). Odds are you are going to fail, and the faster you fail the more time you can spend on future failures…;-)
9) Having a business model is not an option or something that you will fall in to overnight. Build toward a business model. Make money in any way possible and then try to replicate that model. Investors LOVE recurring revenue, no matter how small the amount.
10) People (mentors especially) are often willing to help, especially while you’re part of the StartFast program. Don’t be afraid to take people up on their offers, and let them know where their advice got you. Showing a pattern of execution is half the battle while you’re looking to raise money. As Yogi Berra put it best, “90% of the game is half-mental”.
You can follow Jason on Twitter (@thescherrthing).