Startup Journal: Why Is Tim Gunn Relevant to Your Business?

Why is Tim Gunn Relevant to Your Business? PC Marie Claire

When you think about the tech startup world, or business in general, a character like Tim Gunn is likely not what comes to mind. But he’s as relevant to your work as any developer or marketer, for one simple reason.

How is fashion relevant to tech?

As a marketer, creative, and someone who generally loves commerce, I’m fascinated by the fashion industry. Fashion, like architecture or music, is a form of art. When it’s not art, fashion is still a multi-trillion-dollar global industry.

Fashion is business. And when it’s somehow not art or business, it’s still a part of culture.

It’s everywhere! It hits us on all levels. And there’s so much that can be learned from the fashion industry about marketing, advertising, content, trends, and getting consumers to swipe their cards.

Truthfully, the two worlds – fashion and tech startup – are identical. The only difference is one designs with fabric while the other uses code.

Every budding designer looks up to top brands, just like every budding entrepreneur looks up to company founders. Brands like Oscar de la Renta and Dior are like Apple and Google.

Bergdorf Goodman is like Salesforce, where everyone’s trying to be featured. Parsons School of Design is like Y Combinator, where some of the best talent and ideas go to be nurtured. And the man sitting at the helm for years was the one and only Tim Gunn.

Tim Gunn Well Read Quote

Why is Tim Gunn relevant to your business?

When producers reached out to Tim about creating the show Project Runway, they really wanted to know one thing. “If we told contestants to make a wedding dress in two days, do you think they could do it?”

Tim’s response to that question has become the catchphrase he’s famous for.

“Well, they’ll have to… It won’t be [anything amazing], but if that’s what they’re supposed to do, they’ll have to make it work.”

They will have to make it work.

That’s why Tim Gunn is relevant to your business. When you’re an entrepreneur, when you’re trying to build a company, you probably don’t have all the time and resources that you could possibly want readily available.

You’ve got deadlines. You need funding. There’s 1,000,001 things on your plate. But you’ve got to make it work.

So much of building a business is saying, “We can’t do that, but what can we do?”

Tim Gunn Make It Work

It’s a process of figuring things out. It’s an ongoing struggle to make it work. But that’s what you have to do!

You’re given this incredible idea or opportunity or skill set, and you have to figure out how to turn it into something tangible!

What does that mean for you?

As a startup, the odds are inevitably and eternally stacked against you. 50% of startups fail within the first 5 years, regardless of industry, and 90% of all startups eventually crash and burn.

Forget about becoming wealthy or hugely successful, you’ve got to survive! You have to continually research and learn and come up with a plan E when plans A, B, C, and D are all infeasible.

You’re probably not going to have enough money, not enough experience, and not enough manpower. You’re probably going to be stressed to the nth degree! But you’ve got to find a way to make it work.

Really, that might be one of the better and brighter aspects of creating a business.

The winners aren’t the ones with the biggest market potential or the hottest tech. The winners are the ones who, at every step and every level, find a way to make it work.

— Kenneth Burke, Marketing Director

Startup Journal: On Patience and Waiting

Startup Journal on Patience and Waiting

I can’t officially speak for everyone on our team, but I think we would all agree that waiting is the worst.

Patience and waiting – inherently it seems – go against every fiber of the hype that surrounds startups and entrepreneurship.

All of us who’ve been in this world know the hype isn’t accurate. That doesn’t make it any less confusing to navigate!

The startup world is depicted as this incredibly fast-paced environment, packed with booming innovation and drowning in venture capital. Compared to the glacial pace of Fortune 500 companies, this might be true of startups.

The big difference is that instead of planning five and ten years out, startups are planning 3 months to 2 years head. Comparatively, this is incredibly quick!

But there’s so much less going on in a startup compared to a major company that this pace can still feel slow. You’re constantly fighting for that next milestone, which often feels forever and a day away.

Princess Bride Startup Journal Patience and Waiting Work

The startup life is depicted as this bustling strife for growth, but it’s really a lot of long, almost boring hours spent trying to figure out or create answers to your own questions.

You could spend months testing a particular marketing strategy or technique, and then you realize you’ve spent a third of your company’s existence on that one thing! It’s a relatively significant chunk of time.

That’s what it takes, though, and it can often take much longer to find the right answer! That’s the trouble with patience and waiting. You don’t want to take the time necessary to start growing exponentially.

The dream would be to pivot and see instant improvement as a result. That just doesn’t work. It takes time. And it takes a lot of patience and waiting while you work your tail off.

Being patient and learning to be okay with waiting is a big lesson to learn. Keep your head down. Keep trying to find the right answers. But be patient.

Know that there probably isn’t going to be a simple solution. It’s likely going to take several months, a year, or more to find answers to your questions and to start growing exponentially.

It takes a lot of patience and waiting to create success in a startup. That’s not easy when you want to run at a full sprint! But it’s completely worth it once your baby brand finally takes off.

— Kenneth Burke, Marketing Director

Startup Journal: Handling Customer Service

Startup Journal Handling Customer Service

Handling customer service appropriately is important for any business.

Duh.

99 times out of 100, people care about how they’re treated, and that plays directly into the success of your business. (Tweet this!) Accordingly, everyone deserves the velvet rope experience. Customers are your VIPs!

In larger, more established companies, you typically see a top-down approach to customer service. The top decides what’s cost efficient, and then tells those beneath them how to act.

In these situations, you see a lot of maintaining equilibrium. No one wants an upset customer, but no one’s really going above and beyond to make customers happy.

The goal, it seems, it to keep customers content. Not excited or enthused, but just satisfied enough not to say anything negative. In a bootstrapped startup, this approach is suicide.

Handling Customer Service as a Startup

A top-down approach to customer service doesn’t really work when you don’t have a top or a down. You’re a startup. All you have is a tightly knit group of people trying to accomplish a shared goal.

Through this, customer service becomes something similar to parenthood. Every customer and every potential customer is your child.

You protect them, and look out for them. You try your everything to help them grow, and make sacrifices for their success. This goes for everyone on your team!

One of Richard Branson’s most polarized philosophies, which I believe he learned from Southwest Airline’s Herb Kelleher, was that if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers.

This philosophy brings love and empathy to the buzz of employee advocacy (creating employees who want to actively speak well of your company). For corporate management, it’s beautiful!

In practice it’s even better, because it actually works. It goes something like this.

Creating Advocacy

The company provides great benefits, reasonable time off, and a flexible environment where employees are treated like royalty for being the foundation and face of the company.

This promotes a charitable culture, and strengthens advocacy for the company, which causes individual employees to want to see the company prosper.

In turn, employees treat customers according to that conviction – very well. Employees are able to take pride in what they’re doing and who they’re doing it for!

I’m a big fan of this. Create a culture where employees are excited to go work every morning, and your customers will take note. What’s more, your customers will love you for it! But this still doesn’t work well for a startup.

How does it look in practice?

When you’re building a startup, you don’t really have employees to treat well, nor the means to do so. You might have a few hires, but you’re all effectively on an even playing field.

In a startup, everyone is responsible for handling customer service. And how you treat the small number of customers you’re able to get dictates how many more you can get.

Referrals, reviews, and recommendations are massively important for startups! You won’t do well in getting new customers unless your current ones can talk honestly about how great you’ve been to them (and how much your product has helped).

We try to do a lot for our customers, but my favorite one is our unlimited customer service. So many brands charge for support, but we just want people to succeed!

That’s how all customers should be treated, with as much time and attention as they need to do well, and then some. They deserve that velvet rope, VIP experience. Conceptually, it really is very similar to parenting.

One day we’ll get to a point where instead of everyone in our small group working with customers, we’ll choose The Virgin Way of putting our employees first. We’ll let them take great care of our customers.

But that’s not what’s best for us at the moment. Nor is that what’s best for any startup fighting out of the gate!

Bringing It All Together

Handling customer service appropriately is important for every company. No one wants to deal with Comcast-like, terrible customer service experiences.

This is even more important for startups! Where every member of the team is intimately connected to the company and to the customers. It’s important to take a parenting approach, to guide customers along with their best interests at heart.

Your customers’ growth will become your growth. Their opinions will shape the opinions of all their friends and of all your targets. If you’re not handling customer service well, you won’t have much of a company to handle at all!

— Kenneth Burke, Marketing Director

Startup Journal: Is Explosive Growth Really the Goal?

Startup Journal Is Explosive Growth Goal

Everyone wants to achieve explosive growth. That’s what a startup is all about!

It’s a new business trying to rapidly take control of a market. Explosive growth is in the definition of a startup! Obviously that’s the goal, right? To grow as quickly as possible?

That’s something you have to do in order to make it, but I think we often get too caught up in the idea. I get too caught up in it, at least.

We’re all trying to build a baby brand from scratch. We need to grow it quickly in order to compete, but it also takes time to become a real player.

How to Approach Explosive Growth

Like every other entrepreneur, I’ve read through dozens, probably hundreds, of articles and first hand accounts of people who’ve done it before. VC’s, entrepreneurs, developers, advisors. They all roughly share this same piece of advice.

A startup isn’t a get rich quick scheme. It’s not an anything quick scheme!

It’s not even a get rich scheme, for that matter. A startup is about building a leading, sustainable business. That takes time. And the shared mindset from all of these experts is that the amount of time it takes is about 7 years. (Tweet this!)

I’ve seen as low as 3 and as high as 10, but that seven-year time frame shows up over and over again. It’s almost overwhelming, isn’t it? 7 years of risk, uncertainty, potential poverty – and even then you might not make it!

What Does “Explosive Growth” Look Like?

Airbnb is a classic example, if for no other reason than how long it took them to be of any value. Their idea sprouted in 2007, and they officially launched in 2008 at SXSW, which sounds like an amazing opportunity!

They got two bookings.

The founders actually made and sold spoof cereals during the 2008 Presidential Election – Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s – to earn their first bit of funding, $30K. In 2009, they got $20k from Y Combinator.

At this point they’re two years in, and they’ve got a total of $50k and sweat equity to show for it. That’s it.

They made a bunch of changes, learned how powerful photos are (and how much money they can bring in), and by the end of 2009 they’d closed a $600k seed round with Sequoia, the cream of the VC crop.

In 2010, Airbnb had an A-round of $7.2 million. In 2011, they had a B-round of $11.2 million.

Several rounds of funding later, as of August 2016, Airbnb is valued at $30 billion. That’s insane!

Airbnb Startup Explosive Growth

That’s explosive growth. But the first 3 years were anything but explosive.

One of America’s favorite and most valuable startups took four years to reach unicorn status, with almost all of that coming after the first 3 years.

Their first 3 years sucked! But they kept going, and I think that’s what we need to keep in mind as we’re grinding day-in and day-out, trying to build our own unicorns. Here’s where it gets practical.

Making it Practical

The startup world is all about hype, and it’s very easy to get caught up in that hype.

So-and-so comes out with this new innovation or huge partnership. Someone closes a $10 million round. Companies get awards and start getting featured everywhere.

We want to be a part of that. We want those stories to be our stories. It becomes so easy to let the macro influence the micro! For these big stories to alter how we would normally work – how we should normally work.

Explosive growth is something that will happen if you continue doing the right things in the right way. But it shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself, not starting out at least.

If you go into your startup with the mindset of “I have to do something that grows exponentially today,” you’ll fail.

Building a startup is a long, 7-year ordeal. Short-term goals are great for morale and investors, but they distract you from the big picture.

It’s okay to take several weeks to figure out the right next step. It’s good to go about your processes with a long-term focus. If you go into a startup with the mindset of “I have to achieve explosive growth today,” you never will.

Look at Airbnb. It took them 3 years to start growing explosively. That’s common! It takes time. It takes putting the right components in the right places, and then being patient.

Explosive growth will be a byproduct of making the right decisions over time. It’s not going to come immediately. (Tweet this!)

— Kenneth Burke, Marketing Director

Startup Journal: How Should You Spend Your Time?

Startup Journal Spend Your Time

As an entrepreneur or any member of a startup, your work-life balance deteriorates. Your startup quickly becomes a part of your identity. It’s all you think about!

You take that identity everywhere, and everything you do is geared towards building your company. All these great ideas continually flood your mind. There are so many things you want to do!

You’re spending all this time on your new company, but how do you pick through the pile of ideas to choose the ones that will help you grow exponentially?

How do you decipher between what’s a good idea, and what will have the most benefit? Or, in other words, how exactly should you spend your time?

Dilbert Management vs. Startup

How do people recommend you spend your time?

The most common answer to the question of growth is some form of “work long, hard, and smart.” That’s true, you need to do that. But that’s not very specific advice.

On what tasks should you work long, hard, and smart? How should you spend your time?

If everything you do is now connected to your startup, what do you need to focus on inside and outside of the office?

Like most great questions, the answer is: It depends. It doesn’t depend on what you’re doing or what your idea is. It depends on your experience in that realm.

Every startup comes with a monstrous learning curve, and a priority of yours needs to be tackling that curve. How?

How should you really spend your time?

Most people will tell you to try and fail over and over again. “Fail fast; learn quickly” they say.

That’s pretty good advice, but one of the most beneficial and undervalued things you should do to grow your startup (particularly if you’re a new entrepreneur) is read.

Warren Buffett seems to have had decent success in the business world, so let’s use him as a case study.

Perhaps his most astounding claim is how he chooses to spend his time. Warren estimates that he has spent 80% of his working hours reading and thinking.

That’s incredible!

Warren Buffett Spend Your Time Reading

Buffett isn’t reading novels. He’s reading reports, case studies, and personal accounts.

He’s reading how and why has Business X performed in this and that way. What can be learned from it? How can that be applied to his businesses?

Reading, learning, and digesting that information might be the most valuable way to spend your time. Then, as you’re learning, put that new information into practice.

Learn first, then try. Fail, then learn some more, then try again.

Call it human capital if you want, but you’re going to have to learn one way or another. And it helps to learn as much as you can before you start spending thousands of dollars (or more) testing for what does and doesn’t work.

A cornucopia of blogs are available to the interested entrepreneur. Personally, I prefer physical copies of books.

Anyone can write a blog post, but only a special few can publish books (much less a Bestseller). They’re the cream of the crop, and you need to ingest the best if you’re going to build the best.

What should you do next?

Sadly, it doesn’t matter how great you or your startup is if no one knows you exist.

You need customers, sure, but you also need to be visible. People need to find you, to stumble across you, to see how you fix their problems.

There are countless specific ways to promote your content and brand, but the important part is that you do something. That you spend your time getting your name and valuable information in front of your target audience.

People aren’t going to come looking for you if they don’t you exist. The immediate and trackable ROI might not be great, but getting out there is necessary to building your traffic, SEO, and traffic.

Depending on your duties, you might focus on this during your primary work hours. Maybe not. If nothing else, writing and creating content is a great way to spend an evening.

Startup Journal How Your Audience Grows

You can have the best content in the world on your own website, but if no one else is pointing traffic in that direction, it’s just going to sit there all alone.

After you’ve put a plan in place for getting your message out there, figuring out where to spend your time can be rather tricky. There are a million-and-one things to do for your startup, and they’re all important.

From my (incredibly biased) experience, two of the primary uses of your time should be spent intentionally learning and making yourself visible.

Reading is perhaps the best way to do the former, and pitching stories to journalists on high profile sites might be the best way to do the latter.

The trifecta of growth, however, is incomplete unless you spend your time getting customers.

So how do you get customers?

Building traction as a startup is all about acquiring and keeping customers.

You should be able to use the first two tasks to exponentially help you with this. But how do you get customers?

Startup Spend Your Time Great Product

It’s such a complicated question with an even more complicated answer, because it’s different for everyone! But that’s what you have to answer in order to grow.

The bottom line for most new companies is that you have to spend a lot of time making a few people happy.

Use bribery or whatever you can to get a handful of initial customers, and then do everything you can to make the best product for them. Once you’ve created something great, they’ll start telling others about you. Repeat ad infinitum.

You’ll have to learn a ton, which will take time. You’ll need to have in-depth conversations with a lot of people, which will take time. And you’ll have to tailor your product to meet the specific needs of your customers.

That’s how you should spend your time.

— Kenneth Burke, Marketing Director

Startup Journal: Social Proof & Seeing What You Preach

Startup Journal Social Proof

Social proof is a beautiful thing. It’s such a powerful phenomenon, where we validate by products and experiences by what someone else said.

Everybody wants to feel validated. So when you see and hear people living out what you and your startup have been preaching, it’s impossible not to feel some sense of pride.

This has happened to every member of our team at least once. When Mark Zuckerberg said, “We think you should be able to message a business like you would message a friend,” at the 2016 Facebook Developer Conference (F8), we all gave ourselves a little pat on the back.

We’ve been preaching that since 2014!

Getting good reviews from our beta testers was big. Watching businesses actually achieve the results we told them were possible has been huge!

We’ve had several of these big social proof moments, and I’m sure everyone on our team could give you a different story that stands out for them. One of my big social proof moments came over Mother’s Day weekend.

Mark Zuckerberg F8 Facebook Messenger Business

My Social Proof Moment

Our family was all together for the weekend, which was great. We spent Saturday afternoon sitting on the porch, drinking coffee, and just shooting the breeze.

Book and reading are big deals in our family. My dad’s always reading something new and amazing from the New York Times Bestseller List. I myself read a book a week for a year, and my older sister and brother-in-law have a very respectable personal library going on.

As always, a book reference came up during the conversation, to which my sister said something that made me smile.

“Can you text that to me?”

What a beautiful moment! Something we continually preach is that people prefer texting.

The statistics show it, and you see it in everyday life all the time. In this case, my sister wanted a way to remember the book my dad had referenced. She wanted a record that she could always have and not worry about losing.

There were other options. She could have fumbled around for a pen and a scrap piece of paper to write it on. She could have looked it up on Amazon right then and saved it.

An email would have gotten the job done. She could have typed it into her phone’s Notes app. But what did she do?

She said “Can you text that to me?”

Why? Because it’s easy. Because that’s the way she – and millions like her – prefer to save and process that kind of information.

Now, my sister, I guarantee, was not thinking through her question in this much detail. She wasn’t thinking “Text that to me for XYZ reason.” Texting’s just what people do. It’s how we communicate.

But it was a fun experience watching the situation unravel. It’s like a psychologist with a patient.

You see them do X or say Y, and even though they may be oblivious to its connotations and implications, you start playing through the research and case studies in your mind. You know what’s going on.

Why Social Proof Moments are So Important

For me, these real life social proof moments are a somewhat common occurrence. After all, people send and receive 85+ text messages every day. There’s plenty of room for opportunity!

To tell you the truth, these moments might be what give me the encouragement to keep going in this startup environment.

We might not be the single most talented group of individuals in the world, or have the most money backing us, but we do know what we’re talking about. That validation is powerful.

Whatever your profession, there are going to be times when it’s really tough to get through, to jump that next hurdle, and where you’ll struggle to reach stability.

If you’ve been through that, you understand these social proof moments, and how wonderful that validation can feel! They can be just the pick-me-up you need.

When you’re an entrepreneur or part of a new business, this kind of stuff is your life.

You know all these things are happening, so you provide a solution. You start sharing that solution in every way imaginable, and eventually get discouraged when you have trouble getting people on board.

Then you see what you’ve been saying all along actually happen, and you’re left with a renewed sense of conviction!

One More for the Road

Before Text Request, I worked in financial planning. I was working with this one guy – married, two kids, successful career – and I was encouraging him to bite the bullet on disability insurance, because something is always going to happen to someone.

He wasn’t entirely convinced at the time (something I feel terrible about to this day), so I encouraged him to think it over. A week later, I followed up.

He shared with me that the morning before, he’d been diagnosed with colon cancer. His world was shattered.

In the worst way imaginable, I was validated. We all get our social proof moments. Some of those moments are more powerful than others. After that call, I’ve never left the house without telling my wife I love her, because I really never know what’s going to happen.

I can’t say I’m at all glad about that man’s situation, but it encouraged me to do my job better. It affirmed what I knew to be true, and helped me to keep going.

In a far less morbid sense, these are the moments you live for as part of a startup. After all the wear and tear, after pitching your idea hundreds of times to people who don’t seem to get it, those brief moments of “you just proved my point” are everything!

These social proof moments are what validate our work and encourage us to keep going. We all have them! Some we’ll want to share publicly everywhere we can, including our website’s home page. Others we might keep to ourselves.

Either way, they keep us driving. What’s your social proof moment? What real life examples keep you going?

— Kenneth Burke, Marketing Director

Startup Journal: Accepting Failure vs. Expecting Failure

Startup Journal Accepting vs Expecting Failure

The thing about entrepreneurship is that every day you’re vulnerable to failure.

Startups are a really uncomfortable place, because you’re constantly doing things you’ve never done before.

When you sit down at a job interview and someone asks you, “What are your qualifications for this position,” they’re basically asking, “Have you done this job before?”

They’re asking if you’ve done the necessary things to be able to do the necessary things. As an entrepreneur, you almost never have this luxury of experience.

You’re going to be asked to do things you’ve never done. What you’re doing is taking a theory and turning it into reality. You’re taking a dream and creating a business out of it.

You’re approaching a problem, and you’re disrupting the status quo with a new solution. And you know what? Those are tracks that haven’t been made.

Mark Cuban Sweat Equity is the Best Capital

Those are roads that haven’t been paved. You’re doing things that haven’t been done!

Nearly everyone in small and emerging tech markets is doing things differently, because there is no status quo. No one is “qualified” to do something that hasn’t been done.

When you’re trying to do things that have never been done, mistakes are inevitable. But there’s an important difference between a company culture that accepts failure, and one that expects failure.

One is helpful, but the other is damning.

Accepting Failure

Accepting failure looks like this. 

“Hey James, I need you to A/B test which demographics we best connect with on Facebook. Here’s a $50 budget. We just want some basic insights. Could you go do some testing?”

I go. I do. 50 bucks runs out and there’s nothing conclusive. I really have no greater insight. And I don’t know if the problem was my content or my copy or any of a hundred different things.

The goal was to find an answer, and I failed.

Experiment Failure Learn Repeat

Accepting failure is me saying, “Guess what, that happened. Fine. On to the next.”

On to the next, because I know failure’s going to happen. It’s part of the game, and I accept that.

I accept that I will fail over and over, but I’m hungry for the solution, and that’s the biggest part. You’re not accepting failure as an end goal, you’re accepting failure as a step needed to reach your goal.

Then you have the other side.

Expecting Failure

Expecting failure is bred from a healthy culture of accepting failure. A culture that says, “We accept failures in our efforts to achieve greater things.” 

But.

Then the failures don’t stop.

You keep coming up short, time and time again. And that mentality of accepting failure turns into a mentality of expecting failure.

When you expect failure, you are absolutely going to achieve it.

Can or Can't Both Right Quote

It’s one of my favorite quotes of all time – I can’t exhaust this enough!

The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right. – Confucious

When you accept failure, there’s this tendency to then expect failure. This is dangerous.

When you accept failure, you accept that it’s part of your journey towards the goal, not your end. But when you’re expecting failure, good heavens, that becomes your undoing! It will destroy you.

Some of you might say that expecting failure better prepares you to accept it when it comes. Some of you are also wrong.

Dr. Cox Wrong

That mindset will keep you from fully committing, and you’ll fall far short of your potential.

Accepting failure is fine, but how do you accept failure in a healthy way without becoming someone who expects failure?

You have got to celebrate the little things!

I don’t’ know if you caught that.

You have got to celebrate the little things!

Yes, you worked 6 months on that enterprise account and couldn’t close it. Yes, you put thousands into a marketing effort that fell on it’s face. These are failures.

These are failures that are tough to accept. But you know what happened along the way?

There were lots of small victories, too.

Celebrate Small Victories Quote

Content pieces were picked up by major media groups. There were sales that occurred, relationships that were fostered – good things happened!

So how do you avoid expecting failure? You’ve got to be reminded that every step forward is a step towards success!

You can’t get so blinded by your big goals that you forget all the little things that are going right.

Look at your day – today. Accept the failures that come and celebrate your victories!

— James Dawson, Director of Sales & Communications

Startup Journal: Creating Your Own Company Culture

Startup Journal Creating Company Culture

When you’re a sapling business, you don’t think about the company culture you’re forming or the bonds you’re building.

Sure the topic comes up, but it’s pushed aside as more important things come up.

Things like, how are we going to sell this product? How will we be profitable? What’s going to scale? And it’s fascinating.

Company culture is the one thing you grow without ever trying.

The one thing we did focus on was trying to get each other to leave our office with a smile every day. The work has been, of course, grueling and confusing and frustrating.

Princess Bride Startup Journal Company Culture

But if we could regroup at the end of each day, maybe we could encourage each other enough to keep going. That was our first attempt at intentionally creating company culture – staying positive to the point of forcing it.

We did a few TNOs (team night out), where some of us awkwardly went bowling or to play pool, stumbling across that ill-defined line of whether to talk about work or just hang out.

Related: Startup Journal: Accepting Failure vs. Expecting Failure

We tried a reward system, too.

Depending on your role, some accomplishment or another would get you the chance to win a few extra bucks. To win, you had to sink a ping pong ball in a lone Solo cup of water.

That was fun!

Did it work? Eh…

We’ve tried a handful of things to create a company culture we’d want to be a part of, but none of them really took, or created any lasting stamp (that we could tell).

Text Request Online Texting for Business

What has left a mark is all of us working together in a small space and inevitably being forced to interact with each other constantly. That’s where the bulk of our company culture has come from.

Not from operations or procedures or HR stunts, but from spending dozens of hours every week huddled together trying to achieve a common goal.

It’s been interesting, too, to see how culture develops even when people aren’t in the office.

Our CTO worked remotely for the first year. Sure he came in from time to time, but I don’t believe I ever exchanged more than ten words with him in the first six months.

That’s crazy, right? It still adds to the culture.

Related: Startup Journal: Why Is Tim Gunn Relevant to Your Business?

You could argue that our company culture was built on trust and accountability. Even if we don’t have eyes on each other, we know everyone’s still working.

A similar thing has been going on since Foster moved to Tulsa (thankfully he’s coming back soon). Our office lost a lot of energy when he took his vibrancy to that far away land! But that’s still part of our culture.

I can’t say whether our company culture is great or poor. I don’t have any other startup environments to compare it to. Just a few corporate gigs. But I’m content with it.

It’s something we’ve created for ourselves! And we didn’t have to spend a ton of resources to do it.

Keep Calm and Text Friends

We’ve become friends outside of the office, too. We’ll meet up in the evenings or on the weekends, because that’s what friends do.

As a startup or entrepreneur, company culture is the one thing you’ll create and grow whether you intend to or not. Is there a best way to do it?

I have no idea.

Larger corporations will hark on culture as a large pro of their organization, which is important since you’re going to spend 1/3 of your life there!

What is good for each member of your team, and your company as a whole, is to form relationships with each other. 

If you can get along inside and outside the office, I can’t imagine how that wouldn’t make for a great company culture.

— Kenneth Burke, Marketing Director

Related: Is Online Texting Right for Your Business?

Startup Journal: My Experience Working Satellite for a Tech Company

Startup Journal Working Satellite

For the last 6 weeks, I’ve had the joy and pain of working satellite from Text Request.

Working satellite is supposed to be a dream of freedom and minimal oversight! While I can’t speak for older companies, working satellite for a startup has blurred the line between work life and personal life more than ever.

Live Texting How I Met Your Mother HIMYM That's the Dream

And it was pretty blurred to begin with.

Life Before Working Satellite

When I joined Text Request, I only submitted to a little blurring. I gave out my personal cell phone number instead of the company extension, because (as a new guy learning sales) I wanted prospects to be able to reach me whenever they wanted.

In every other way, though, I closed up shop at 5. I took no calls from the rest of the team, responded to zero texts, and ignored all Snapchats.

But as I grew closer with others on the team, things changed. Work friendships turned into weekend volleyball and frisbee matches. Those turned into (tame) parties, and co-workers moved more and more into my personal life.

Sure enough, work followed.

Related: Startup Journal: How Should You Spend Your Time?

All of a sudden, taking a call at 9:30pm from someone on the West Coast didn’t seem like such a problem.

Rolling out of bed early Monday morning to satisfy the time-constraints of a particularly early riser seemed natural. And one Sunday evening, I even took a call at midnight from a guy in California!

I wish he had texted me instead (ahem).

Fast forward 10 months, and I’m working satellite in a completely different state.

Life While Working Satellite

“Pick your own hours,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

Right.

Now, I can’t wait to get back to Chattanooga! Being in a different state (let alone in a different time zone) means that all of my communication with the company is via text, email, and Snapchat.

John Mclane Join a Startup

If something is really serious, I might get a brief phone call. And these communications come in all the time!

I’m usually at the gym when I get the first batch of emails. I schedule my shower and other activities around calls in the morning. And I eat lunch whenever things seem to be off to a great start.

Of course, by that point, the second email batch is rolling in, and client X wants to know how client Y is accomplishing mutual goal Z.

I spend the day bouncing around on other people’s time.

For the most part, though, I roll out of bed checking my emails and trying to figure out how I can bring value. It’s usually a mixture of inside sales and account management, just like when I’m home in Chattown.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is, so much of being in a startup is the camaraderie and encouragement from your team to keep going.

When you’re a cool 700 miles away from the team, that fire is tough to duplicate! Which means I have to prioritize scheduling my time in order to achieve comparable results.

Text Request Chattanooga

My attitude in Chatt was simply “do the next thing.” In a startup, that’s not a bad attitude to have. As long as “the next thing” fits into the overall plan, you’re good to go!

Everything on that monumental list of necessary tasks has to get done, so you get cracking, put your head down, and just drive for a while.

Given, a lot of that list can be summed up as “increase revenue.” So I had the luxury of knowing that, when in doubt, direct sales was the answer.

Working satellite means I don’t have a tangible list of things to get done unless I plan one myself. I’m not sitting there getting little prompts and reminders to prioritize this or that.

Related: Startup Journal: Is Explosive Growth Really the Goal?

If I don’t pay absolute attention, I get distracted. My thoughts about a sales conversation I just had will rabbit trail to who knows where, even while I’m writing down my notes!

During one of these rabbit trails, I discovered I hadn’t finished taking notes on a call for nearly an hour. Gathering my thoughts led to an email to this person, then a call to that person, and then “what was I doing again exactly?”

All of which brings me to this point.

Would I recommend it?

Being part of a startup takes an emotional commitment that is fueled by physically being in the trenches with your co-workers.

The drive to succeed is contagious. But keeping that drive going alone is like trying to fuel a campfire with nothing but dryer lint. You can start the fire, but it will fizzle out without proper fuel.

I will be returning to Chattanooga in a couple of weeks, and am thoroughly looking forward to it! While working satellite has it’s perks, working with the rest of the team is vastly preferable.

— Foster Benson, Accounts Manager

Startup Journal: How Many Hats Can You Wear?

Startup Journal How Many Hats Can You Wear

Success is knowing which hat to wear at which moment. We all have different roles to play, and being able to masterfully play each is the key to more than just progress. It’s the key to growth, to sustainability, to symbiosis. Following this Shakespearean motif: Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. In a startup, everything is thrust upon you.

It’s up to you to turn what’s thrust upon you into greatness, to acquire numerous hats and know which fits best in each occasion. This is not easy to do. I can’t even say that we do it masterfully. We have no choice but to do it, though. Take me as an example.

Day-to-day I’m in charge of creating content, advertising, growing our dozen+ social media channels, marketing strategy, automation, press, SEO, and analytics. In a larger organization, there’s a different person for each of those roles, if not entire teams.

I also work some with product development – as in any true startup – as well as event preparation and a hodgepodge of other areas. Our level of success as a company depends in (large) part on my ability to wear the appropriate hat at the right time, and to wear many as time goes on. That’s the responsibility of everyone on our team!

As I understand it, this applies to anyone involved in the early stages of a tech startup. All of the hats I listed above fall under the umbrella (sombrero, if you will) of marketing. But like everyone else, I have to be able to put on the sales hat, or customer service hat, or financial planning hat, or product development, or business partnerships, or implementation and success hats at any given moment. That’s a lot of flexibility! That’s a lot of expertise each person has to possess.

What’s funny to think about – funny intriguing, not funny haha – is how “narrowly” focused our roles have become since I joined the team in January 2015. We used to all be in one office doing direct sales, then discussing product development, then planning for and heading out to trade shows. We all did everything.

Now we’ve more or less settled into roles with respect for each other. For instance, if something comes up related to marketing, I’ll probably head the charge, but I’ll ask a couple of the guys for their input because I genuinely respect their insight. A year ago it would be: Who wants to do this? And then we’d jostle the task around before someone officially claimed it. Now there’s placement. It’s a very interesting development to watch in a group of people you call friends.

We each put on a dozen different hats everyday. It’s what we’ve had to do, and will have to continue doing. If you’re involved in a startup, you probably understand this phenomenon. You can’t afford to hire experts out of the gate, so you have to become experts yourself. It’s challenging, but that’s where you’ll find success. In being able to switch between roles instantly as the need arises. What does that look like in your venture? How many hats can you wear?