Our new venture was humming right along. Then my co-founder bailed on me.
It completely threw me for a loop because I'd had no clue. Not only was my business partner gifted at coding, he was as enthusiastic about the business idea as I was and we really enjoyed working together. But suddenly he was gone, and I had to figure out if and how I could carry on without him.
I’d met “Ted” five years ago at a networking event. We had a casual conversation about social media, a mutual fascination for both of us, which led to an exchange of contact info. Pretty soon, we were communicating regularly about computers, sports, local events—you name it. Meanwhile, we continued to work at our regular jobs.
A few months later, my lawnmower broke. I hopped onto a few websites to check out reviews for service providers, but I found the sites’ focus on larger businesses frustrating, and I didn’t know which reviews to trust.
That’s when the idea hit me: I wanted to create an app where people could read reviews written by people they knew, whose opinions and preferences they trust. I invited Ted to the startup party for Preferling, and before long, we’d put together a detailed plan.
Then he got a job offer he couldn’t refuse and I got an email saying he was out—just like that.
Going It Alone
If I’d wanted out, this would have been a perfect excuse to quit, and I even considered it for a few minutes. But I loved the idea too much to let it go. So I wished my former co-founder the best of luck and, with his blessings, forged ahead. Here's how:
1. Spread the word (as cheaply as possible). You can't attract talent or money if no one knows what you're working on. When it came to sharing the concept of my app with others, I felt the two best options were to create a pitch deck or make an explainer video. I chose the latter, so I reached out to some fellow members of the Young Entrepreneur Council to help me connect with a video team.
A few weeks later, I hired The Corbin Group, a small team of recent college graduates who agreed to make the first video for next to nothing if I promised to purchase a second video later at full price. Sounded like a win-win to me. Before long, I was sending links to the explainer video posted on Vimeo.
2. Attract talent by any means necessary. I knew I couldn’t create the app by myself—sales, marketing and raising capital from investors are what I’m good at. So I needed people with the technical talent to help me map out my vision.
First, I attended a ton of networking events hosted by the likes of GeekWire, Techstars and Eastside Networking to connect with fellow entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, social media experts, marketing professionals, lawyers, investment angels and computer technicians.
I used any means possible to get people on board—phone calls, email, face-to-face meetings and especially the explainer video, which I found to be the most persuasive tool. People seem to be primarily visually oriented, and enabling them to see how people would use the app seemed to spark their ability to imagine it and get excited about it.
I also reached out to a few indispensable advisors I’d built relationships with at previous startups for support. I’m still psyched about recruiting such advisors to Preferling as CEO and founder of Conturix Alex Gounares (former CTO at Microsoft and AOL), and Oracle general manager Kevin Akeroyd (former COO of Jigsaw, which sold to Salesforce, and former SVP of Badgeville).
3. Develop your idea, but be open to evolving it. Back-end developers were soon coding the app’s functionality, working alongside UI and UX designers. Throughout the design process, I encouraged team members to contribute ideas to improve the product because I’ve found that having this kind of buy-in results in a genuine desire to do the best work possible, but it also leads to a better product overall. The way that the original idea for the app has evolved into a sophisticated, social networking platform exceeds my wildest dreams.
4. Refuse to give up. Any entrepreneur knows one of the toughest startup tasks is raising funds to help the dream reach fruition. For me, it’s been a matter of never letting the word “no” discourage me.
People ask me how I won over investors that were initially reluctant. Here’s my secret: I didn’t.
I began by making a list of all the investors I wanted to approach about helping to fund Preferling, then I started going down the list, calling them one by one. Some just flat-out said no. Some were kind enough to share their reservations with me. That allowed me to adjust my pitch for the next time. And the next time. Understand that the ideal angel investor wants to help, sees the vision, believes in the idea and, most important, believes in you and your ability to execute the plan.
At this stage, my original idea has resulted in a new app, and we’ve begun testing with real users. And my former co-founder is happy at his new job.
The fact is, an entrepreneur can’t predict what may happen in the future, from tiny fixable bugs to global economy issues to, well, your co-founder quitting out of the blue. But you can keep plugging away.
If you have talented people, a solid work ethic and a genuine belief in your idea's potential, you can overcome just about anything.
Besides founding Preferling, Andrew Vest is the co-founder of The Agency, a social media and strategy consulting firm in the Seattle area. He's also a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free, virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
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