Jim Harrer


The heart of a startup entrepreneur.

As I discussed in my previous post, we’re finishing up week 3 in our VentureBox Venture Launch class. The course is 12 weeks.  Each week the founders meet every Wednesday from 3-8pm for a formal class and workshop. Dinner is included halfway through. Here is the 20k foot view of what we’ve done with the 7 companies in the program:

  • Week 1: Curriculum review, format discussion, introductions and company pitches. This was the first time all the founders got to meet each other. We have 7 companies, with 2 companies with co-founders, so we have a total of 9 founders in the room. The majority of the night was spent having the founders do their 10 minute investor pitch, followed by 20-30 minutes of Q&A from the rest of the founders.
  • Week 2: Our partner, LUXr,  traveled to Bend from San Francisco and conducted a train-the-mentors on their Lean Startup Customer Development and User Experience curriculum using their Bento Box training materials. Then the Mentors (yep, me included) taught the materials the next day to our VentureBox class with Janice and Kate guiding us all the way. Each of the founders developed their first customer persona for their product. Their homework was to go out and do in-person interviews with people who match the persona's they created.
  • Week 3: Tackled market segments and helped each of the founders understand how to figure out their first, highly focused, target market for their minimal viable product using The Lean Startup framework. I was privileged to co-teach this class with Steven Curley, a local marketing genus and one of VentureBox's Subject Matter Experts.

Alright, with this foundation set. I’m going to change gears and discuss my observations and less on the materials and process, at least for the rest of this post.

The five traits of a startup entrepreneur.the_heart_of_the_startup

It’s hard to not fall in love with each of these founders and their ideas. Each of the 9 founders are amazing in their own right. They inspire me with their ideas, questions and drive to succeed. Since I have the privilege to work with each of the founders, I thought I would share with you some of the commonalities I have observed among the founders in the class.  

Not in any specific order, here we go:

  1. They get their hands dirty every single day. A day doesn't go by that I don’t get an email, phone call or text from one of the founders asking a question. Even though all of them are juggling other jobs and obligations, they are doing a great job of blocking and tackling through the weekly goals and objectives. I’m extremely impressed by their work ethic and drive to figure out this week’s piece of the puzzle.
  2. They’re constantly searching for the truth. I’m amazed by their ability to allow all of their assumptions to be challenged. They're making a focused effort to learn everything about their potential customers and look at specific issues about the problems they’re trying to solve. When we asked them last week to get out there and talk to people, face to face, about issues related to the problem they’re solving, I thought I would get push back. When they agreed to do it, I half-joking asked them to take pictures of the people they interviewed so I could match a face with what they learned. This week I was blown out of the water when they showed us pictures and key remarks from the interviews.  How can you not love their drive to seek the truth and to learn as much as they can about their future customers?
  3. They’re on the lookout for the pivot. This is somewhat related to #2, but it deserves to be called out. A business pivot is a slight course correction of the business model, without changing the overall vision or idea. We teach founders to watch for pivots and to embrace them. Business models can benefit from continuous development just like product development. Our founders are on the lookout for pivots.  Watching their facial expression when you tell them they just stumbled on a pivot is priceless.  
  4. They're excellent at selling their solution. This was a bit of a surprise to me because none of our founders have a sales background, but each of our founders are excellent with their sales pitch. It is because they have empathy regarding the problem they are solving, are passionate about their solution, and extremely knowledgeable on the topic.  Each of our founders will likely be better than the average sales person of their primary competitor. They also enjoy selling and welcome the opportunity to do a sales pitch to an audience. Also, none of them have shown any resistance to cold calling so far, which I find interesting.
  5. They're coachable. They don’t blindly accept advice as marching orders; however, they’re appreciative of the advice and fight for feedback constantly.  During the breaks they often ask the tough questions which indicate their willingness to explore and test different ideas to see if we can get a better result. Now that we just finished our third week, it’s pretty cool to see the founders bonding as a team and watching how the founders respond to other founder’s suggestions. This week I saw evidence those suggestions may have carried more weight than the suggestions made by the Mentor team. This was a good sign, and a positive signal the founders are bonding.

I’m sure I’ll discover more over the coming weeks. Please comment below and help me add to the list, I'd love to hear any observations you've had working with startup entrepreneurs.


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VentureBox–A business accelerator in Bend, Oregon.
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