It’s been a month now since the Neal’s Running Start gang left San Francisco. I’ve started to get back to my normal routines, but I miss their energy and the fun times. I’m currently enjoying a trip to London to watch the Wimbledon matches and it happens to be Canada Day. So, I am reminiscing about my time with the European and one Canadian entrepreneur.
I am compelled to share a bit of what happened during the inaugural Neal’s Running Start program. But don’t worry because there’s much more to come! We videotaped many of our sessions together so look for a full video series on the Neal’s Running Start experience soon. I think anyone who is trying to make it through a goal or a challenge can take something away from what these entrepreneurs experienced and learned. So, I hope the video will be a way for everyone to do their own Running Start program and kick-start an important goal in your life.
As a runner, I will relate their journey to training for a run or a race. Everyone starts with the end goal in mind – you’re going to get fit and cross the finish line and be the best runner since Usain Bolt. For entrepreneurs, they start a company with success in mind – they can see it already! They are the next Zuckerberg. Movies will be made about their ascent and how they changed the world!
Day one: Day one o f a run starts out fun and energetic, but your dreams of running a marathon on the first day rarely come true. Instead, day one only serves to show you just how far you have to go and just how out of shape you really are.
For our entrepreneurs, day one was similarly “come-to-Jesus-y”. They each had to present their company to a group of investors on day one. But the first day was just like the first day of a run – a metric for how far they really had to go, and for some of them, how out of shape their companies really were.
There were inaccuracies and sometimes flat out fiction in their presentations, which were too easy to spot and call out. The presentation designs needed work. Their whole flow needed work. And truly, a presentation is often a reflection of the state of the business itself. So, flaws in the presentation reflect real flaws in the underlying business. I tried to not be too hard on them and ease them in with gentle critiques. But by day 2, the gloves were off. We only had 30 days and no time to waste, so it was time to throw niceties aside and get to work.
The next few weeks would prove to be exhausting, exhilarating and sometimes brutal. Each day had an uphill run on the schedule, and like us runners, I’m sure they sometimes wanted to dry heave at the top of each hill or sit down and rest for a while. We kept pushing, even literally having them dunk themselves in ice cold water for one investor pitch.
But the one-on-one meetings I had with each entrepreneur were where all the exercises and learnings came together. One entrepreneur skirted closer to the death of their company than any entrepreneur wants to come. But through close direction, that company turned around and was on track by the end of the 30 days.
More than one realized they have to move their company. Some to Silicon Valley, and some just to where their customers are. But most realized they were going to have to physically move their companies, which is not an easy task.
They all found ways to use their greatest strengths to overcome their greatest challenges. One had a “take no prisoners” approach to getting big things accomplished every day, and that helped the entrepreneur almost completely overhaul their business approach during the time in San Francisco. Another was excellent at networking and took advantage of every conference, meeting and connection they could make while in town. Yet another was eternally optimistic, which I think is a key ingredient for any entrepreneur to persevere through the many obstacles that get in the way of growing a company. And one transformed their stubbornness into an advantage to not give up and dig until they found a solution to the problem, rather than allowing fixation to get them stuck on one problem.
Because none of these entrepreneurs had ever spent time in Silicon Valley, they were the most naïve early stage founders I’ve worked with. The lack of mentorship and guidance available in their respective cities really impacted their mindset and how they operated their businesses. Therefore, each entrepreneur found at least one other mentor, besides me, who really inspired them or understood their unique market challenges. That is one of the clear advantages of being in Silicon Valley. Not only is there a plethora of wisdom and experience here, there’s an unspoken code that you help others. One of the entrepreneurs remarked how willing everyone he asked was to meet and share experience and ideas. Whereas in his home country, he rarely found mentors with a willingness to be so open and helpful, unless you paid them for their time. In Silicon Valley, wisdom flows through friendly meetings at coffee shops, offices and the Rosewood happy hour. Tapping into a brain-trust of experience and listening well to what those advisers have to say is a critical ingredient to success.
All the entrepreneurs walked away with their eyes wide open, but now comes the critical part – what they do as they return to their companies away from the Silicon Valley bubble, if you will. I know they are all struggling right now to fight the old inertia and apply the lessons learned, so we’ll follow-up with them soon and check on their progress.
They all need financing so I’ll be tracking that progress over the next few months.
But first, I want you to get to know each of them and hear for yourselves their unique, individual stories and journey through their 30 days in the Neal’s Running Start program. Look for our video series in the coming weeks. If you’re looking to start a new goal or tackle a challenge, join us for the video series and see if you can take some of the lessons learned and apply them to your own path to success.
Until then, here are some photos to give you a taste of the entrepreneurs and their time here.