Gone with the Hype

A week in San Fran at the world’s largest software conference has added some new perspective to my goal of building one of the South’s greatest software companies.

During the week-long marathon of networking, note taking, marketing, and brand making at Dreamforce there were a few things to write home about; here are some of the them. Nothing should surprise you below, except it’s one thing to know, but it’s another to realize it, internalize it, and embrace it.

This post is about all three and the thought-process needed to come out on top.

Realization Period

Realization Number 1: San Francisco and most California companies in general have boat loads more money than the average startup in the South.

Realization Number 2: San Francisco and the entire Bay Area have more talent than the South. They have more people getting into technology.

Realization Number 3: Hype, flash, and the “newest” thing are the craze in SF. What? You didn’t hear about that app? You weren’t invited to that after-party? Yaddy yaddy yah.

Realization Number 4: Everything is about the almighty exit. Focusing on ‘exits’ in California is as common as focusing on BCS National Championship potentials in the South.

Many people look at these factors from the outside looking in. They’re either writing about it from the investor, mentor, banker, lawyer, or government employee (including university officials) point of view. What’s rarely written about is how each of the aforementioned factors actually effect the entrepreneur — the person in the trenches getting scarred up.

Knowing your competition has millions more dollars than you can be as demoralizing as a loss to a luck-filled, talentless Auburn team.

However it need not get you down. Read on.

Internalization Period

Can’t lie. I went to bed some nights at Dreamforce trying to figure out how in Sweet Auburn Avenue are we, Rivalry — a two man, seed funded startup with decent traction — going to compete against these cash pumping machines in the Bay Area and even Boston. It’s almost like Ivan Drago with all the state of the art machines versus the wood-chopping Rocky.

This period can be a downer but it will only keep a fool down. A great entrepreneur will realize competing in that game is for suckers. Pissing contests don’t last forever and smart entrepreneurs know the real contest has nothing to do about the multi-million dollars of cash raised (some is obviously needed), the number of notches on your belt of fun after-parties attended, or the hottest app du-jour. After internalizing what’s real and what’s not, it’s time to embrace reality and move forward with precision.

Embracement Period

Embracement Number 1: The moment an entrepreneur embraces the reality their competitor has 10-20x more money, it forces intense focus on what can be controlled. This becomes the easy part. There are only a few key areas an entrepreneur can control. The most important is the degree a customer loves the product.

Embracement Number 2: The moment an entrepreneur embraces the abundance of talent out West, it forces immediate focus on who’s the best in your area and more importantly, how to convince them to join the team. The focus turns inward on the people and the company’s characteristics. It clearly identifies reasons why working at your company (Rivalry) is the best decision of their professional career.

Embracement Number 3: Hype, after parties, and the newest shiny app are short term ways to earn business. They are effective, but myopic. For example, say you have the most badass after-party and get 500 very hot prospects knocking on your door to use your software. They still have to use your product, get value from it, pay you, and most importantly, keep getting value from it (so they don’t drop you). At this point, the party favors are long gone and the free food is forgotten. What’s not is the big pain your customer has that your software isn’t fixing.

Embracement Number 4: The moment you embrace the realization that 98% of entrepreneurs define themselves on the numerical value of their exit (not how much they took home or how many jobs they created or how it changed the city) it becomes clear the best way to build a business is with a very long time horizon.

The moment all of these factors are embraced product becomes paramount, people become the priority, and customers are your life line to another day in a business that will last a long time.

If you ask me how we’re going to grow Rivalry for the next 5, 10, 15, and 20 years, look no further than this post.

You can build great, timeless companies in Atlanta.

 

7 Responses

  1. I think the biggest story of “David vs Goliath” or “Rocky vs Drago” can be seen in the story of Pardot vs Marketo. Pardot was a small company Atlanta and when people thought Marketing Automation, they thought Marketo or Eloqua. Marketo had tons of cash spent on Marketo and branding. “Fastest growing company in Silicon Valley”. Yet, Pardot filled the company with fantastic culture, filled the team with A++ players, and filled their customers and clients with the best support and services in the space…. And well… the rest is history.

    Like you said in the post – only worry about what you can control.

    Nice work.

    • Jon Birdsong says:

      Good point. But the real Dragon Slayer in Atlanta is MailChimp.

      Also agree, (via LinkedIn) Auburn jab might have been too harsh. Ha.

  2. I’m right there with ya Jon. Got to love the challenge…

  3. Jay Shaffer says:

    Great article.

    Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book, “David and Goliath”, claims there are some “advantages to disadvantages”.
    Is it better to be the 37th-coolest company in Silicon Valley or one of the top startups in ATL? (It won’t matter either way if you can’t solve customer problems in a profitable way)

    It’s more of a challenge here in ATL but you can do it…

  4. Mitch Reiner says:

    Refreshing. It’s not about how much you make, but the impact you leave. Those that make the greatest impact tend to do as well as anyone would need. Good work, Jon.

  5. Steven Eidelman says:

    Well said, old friend. Glad you had a productive visit, even if the outcomes were different than you had initially anticipated. It was great to catch up, and I’m incredibly excited to watch you keep building Rivalry from afar. Best of luck, stay focused, and keep hustling.

  6. Davar says:

    Well said Jon.