An entrepreneur recently asked me what are the top 3 most important things I’ve learned in the first three quarters building Rivalry. I had trouble identifying the top three off hand, but I do know my biggest mistake.
Before I get into my biggest mistake, I want to share a few of the most important accomplishments.
– Getting the right team together – our technical team is awesome. I really enjoy working with John and he’s really, really good. Getting the right talent takes significant patience even though the natural instinct of a sales and marketing-focused entrepreneur is to hit the ground running and hire fast. Our summer intern was amazing as well.
– Getting a paying customer – working the product market-fit tight (or loose) enough where a company will actually pay money is one of the most rewarding feelings of an entrepreneur’s journey and phenomenal product validation. More are coming.
– Maintaining work-life harmony – an inspirational entrepreneur was talking with me about his involvement in the community, he made a profound statement that still resonates with me: “companies come and go — successful or not, but the impact you make on the lives of others is what it’s really about.” I agree.
Also, another piece of the work-life harmony is staying in shape. This has ebbed and flowed in the last 10 months, but I’ve re-prioritized this within the last month. Paul Graham is correct: exercising does make you a better entrepreneur.
All of these are notable accomplishments, but loads of mistakes have occurred as well, I’m just highlighting one of the biggest.
The No. 1 mistake has not been focusing on Atlanta first, owning the market in my backyard, and building the strongest relationships possible here.
When we first came out with the MVP I immediately went off and started cold-calling/emailing West coast companies. Dumb.
Atlanta easily has over 100 companies who will be Rivalry clients, but for some silly reason, I had illusions that companies most prone to purchasing Rivalry were anywhere but Atlanta. Yes, like I wrote earlier: dumb.
If you want to get more specific, I didn’t match the vision of the product with the future customer. For example, I knew that someday I’d be selling into all the major companies around Atlanta, but I didn’t plan for it on the biz dev side. The moment we came out with a new feature, I was like: “oh, now all of these companies can use our product, not just the ones I’ve been focusing on for the past 2 months.” The evolution of a tight product/market fit naturally re-adjusts your pipeline. Great entrepreneurs see this and plan for it — I didn’t.
Not to belabor the point, but it hit me even harder this past weekend when the Tour Championship rolled into town and I’m sitting there thinking: “why the hell am I not taking 15 hot prospects out there right now? Better yet, why aren’t Rosy and I sippin’ champaign in East Lake’s clubhouse with the VP of Sales at UPS, CareerBuilder, AutoTrader, Salesforce.com, ADP and more dammit?!
It burned me up inside all weekend. I should have been in the process of building these relationships since day one.
Building local relationships helps in many ways. First, prospects/customers are much more lenient when “things” break. We don’t have this problem but I’ve heard other companies do. Second, you can go back to them for deep feedback much quicker than if they’re remote. I can ask 10x the amount of questions over 20 minutes of coffee than I can in an annoying email exchange.
What can someone learn from this?
1. Start local.
2. Own the market in your vicinity.
3. Model the best.
4. Get creative. (That’s why we started ATLCartel).
Like they need any more praise, but the Insightpool trio of Devon Wijesinghe, Adam Wexler, and Adam Lewites are the best I’ve seen at taking an early product to market (requiring a decent-sized sales cycle). They’ve built amazing relationships locally, hosted (and not hosted) awesome parties, and built a client list here first. It makes going to other markets that much more seamless — which they’re doing very successfully.
Build relationships local, often, and early to expedite the product-market fit of your software.