My first experience as an intern was with a startup called Tattletale. When I started, the business was already in motion but the energy was exhilarating. Paying close attention, I watched the creator of this venture work to deliver his invention to the world. The expectations were ambiguous, the work was stressful, but I wanted to be a part of the struggle. I left Tattletale when I graduated from Ohio State and went to work for Discover in Chicago. I had initiated my exploration into world of financial services, but I never shook my desire to turn business ideas into reality.
Fast forward through a lot of relevant life experience; I’m gave my good friend Nick a call on the phone. I had moved to San Diego but we had been catching up about once a month. Nick and I were discussing the status of the projects each of us were working on. I had a vested interest in Nick’s project because we had established the project’s foundation together, before I left Columbus. After our conversation, toward the end of the hour we had scheduled to talk, I vomited out some rambling about needing to get back into creating a startup. I had not planned this, and really didn’t know where it came from. There was a slight pause; the kind of pause that lets you contemplate just how awkward your actions have been. Then Nick launched into a more articulate rambling of the same desire. True to form, we set expectations and a time to discuss. Our first next action.
This wasn’t Nick and I’s first rodeo. I had an idea for a startup that I’d been contemplating. I pulled together a basic MVP, think paper prototyping, and validated the idea. The fact that I was able to pull myself that far was due to a obstinate reading habit. I was driven but lost. Scrolling through my phone, I remembered my friend John who was a programmer. I sold the idea to him over email and asked his opinion. He said he couldn’t help, something about hiking through the woods for a month, but he had a guy. I called Nick later that week.
Nick and I have worked together ever since. I consulted with his company, taking my idea from business model to killing the project. We kept in touch as I took a new job at a new company. My new role was bigger and more involved, leaving less time to pursue side projects; especially non-viable ones. A couple months went by and I grabbed coffee with Nick. He mentioned an openness to change things up and learn a new industry. Funny things was, I had just had a conversation with my boss about a new role on our team. It would be a transition, but with Nick’s skillset I was confident it was a good match. Three months later, we were working together again.
How to turn business ideas into reality
The department Nick and I supported was dysfunctional. Now I know what you are thinking, that’s like saying my family is weird when we all know every family is weird. No, this business unit was a train wreck. It was difficult to work in and toxic. Yet, I’m appreciative of this time. As hard as it was to work within, this situation was a beacon of success for Nick and I. Without permission or support, we started to dream up a business model and approach for a stagnate product. I happen to be the product owner of this orphan product and Nick was my functional CTO. We took it from concept to planning to live project. We engaged leadership and eventual investment. All this after a huge divestiture in our area. Even after I left the company to move to San Diego, Nick has stayed the one consistence presence in a project full of revolving leadership changes and shifting scope.
Back to that phone call. Situations had ebbed and flowed but Nick and I continued to work together. Even after a cross country move for yet another all demanding new business project for me, Nick and I stayed connected. The first ingredient to a successful start, according to Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, is start with good people. On the phone with Nick, I was confident we would make good partners. It was what we had to start with. I gave myself the take away to create a list of expectations for our first conversation. Nick gave himself the action item of getting a meeting on our calendars. The question we set out to answer; can we build a portfolio of companies/initiatives that deliver both financial results and intrinsic significance? That was the start.
Note from Nic:
I’m going to continue to chronicle this journey. I hope you follow along as we build out our business in the midst of families and full time jobs. I’ll use the Startup tag to keep these organized. To keep you organized, join the mail list to your right and I’ll notify you of the latest post, which saves you time and mental capacity.