Startup Curious? Take A Startup Course

Startup Curious? Take A Startup Course

A friend said to me, “What are you waiting for? Just go for it.” 

If you want to validate your business idea and go beyond reading about startups, one way is to apply for startup courses provided by what are called  “incubators”.  Some programs last a few months and it’s a great way to figure out how to get started and if you have a viable solution.  If you’re an underrepresented Founder (female, a veteran, person of color), you are especially encouraged to apply.  Why?  Because the world needs more people who have a different perspective and who see gaping problems that others may not see.  It’s a chance to have a spot at the table and to make an impact. There are loads of startup courses available (TiE Bootcamp, Founders Gym, Kauffman FastTrac, Techstars are a few). 

Read everything you can about things that interest you.  Not only about startup founders but also about business news and read as much as you can about trends.  In order to gain more insight about what it’s really like to put yourself out there and take the leap, read the book, “Lost and Founder”, by Rand Fiskin.  It’s brutally honest, exciting and humbling all rolled into one.

Here are a few things I learned during my TiE XL Bootcamp experience:

  1. Honest Feedback.  Some people thought my idea was terrible. Others thought it was disruptive and awesome.  Embrace all the feedback and keep going.  When one advisor challenged a student and asked him hard questions, he never returned to class.  And that was on day three. 
  1. Expect a Rollercoaster. I’d go from delusions of grandeur to crippling self-doubt on repeat a thousand times.  I’m told this is normal.
  1. Do your homework.   I had access to really bright advisors and took every opportunity to ask them questions.  Practice.  When they say the pitch is only 5 minutes, they mean it.
  1. You will not sleep soundly.  I wondered if I was meant to be on this path and couldn’t sleep.  If you are thinking about quitting a full-time job to be “all in”, expect even fewer REM moments. 
  1. Put yourself out there. I’m a firm believer that magic happens when you go outside the lines.  Do all the scary things. Meet interesting people and have no regrets.

People of all ages are starting companies.  When applying for a startup incubator, remember that the judges do not care how old you are when you apply.  They want good ideas and want to hear you articulate a problem you are passionate about and how you’ll move forward towards a solution.

Also, older founders tend to be more successful.  A 2018 study* found the “batting average” for creating successful firms rises dramatically with age. “A 50-year-old founder is 1.8 times more likely to achieve upper-tail growth than a 30-year-old founder” the research concluded. 

If you’ve always been startup curious, midlife is a great time to start.

*Source: by MIT, Northwestern and the Census Bureau Center for Research

"Fuzzy" and over 50?

"Fuzzy" and over 50?

How a non-tech professional can launch a tech business

Have you ever wanted to solve a big problem using technology but felt it wasn’t possible because you don’t have any technology skills?  You’re not alone.  My friend, Jennifer, had an idea for a technology business but never thought she’d be able to get it off the ground since she was an English Literature major and worked in sales for 25 years.  She decided to plow ahead anyway.  Stanford University entrepreneur business school coined the term “Fuzzy” to describe a person who lacks any kind of technology background founding a tech company. Fuzzy founders include Brian Chesky of Airbnb and Katelyn Gleason, the Founder of Eligible, who was a theater major before building a successful healthcare tech platform.

 "It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing” commented Author Scott Hartley of The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World.  He explained, “Fuzzies are helping to bridge divides between specialties, making unexpected connections between problems and the technological means of addressing them and building the cross-functional teams required to pursue the most promising areas of innovation.”

More technology companies are realizing how critical it is to have people with a liberal arts background working in technology in order to develop automation and artificial intelligence through an ethical process.  Companies such as HP have talked about being confronted by their liberal arts employees because of ethical or safety issues pertaining to the implications of using artificial intelligence.  Many non-tech employees who work in ethics in AI for example have a background in either anthropology, psychology, or sociology.  HP and other companies recognize that engineering employees should not be the only ones making impactful AI product decisions and often bring in employees who have a humanities background as well.
 

No Developer & “No Code” = No Problem

Even though you might need a developer to fully realize your product vision, you can still create a professional and interactive first draft of a technology idea without technology chops. By using what is called “no code” tools, there are several applications that allow you to build a tech product for lay people who are not developers. Jennifer took the initiative to ask her tech-savvy friends about productivity tools and figured out what she’d need in order to map out her idea.  She learned how to use Slack, Trello, AirTable, and, ultimately, Figma to create a professional sketch to illustrate her idea. Each of these tools is free for a basic version.  Whether they are used to create your own business or you want to ramp up your technology skills for your resume, learning a new tool is a great way to build your knowledge, skills, and relevance in a quickly changing market. Search online to find and watch the free tutorials available for the tools you need. Although she was reluctant at first, Jennifer quickly learned how easy many of them are to use. If she can do it, So can you. 

Beyond the Resume

Beyond the Resume

Your digital footprint is critical when you’re searching for a job. Recruiters and hiring managers likely will search you online - both to confirm your credentials and get a glimpse of your identity beyond how you present yourself during interviews. In fact, many employers have moved past the resume, and don’t put any weight on this historical staple of the job application process.

Linkedln:

A LinkedIn account is a living, breathing extension of your resume and a key networking tool. Think of it as your own branding tool. It’s also the main search tool for hiring managers and recruiters to find people with the skills and experience they desire.

 Here are a few ways to leverage the existing tools and information in LinkedIn:

  1. Follow the companies, CEOs, and senior leadership of the companies where you’d like to work someday. They will often post new open positions on LinkedIn as well. You can also set up alerts within LinkedIn when positions at your targeted companies become available. Not only is this a way to stay on top of new job openings, but you’ll get notified about new articles posted by the company and its leader, a great way to stay on top of what’s important to their business. 
  2. Publish your own articles on LinkedIn, writing about something of interest and topical in your field to build credibility and your image as a thought leader in your industry. Tag people and groups you want to engage and add hashtags to maximize your post’s reach. Pro-tip: Posting between Tuesday and Thursday, either early in the morning, lunchtime or early evening, as well as 10am and 11am on Tuesday are when LI users are most engaged (according to Hubspot research). 
  3. Join LinkedIn groups within your professional field, your educational institutions, or other professional networking groups. 
  4. Ensure your LinkedIn profile contains keywords that will match the job descriptions of desired roles, since LinkedIn recruiting tools match profiles to job postings based, in part, on keywords identified by recruiters for the specific roles they seek to fill. 
  5. Seek endorsements and recommendations from past and present colleagues to demonstrate your leadership qualities and strengths. Choose wisely on who you ask, since you surely will be asked to reciprocate. 

Create a Landing Page 

A landing page is a single-page website. If it’s done well, it can generate topic discussions during your interview or can even help you get the interview in the first place. When you create your own page, post it on your LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, and anywhere else you have a digital account. It's not as daunting as it sounds and will set you apart since not many people take advantage of free landing pages (especially mid-career professionals). It’s one more tool to create the desired profile you want online. Not only does a landing page add more personality to who you are, but it also provides context. If you’ve engaged in personal or charitable pursuits that highlight your skills, add those too. As an example, “conceived, planned, and executed the first annual fundraiser walk for the Melanoma Foundation in my community after a neighbor succumbed to the disease, which has continued annually for 8 years and raised over $500k for cancer research.“ That information illustrates leadership, perseverance, empathy, compassion, organization, and the ability to bring others along to achieve a common and worthy goal.

Additionally, you could include an area on your landing page called "Self Improvement" where you could list favorite TED Talks or business book reviews with top takeaways from each. Consider things that provide an additional layer to who you are, what you’re interested in, and how that could be valuable to an organization.

Here are a few companies that offer free landing pages.

Wix: They have a free basic version with plenty of different templates to choose from and that are easy  to use.  The price for paid versions ranges from $13 to $500 per month. The Combo plan is the cheapest at $13 per month, and gives you an ad-free site. The $17 per month Unlimited plan is best for freelancers.

Site123: I was able to set up a basic website in 30 minutes.  Very user friendly.  The upgrade (if you want to pay for it) includes your own domain name for $142 per year.  If you choose not to pay for a domain name, your URL risks looking a bit spammy but that is what you get for using this free tool.

A Word About Resumes:

Some would argue that resumes aren't being used much anymore because if you have LinkedIn, why duplicate it? However, many companies still ask for one.  A well-written resume is a living document and it should always change according to the role you are applying for at that moment. Keep it up to date.  Before you send it to an employer, have a few friends look it over.  You can find plenty of modern templates online through websites such as Canva and Resumonk. These are super easy to use and you can save it to pdf easily.  Taking care to create a more modern looking resume illustrates you keep up on trends.  

If you don't hear back from the company even if you feel like you are a "perfect fit", send a kind follow up.  Keep on connecting with others, building your network and relationships, and believe in yourself.  It will happen.