If you're the non-technical co-founder of your startup, like me, you may be asking yourself how to best be making progress at times. I wish I had known the answer to this question many years ago. The answer is, BUILD.
Build what? I can't code to be building Nebullam's dashboard which runs our food growing equipment, and I can't build our food growing equipment. Thankfully Mahmoud and Danen lead the charge with their years of expertise, as builders of the products.
For me, I'm in one of 2 build modes.
1. Building the Bank Account
As Nebullam is raising its 3rd round of investment, most of my time since wrapping up Y Combinator's Demo Day in March has me carrying our fundraising torch. From meeting to meeting, city to city, and state to state (maybe even one of these years, planet to planet). And not all locations are the same, in terms of how people invest.
For example, we're raising our current round using Y Combinator's Post Money SAFE. A SAFE is different from a convertible note (one difference is that a SAFE is not debt, while a convertible note is debt). Some investors want a priced round. Some investors want to use convertible notes. Some investors want to use SAFEs.
One of the biggest reasons we're using a SAFE is in the name. Simple Agreement for Future Equity. With the SAFE, we're able to avoid time and costs in fundraising, which allows more time to be spent with our customers. Everybody wins.
To make sure we can achieve Nebullam's next phase, my mission is to find the money. Once we have that magic number in the bank (it only ever counts once it's in the bank), I'll happily switch to my other build mode.
But first, a small piece of advice: This build mode will likely require MUCH more of your time than you can imagine. Fundraising is a full-time job. You're either in fundraising mode or you're not.
2. Building Team
Building team for me includes working hand-in-hand with current team members to help build up their strengths, as well as finding additional team members who want to build a better and healthier food supply chain. For everyone.
Some days the meetings are 1:1s. Other days, it's with the hardware team, the software team, or a combination. No matter who it's with, my focus is on running the meeting as simply as possible, so all parties know clear next steps.
One of our core values is to be Daringly Simple.
Examples: What does Nebullam do?
"We create indoor farming equipment with a faster payback."
^This one liner is simple. There's no confusion over what Nebullam does. There's no fluffy language such as "aeroponics," "automation," "artificial intelligence," or "plug-and-play solution."
Simplicity starts to pay off when team members can recite what we do, to a general audience. The simpler, the better; for conversation starters, efficiency, marketability, and overall health of our team.
How else can we keep team dynamics simple? A really simple dashboard (pictured below), so we all know where Nebullam stands. For some leaders, radical transparency works. For others, it doesn't. Do what's best for you and your team.
Whether it's keeping fundraising simple, or it's keeping the day-to-day simple, I'm building. I hope you are, too.
I live with the belief that once you become comfortable, your chance at reaching your full potential in life dwindles rapidly. Therefore, you must never be satisfied. If you achieve this discipline, you will have lived life to your fullest potential when your time is up.
As I was about to turn 30 years old last year, I concluded that I needed more discipline. More challenges. More adventures to scare comfort and satisfaction away from my mind and vocabulary.
“Discipline equals freedom.”
On July 20, 2017, I launched the challenge to myself of climbing 4 mountains in 4 years (#4yrs4mts everywhere on social media. This will end up being far more than 3 mountains, before Everest is attempted).
2018 would be a 14er in Colorado.
2019 would be Mount Kilimanjaro.
2020 would be Mount Denali.
2021 would be Mount Everest.
To create discipline from day 1 of this challenge, I gave up added sugar and alcohol.
Today, I celebrated 1 year without either, and I’m not turning back—I also gave up meat just over 6 weeks ago, to more efficiently cut weight.
For added discipline over the past year, I forced myself to start running more than I ever had before. The target was 100 5ks before turning 31.
Today, I celebrated having run 120 5ks between turning 30 and 31. Along this journey, something magical happened.
I became addicted to running.
Now, between turning 31 and 32 years old, I’ll complete 12 marathons or longer distances. My first marathon is tomorrow, July 21. My first ultra race is October 27; a 50k. I’m learning to love the pain.
The running will increase my stamina for the mountains. The running increases my stamina for boxing. The running increases my ability to handle higher stress situations which occur within the ventures I’ve co-founded—and life in general.
With the mountains being the largest targets, I’ve decided to climb for causes I care about.
Next month, on the week of August 20, Mikayla and I will be climbing Grays and Torreys in Colorado. With it being 2 14ers, I want to summit for 2 causes.
The first is for the Iowa State University Boxing Club. From now until I climb, I’m encouraging you to donate, so the club can purchase new equipment, which will better accommodate our growing program.
The second is for NewBoCo. From now until I climb, I’m encouraging you to donate, so they can provide additional resources to the programs fostering entrepreneurship, which include the Iowa Startup Accelerator, EntreFEST, and Vault Coworking.
While I’d rather you make the donation directly (you can through this Facebook fundraiser, to NewBoCo), I’ll accept and deliver it if you’d like. 100% of funds I receive will go to their respective causes.
Thank you for reading and for being in my life.
With Grit & Gratitude,
KinoSol began with 5 co-founders day 1, in September 2014. Because of that uncommon, larger founding team, we experienced moments of growth much earlier than most startups do (both good and bad moments).
By April 2015, we had to let 1 co-founder go, as the vision and drive did not match that of the other 4. That was a tough conversation, with a flurry of emotions swirling around my striving-for-stoicism mind.
The core team has since been as large as 7, and as small as 3.
I assumed everyone needed to be a salesperson. Months of time and money were spent on team challenges of "who could make the most cold calls," and "who could receive the most nos."
I was excited to have additional team members, but we didn't have our own roles and responsibilities clearly defined.
We came to the realization we needed everyone playing to their strengths. This helped us to clearly define our roles and responsibilities.
If a task can be outsourced for the time being, we outsource it.
We're currently at 3 core team members, and outsourcing work to 2 teams of 5 people each--1 team for market research and the other for engineering our 2nd product.
Nebullam began with a more classical startup founding story. Danen had an Aha moment with technology and a problem he wanted to solve, and he went in search of someone who could help build a business model for the technology in 2015 (CTO finds the CEO).
We threw ourselves into the startup circles and went in search of candid feedback from investors (it's never too early to talk with investors) and community members.
After 12 months of progress and a plethora of feedback, we realized the future of vertical farming was in automation, which meant software and robotics were needed. At that moment, Mahmoud Parto appeared as our Chief Software Architect and our 3rd co-founder.
We are aware that our technologies (High Pressure Aeroponic growing and Artificial Intelligence) are capital intensive, but I was afraid to recruit outside of internships, for the fear that we couldn't recruit candidates without large sums of money to offer.
I thought this meant we couldn't recruit until after we had closed our seed round.
My recent trip to San Francisco was eye-opening. Through very candid feedback, I realized you should not have the excuse of needing the money before you have early core team members in place. Use deferred payments, milestone payments, or probationary periods. Sell the vision on your platforms, and you never know who will reach out and want to help or join the team.
The CEO needs to also be the Chief Recruiting Officer. Right behind speaking with investors for our seed round, the majority of my current time is spent in recruiting.
Since December 31 of 2017, the team has grown from 4 team members to 10. Everyone's roles and responsibilities (which play to their strengths) are clearly defined on our Trello board.
If you're reading this and thinking about your core team and who you need, introduce yourself, your company, and end the sentence with, "and I'm looking for a bad ass ___________ to join me," at your next networking event.
If you're a 1-person team and know exactly who you're looking for in a co-founder, apply and present at a 1 Million Cups. On the team slide, have a silhouette and question mark beside your photo. Point to the audience and say, "this could be you!"
Lastly, "Be so good they can't ignore you." - Steve Martin
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