Inertia is a funny thing. We’ve all learned Newton’s first law of motion — objects in motion tend to stay in motion AKA the ‘Law of Inertia’. The founder’s world is all about forward movement: getting to the next step, creating the next social media post, finding the next LinkedIn connection that can open new doors to funding your startup. How do I create that continuous forward motion? What are the concrete steps I need to take to establish motion? How do I recognize opportunities and take advantage of them as they present themselves?
The goal of this article is to tell my story of the conscious steps I took to create that initial motion. I read any number of articles about creating goals and writing them down. But taking those goals and turning them into something real ultimately required a deliberate approach and mindset. I wanted to get Sage into motion because I posited that once I had it moving forward, it would be harder to slow it down.
Five years after my initial idea for this Startup, it became painfully clear to me that it's the strategy of your strategy that moves the needle.
My advice? Always imagine your ideal end state first and then work backward to plan the necessary steps to get there. An upcoming post will deal with backwards planning and the clarity it can bring to any project. It is a tool I use constantly today.
Envision Your End State
However, visualizing my end goal and working backward was absolutely not my approach when I unknowingly started down the path to creating Sage in 2018. I wish I had started out following this advice. It would have saved me five years of inaction. Sure, an advice platform that would eventually become Sage was in the back of my mind, gnawing at me, reminding me of past failures, possible opportunities that would never be but it didn’t drive my behavior. In fact, at the time, my primary goal was to get more involved in the Startup and Venture Capital communities. That’s not really a goal in the strictest sense of the word. My inspiration has always come from technology. Whether it’s thinking about it, seeing its application, using it, imagining its future use cases, designing solutions that bring multiple disparate technology solutions together to create the next big thing, it’s all fascinating to me.
Looking back two years ago, I was ready to take on new challenges and take the next step in my growth. I needed and wanted something to invigorate my inner technologist. As I mentioned in previous posts, the Startup podcast by Alex Blumberg had really inspired me. But outside of listening to a few other podcasts and reading a book or two, my inaction was glaring. So when the opportunity popped up to work more closely with Danielle Cohn and Comcast Lift Labs, I jumped at it. On the surface, it would help me assuage my guilt of not doing something, and it also fit in well with my goals. Today’s post will include a bit of “insider baseball” that I want to include so that anyone reading knows how integral professional contacts can be if you’re thinking of creating your own Startup.
For those who don’t know, Lift Labs is Comcast’s Startup Accelerator program where they bring in 10-12 startups on an annual basis and put them through an intense onsite hands-on program. The goals of the program are many, but one of them is to grow these startups from the concept and early ideation phase towards seed funding, industry establishment, and visibility and on to the road towards profitability. During the journey, Comcast exposes their founders to Comcast NBCUniversal’s network of partners, brands, and mentors to foster rapid breakthroughs in media, entertainment, and connectivity.
Recognize Opportunity when it Knocks
One of their 2018 accelerator participants was a company named Orai that focused on improving public speaking through the use of a mobile app. Its founder, Danish Dhamani, presented at a Women in Tech conference I attended, and Danielle reached out to us to see how Orai might be complementary to Cisco’s Webex Meetings platform. Danish and I had a few meetings and hit it off. While we initially met in the context of our work at Cisco, we quickly established a friendship that would propel me to get more and more involved in the Philadelphia Startup community. He continues to be a sounding board for me today as both of us navigate the startup world.
Danish has brokered several introductions for me, simply because he’s invested in my success through the personal relationship we established from Lift Labs. I feel the same way about him and Orai and endeavor to do the same for him whenever I’m able. That’s another key piece of my journey and, likely, my career. Relationships are critical to your success. People work for and with people, not companies. People go out of their way for those they like and trust.
Every relationship in your professional and personal life is an opportunity for growth, enrichment, and new opportunities.
Superficial relationships and conversations established for personal gain often leave you feeling empty. But those relationships established through blood, sweat, and tears are the ones that you can count on when you’re up early or late mulling over your latest challenge in creating that momentum in your startup. Treat people with respect and love, and they will do the same to you.
Create your own Momentum
In 2019, Danielle reached out again about one of their startups, DianaAI. Founded by Geeta Banda, DianaAI was working to solve the problem of just in time sales business intelligence. Geeta and I immediately connected because of our sales and analytics backgrounds, but also because of our kids. It was ‘soon to be kid’ for her as she was six months pregnant, but bonding over shared kid experiences has become a favorite past time of mine. Who knew kids could be so fun? I became a father later in my adult life at 41 and had absolutely no idea the instant impact it would have on me for the good. I don’t need to explain to parents how inspirational our children are, and how much they make you laugh (and cry.) But for those out there that wonder if it’s right for them…I HIGHLY recommend it.
Back to Geeta. One of the things Geeta recommended was to get more involved with the local Philadelphia startup community. She suggested Philly Startup Leaders (PSL) to me, and it turned out that PSL was another revelation for my forward movement. I’d discovered them a few months prior and joined their Slack channel, but my actions stopped there. When Geeta brought them up unsolicited, I decided to dive in a bit more. As I explored the PSL page and their Slack channel, I started to learn more about the Founded in Philly community and the amazing companies local to this area. The main struggle I had was knowing when and how to engage with the other founders.
I hadn’t personally founded a company yet. I did have a lot to offer from my own experience in the Cisco and general Technology landscape. But how could I translate that to new relationships that surpassed the superficial chat room environment? How could I use my own extensive experiences to benefit others, while also helping me grow my momentum in the startup community?
I’ll explore that in Part 2 of this article, along with the key relationship that finally got my Startup off the ground.