Puppies and Startups

Founders/Startups Personal Development

Three months ago I entered into what is one of the biggest adventures I have ever undertaken.  I rescued a puppy.  I had been toying with idea of getting a dog for about 5 years (yes, 5 years).  Two things held me back: my startup life and New York City.  But I now live in sunny Santa Monica in a bungalow with a spacious yard.  Even so, it still took me two years, as my startup hours remained an obstacle.  Then, a friend posted a photo of a puppy she was fostering on Facebook and I fell in love.  I am now the proud mother of a Pit / Black Lab pup named Joanie (after Joan Jett, of course).

I have been working on balance (as just about every entrepreneur will tell you) since – well…..birth.  And rescuing a month-old, wildly energetic puppy provided me with an instantaneous, and sometimes overwhelming, priority outside of work.  Luckily, I have been in consulting mode as of late and have had more flexibility with regards to spending time with my pup. (I am starting a new gig very soon so stay tuned as this adventure evolves!).

To date, my life with Joanie has very much felt like a TV sitcom – chasing her down after she jumps out of the tub and spreads bubbles all over my house, stumbling over myself as she charges down the beach, sporting bite marks on my arms and bite holes in my clothes,  etc .  But it is all worth it, as I have a new best friend and we have tons of fun.

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how raising this puppy is very similar, in many ways, to my experiences launching Internet businesses.

1)      It is exhilarating and exhausting all at once
2)      It requires dealing with all kinds of shit – and lots of it!
3)      Every day (hour, minute, second) brings something new
4)      It is anybody’s guess exactly how big it will be
5)      Some days the growth and progress are tremendous, others not so much
6)      It requires a great deal of stamina and patience
7)      Success in training has more to do with the owner than the dog / success in startups has more to do with the team than the idea
8)      It can be more rewarding than you ever imagined

Of course, companies don’t eagerly await for you to get home, look at you with adorable puppy eyes, or want to lick/kiss your face off.  If you don’t have one and want one, go for it.  There are way too many dogs out there that need great homes.  Check out People For Paws for assistance.

Startups Uncensored #19 – BOOTSTRAPPING

Founders/Startups

Last night was Docstoc’s StartupsUncensored #19. We started SU two months after I began working at Docstoc. The idea was to build up the LA tech community  (a la the kids up North) by holding monthly educational and networking events. The first SU was about 20 people.  It grew quickly and we changed venues to the Santa Monica Library, with folks heading to Docstoc for food, drinks networking after each panel.  Tonight’s event blew my mind, as there were over 400 folks at the Milken Institute and, instead of packing like sardines into the cramped Docstoc office, the “after-party” was also at Milken –  fancy patio with heat-lamps and all.   Congrats to Jason Nazar for creating such an amazing, monthly event!  If you are local and want to attend these events, check out http://www.jasonnazar.com or feel free to contact me.

Tonight’s talk was on bootstrapping.  As a Bus Dev Exec and entrepreneur, I go to ALOT of events, and have helped to organize and produce a number of panels and conferences (see PerfectBusiness 2010 post).  It has always bewildered me why the VCs are the superstars in the room and why there are so many panels on how to raise Venture Capital. First off, most attendees are nowhere near ready for VC money. And, lets be honest, most entrepreneurs will never receive VC money. VC’s are only interested in a BIG idea – a game-changing one – one that will give them a 20x exit. Most upstarts do not and will not qualify.  The fact of the matter is that most businesses are funded via family, friends and taking on some (or a lot) of debt.  And they are built the “old-fashioned” way – through hustle, hardwork and being smart about expenditures & cash flow.

None of the panelists tonight came from money and none of them took VC money to start and grow very successful businesses. T hey were driven by their vision and did whatever they could think of – maxing out their credit cards and taking equity lines of credit – to realize it.  The panelists were:

Paige Craig – successful entrepreneur and one of today’s most prolific Angels
Mark Verge – owner of westsiderentals.com, among 8 other ventures
Josh Hartwell – Co-founder and now CEO of MobileDelux

Here are some of their bootstrapping tips (with some added thoughts from yours truly):

1) Leverage your past relationships – this is why networking is so important folks. And, as a rule, always think about how you can help the person you meet so that when you need something, they are compelled to return the favor.

2) Don’t take office space until necessary – we live in the “cloud” now folks. There is no reason to spend money on office space until you have a team. Even then, I would look into co-working locations, suchas CoLoft in Santa Monica.

3) Make your company seem much bigger than it is. Have someone else leave your voicemail message so it seems as if there is an assistant or office manager. Refer to other departments, even when you may be completing those functions/roles as well.

4) Get creative, go guerilla.  Hosting Startups Uncensored has done a tremendous amount to build up the Docstoc brand amongst our core target market – entrepreneurs and small business owners.  And it has helped to make Docstoc CEO, Jason Nazar, one of the most recognizable names in the Los Angeles Tech game.  The point is – think outside of the box and do whatever it takes to build brand awareness with as few dollars as possible.

5) Be willing to LOSE MONEY on your first customers. Consider them loss-leaders – just make sure you take care of them so they will make referrals and provide testimonials.  This means get to know them –  what are their hobbies, do they have a family, what sports teams do they like, etc.

6) Convey absolute CERTAINTY and FAITH in your vision so that you can defer payments and/or provide equity in lieu of payment. This can help you get employees, legal work, vendors, etc. without, or with very little, cash spend.

7) Last, but certainly not least, build the best possible product or service that you can and deliver it with the best possible customer service that you can.

Greetings WORLD WIDE WEB!

Personal Development

Does anyone really call it that anymore? No need to answer. I think I just like the dramatic impact of “WORLD WIDE WEB.” I certainly have been told I have a flair for the dramatic.

So it is the first of the year and I am finally creating my first blogpost. I am officially a blogger in the blogosphere! Of course there are umpteen million blahblahblogs so I’ve been thinking about how to differentiate myself (yes, I’m a business chick). I’ve put some thought into why anyone (YOU) would want to read my musings over all the rest of the blahblahbloggers. I’ve also thought about why/how I came to read the blogs that I frequent. I concluded that I pick my blogs upon a mix of the 2 Es: education and entertainment. I am always reading to expand my mind but I need that entertainment factor – which most often comes in the form of the tone, presentation and overall personality conveyed by the blogger. So I figure if you somehow landed at www.robynmward.com, you are going to want to get a very quick taste for I’m all about to decipher whether or not you’ll visit me again.Pictures speak 1,000 words so here is my photo introduction to myself (man, this is a bit new and weird) – Robyn the Adventurer.


Yes, my “Robyn the Adventurer” intro qualifies as cheesy, but I think the photos back me up and prove me an adventurer in the truest sense. Indeed, my life has always been defined by exploration and adventure. It is what led me from the Midwest to Los Angeles for college and then New York City for an amazingly adventurous decade and now back to LA. In my professional life, I am an entrepreneur, which is absolutely synonymous with adventurer. I have been at some very successful and some very, well, not-so-successful start-ups over the past decade and man has it been quite a ride! My newest career adventure is heading up Business Development for www.docstoc.com. Go check it out – trust me you will want to add it to your favorites so you can find any document/template you will ever need fast, easy and, oh yeah, for FREE.

I will wrap it up here and hope I have won you over. I certainly promise to both educate and entertain you with stories/insights related to all my adventures in business, travel, spirit, and life in general.

Stay tuned ……………..And always ask yourself “what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”