Blog
October 14, 2013
Grow Your Business by Taking a Break

This post originally appeared as an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Last week I had drinks with one of the country’s most successful and recognized entrepreneurs. Just a year ago he sold his 5-year-old company for hundreds of millions of dollars. I asked him for the biggest key to his success. The answer: “I worked my face off—traveling around the country for any opportunity and often working until 2am…but I barely saw my kids for 5 years.” The statement was something between regret, warning and statement of pride—and left me wondering if it was a success story after all.

It goes without saying that you will put in more hours as an entrepreneur than virtually any other career path. And it’s not the hours, but the intensity that takes a toll. When the buck stops with you there is no clocking out or calling in sick. Ironically, the people who choose the entrepreneurial path often enjoy the “always on” nature of the job. We love to work and build, and working for yourself can be addictive. But the addiction takes a toll when we let it rule our marriages, families and friendships.

Entrepreneurs need to remember to give themselves work-life balance and unplug every few weeks or months. Time away from work obviously helps maintain family health, but it can actually help make your business stronger, too.

Vacations and weekends off recharge your batteries, provide the chance to learn something new, and often end up resulting in big picture ideas and insights. Think of that long road trip or beachside book that led to a new product or solution to a challenging problem.

Breaks from work are important cultural signs, too. Employees model the behavior of company owners, and the worst thing you can do for your culture is to set the expectation that constant work is the rule. Nonstop work will burn people out within months. And if the boss never takes a break, employees don’t get the chance to step up.

Perhaps most importantly, taking time away from work forces you to focus on what is most important for your business to succeed. As an entrepreneur, there is a constant pressure to keep busy in hopes of closing one more sale or coming up with one more cost saving. After all, we don’t want to leave any opportunity untouched and have to deal with the “What If I…?” regret later.

But in every market and company I’ve seen, 80% of the result comes from 20% of the effort. True leadership is not about doing things right, but doing the right things. Forcing yourself to limit your work—whether for time away or a good night’s sleep—leads to a triage process where you weed out what has little impact in the big picture.

Perhaps true success lies in the journey, rather than a bucket of money that might wait at the end of the road. The problem with “working your face off” at the cost of family relationships and personal growth is that you may not like what you see when you look in the mirror many years later.

August 12, 2013
Earn Your Way to Entrepreneurship By Leading at a Large Company

I would wager that many readers of this piece are not entrepreneurs, but rather people who work at large companies and dream of starting their own business one day. That’s great—as learning about the world beyond your big firm is a good idea. But a better idea is to begin your entrepreneurial journey by leading change in your current role.

Last week an old friend asked me to speak with his leadership team during an executive retreat. He had recently been brought in to drive change at a large corporation and wanted me to share my lessons of entrepreneurial success to inspire his people to think differently. When I sat back to gather my thoughts on when and where I learned the most, I realized that most lessons came from my time working at a very large company that you might have heard of: Procter & Gamble.

Like many others, I joined P&G for a chance to learn from one of the leading companies of the world. I longed to understand “The Procter Way” and build skills that would power my career for a lifetime. I knew at some point that I wanted to have my own business, and that my time in brand management at this company would be extremely valuable.

While some of my new hire peers focused on checking the boxes and “not screwing up,” I looked at my job as a challenge: Could I personally make a difference in this world-leading marketing giant? I felt that joining a leading company was like someone handing me the keys to a Ferrari for the weekend—if I didn’t get the car up to 100 miles per hour at some point, I wasted the chance of a lifetime.

I worked to turn every assignment into a startup learning opportunity. I worked my way into new product development, sold my management on innovation ideas, led dozens of digital marketing tests, and encouraged my direct reports to do the same. In other words, I got to learn many lessons of how to be a successful entrepreneur without raising investment dollars or losing a salary. In the process, we drove record share on Tide and turned around the Mr. Clean brand. Successes and failures in “big company startups” gave me the skills and confidence to jump into entrepreneurship six years later.

I often speak with people who work at large firms and are curious about starting up a company. I believe it has never been harder to drive change at big companies, and a good number of the best workers in the world are frustrated by corporate bureaucracy. Startups seem like a promising path to escape.

The reality is that entrepreneurship is incredibly hard and the odds of success are long. I wish that more people who are frustrated at big companies or dream to be entrepreneurs would first look within their current roles and commit to driving change. Startups are important for our economy, but driving innovation at the world’s largest employers can have a much bigger impact on businesses and communities. And if you can lead innovation on this large stage, you may earn the knowledge and credibility to take the entrepreneurial path.

June 4, 2013
Entrepreneurs Must Give Employees More Than a Job

(This post was originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer and is also at the Entrepreneurship in Cincinnati blog)

Despite gains in the stock market and broader economy, it is still a buyers job market. Most companies receive scores of applicants for any job opening. Entrepreneurs are especially cheered in our community for creating new jobs and offering people a chance to grow quickly. But we should not pat ourselves on the back for giving people a job—rather, we must continue giving to our new hires if we wish to scale up success.

When I first started writing regularly here six months ago, we were a two-person company. Back then, my biggest challenge was finding our first paying customer. Today we have 14 employees, and my biggest challenge is figuring out how to make sure that the people we hire are performing at their peak as soon as possible.

The change in mentality comes when you realize that you can no longer do it all by yourself. At that moment, a founder can choose one of two paths with new hires: Either use a command and control, dictatorial method to maximize personal involvement, or provide your employees with what they need to make the right decisions for the business. I have always had success in my career by choosing the latter, and I have found that giving three specific things leads to remarkable results:

First, you must give responsibility. No business can grow if everyone is waiting for you, dear leader, to make every key decision. At the light-speed of a startup, you simply cannot be on top of everything. So you must have employees that are comfortable making calls and moving forward. I like to show new hires our organizational chart and flip it upside down to visualize how we operate: The people on the front-lines of the company are actually the most important for our success—so they are at the top. We execs at the bottom exist to support and coach them.

Second, give credit liberally to the people who deliver results. The most meaningful (and least expensive) way to reward people for their work is to recognize their efforts. Recognition is a great way to teach the entire organization, and people get goosebumps when the boss calls them out for good work. Just make sure you are recognizing what is truly important to your company’s success. If you give kudos for “working late”—then people will think that face time at the office is what counts. Instead look for keen decision making, risk taking, problem solving and teamwork success stories.

Finally, give your team a say in the culture. New companies are blank slates; so let your people pitch in to make the company their own. Working together to choose office space, name new products, or discuss policy creates a powerful ownership mentality.

Owning responsibility, getting credit, and having a voice in the company happen to be three of the definitions of a “best place to work.” Ultimately, this means you will further ramp up the success of your business because your employees will work harder, stay at your company, and convince their friends to join. You will find that giving up ends up being the only way to get ahead.

Startup Right By Swinging for Singles

(This post was originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer and is also at the Entrepreneurship in Cincinnati blog)

It is baseball season here in Cincinnati again, and whether you observe Opening Day as a religious holiday, or get surprised when fireworks explode in the afternoon downtown, one cannot help but join the spirit. We get to enjoy another 162 episodes of challenge and achievement. Of course we cannot help but re-awaken baseball metaphors to analyze and explain the challenges in the business world.

Entrepreneurship has a lot in common with baseball. In both a lone leader steps to the plate with intense pressure to succeed, a team is counting on you to get a hit, and even a 33% success rate is world-class. Unfortunately, too many rookie batters—and entrepreneurs—fail by swinging for the fences instead of legging out a single.

Startup founders get excited about billion-dollar stories such as Facebook, Google, Instagram and Groupon. These companies seemed to come out of nowhere with a killer idea, and we marvel at the fame and wealth that were created in the blink of an eye. The startup blogs and keynote speeches encourage young founders to “think big” and “change the world.” Such stories have pushed a thousand entrepreneurs to quit their day jobs or senior years in order to create “the next Google/Facebook/eBay.”

But nearly all of their efforts to hit a home run end up in failure. I meet many aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to create the next big idea right off the bat, yet struggle to succeed. I believe it was either Ted Williams or Albert Pujols who said, “I step to the plate just trying to get a single, and sometimes I hit a homerun.” Our startup ecosystem needs a lot more people swinging for base hits instead of long balls.

How do you hit for a single or double in startups? There are a couple of ways you can dramatically increase your odds of success. First, instead of immediately starting your own business, go work for another company that is at early stages and scaling up. Find a successful entrepreneur and join his or her team to soak up everything you can about what works and what doesn’t. Your learning curve will be vertical for years and you will be much more confident and ready when it is your time.

Once you are ready to start your own business, stick to what you know. If you have spent your career selling insurance, please don’t fool yourself into believing that you can create a social network for teenagers. Take the ten thousand hours that you have spent learning an industry or craft and build a business around that idea. Creating a new business of any kind is very difficult, but learning a new industry at the same time is near impossible.

Remember that a career in this game is long, and opportunities will keep coming. Just because you begin your startup career hitting for singles doesn’t mean that you will never be swinging for the fence. The great thing about successfully building one business is that you will have earned the resources and relationships that can be used to aim even higher the next time you step to the plate. Now, play ball!

February 25, 2013
Mastering the Favor Economy


When people step away from a career to start a new venture, perhaps the biggest shock is learning how hard it is to get things done. You no longer have the power to compel others to join your meeting, buy your products or answer your emails. Humbled and alone, you soon understand that relying on the kindness of others is the only way to survive. Veteran entrepreneurs understand one must tap into a complex social system of trading favors.

Trading favors is one of the most important survival strategies in human history. Favors were a form of currency long before the first coin was ever minted. If your ancestor was lucky on a hunt for meat, he shared with his fellow tribesmen, knowing they would remember his gift when they were lucky next time. Some scientists believe our brains grew larger in order to  to keep track of frequent, complex trading exchanges among people.

Even while they are inventing the most breakthrough technologies, entrepreneurs must go back to these social rules to give their companies a shot at a future. Other people hold the key to information or access that could mean life or death for a new venture. With little money in the bank and the clock ticking mercilessly, the favor of an introduction to a potential investor, customer, advisor or new hire can mean everything.

Unfortunately no one teaches these soft skills in business school, and few people openly talk about their strategies for getting the returned phone call or opened door. I have learned a few lessons along nearly a decade of small business trials and tribulations, and I offer these Five Rules for the Favor Economy:

First, you must give favors to eventually receive them in return. Do not even think about starting a business unless you have spent years assisting others. By building relationships and giving proactively, you will not only be in position to ask for help later, but you will learn much through the process.

Second, there is no better time to ask for a favor than when someone has asked one of you. Be sure that the other party knows what is on your “need list” when they come calling. For example, I provided helpful advice for a friend, and at the end of the conversation I asked if he knew any good leads in my industry. A few days later he happily made a very valuable introduction. An exchange of time, advice and contacts allows both sides to win right away.

Third, make it as easy as possible for people to lift that finger of help. For example, give them a sentence or two about your company that they can copy and paste into an email. This not only takes a little pain out of the process, but it shows your friend that you are all over the details.

Fourth, realize that favor trading can run years between exchanges, so be sure to keep old bonds strong with small touches over time. We all hate it when the person we have not spoken to in ten years suddenly sends an email or LinkedIn request with a desire for help.. I like to try to grab coffee with out-of-town contacts when I travel. One friend randomly calls contacts on his commute home each day to keep in touch.

Finally, I am not a big believer in returning favors with gifts. Recently a recruiter that I assisted went out of her way to find a wine store that could send me a gift certificate as a thank you. Fine wine is always nice to sip, but I would much rather have her volunteer to connect me with one of her many Chief Marketing Officer clients. Wine is consumed and forgotten; each favor as priceless and truly improves with time.

Despite thousands of years of human history, trading favors and carefully managing your contact list does not come easy to everyone. However no one can build a business without the non-financial help of others. As long as you remember to give, as much or more than you receive, chances are that enough doors will open for you to get a fair shot at success.

January 16, 2013
The Minimum Viable Concept Test Builder Launches

 

A little over a year ago we first saw the need for a fast, low-cost customer research tool that startups could use to learn before launching their big ideas. The leaders of the lean startup movement said the world needed more customer input earlier in the process, but they could not tell us where to go for a professional, quantitative solution. So we developed our own: The Minimum Viable Concept Test. In 2012 we tested over 70 new-to-the-world ideas, ranging from apps for business travelers to skin cream for teen girls. Dozens of our customers have since launched and are growing their businesses using insights gleaned from MVC Testing to improve their odds of success.

As a startup itself, the team here at the MVC Test is continually learning from each customer experience and partner discussion. You, dear reader, have helped us refine and improve our process and product, and we are proud to announce a big upgrade to our service, The MVC Test Builder.

Over the past year we have been looking for ways to make our testing process simpler for our customers. The biggest issue we see is that it can take a week or more for us to have an initial one-on-one discussion about the MVC Test with startup founders who discover our service. You had to send us an email, set up a conference call, then engage in multiple phone and email conversations to finalize and launch a test. We know that each minute of a startup’s time is invaluable, and we have seen how founders are willing to figure things out on their own to get the answers they need quickly.

So we decided to significantly streamline the process with a self-serve research tool that we call the MVC Test Builder. Now you can choose the test that is right for you, build your idea description, select your target audience, input additional questions, and send us a draft of your test for final pricing and feedback. We’ll reply with any questions or comments within 24 hours and launch your test as soon as you are ready. All communication will be centralized in your MVC Test account, where your final report will be uploaded as soon as it is available. In case you need help along the way, we’ve made it easy to draft your test with specific tips, FAQs, and walkthrough videos at each step of the process. And of course we are always up for a phone chat if you need further help or would like a personal discussion of your results.

Whether you are still considering an MVC Test for your idea, or are require additional research for a company you have tested with us in the past, the MVC Test Builder is a great tool for thinking through your research needs. Finally, if you or anyone you know would like to be one of the first to launch with the MVC Test Builder, we have a special bonus for you: Use the Discount Code “MAILER” to get $100 off any test now through February 2013. So head over to the Test Builder and put it through its paces.

Thank you so much for your business and partnership in 2012, and we wish you the best of luck with your launches in 2013 and beyond.

Bob

January 2, 2013
5 Secrets for Getting Big Dollars from Big Brands

For many reasons, I’ve recently been spending a lot more time with startups that are building innovation for brand marketers. Since I spent 6 years as a brand guy at Procter & Gamble, then another 7 years as a leader as a global digital advertising agency, I seem to have picked up a few lessons about how to work with big brands. So I recently decided to share some tips with the wider world in a larger platform than this blog.

Today you can head over to iMedia Connection and read up on my “5 Secrets for Getting Big Brand Dollars from Big Brands”. Hopefully these tips will help marketing-related startups get deeper insights into their customers to bring forward win-win solutions. Read on...

October 28, 2012
Pity the Jerks

Leading a startup is harder than any other career path on many levels. You must build everything from scratch, fight for every dollar in and out of the company, and go to sleep each night with the knowledge that you should have done even more that day. You suck up an incredible amount of rejection from prospective customers, partners and investors. The rejection is always “personal” because the business is your baby.

While rejection is part of the game, a handful of jerks make life even harder for the hopeful souls trying to get a startup off the ground. Last week I felt the sting of a jerk–and while the experience ruined my day, I discovered a better way to diffuse this stress going forward. You might find the story helpful whether you are in the startup trenches, or just got cut off on the exit ramp of the interstate.

I was recently reading the blog of a fairly well-known investor and noticed that he had added an open calendar app on his website inviting people to meet with him. This is an example of a new trend of “office hours” that progressive investors have recently embraced. I was planning to be in his city the following month and figured it would be a great opportunity to connect both as a startup (MVC Test) and fellow investor (CincyTech). The scheduling process requested that I pick a few times and add a one-sentence description of the reason to meet.

A few hours later I got a response from the investor: A snarky one-line assessment of my business and no word of whether or not he would meet with me. My blood boiled for several hours. I wrote and rejected several responses to his missive, deciding to try and put the incident behind me. But something still nagged at me–Rejection is fine and expected, but why add malice? In other words,

Why be a jerk?

Believe it or not, some people actually choose to be jerks in the business world. A recent Wired article on the management lessons of Steve Jobs shares the stories of executives who openly denigrate people’s work and call customers “idiots” over email. I personally stay away from anyone who frequently speaks negatively about other people behind their backs. This lack of self-esteem can be toxic in many ways–especially in the personal crucible that is a startup. And if they tell you about others behind their backs, chances are they will do the same to you.

Startup investors often have to defend themselves against charges of jerk-ness. Many who are criticized say that they are simply being direct, and that this directness is meant to help the companies that come to their doors. And as gateways to money and success, investors can be seen in a harsher light to entrepreneurs. There is always one fundamental difference in perspective: The company pitching in the conference room is taking their jobs personally, while investors must look at a business with absolute lack of passion and emotion.

For some investors, though, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Investors simply don’t have the same kinds of checks and balances that business owners have. If you are a jerk in most other business roles, people will choose not to work with you or for you. Your business results will sour and soon you’ll be looking for a new job. But investors get 10 years to show results, and their limited partners are only looking for a strong return on investment. Niceties don’t count.

I have a unique perspective as both a startup founder and investor. Over the past year as an Entrepreneur in Residence at CincyTech, a seed-stage VC firm, I have listed to over 100 founders pitch their ideas. For me, the role of listening to a pitch produces empathy. I feel for the founders pitching their hearts out, because I know that the odds are long, and the reality is that we can only invest in a fraction of those who walk in the door.

To reduce any negative feelings along the way, I try to go out of my way to explain our process, offer helpful perspective and tips, and always keep the door open for future conversations. No one taught me to behave this way, it just seems natural to try and be a good person.

In the midst of my anger over the jerky reply from the “open” investor I went online to learn more about him. From the first page of Google results I discovered that he recently tried and failed to launch his own startup, and was now struggling to find investors and startups to join his new fund. Then I read some negative industry buzz about his mixing of business and pleasure. On one hand I felt better reading this. It validated my experience of his jerkiness, and suggested that karma is, indeed, a bitch.

But then my anger melted away and I began to feel sorry for him, because he is likely suffering because of his personality issues. What could be worse than having a flaw that you don’t know exists, or that you don’t know how to correct. It is hard to be angry at a person that is self-destructive.

So as you struggle on toward startup success, feel sorry for the jerks that you will inevitably encounter. By forgiving and pitying them you might be able to better wade through the unproductive anger that ensues…and it just might make you a better person in the end.

You should learn more about the MVC Test here, and follow me on Twitter here.

+Bob Gilbreath

October 21, 2012
The MVC Test – Now in Video Concept Form

As a startup investor, advisor, board member, it sometime feels strange to tell people that I also have my own startup, the Minimum Viable Concept Test–which in turn is a service that helps other startups in customer development and product positioning. It’s a bit like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer sells a book about coffee table book–that sprouts legs and turns into a coffee table.

Then again, launching a startup to help other startups provides me with unique insights and perspective. One of the things I have learned through my testing is that video can be a powerful way to communicate an idea. As I wrote in this post a few months ago, the sight, sound and motion of video is tough to beat. In my MVC Testing, video continually leads to better customer understanding and feedback. It does not mean that simple descriptions in a one-page form are mistakes–as both are effective in drawing useful responses and both mimic how people learn about ideas in the real world. But video is a step closer toward creating actual in-market advertising.

I recently decided to practice what I’ve been preaching and commissioned the video below to describe the MVC Test:

I had a great time working with the gang at Elevator Insight, which has done similarly great work with several other companies in our portfolio. They have the process nailed down tightly and we got to this output in about a month.

I recommend that your business use video once you are a bit down in the path in customer development, and already have some early (preferably paying) customers. While the cost is reasonable enough to start with video, you can learn a lot by simpler communication forms–and leave yourself the flexibility to change the product and positioning frequently at the early stages.

Since a soft launch of this video last week, I’ve already gotten several positive comments and new leads. Stay tuned to this space in the next few months, as this is just one piece of an expansion of the MVC Test platform to make it even more useful to innovators around the world.

You should learn more about the MVC Test here, and follow me on Twitter here.

+Bob Gilbreath

October 8, 2012
Entrepreneurship Lessons from a Fallen Friend

Peter Schwartz – 1954-2012

Last Monday morning I got the call at 8 a.m. My friend and former business partner, Peter Schwartz, had passed away overnight. I’d just seen Peter at my office Friday afternoon and we’d made plans for lunch on Monday. I spent last week in a daze, working through the stages of grief as I trudged through assorted meetings with our portfolio companies and others in need of advice. The only thing that kept me from blowing everyone off and hiding under the covers all week was the belief that Peter would want me buggering on in the quest to make a dent in the world.

Chances are, dear reader, that you did not get to meet Peter; so the purpose of this post is to share the knowledge I gained from working with him. Peter spent his entire career as an entrepreneur, the height of which was his successful sale of a business where I was lucky enough to be his partner. There are five lessons that I learned in my seven years at his side, through many ups and downs, and the best way to honor Peter is to pass them on to you.

1. Passion Wins

I remember pitching alongside Peter for the digital agency business of Healthy Choice about five years ago. I was leading the pitch team and Peter’s role was to present the creative work we had developed. On his very first slide, though, Peter drifted from my carefully crafted script. He was clearly excited about the work, blowing past his allotted time and I worried that his passion had gotten the best of him.  I maneuvered my foot under the conference room table in preparation to provide a gentle reminder to get back on track.

I began to visualize weeks of preparation laid to waste as he continued to ramble on, stars in his eyes. And then I glanced over at our clients–the stone-faced looks had transformed. They smiled and nodded as Peter laid out his vision for  reaching Healthy Choice brand nirvana through our digital and creative strategy. They started to believe. And a few days later we found out that we won this crown jewel brand, which became an enormous driver of company profits and award-winning work.

You see, in a world of profits, losses, facts and figures, simple passion is too often lost and forgotten. But not for Peter. He came to every meeting with a smile and an idea. I don’t know where this reservoir of positivity came from, but it was infectious, and everyone around him benefitted. I grew to look for this passion in others and came to lean forward in situations where a passionate person was present. Simply put: Whether you are selling to a customer or painting a vision of the future to employees, if you can bring energy to the room you are half-way home.

2. Share the Wealth to Succeed

I have met a lot of entrepreneurs who have built a business without sharing equity with anyone else in the company. Some will string senior employees along for years with the promise of a small piece of the pie at some uncommitted time in the future. But that was never Peter’s way. Throughout his career he took the opposite tack and gave equity to leaders who he believed would help him get to the next level. I was one of the fortunate beneficiaries of this strategy in 2004, when I was asked to join Bridge Worldwide, the company Peter founded. Where another owner might hesitate to give up shares and votes, Peter chose to build a team of co-leaders who would challenge his thinking, treat the company like it was their own, and become force multipliers. Peter believed that by giving up 75% of his shares he could attract and retain a team that would help him build a business that would become 10x as valuable. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened at Bridge.

Of course not every employee should be on the cap table, but it doesn’t mean they can’t all have ownership-like incentives. At Bridge, Peter championed our decision to offer profit sharing for every employee. This was absolutely unheard of in the advertising agency world, and we took a risk each quarter in sharing our deepest financial details with all 350 employees. Something amazing happens when you trust your employees with the company’s financial progress and gains–people start to care about something bigger than themselves. They made better choices in, say, inventing a new solution to sell a client, or limiting travel spending without draconian checks & balances.

3. Always Be Pivoting

Many people assume that our company was another “digital startup,” but Peter actually founded the agency that would become Bridge Worldwide in 1979. Over the years he shifted the agency as new opportunities presented themselves. Early on the company was known for owning a $5,000 machine that could project slide shows at big corporate meetings. This was a long time before briefcase-sized projectors and PowerPoint! Bridge shifted away from events to technology marketing services and then again to healthcare collateral. But in the mid-1990s Peter saw the potential of the Internet, and ended up creating Procter & Gamble’s very first website in 1995 (for its professional dental care group).

The digital business expanded and Peter refocused again to take advantage. Together we learned to continually evolve with our clients–shifting from the low-cost local web shop to a world-class leader in mobile/social/local. While other digital agencies came and went, we grew revenues over 20% a year for eight straight years and held on to a majority of our clients. Of course the work we did for these clients changed dramatically over that time as we led our clients to move forward along with their customers in this new space.

My kids learned in school recently that sharks must keep swimming in order to breathe or they will die; business is the same way. There is never a current market or customer base to rely on in today’s economy. We must continue to discover new ways to generate revenue and pivot before we have to.

4. Do Whatever it Takes to Win

It’s funny but I don’t really remember what Peter did in college or what piece of the agency business he was best at. The truth is that Peter was a business chameleon–able to shift to whatever the company needed of him. On any given day you might find Peter in the office at reviewing project budgets, grabbing the pen and whiteboard in a strategy session, reconnecting with a client CIO, or writing up creative ideas for a new business pitch.

Peter knew he was master of none of these tasks, but he never hesitated to dig into whatever was needed of him. A true entrepreneur knows that the buck stops with him, and that by grabbing the marker or helping to build the presentation every once in a while he sets an example for others.

5. Re-Invest in What’s Next

After we successfully sold Bridge Worldwide to WPP at the end of 2010, Peter decided to leave the company and “retire.” He could have spent the rest of his life playing tennis, hoisting beers on the beach, or picking out luxury cars. Instead, Peter jumped right into investing in other entrepreneurs–putting money into our seed-stage companies at CincyTech. And most recently, Peter was launching a new startup with a small team. It’s goal: To save local journalism.

We now know that one of the keys to creating a startup community in a city near you is to convince successful founders to recycle their dollars and lessons into other startups–including new companies of their own. Peter introduced me to CincyTech and served as my investment mentor; and he was later one of my first customers for the Minimum Viable Concept Test.  Though he is no longer with us, his legacy lives on in local companies that will, in turn, sprout millionaires and seed the next generation of innovative businesses here in Cincinnati.

Bonus Lesson: Peter Believed in You

When speaking with friends this week, the most meaningful memories we all shared were the times when Peter pumped us up. Whether it was providing advice to someone thinking about marriage or a founder pitching him a startup concept–no matter how half-baked the idea–Peter took the time to encourage you. His quirky smile, encouragingly nodding head, and enthusiastic advice were a fresh bit of positivity when we all feel the pressure of the harsh world around us.

Perhaps that is my most important lesson for aspiring entrepreneurs: Find a friend and mentor who believes in you. You’ll meet lots of other folks willing to bring you a dose of cold, hard reality–but everyone needs a pal who can pick them up when they are down and will lend enough energy to get back on the startup horse. On your journey to become an entrepreneurial hero, you’ll need the help of a someone like Peter who can provide that magical spark to light hope into your darkest days.

I was lucky to have Peter as that pal for me, and I will miss him more than words can say.

You should learn more about the MVC Test here, and follow me on Twitter here.

+Bob Gilbreath

1 2 3
Page 1 of 3