Recovering from the Derby

(Or Laser Focus vs. Opportunism and all that Other Good Entrepreneurship Stuff.)
By Andrew Sell, Founder, Hipcycle

So it’s been about two weeks since I won a contest sponsored by Startup America and got whisked off to the Kentucky Derby to cross an item off my bucket list, and to also talk about my amazing company Hipcycle to anybody and everybody that was willing to listen to me. I’ve just about now recovered; not only was I hanging with Ice-T, famous athletes, and big-time politicians and business leaders, but it was also early morning flights and constant social events. And then there was the follow-up with all the amazing people I met once I got home. How are you supposed to run your startup business with all this other stuff going on? Damn you Startup America!!!!

I’m kidding of course. Not only did I have a total blast, but I made some amazing contacts. For example, I met Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles in a span of 10 seconds(!), and more importantly, I also made some meaningful connections with scads of business leaders, of whom at least 3 could grow to become advisors and investors in Hipcycle (which is an e-commerce site dedicated to upcycled products). Yes indeed, it was an incredible weekend.

The Derby experience also made me think of some rules of entrepreneurism that guide my actions as I grow my company. This isn’t a comprehensive list of my entrepreneurship rules, but they are some of the more important ones to me:

1)      Focus, focus, focus, and focus some more (unless, of course, something that could be amazing comes along). Building a company is really, really tough, and if you do not focus like a laser every day on making your concept a successful reality, you’re probably not going to make it. There are only so many productive hours in the day, and there is always a ton of things to get done. Therefore, making decisions about what gets done, and what to let slide is super important. Don’t get distracted. Don’t waste time entering contests to go to the Kentucky Derby, and if you actually win the darn thing, don’t waste your time and go. Unless, of course, something that could be amazing comes along….

2)     Create opportunities for serendipity to happen. Building a company also takes a certain amount of luck, but what’s that saying about “creating your own luck?” Winning a weekend at the Derby was the luck part, and going and making the most of it was the “making my own luck” part. Maybe this was an extreme case, since the weekend was a case of “potential serendipity” overload, but hopefully you get my point.

3)      Look as big as you want to become. What do you want your startup to become? How do you want it to be perceived? Why wait to deliver on that perception? Do it now! At the Derby, I was amazed by the number of people who had already visited hipcycle.com and asked if we were really a startup, since the site looked so good. It can be easy to be humbled when rubbing elbows like I did that weekend, but this feedback reminded me quickly to act like the CEO (or Chief Hipcycler, as I call myself) that had been around 70 years, rather than 7 months.

4)     Ride the highs and lows, but don’t get worked up over either of them. When you are turning your business idea into reality, you can have lots of days when you feel like you’re never going to make it, or your idea is terrible, or that you should have never given up that paycheck Corporate America had been fattening you up on. But there are other days, like when you see your first profit or…oh, I dunno…win a VIP trip to the Kentucky Derby, when you feel like King of the World. In both cases, tomorrow is another day, and there is still a lot of work to do! Learn from your experiences by either smelling the roses or pulling your foot out of the pile of dog crap, and move on (see rule #1).

5)     Entrepreneurship can be really lonely, so seek out a community of like-minded folks. You hear it a lot about how being an entrepreneur can be lonely…see above on focus, piles of dog poo, and thinking big while you know that you are small and may be small forever. It can be isolating, and while your family may be supportive, it’s probably blind support, and you hear mostly criticism from more “qualified” sources like potential investors and customers. Combat this by finding or building a community of like-minded folks. I saw this at the Derby, as the new Startup America region, Startup Kentucky, had their hands all over the weekend. They did a fantastic job of showing off their community of entrepreneurs and the support they get from their broader community as a whole. It was inspiring, and something I plan to help develop in my own state of New Jersey.

The horse I’ll Have Another won at the Derby, and just this past weekend also took the Preakness to capture the first two legs of the Triple Crown. He was a relative long shot at the Derby, but now goes into the Belmont Stakes as the odds on favorite in that race, which would make him the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years. For I’ll Have Another, it’s just another case of opportunism, making your own luck, looking big, and all that other good stuff.