Out of deference to my favorite Einstein quote and business mantra above, I feel compelled to post this Natasha Lomas blog post that appeared in TechCrunch earlier this week. My first boss back in 1994 managed his firm on the KISS model (Keep It Simple, Stupid), and it has stuck with me since (Thanks Dad). My big takeaway is that startups must understand that simplicity is not just about messaging, but about their business models in general. It may feel like a conundrum as today’s investors all seem to be looking for the 50X exit, but the longest of journeys begin with a single step. Solve a problem. Be agile. And remember that Johnson & Johnson was founded with a first aid kit as its first product.
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There are multiple ways to manage stress, some healthier than others. Nearly a year into my career as a startup entrepreneur, I got to a point where I needed the stress management solutions to be on the healthier side of the spectrum. After years of thwarting friends’ attempts to get me to join CrossFit, I decided to give it a try. CrossFitNMB is about a block away from Bookigee’s offices — so the guilt felt when passing it every day was a driver of the decision, but I digress. Without rambling on about the gory details of my initial path to fitness over the first three months that I have been there, I will just get to the point of this posting. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jonas Grabarnick, who runs CFNMB.
We all know the explicit benefits of exercise – heart health, positive self-image, endorphins, physical strength, etc. I have gotten something above and beyond that from training with Jonas and his team, however. Best way to describe it would be a great sense of accomplishment that has translated into benefits far outside the gym. At CFNMB they teach you how to overcome adversity and meet challenges that you otherwise would not think possible. So while the tangible results have been great, the intangibles are what I am amazed by and grateful for. The ability to get through their workouts, push myself to do things I would have never thought I was capable of, and adjust my mindset to believe that I will surmount the seemingly insurmountable has transcended the gym. Startups are a battle, but the work done with Jonas is now evidencing itself on the business playing field in many ways: greater attention to detail, confidence, a willingness to go at the problems rather than around them, physical and emotional stamina, and a positive attitude — to name a few. Entrepreneurship requires a lot of strength across the physical, mental, and emotional spectrums. Thanks to Jonas for all the work you are doing with us to improve all of these components — both I and the company are growing from it.
If you had asked me back in 2007 what I would be doing in August 2012, I never would have said, “I’ll be standing in a room in Tampa during the RNC, demoing the first app from my tech start-up at the invite of The Huffington Post.” But in some ways, my journey is a parable for #WhatisWorking — in the face of great uncertainty, sometimes you just have to dig deep, take a risk, step out on the wire, and try something radical.
In 2007 I was a trader on Wall Street. Although I had a BA in English and aspirations for an academic life, the allure of joining my family business on the NYSE in was too strong to ignore back in 1994 when I got my start. In the early years I took great pride in what we did and how we did it, but I also watched the industry shift as mergers, increased automation, regulatory hurdles, and asset bubbles all conspired to change the core of the business. In the face of these changes the “human functions” of trading became less and less primary.
Things really shifted for me personally after financial collapse of 2008. A once proud career on the New York Stock Exchange had become not only less rewarding in a financial sense, but in an internal sense. The pride I had taken in my role in capital markets had devolved into something that lacked any real meaning or purpose for me.
I no longer wanted to sit on high, reading research reports, looking at trends in data, and pointing out problems that I did not have the courage to try to solve myself. I started to understand that innovation is not someone else’s challenge to take up. Job creation is not merely a topic for political pundits and Wall Street analysts. America’s stature on the world educational stage is not just a topic for New York Times op-ed contributors. It became clear that the path to a better economic future for my children emanated not from “policy”, but from my own initiative to effect change.
In the Spring of 2009 I decided I’d had enough. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I was pretty clear on what I didn’t want to be doing anymore. So, I packed up my family and headed for South Florida to press the reset button on a career that had been pretty much written in stone. Goodbye Wall Street, hello Main Street, and the start of an entrepreneurial adventure.
When I first got to Florida, I experimented a little, invested in some projects, and started to build my network. In a short two years I saw it all — good companies, bad companies, good people, bad people, good deals, bad deals — and then I met Bookigee, a young Miami-based tech startup.
Although it was early days, my Wall Street experience told me that the project had all the features of a company that could produce an extraordinary return — a large industry in acute need of innovation and change, a team with deep domain expertise, and a grand but well articulated ambition to disrupt the entire publishing industry. It was intriguing. I saw an opportunity to put my job experience to use in a completely new way and at the same time regain the sense of purpose that comes with solving a meaningful problem.
I joined the project first as an advisor, and later as a Board member. And the more I contributed, the more interesting it became. I dropped everything and joined Bookigee full time in January of 2012. I could see that value creation through entrepreneurship was the path toward a workable future.
And so, in a funny way, my narrative came full circle when I walked into The Huffington Post and Startup America’s “What Is Working Event” at the RNC on August 29th. Politics aside, it was a great personal and professional milestone. After a tough and not so linear transition from a career that was preordained to stay at 11 Wall Street to a world of lean startups, under-resourced and under-capitalized small businesses gamely trying to make something happen during the worst economic environment in over 75 years, this event felt like an affirmation of my choice to enter this pursuit called #TheStartupLife.
Here is what I think: What our country is enduring is not a cyclical issue where the jobs will re-emerge through a waiting game. This is a structural economic phenomenon that will require a re-training of America’s workers, a recalibration of our short run expectations, and a new approach to bringing solutions to industries that have not kept pace with technological trends. This is a generational issue that requires a redeployment of our human capital into jobs that are valued by the 21st century.
So to hear Startup America’s CEO Scott Case promoting concepts about job creation that go beyond the usual rhetoric and into tangible grassroots public/private education initiatives is exhilarating. To hear Arianna Huffington give genuine thanks to the risk-takers that intend to pave a better economic path for our children is empowering. And to be a part of an extraordinary team at Bookigee that embodies all of the qualities that these great minds are promoting is confirmation to me that I have followed the best path to accomplish my goals.
Bookigee is proud to have been in that room and aligned with these initiatives. I believe we will not only impact the industry we are setting out to reshape, but that we will share that stage one day as advocates for education, business building, and risk taking.
Here is the meaning, here is the value, and here is a future we can be proud to pass on to our children. What I realized in Tampa is that Bookigee — and all the other adventurous entrepreneurial experiments taking root out there in our local communities big and small — are #WhatIsWorking.