Every startup is a team effort, and that team can steer the company in a good direction or bad. Success and failure is a collective experience, and no one person can take credit for any of it.
Nonetheless, starting a company is also a very intense personal trial for the Entrepreneur—the person who lives and breathes it. I was the entrepreneur behind EmmetLabs.com, a company I founded in 2007. A year ago we laid off the staff and though the site is still out there, I feel that it’s time to take a look back at that personal experience. Here are some of the things I feel good about:
1. I aimed high.
I wanted to change the world. Emmet was something new and brilliant and never before done. For the right personality type, creating this network of the past is an addictive consumer activity—even after a year of inattention, we have users making literally hundreds of edits every week.
2. I had a clear product vision.
I knew what I wanted Emmet to be at its core, and we built that. And I was right—it’s very cool. The idea came to me fully formed at the TED conference three years ago; I ran back to my hotel room and wireframed the key interfaces. A few months later, I had a prototype built by Pivotal, and it was everything I wanted it to be.
3. I worked my network.
My professional network isn’t the biggest in the valley, but I have great relationships and I included all of them to make Emmet happen. I attracted fantastic investors and advisors, and made many new colleagues and friends. Every week I sent emails, talked to people, had coffees and lunches. At every meeting and social outing I learned something — either about business, about Emmet, or about myself as an entrepreneur and leader. I had the courage to ask for whatever I happened to need at the time, and usually I got at least some portion of it.
4. I accepted help.
You’d be surprised how supportive the early-stage-startup community can be. I was offered (and accepted) office space, countless lunches, recruiting help, design services, consulting, etc, etc…and all of this came without a price tag. One of the best skills an entrepreneur can have is knowing how to get something for nothing. I pay it forward whenever I can.
5. I didn’t let anything stop me.
Sometimes things happen that are completely out of your control, and they make your job just that much harder. I get that. But this was over the top:
In 18 months, I was clobbered by a prolonged and mysterious illness, my dad died, my brother killed himself, the world economy exploded, and the funding window closed.
At one point a few months after my brother’s suicide, I was sitting alone in my glass-walled office. The sliding door was open and I looked up as Freada Klein walked by. My face must have shown the grief, because she stopped and asked if I was alright. The only thing I could say was “I don’t know how I’ll ever get past this.” It was a raw an honest moment.
Nonetheless, I persevered. I had lots of help from my husband and son, the Kapor/Kleins, and so many others. Perhaps continuing with the venture wasn’t right or necessary, but it’s just what you do, especially when you’ve taken people’s money and hired a staff. You don’t quit just because it’s hard—you keep going.
6. I turned down a bad term sheet.
As luck would have it, I was preparing to go out for series A in late 2008. The timing couldn’t have been worse. The world was melting down, the credit markets had seized up. I did a few exploratory meetings with investors in December, and by the first of January I had concluded that the window was closed tight.
Just then, during the first weeks of January 2009, in the worst possible economy, comes a Term Sheet! Unfortunately, it was a bad one. A really, really bad one that would have screwed all of my angels, changed control of the company, and still left us under-capitalized.
I’ve done bad deals before, and I believe this one would have meant a slow, acrimonious death march for the company and all participants therein. I had no idea what we were going to do as the money ran out, but this deal wasn’t the way forward. I said No.
7. I turned down good money for the right reason.
With the funding window closed, we were either going to have to pull a rabbit out of our hat, or wind down the company. So I met with the investors, and to my great relief, one offered to give us a bit more capital. “I want to be helpful,” he said, and I liked that kind of help.
I could have taken the money, and initially I said Yes. But you don’t take money unless it will get you somewhere important. His contribution wouldn’t have changed the outcome, just delayed it. I called him the next day and told him not to make the wire transfer. It was the right thing to do, and that matters to me.
Bottom line — I’m very proud of Emmet, and I’m proud of what we accomplished as a team. Without ongoing financial support, it’s not taking the world by storm. But it’s still there chugging along, and it’s still very cool.