Yeah, it doesn't mean anything. Chill out.
General Assembly isn't really a coworking company. It's been an education business for quite a while now, if you haven't noticed--and it's a business they're damn good at. By professionalizing startup education in NYC, GA has made a huge impact in the community.
By number, most of the people who pass through its doors are there for classes, not to work. In fact, GA East is the only one of its locations around the world that has any kind of coworking in it--and, while it's a very cool group of people, it's pretty small compared to the number of people at WeWork or the total amount of people working in one of the billion or so NYC coworking spaces.
So, they're just focusing on what they're good at, which is what any good startup should do. GA isn't any better at coworking than anywhere else. If anything, they were above market in their pricing. NYC didn't really need GA providing desk space--we seem to manage that pretty well on our own. We do need them continuing to offer classes, because curriculum development, faculty management, and running classroom space is hard. So, good for them to focus on that.
We'll be just fine.
Yes, it's a cool group of people--and I was a community member as well. What that group should just do is pick up and move to another space. Everyone at GA East should just move out into another shared space on their own.
I'd be happy to join it.
In the meantime, you can find me in Brooklyn, and when I'm in the city, in the lobby of the Union Square Hyatt. It's very cool and they'll give you the wifi password at the front desk if you ask--yes, just like the Ace.
Or maybe I'll hang at the Alley, or New Work City, or WeWork, or GrindSpace, or WorkBench, or SparkLabs, or Regus, or Techspace... maybe all of them.
And if you want to come to Brooklyn, we have Dumbo Startup lab, NYU/Poly, The Yard, BrooklynWorks at 159, Secret Clubhouse... Tons of places.
Keep calm and cowork on.
Mashery is heavily featured at the Business of APIs conference. Their participation has been a huge win for them--leading the company to customers, media visability and an opportunity to help shape the conversation in their industry.
So how did they get involved?
They started the conference.
Lots of companies struggle with getting the attention of a market, because they don't take a lead in educating that market. Think about this conference model. What would be the ultimate conference for your startup to be prominately featured in?
Is it out there?
Then why don't you go out and start it. You could charge for it and break even. It doesn't have to be at the Javits center. I'm sure you could call in some favors and find a friendly space on the cheap. The best thing is that all of the other related folks in your space would be dying to speak at it as well...and you need other players in the market to validate the movement that you're trying to take advantage of.
Same goes for content marketing. Is there a key blog describing the trend that you're taking advantage of? Mailing list perhaps? No? Then why don't you start it? Recruit customers to read it. Hire an editor who wants to get recognized as a thought leader in the space. Hell, they'd probably do it for free. As long as you disclosed your sponsorship of it and clearly outlined editorial policy, all it would require of you is to create something useful--and people would follow it.
This is especially true in the B2B space where thought leadership generates leads--it finds the edge cases where only 2 of the Fortune 500 are even thinking about what you're doing. It saves you the time of manually pitching the other 498 because those two will find you. They're out looking for this kind of content and experience.
This is what Mike Lazerow did at Buddy Media. He killed it. He created a whole conversation about brands being on Facebook to the point where if you wanted to do anything related to putting your brand on that platform, Buddy Media seemed to be right at the center of that conversation.
Why let others guide the conversation? Why are you paying to sponsor a conference or pitching other media outlets.
Create your own!!
Last Thursday marked the one year anniversary of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures being a real fund with money in it and everything--so it was fitting that I had my first annual investor meeting. We don't do anything too fancy. I borrowed a conference room from a friend's company and we huddled around some great sandwiches and pasta from Catercow.
I brought three founders in for the first time and they rocked it. One thing that was clear across all three was that their startups didn't start the day that they signed some legal docs. The best ideas are ones where you are prepping to be the right person to run this company years before you even have the idea. Their ideas are honed for years--their understanding of a market is deep and insightful. Their skillset is born of a regular participation in the life of their targest customer.
That's how I'm often able to approve an investment or turn it down so quick--it's more obvious than you think whether someone is the right person for the task at hand. Often, they tell me all I need to know when I hear their origin story. Why you? Why this idea? You want to hear someone that's been developing into the right person to run this company for years.
Right now, whether you have an idea or not, you are in the process of working on a startup. That's why if you don't have an idea, the best place to start looking for one is often right in front of you.
The past few years of your experience are making you into the perfect entrepreneur to do... *something*. What is it? What has life put you in a position to have unique insight into? That's where you should be refining your idea--not in the pages of Techcrunch or as a function of what you think is fundable. If you were to have to pitch a VC right now on a concept, the part about why you is already known--you've been living it. You can examine your life and start to ideate on what types of problems you are best suited to solve, and undoubtedly a problem worth solving will come out of that. Startups are hard and the most successful entrepreneurs are often the ones most uniquely suited, because of their experience, to solve those problems.
So what startup have you already started working on before you have an idea?
Risk is really another word for uncertainty.
Investing in utilities is fairly low risk, because we're pretty sure that people aren't going to suddenly start using twice as much electricity out of the blue (or half as much, unfortunately).
Investing in startups is fairly high risk, because not only could they go out of business, but they could be huge home runs. One of my companies told me their stated goal was to be a billion dollar company--and it's completely possible if executed right.
They could also be out of business a year from now.
What can I do? I can help make intros to next round investors, potential hires, get them press--all the things that move the company forward and make a positive outcome more certain.
The more you get done, the less risk remains. Sometimes, I feel like the first your of a company's life is just an exercise in avoiding ways to die. Start with things most likely to kill your company, and then work your way down. Most often, the highest risk is running out of cash and not hiring the right people--so address these risks with the most urgency.
What's the most uncertain thing in your company? In your life? And what can you do this week to gain clarity on it?
Getting investor dollars is like a sugar rush. As soon as you have that cinnamon bun, you just want another one, and if you don't get a second one, you crash.
If there was one single mistake that crushed my startup five years ago, it was assuming I'd get any more money than what I got in the seed round. That underlying assumption was present in every decision I made.
I wasn't really running a business--I was trying to prove to some hypothetical future investor that I could run a business. It's the startup equivilant of Neo *trying* to hit Morpheus in the Matrix.
"Stop trying to hit me and hit me!"
It may not have been air that Neo was breathing but it is certainly Kool Aid that many founders are drinking. They're drowning in losses, maintaining blind faith that someone is going to come along and toss them a life preserver in the form of a venture round. Maybe yes, maybe no, but the right assumption to go on if you've taken a small round is that the money you have is the last of it.
This isn't about the Series A Crunch, which, by the way, is a made up media term whose existence has been quantitatively disproven. This is about building a business by figuring out real sales.
Sell product, not equity.
What would you do if I told you that whatever money you had in the bank was the last of the investor dollars? Would you cut someone? Who comes to mind first?
If someone pops into your head right away, should you be cutting that person anyway? If you feel like someone isn't indispensible or that you could easily upgrade them, they have no place on your team in a seed round. You have no money or time for dead weight.
How about dropping a product effort or two that seems like a longshot? Or asking a trial customer for money? Or raising prices?
This is all how you probably should be running this business anyway--with a sense of urgency about cash, that is, until you start making enough of it to pay for your overhead. Anything else feels like driving a car with bad brakes towards a cliff and waiting for someone to come along and build you a bridge.
Investor dollars are like an addiction--a drug addiction.
Revenues can be equally addictive, but it's more like a runners high where you feel good about your accomplishment and can't wait for that next sale.