Seasoned entrepreneurs at the third annual Boise Startup Week had lots of advice for new entrepreneurs, primarily telling them not to let other people tell them what to do and accept that they will screw up. If nothing else, screw-ups seemed to result in better stories.
“If anyone tells you what you should or shouldn’t do, tell them to ‘should’ on someone else,” said keynote speaker Matt Rissell, vice president of TSheets for Intuit Inc., which acquired the Eagle timesheets software startup in 2017 for $340 million.
Other advice Rissell offered was to “be allergic to spending money,” remove “manager” from job titles, and “drink your own champagne” – that is, use your own company’s products. The sentiment is typically referred to as “eating your own dog food,” but he prefers the champagne symbolism, he said. Other recommendations are that “culture trumps strategy,” and “trust each other enough to fight” by speaking up directly when there’s an issue, he added.
Eileen Barber, founder of Keynetics and Kount – which received an $80 million investment in 2015 – said she learned the company needed an employee handbook the day an employee showed up in pajamas.
Janessa White, co-founder of Simply Eloped – which, as the name implies, helps couples elope – learned similar lessons the hard way when the company grew more than 100 percent in just a few months. They hired people through Facebook, and from friends and family, which ended up causing problems later, she said.
“Don’t hire from Facebook,” she advised. “Don’t hire friends. Don’t hire family members. Throw your net far. It’s hard to fire friends and family.”
It’s also important to build a company that people can believe in, and to be good to the people who work for you, she said.
“Startups are one big war story,” said Jessica Cafferty, president of Route Networking Group, advising attendees not to get too caught up in the image of entrepreneurship.
When Cafferty found her company short of money, she worked four nights a week for 18 months at an upscale Boise restaurant, where she also pitched the people she served. At one point, she pitched a businessman for her company one day and found herself serving him that evening. “Oh, I can see business is going really well,” she said he told her.
Similarly, Ed Vining, co-founder of iCapture, a Boise-based lead capture application, described the time he was pitching his new company to investors while simultaneously holding down a full-time job, and trying not to get caught by his boss.
Ultimately, entrepreneurs need to keep the faith that, eventually, the startup will have a good result, or it will be a difficult road without a positive attitude, said Jim Bradbury, general manager at Black Box VR, a virtual reality gamified exercise system that won Best Startup in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company is preparing to open its first virtual reality gym in San Francisco, across the street from Twitter’s main offices, said Preston Lewis, co-founder and chief creative officer, in another presentation.
In addition to speeches and workshops, Boise Startup Week also included several awards presentations. According to the organization, 2,000 people – and six venture capital firms – attended.
Scheduled for Oct. 17, 18 and 19, Boise Startup Week was one of thousands of entrepreneurial events Techstars runs in more 100 countries around the world each year.
Boise State University’s Venture College canceled classes and sent students to the event instead to learn about entrepreneurship firsthand, said Ryan Vasso, associate director. The college also dedicated a part-time employee to help out with the Trailmix competition, which had well over 50 applicants.
Startup Week “plays a vital role in connecting the growing startup community and giving people the opportunity to hear from a wide range of successful entrepreneurs with various backgrounds,” said Annie Morley, president of the Idaho Virtual Reality Council.
Money and Awards
The winner of the Trailmix competition was Snacktivist Foods, a Coeur d’Alene company launched in 2015 that creates egg-free and gluten-free baking and flour mixes. Snacktivist Foods received $10,000 and placement of its products in the new Albertsons on Broadway. This year, the company added chocolate chip cookie and brownie mixes and is testing shelf life, said CEO Joni Kindwall-Moore.
Other Trailmix finalists included:
The winner of the general pitch competition was Lumineye, a startup out of Boise State University’s Venture College that makes wall-penetrating radar sensors to help soldiers and first responders identify threats.
Other pitch competition finalists included:
While not strictly a Startup Week event, the Idaho Innovation Awards were announced on Oct. 16 during a separate event sponsored by Stoel Rives LLP, Trailhead and the Idaho Technology Council.
In addition, Joe Albertson, founder of Albertsons Inc., and Bob Miller, former CEO and chairman of Albertsons Companies, were inducted into the Idaho Technology Council Hall of Fame, which has been holding similar events since 2010.
Liz Harbauer contributed to this story.
This story was edited on October 29 to correct the number of attendees.