Empathy For Start Up Founders

Jeff  Carter
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Posted: Jun 16, 2012 12:01 AM

For the last several years I have invested in seed stage start ups. My whole life, I have been entrepreneurial. When you are an independent trader, you are really an entrepreneur. I just never scaled it like my friends at DRW Trading or JUMP Trading did, nor did I start a front end ISV like my friend did at Trading Technologies. My bad. Woulda, shoulda, coulda. Three worst words in entrepreneurship.

There are several reasons I didn’t. I certainly had the ideas. But ideas are nothing until you turn them into something and actually create value-earn a profit. Or at least generate revenue. Until you do that, it’s just an idea on the shelf.

The museum I am involved with is extremely entrepreneurial. The WW2 Museum President, Nic Mueller is fond of saying, “Try 100 things. If you fail at 98 of them so what? You will make things happen and the museum will be better for it.” The staff has taken it to heart and it motivates me.

Over the past two years, an idea has been marinating in my mind. Recently, I was able to connect with two other capable people to actually engage in it. A later blog post will describe in detail what we are doing, but until it’s settled and launching, I don’t want to explain it. It looks good right now, but I bet the founders of pets.com thought so too.

One thing I have noticed though, I am going through what all start up founders go through. Even though my business is going to be a niche business, we have the exact same problems. What to name it, how to structure it, what to charge for it, how to market it. We have to run through the same legal hoops. Our banker wants the same information. We are using US Trust ($BAK) because they are sponsors of Hyde Park Angels, the angel organization I co-founded in Chicago. We have to fill out all the forms, dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.

It gives me new empathy for start up founders. Even if you are attacking a niche market, you go through the same motions a huge scalable company went through in the very beginning. We have the same excitement and anticipation. Will it work? We won’t know until we try.

I can honestly say I have been on both sides of the table now. Maybe all of us investors ought to earn some spurs by starting our own lemonade stand. I know a lot of techie people have. Independent Traders are a different breed entirely. We have a different internal mechanism that a lot of people don’t have. Most people don’t “get” us, or know how we tick. But by doing this little endeavor, I am learning a lot about the entrepreneurs that sit on the opposite side of the table from me.

They make mistakes, and so am I. It’s a part of it. We have already failed a little bit, but that’s okay. We learned, and we may have carved out a bigger niche for ourselves in the process. Only time will tell.

There are no plans in my future to quit funding or talking to start ups. Yesterday I wrote a check to Kapow Events, and met with Central Street Games this morning. Also started establishing West Loop Ventures. I am still trading a little too.

An amazing facet to me is that my two co founders were born when I was graduating college. They are closer to my daughter’s age than mine. Today we handled a problem via email, Facebook, instant messaging and finally chatting a little. We were connected through all means at all times. We claimed a little electronic real estate on Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and ultimately will make some videos for the website and YouTube. There are so many options and ways to communicate and get things done, it doesn’t make sense to sit on your hands anymore. And the only excuse for not communicating is you don’t want to, or you are in a rare area of the world where there isn’t any wireless or wifi. Chicago’s Loop is like that when it comes to wireless! Might as well have a clamshell phone there.

If you want to learn more about us, you can follow us on Twitter @seatleaser. We should be ready sometime in the next week or so. If you are in the business, I think you will be happy.

(If @FAKEGRIMLOCK is reading this, #beonfire-and free bacon for you if you follow us and meet me in Chicago, and we do have boobs here)

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