Guest Blogger, Olivia Goldstein, Co-founder, RepHike
“This time last year, I received the best news that every founder wants to hear. We were getting funded. I’ll never forget driving home from Rochester after we found out. I remember thinking to myself: This is it. The hardest part is over. LOL. One year later (and many gray hairs later), here’s a collection of my best takeaways in photo form. 13 lessons in 1 year.” – Olivia Goldstein
May 2017: Put yourself out there
This photo was for our first-baby-PR push. In the early days, it was hard for me to put myself out there and ask others for help or advice. For me it was a mix of being too shy, not wanting to draw attention to myself, and not wanting to inconvenience or annoy others by asking for help.
We had applied to StartFast’s accelerator. It was the perfect fit for us. We’re a Western New York based company (the program is in Syracuse), we could continue to build out our regional network, and they had an impressive group of mentors relevant to our industry.
I saw that I had a mutual connection on Linkedin with StartFast’s co-founder. My mutual connection is a big mover-and-shaker in Buffalo’s startup scene, so I reached out and asked him if he could introduce me to StartFast’s co-founder. He enthusiastically introduced me, shared some kind words, and referred me for the program. We then were able to start building a relationship with the StartFast team, ultimately leading to our acceptance into the program.
I can confidently say that had I not put myself out there and asked for help, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
June 2017: Don’t play by the rules
After my long FB rant last June (ICYMI), I realized do first and ask questions (or apologize) later.
The TL;DR version is basically I was pitching for a $5K grant (winner chosen by audience), I could have cheated but decided against it, another company did & won.
I suppose its the same mentality FB (“move fast & break things”) took in their early days, or even Uber.
And coming full circle, as my friend Leah predicted, there’s now no web footprint of them. $5K wasted.
July 2017: Marketing is everything
Early on, we didn’t really have a big marketing budget. All we could really afford was some branded t-shirts. But this small spend on t-shirts gave us exactly what we needed at the time: users. We were able to build up our user database from 0 to over 3K in less than 2 weeks, just from referrals for t-shirts.
Now most of our budget goes toward marketing. Three separate times this week I heard from leads saying “y’all are killing it with the Linkedin ads”
August 2017: Talk with other entrepreneurs
I feel like this is really underrated. Some of the best conversations and advice we’ve received has come from other entrepreneurs.
I attribute a large part of our success to the fact that we went through an accelerator program. I don’t believe we would be where we are had we not participated in a structured program with other companies.
Through the program (and even to this day), we find ourselves facing a lot of little problems that are too nitty-gritty to get investors involved in. That’s where conversations with other entrepreneurs who have been there, or are going through similar situations, are really helpful. They know the pains & sacrifices of starting up.
September 2017: F*ck the haters
Crass, I know. Seriously though, since starting up the amount of times I’ve been doubted or judged is unimaginable. I’ve had friends send me job listings & ask me when I’m going to get a job, as if all of this is some teenage phase I’m going through that I just need to get out of my system. Acquaintances tell me that it “won’t work.” And more juicy stories I can’t publicly share.
More than having thick skin or being able to brush off such comments, I learned to not rely on others for validation.
October 2017: Experiment
2017 was the year of experiments for us. We experimented in our product, how we sold it, building traction quickly, etc.
At the time of this photo, RepHike was still a campus rep software. We decided to go on a short speaking-circuit-series at universities to see if we could build up users quickly this way. It didn’t really work for us, but hey it was fun and a good opportunity to do some public speaking.
We still do a lot of experimenting. For example, we used to spend an enormous amount of time finding and validating prospect’s email addresses. We used to manually ‘guess’ the email via Rapportive (a browser extension). That was taking too long, so we started plugging them into Hunter.io to at least get the email format. Still labor intensive. So then we created a script to run on our prospect list to find email addresses and check deliverability, so that we have a clean list. But we wouldn’t have reached this point had we not kept experimenting.
November 2017: You don’t know until you ask
By November, we knew we had to find a place to work. I mean, we couldn’t work from my mom’s living room forever. We had heard about this building that was right near the airport, and partially an airplane hangar. It sounded edgy and affordable, so we decided to check it out. The building itself was nothing remarkable, but the room was massive and had these large windows overlooking the runway.
Peep this awesome view.
We loved it. But it was way too big for us. After a lot of going around, I told the building manager how much we liked it but we couldn’t afford it and didn’t need such a large space. I knew there was no possibility of us renting out the space, so I took a gamble and asked him if it was possible to rent a portion of the room.
Lo and behold, he agreed and leased out 1/3 of the room to us.
December 2017: Preparing for a lot of nights in
This is exactly how most of my weekend nights are spent: working curled up in a blanket with my laptop heating up my legs, and of course sitting with my biggest cheerleaders by my side. Going into it, I half expected this. I came from freelancing and prior to that working at a startup — I knew I would lose some nights and weekends.
What I didn’t expect is how much I would have to give up. Before if I wanted to do something, or take a trip, I was able to save money and plan for it. But now, I struggle to do that. So I end up missing events like my best friend’s bachelorette party.
Obviously I miss a lot more personal freedom, but I was never one to take the easy route. Even when I was working full time in DC, I picked up a job on the weekends because I love staying busy.
So maybe I was built for this kind of life. And anyway, it’s all worth it during moments like this where I reflect on my personal and my company’s growth.
January 2018: Celebrate accomplishments
By January, we had wrapped up our seed round of investment of $195K. We worked hard for this, and were eager to push RepHike to the next level. We didn’t have enough time to vet and hire full-time employees, so we decided to bring on a few interns.
Even though I had some management experience, I felt (and still do feel) I have a lot of room for growth. When I was an employee, it always irritated me when I had managers that didn’t acknowledge — let alone celebrate — my accomplishments. What happened over time was that I would become jaded by my work, because if my manager didn’t care, why should I? And as a result, I’d resign in order to find the next challenge.
Granted personally I’m now working on self-validation for my victories & failures, I understand that in order to retain good employees there needs to be a consistent feedback and praise channel.
So we spend time celebrating the small stuff. When one of our interns created an ad that performed well and drove higher warm leads, we gave her a gift card.
Maybe it’s not for every company. But it’s important to me to become a transparent manager that rewards high performing employees so that I can retain top talent.
February 2018: K.I.S.S.
By far one of the most important lessons I’ve learned: keep it simple, stupid (KISS). Up until February (at which point we began rebranding — hence the goofy team photo), RepHike was a sort of pseudo-conglomerate. We were trying to solve everyone’s problems in the campus marketing space. Part online-marketing, part recruitment, part event sampling. Because of this, it was really difficult to portray our value without a lot of explanation.
We realized we needed to focus on one thing, and doing that one thing damn well. As the saying goes, it needed to pass the “grandparents test.”
March 2018: Hiring sucks
Just to preface this, we haven’t actually hired a full-time employee yet. We did (and still are doing) a lot of experimenting in hiring and the recruiting process. We haven’t been able to find the right candidate since our budget for the position is low and our expectations are high.
With that said…
We, as the co-founders of RepHike, obviously have passion for the company and more importantly believe in it. My passion and belief is what keeps me working through nights and weekends, hungry to learn and try new techniques to push RepHike forward.
As co-founders, we don’t just carry out our daily tasks, we do them to the best of our ability all the while juggling 100 other responsibilities, and putting out fires, chasing leads, and remembering to eat and exercise.
Now enter potential staff.
They’re looking for (generally speaking):
- Work less hours
- Friendly team culture
- Mentally stimulating work (but nothing too complex)
- Good location (proximity to their home, friends, bars, eateries, etc).
WAY down the bottom of that priority list is the actual desire to see the start-up succeed. They generally don’t care — they can always jump to another job within weeks.
So finding that needle in a haystack of an employee that actually cares about the company’s success has been, to say the least, a challenge.
April 2018: Network
This isn’t really anything I didn’t know before. Ever since grad school, I’ve placed immense value on the power of networking. Networking helped me get my first job, raise funding, & close sales.
I never really considered it “work,” as I’ve always naturally enjoyed catching up with colleagues, meeting new people, and learning about others professional experiences.
But now, as I spend most of my days & nights slouched in front of my laptop, it’s become difficult to make time for it.
Which leads me to my final lesson…
May 2018: Balancing priorities
This month for me has been about balancing priorities. Our sales are beginning to really ramp up, so I’m starting to realize I can’t continue to carry out the same tasks and work that I used to be able to.
I’m working toward splitting my time better, creating routines, and overall “working smarter.” [Not to mention, after a year of chaos and all the neglecting of good eating habits and exercise routines, spending more time on self-care.]
We wouldn’t have accomplished anything without the incredible support of our mentors & investors and friends & family. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to build a good support network.
& if you’re an entrepreneur building your own company, feel free to reach out — my door is always open.
And just for fun since most of our time is spent working with our cats, here’s a montage of just that.