A Chat with Harry Stebbings on Twenty Minute VC

I recently had a wonderful chat with Harry Stebbings on his awesome podcast The Twenty Minute VC. There’s a very good reason it’s become the gold standard of podcasts about the VC and startup world: it’s Harry of course! He brings a healthy obsession for anything related to venture and entrepreneurs; an energy and helpfulness in every interaction; and deep domain experience gained from thousands of conversations with some of the world’s top investors and founders. I’m personally grateful to him because I’ve learned so much over the years from listening to his show.

The episode we did was very natural and conversational – it felt like two people grabbing a coffee or beer (or mojito in Harry’s case) and just chatting about what he calls “the wonderful world of venture.” We covered a wide range of topics but probably my favorite was building relationships with founders.

At Firebrand we like to say we invest in trusted relationships with exceptional founders. This is much more than a tagline for us – it’s describes how we approach every touchpoint with the entrepreneurs we invest in. We recently looked at all 25 companies we’ve invested in so far and determined how many we’d known and communicated with for at least 4 months before investing: it was 18 out of the 25. (We’d known many of those 18 for much longer than 4 months.) We don’t always have the luxury of knowing founders for months before investing – in those cases we squeeze in as much interaction as possible into the ~4 weeks it usually takes us to go through our evaluation process.

Of course trust is a two-way street so it’s super important for the founders to get to know us too. That’s where our transparency comes in handy. We’re very much “what you see is what you get” kind of people and we value authenticity and being direct. Once a solid foundation of trust is built, founders know we’re going to be the same people whether we’re hearing news that’s good, bad or ugly. We actually welcome the bad and ugly because 1) We know there will always be tough times and 2) That’s when we get to roll up our sleeves and solve problems alongside the founders, which is by far the most important part of our job. And after we’ve done that a few times they know they can keep coming back to us for help which is what we live for!

If you listen to the podcast I’d love to know your thoughts on our approach to building trust or anything else we discussed.

Lessons from Two Years of Raising and Managing Firebrand Ventures

Cap raise

It’s been exactly two years since I took the leap and started raising the first Firebrand Ventures fund on August 1, 2016. Recently my friend Elizabeth Yin, GP at Hustle Fund, wrote a great blog post called 11 Things I’ve learned from running a micro VC in the last year. It’s wonderfully transparent and debunks a few of the myths about starting your own small fund. After reading Elizabeth’s post I was inspired to take a crack at documenting some of my lessons from running Firebrand the past two years.

Like other emerging fund managers, I’ve greatly benefitted from the trend of increasing transparency in VC. Whether it’s blog posts by Brad Feld, Mark Suster, or Fred Wilson (who’s written a blog post every day for almost fifteen years!) or others offering up gems on awesome podcasts like The Twenty Minute VC, I’m grateful to all who share their learnings.

So I wanted to pay it forward in some small way and relay some of my experiences. In particular I wanted to share some details from my fundraising process because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of info about that.

I have way too many learnings for one blog post but hopefully some of these will be helpful.

1) Before You Raise: Get Lots of Feedback

Talk to as many VCs as you can. I found it especially helpful to chat with VCs who had an active role in raising their funds. Different VCs will have different advice on the same questions so compile everything and then filter it when you’re done. Make it easy for them to help you by asking specific questions. What should you get feedback on?

Start with the Overall Approach …
• What kind of fund do you want to be – i.e. pre-seed, seed, or both? Where do you see the compelling opportunities? Do you want to be a sole GP or have one of more partners? What’s your investment thesis?

… Then Drill Down
• Your investment strategy: The specific sectors, stage, geography, etc. you’ll focus on
• Your investment criteria: Key factors you’ll look for in a startup and its founders
• Your economic model: Targets for valuation range and round sizes you’ll invest in; your typical check size and equity stake; target fund size (see below)
• Portfolio Construction: Portfolio size + equity stakes + follow on allocations, etc.
• Check out other VC fund websites – most will list their approach and criteria. You can also learn a ton by listening to experienced VCs on podcasts or watching them give interviews on YouTube.

Your LP Deck and Pitch
• What is your compelling story? How will you differentiate from the many other seed funds out there? What makes you uniquely qualified to generate superior (3x+) returns? How will you help your companies succeed?

• In the beginning your pitch and deck may be awful, as I’m sure mine was, but it’ll keep improving as you iterate. For those VCs close to you, ask for feedback on it. Try boiling your main value props down to 2-3 short bullet points – those key advantages your fund brings to the table. Once I did that, the pitch resonated much better with LPs.

• Special thanks to my mentors David Cohen and Brad Feld. They gave their time and helped me think through nearly every aspect of the fund before I launched it, and continue to provide sage advice. I’ll always be grateful for that.

2) Taking the Leap: The Raise

Set Your MVFS (Minimum Viable Fund Size)
Okay I totally just made up MVFS, but one of the great pieces of advice I got early on was to figure out the smallest fund size that will make the economic model work and use that as your minimum target. If you raise more, great! But be prepared to only raise your minimum. For Firebrand that was $7M.

On 8/1/16 I started fundraising with a $7M target, a crappy deck, and zero contacts in my local high net worth community. Zero. I started with one intro to a well connected person in the community, and fortunately he became a great advocate for me and Firebrand. That didn’t make it easy but it was a start.

Multiple Closes
From the start I decided to raise the fund by doing multiple closes, which turned out to be about one close every three months. Raise in chunks, invest it out in chunks, rinse and repeat. I spent about 50% of my time fundraising and the other 50% on deal flow, diligence, helping our founders, organizing fund events, and admin. It was a crazy period but the strategy had several benefits:

Making investments early on showed we were for real
That first close was modest but enough to make our first three investments: FitBark, Sickweather and Dwolla, where we co-invested alongside USV and Foundry Group. People could see the fund was for real and actively investing.

We could get our investment cadence started
We make about 10 investments per year so it was important to get that going and stay on that schedule. Multiple closes made that possible.

LPs could track our companies’ progress
As we repeated that pattern of doing closes and making investments, potential LPs could see what kinds of companies we were investing in and how they performed in the short term. New LPs committed and several existing LPs increased their stakes over time because they liked how our companies were progressing. The longer I fundraised, the more progress our companies made, the more attractive it became for LPs. By the time we did a final close of the fund we had already invested in 13 companies.

Be Prepared for the Fundraising Rollercoaster
Some VCs love fundraising. I don’t. I do love meeting new people, and that was the most rewarding part of fundraising for me. I learned that managing my emotions was key during the fundraising rollercoaster. I had great runs where for 3-4 weeks I only heard “yes”. I also had nerve-wracking plateaus where I raised little or nothing for 4-6 weeks. This continued for the entire fundraise.

Even as my pitch improved and the fund size grew it never got faster or easier. It was still a matter of building relationships and trust, one LP at a time. I was making solid progress raising from local LPs, so after our second close I decided to stay focused on my community. Every GP has a different situation – for me, the local focus turned out to be the right call. It helped with referrals and organically created a nice civic narrative for the fund.

As much as I enjoyed getting to know amazing people I otherwise wouldn’t have met, the exhaustion started creeping in after 6 months of fundraising and two closes of the fund. I took a short vacation to recharge and then went back at it. After 6 more months I could’ve closed the fund at a decent number – I think we had about $10M in commitments at the one year mark. But it was early September and I believed there was more local demand and folks just needed to resurface after the summer. I did another mental reset and decided to extend the raise for another six months. I’m glad I did!

Our initial $7M target grew to almost $18M when I closed the fund last March after 18 months of fundraising. Yep I was a bit worn out – I rarely get sick and I got a cold for a month after the final close. Overall I felt good about raising $17.7M for the first fund, especially since 99.5% was from local LPs. Fundraising was finally done. Right?

3) Fundraising is Never Really Done

My good friend Ari Newman wrote a great blog post a couple years ago called A.B.F. – Always Be Fundraising. It was meant for founders but it certainly applies to GPs too. I recall after about 7 months of fundraising I had reached our initial target of $7M so I asked one of my mentors, “Should I stop?” I really just wanted him to say yes because I was tired of raising and wanted to focus all my time on new investments and helping our companies. He said something to the effect of “Why stop? You’ll always be fundraising anyway, might as well keep going.” I knew he was right and that advice served Firebrand very well.

Fundraising is all about building relationships and that shouldn’t stop just because your raise is finished. I’ve continued to keep the dialogue going with those who expressed interest but didn’t invest. Trust is the most important element in the investor-founder relationship and that is earned over time and multiple touchpoints. Always be fundraising.

4) The Team is Everything

Since I don’t have any partners for Fund I, it was especially important to surround myself with several experienced advisors. Our advisors provide invaluable feedback on every company we’re seriously considering, as well as input on plenty of other questions big and small.

After I closed the fund I hired a fund Associate, Maranda Manning. She and I had worked together at Techstars so I already knew she was terrific. She hit the ground running and has been immensely helpful for deal flow management, diligence, and many other areas.
Being a sole GP can be awesome; it can also be lonely and stressful. Managing a small fund isn’t hugely profitable or glamorous and can feel like a total grind sometimes. Fundraising for 18 months in the Midwest really tested me but when I look back I’m glad it was hard. Call me old fashioned but I believe raising millions of dollars shouldn’t be easy. During the one evening I celebrated the final close, it felt like a great accomplishment. Then it was back to work!

It’s early days for Firebrand. Like any VC, I won’t know how I’m really doing for another 5-10 years. There will be many more years of learnings, wins and losses, ups and downs. It’s simultaneously the most challenging and rewarding job I’ve had. I’m incredibly grateful for my mentors and advisors as well as the many other VCs out there who continue to share their lessons. Above all, I just love working with amazing founders – that’s what gets my adrenaline flowing. After two years, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else!

Why I Don’t Say “Pass” to Founders

I make a point to avoid using the word “pass” when telling founders their startup isn’t a fit for Firebrand. Maybe it’s because I was a founder – I can’t help but feel empathy for them. It’s a key part of our approach. And that word just feels cold and impersonal to me. I don’t even like using it when talking with other investors.

I meet with so many entrepreneurs who pour their blood, sweat and tears into their startup. Though many loathe fundraising they put in the work and try to prepare for rejection while hoping for a Yes. These days there are more investors than ever but the balance of power is still firmly in the hands of VCs. This means for every 100 startups that pitch an investor, they may invest in one. That’s a lot of of No’s.

I totally get that rejection is a big part of fundraising and a thick skin makes it easier, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for founders to hear “no” over and over again. Especially first-time founders. From some investor responses it can be hard to distinguish “not a fit for us” from “your startup sucks and therefore so do you!”

A few years ago a founder I know showed me a response from a VC he had pitched via email. The founder had gone through all the right steps – researched the investor to ensure he invested in his space and stage, got a warm intro, emailed a concise description of what they did and why he thought it was a fit, and asked if he’d like to meet for coffee or chat on the phone.  The investor’s email reply had one word: Pass.

It’s an extreme example but that stuck in my head and when I started Firebrand I swore I’d never be that kind of VC. I never forget these are human beings I’m dealing with, not deal flow metrics for my LPs. Don’t get me wrong: I’m very clear when we choose not to invest in a startup and strive to give the answer as quickly as possible. And I always provide the reasons when it’s not a fit.

I’m sure plenty of founders and VCs don’t have a problem with the word “pass”. And I certainly don’t judge other investors for using it. My personal experience with it just created a negative association. Founders are the whole reason I have a job and this business process of fundraising happens to be a very personal one. I tell lots of founders their startup isn’t a fit for us, and why, but I don’t use the word “pass”.

I’d love to hear from the founders out there: How does it hit you when an investor says they’re going to “pass” on your startup?



The Arrogance Fallacy

Words matter. Which is why I mentally cringe when some VCs say they want their founders to be arrogant. Let’s look at two definitions of arrogant:

Merriam-Webster: exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner; showing an offensive attitude of superiority.

Dictionary.com: making claims or pretensions to superior importance or rights; a sense of superiority, self-importance, or entitlement.

Exaggerating. Overbearing. Offensive. Self-important. Entitled. Some VCs probably saw a few of these founders generate huge returns and concluded that’s the CEO blueprint for success. 

Except it’s not.

Arrogance can look like strength and confidence but it’s typically the opposite: a psychological defense mechanism that projects a facade of superiority to hide some serious insecurities. Loud, arrogant people are often the most insecure and fearful people in the room. They are terrified others will think they’re dumb and incompetent. So they overcompensate. The more fame and fortune they attract, the more fearful they become, the more superior and entitled they act. Often with disastrous results. 

We’ve all seen it: one well-funded, arrogant CEO after another, doing offensive and illegal things, falling from grace and sometimes taking their companies with them. 

As a group, VCs themselves aren’t exactly poster children for humility. Worse, arrogance has no doubt played a role in the disgusting culture of sexism and harassment in Silicon Valley. The initial denials and subsequent pseudo-apologies of some offenders were almost too arrogant to believe. 

Arrogance is also related to the shameful lack of diversity among founders that get funded. VCs need to look beyond the arrogant white dudes to fund more women and people of color who don’t fit their preconceived founder image. This is starting to change but there’s much work to be done, by all of us.

Some of the smartest, most confident and successful people I know are actually humble. But don’t confuse humble with meek. They’re outspoken at the right times, stubborn even. But they’re not the loudest – they listen more than talk. They realize there’s a ton they don’t know and they’re honest about it. They operate from a place of relentless learning. They’re smart enough to know it’s not about proving they’re the smartest in the room. 

We shouldn’t be encouraging arrogance in anyone, especially our future business leaders. Let’s be vocal about supporting entrepreneurs who are coachable. Honest. Audacious. Respectful. Persistent. Emotionally intelligent. 

Because those are the qualities of great leaders and human beings. And because words matter. 

Just Build It!

I recently got a question from an aspiring entrepreneur trying to figure out the right steps for starting his tech company. He seemed very deliberate about taking the correct approach. He’d been thinking about his idea for two years, staying updated on his market and getting feedback from various sources including two top accelerators.

He said he was moving towards building their MVP but first wanted to know what’s most important to investors about a go-to-market strategy. For example, should he target a niche market first or go after a larger market right away?

Here’s my response to him, with some minor changes from my original text:

  • Don’t build your business for investors
  • Build your business to enable maximum growth in the next 1, 5, 10 years
  • You said you’ve had the idea for two years and watched the market evolve. Markets will continue to evolve. Have a thesis for what direction your market will go but START NOW. If you really want to build a startup you need to just start BUILDING. Perform small experiments along the way, make mistakes, learn from them, and adjust accordingly.
  • I’m not necessarily telling you to quit your job and just go for it with no funding or market proof. Build it in your spare time if you need to. Plenty of successful companies start that way.
  • Starting out in a niche market is fine as long as you have a plan to dominate that niche and then expand into larger markets or additional segments
  • You’ve already gotten feedback from two legit orgs I know – take what feedback makes sense and make it part of your initial strategy
  • A startup isn’t a linear line from beginning to success. It’s a messed up, twisty, jumbled path that’s filled with mostly frustrating, humbling experiences interspersed with a win or two if you’re both good and lucky.
  • Make sure you’re solving a massive pain point. Not a mild headache, a huge migraine. Get some feedback from potential customers to validate this. If the feedback doesn’t validate it, maybe you need to change your idea.
  • Strive to be 10x better than any other solution to the migraine you’re solving
  • Feedback is critical but investors shouldn’t determine your go to market strategy. Think about investors when you’re putting your investor materials together (pitch deck and exec summary). Have a super compelling story, exceptional team, and hopefully some early revenue traction or at least an awesome MVP. These days it can be hard to raise capital for ideas unless you have a stellar track record.

The main point is: Just Build It! Yes you need to research your market, competition, and customers. Do it quickly. And once that feedback validates your thesis, build it! Then get feedback on what you’ve built, iterate and keep building. That’s what entrepreneurs do!

The Right Kind of Coachable

You often hear about the importance of founders being “coachable”, but what does that mean? Does it mean they should follow advice from anyone who seems more knowledgable? Bryce Roberts blogged about being coachable not malleable. A CEO needs to view feedback like any data that’s relevant to their startup: it should be quickly analyzed, filtered, and acted upon only if warranted. CEOs please always remember: it’s your business. If you try to follow everyone’s advice, your business won’t exist very long. At the same time, you should be open to quality advice. So what’s the right kind of “coachable”?

1) First: Be Open to Direct Feedback

Sounds easy, right? Turns out it can be difficult to hear someone call your baby ugly. The trick is to listen, ask relevant follow up questions, and avoid debating. And listen some more. If you’ve met with 25 potential mentors and dismissed every piece of feedback, you probably weren’t open to it in the first place. Keep an open mind and don’t take it personally.

2) Filter the Feedback

Expect conflicting advice from different mentors. At Techstars we call this “mentor whiplash”. You shouldn’t try to follow all of the advice – that would be a mess – but nor should you dismiss it all. Filter it, and hopefully what’s left is actionable advice that sets your startup on the right path. Sometimes you’ll have data and objective advisors to guide you; other times you’ll have to trust your gut. Analyze it, take control and set a definitive direction.

3) Nurture a Continuous Feedback Loop

Great mentors are magic, and once you engage them the best thing to do is keep them engaged. The mentor-mentee relationship is like any other: it needs to be nurtured and it’s up to the mentee to do that. Meet regularly and continue to ask for feedback. I love it when I talk to CEOs who went through Techstars five years ago and still meet with their lead mentors every month. Again, it doesn’t mean you should act on every bit of advice – they’re all data points – just listen and be judicious.

Being coachable isn’t enough – it’s important to be the right kind of coachable. You can be strong and confident while soliciting advice, it just takes practice. Your startup will thank you.

Those 3 Little Words I Love to Hear: “I don’t know.”

Hey startup founders, let me save you the suspense: you don’t know everything. You never will. And no reasonable person expects you to. Even when you’re talking to investors, customers, or partners. 

Yes you should be as knowledgable about your business as humanly possible. You should research the hell out of every scrap of study, article, blog post, speech, interview and tweetstorm relating to your technology, market and competition. But invariably there will be questions you don’t know the answers to. What should you say if someone asks you?

“I don’t know.” That’s what you should say. Be honest. It’s okay. 

Of course, it’s always good to follow it up with a qualifier. If it’s a question about a fact, it’s usually good to say something like “… but I’m going to find out and I’ll let you know as soon as I do.” (Note the “I” in the qualifier vs. delegating it to someone else.) If it’s a question about one of the million future scenarios that may or may not occur in your market, then maybe “… but thanks for bringing that up. I hadn’t considered that but will give it some thought and get back to you.” Then do that. 

Now you’re thinking: “I can’t say that! It’ll make me sound weak, stupid, like I’m a bad founder!”

No it won’t. It’ll make you sound honest and interested in figuring out the answer. 

If instead of saying “I don’t know” you try to wing it with an answer on the spot, how do you think you’ll sound? Probably somewhere between bad and barely mediocre. 

In this age of false-confident, self-promoting “experts”, it’s the honest, humbly confident, and curious that stand out as quality leaders. Investors, customers, and partners want to have faith in you. Be as informed as you possibly can all the time – don’t ever cut corners on that. But admitting you don’t know something shows integrity and also real confidence. Saying you’re interested in figuring it out shows curiosity. Those are a hell of a lot better than bluster and bullshit. 

(For more on the relationship between confidence and competence, see an awesome Brad Feld post here.)

I’d much rather invest in a founder that is confident enough to say “I don’t know” once in a while. Because admitting you don’t know everything really shows you know something. 

Unlock the Magic of Mentors

Teamwork and Leadership with education symbol represented by two human heads shaped with gears with red and gold brain idea made of  cogs representing the concept of intellectual communication through technology exchange.

Startups are hard. Challenges and obstacles are everywhere and founders need all the help they can get.

But what if there were people that wanted to help? People with hard-earned experience who wanted you to learn from their mistakes. Because they love helping startups, no strings attached. Sounds amazing, right?

That’s the magic of mentors! And every founder should have them. At Techstars, our programs are 100% mentor-driven. Each program has 80-100 mentors and we push our companies to identify several program mentors who can spend at least an hour per week with them. I love talking to Techstars alumni who still meet regularly with their program mentors years after graduating from Techstars.

So how can you find amazing mentors and what should you look for?

First: Know What You Need Help With

Make a list of the top areas you need help with. For example: fundraising, marketing, product development, or distribution. Then seek out experts in those areas. Be targeted rather than seeking general business advice.

What To Look For in a Mentor

Great mentors advise startups just because they love to help. They don’t start the conversation by asking how much equity they’ll get. Techstars has this really cool list called the Mentor Manifesto. It’s a set of values and characteristics we want our program mentors to have. Here are a few:

  • Expect nothing in return (you’ll be delighted with what you do get back)
  • Be responsive
  • Clearly separate opinion from fact
  • Guide, don’t control
  • Provide specific actionable advice, don’t be vague
  • Be challenging/robust but never destructive

Where To Find Amazing Mentors

Be proactive and put yourself out there! Start with your network. Get warm intros whenever possible. One method is to connect with fellow entrepreneurs who are at least 2-3 years ahead of you. Some experienced investors can be great mentors, separate from any investing. Also, don’t be shy about reaching out cold to potential mentors if you have some things in common – industry, hobbies, even where you went to college. Anything that can be a foundation for a potential relationship.

Where should they be located?

Technically they can be anywhere and Skype with you, but I’m a big advocate of having local mentors whenever possible. There’s just no substitute for grabbing a coffee or beer every week or two.

How to initially engage mentors 

It’s easier than you think. Simply reach out and say you’re looking for feedback on “x” (something in their wheelhouse) and ask them to grab a coffee or beer. Don’t ask them to be a mentor right away. Meet with them a few times. If after that you have a great connection and think they’d be an amazing mentor for you, ask if they’d be open to meeting on a regular basis.

Don’t pursue someone just because they’re a big name. Find someone who can give their time and provide you with relevant, specific advice. Mentors are for you and your business, not for PR purposes.

How to build the relationship 

Keep meeting and sending updates! It’s up to you to keep the relationship going. Ideally, set a recurring time to meet. Continue to have specific asks. Mentors are usually very busy people – don’t let it go cold!

How many mentors do you need?

I get this question a lot. At Techstars we recommend 2-3 “lead” mentors as the sweet spot. However many it is, you need enough time to meet with them every 1-2 weeks. Each should bring something different to the table. Don’t collect mentors; be choosy and strategic.

How it might evolve

Over time, a mentor may continue on as your mentor; you could add them as a formal advisor; they may invest in your company; and sometimes the relationship becomes reciprocal.

Great mentors are invaluable to founders and can make the startup journey a lot less painful. They can be part business advisor, sounding board, and counselor. The best ones last a lifetime. Once you unlock the magic of mentors you’ll wonder how you ever got by without them!

The Most Valuable Startup Resource


As an entrepreneur, what’s your most valuable resource?

Your colleagues? Your network? Ideas? Money? Time?

All crucial, but this one tops the list:

Your pool of mental energy. 

Just like the physical energy required to run a marathon, you need a big ol’ pool of mental energy for the psychological demands of building a business. It’s common sense but often de-prioritized amidst the startup whirlwind. It’s a prerequisite. It’s what makes everything possible.

When your pool is full you can take on the world. When it’s drained maybe you can go through the motions but your company needs way more than that. And if it’s drained too much of the time, there’s the ever-present risk of depression and complete burnout.

Things that can fill your pool: positivity, a healthy lifestyle, helping others, amazing friends and coworkers, getting awesome results by focusing on key tasks.

Things that drain your pool: negative thoughts like resenting your competition, taking poor care of yourself, engaging in flame wars, team drama. Really anything that detracts from the laser focus on your mission.

Be aware of your pool and guard it closely. Don’t let yourself or others drain it. If you treat it like the precious resource it is, amazing things can happen!

How Do Great CEOs Handle Setbacks?

One of my favorite quotes is “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” (It’s a paraphrase of a Charles Swindoll quote.)

Think about that. Feels empowering, right?

I know and work with a quite a few CEOs. It always strikes me how the great ones react to difficult situations. I’m talking about really stressful stuff like repeated rejection from investors, missing payroll, cofounders leaving, or major pivots.

I’ve blogged before about founders being mentally prepared for anything because shit will happen, guaranteed. But how do great CEOs react when things actually go south? Here’s what I’ve learned from them:


– Analyze it. What just happened? What caused it to go bad? How can it go better next time? Don’t be a slave to your emotions. Make a list. This is your business, so be businesslike about it. Only then can you …

– Learn from it. Avoid the vicious cycle of the same issues happening over and over. And use that knowledge to salvage the situation/relationship if at all possible.

– Be accountable. What could you personally have done to get the results you wanted? Sometimes there’s not much else you can do, but you’d be surprised how often the answer is “Yeah, I guess I could’ve done ‘x’.” CEOs who aren’t accountable will fail. It’s that simple.

– Be honest and fair. Everyone gets their ass kicked. Keep your integrity no matter what.

– Stay in tune with your passion! Never forget why you started your business and why you’re on a mission. If you’re not passionate about it nobody else will be.


– Blame others. Maybe this happens because people are scared of being wrong and looking like a screwup. Good news: Everyone is wrong and screws up on a regular basis ‘cause we’re all human! Give yourself a break and accept that you’ll make plenty of mistakes.

– Get discouraged. Crappy stuff will happen. Getting discouraged is contagious and if you make a habit of it your team’s morale will sink.

– Get angry. Anger is sometimes a defense mechanism because it’s easier to feel angry than disappointed in yourself. But it’s counterproductive to your mission and robs you of creative, positive energy. If you feel your blood boiling take a break, a walk, meditate, anything to cool down and regain your perspective.

– Panic. I’ve seen CEOs completely change their strategy after a lost deal or one bad meeting with someone they respect. Stay confident in your mission! If you stay cool and focused, so will your team.

– Burn bridges. Get used to rejection – it’s part of startup life. Even if someone says no, maintain the relationship and don’t write anyone off. You’ll gain respect as a leader by being professional when you don’t get what you want. Also it can be great for your business: sometimes today’s “no” becomes tomorrow’s “yes”.

Startups are freakin’ hard and as CEO you’ll be challenged more than you thought possible. But you control much more than you think. 90% of life is how you react. Your move.