This was my first StartpGrind, and it was really good . I like the “fireside chat” format of it makes a change to just having one person telling their story, and makes it easier for the audience to participate in the conversation. Thanks to Phin and Lisa for putting on this great event – and congratulations on the first birthday of StartupGrind (comeplete with cake as the photo shows).
The speaker was Calum Smeaton, and he made some really useful comment – his story is remarkable and I won’t attempt to recount it here – but I will share his bio for context:
Calum Smeaton is a 20 year veteran of founding innovative start-ups in the software technology and e-commerce space. Most recently he started TVSquared to optimize the performance of TV advertising campaigns. Calum combines deep industry experience with a comprehensive understanding of the specific challenges facing today’s businesses, particularly in terms of big data analytics and e-commerce. Able to build outstanding global teams, Calum thrives on taking a company from idea to revenue and regularly speaks, attends industry events, writes blogs and speaks to the press about making a company successful and empowering his clients to make data driven decisions. Previously Calum was Co-Founder and CTO of Orbital Software – a leading knowledge management company. – where he was actively involved in the funding and management of the company and moved to Palo Alto, CA to relocate the headquarters there. In 2000 the company was listed on the London Stock Exchange and merged with Sopheon PLC in 2001. From 2006-2011 Calum was the CEO of Sumerian; a specialist big data analytics company delivering analytics services into global Retail and Investment Bank clients. He then went on to be COO of Verdande – another predictive analytics company for Wall Street prior to founding TVSquared in 2012.
Founders should Sell
I have long believed that founders make the best evangelical sales people for their companies, not least because they understand the product and are completely passionate about it. Calum comments on the other side of the coin: “I always try to sell the first 10-15 myself so when I hire sales guys they can’t complain about the product”. Making the transition to hired sales staff is always hard, and this is a good reason not to do it too early.
I think of startup teams as a jigsaw puzzle of skills and strengths. All the pieces need to be there, and to fit together. When asked about solo founders vs. teams, Calum commented “The best thing has always been for me to find a team that complements my skills”. “No-one can do everything”.
Another nice thing about the StartupGrind format is asking the guest for three final thoughts to pass on to the audience. Calum’s are worth repeating:
- Be persistent
Quoting Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going”
Quoting Mark Andresson “The best thing about startups is you only feel two emotions – elation and fear – both amplified by lack of sleep”.
- Build the best team you can
You need to be self-aware enough to know your own weaknesses
Build a “board of mentors” for support
- Get the best legal advice you can afford