Following Up

I'm always surprised when people ask me if they should send a follow up email to a potential client, investor or anybody they're trying to get in contact with. Following up with people is critical in business, especially when you're building a startup that most people haven't heard of yet. How do I follow up? Why follow up? Here are some basics on how and why to follow up.

The first follow up email should usually occur 5-7 days after the initial reach out. There is no golden rule here but most people will respond to an email within a week. You want to give them the opportunity to respond while still remaining persistent. People are busy and you shouldn't feel like you've been rejected because you haven't heard back in a week. I've found that following up after a week often yields a quick response that gets you a call or meeting. Other times the person will respond apologizing and explaining that they're currently super busy. No problem- when this happens it's your job to either get something on the calendar for the future or set a reminder for yourself to follow up again in 6 weeks once things settle down for that person.

When to send the second follow up email is more debatable. Some will swear that you should send it a week later. Others will say, "Wait, you mean you send more than one follow up?" Yes. Of course. Part of following up is that you can't ever assume rejection. I like to wait a couple more weeks before sending a second follow up. It's an easy way to show that you're serious about getting in touch with the person but not overeager. I've had a ton of success getting meetings through second follow ups. You really can't quit until you get a response.

What do I write in a follow up email? My advice is keep it short and sweet. The most important thing is to reply to your previous email as a reminder of what your initial ask was about. Something like, "Following up to see if you can chat later this week," is a basic follow up that works well. You may want to add another line or two but the follow up is really just a reminder. In general, the shorter the email the better it is.

Why follow up? Persistence wins and most people feel guilty about following up. They think that they're too annoying. They fear rejection and worry about being rude. Well if you have any experience building a startup or in sales you already know that rejection is part of the game. There is nothing wrong with following up. All successful entrepreneurs and salespeople follow up often. Very often. People are really busy. People get way too many emails. I know one investor that often deletes his entire inbox. That investor understands that if something is important they'll get a follow up about it. So if you're fundraising, trying to get a job at a cool startup or just in sales don't be afraid to send a follow up. You'll be rewarded for your persistence over time.

Meetups, Twitter & Coffee

Transitioning to a different "scene" presents various obstacles and challenges. The deeper into a scene you get, the more invested you become in people and the harder it is to transition out. A couple of years into my first job I knew I wanted to make a switch. Since than I've put a ton of effort into meeting new people with similar interests and over time it has started to pay off. Moving out to San Francisco from NYC is a natural next step in this process. I only have a few friends out on the west coast and believe it's important to understand the culture of different cities. There are tons of different ways to meet people but I've found the most success developing relationships through three channels: Meetups, Twitter and Coffee.

Meetups are an easy way to find people that share similar interests. Yes, I have been to some terrible meetups, but, like most things it's a trial and error process. Stay patient and attend events that are relevant to the community you're interested in- good things will happen. I'm excited about checking out some new meetups here in San Francisco and organizing some events. Putting together a small happy hour or weekend brunch is a great way to bring relevant people together. As Erik said to me on Saturday: "Brunches are the Future".

I've lost count of how many people I've met through Twitter since I went from having a private profile to 8k tweets. Like meetups, there have been some bad encounters but again if you're patient you'll get access to some really smart people. Twitter is a great place to find opportunities to help people, strengthen existing relationships and when appropriate meet people in person. People engage in conversations and are responsive. If you build rapport with somebody through twitter don't be afraid to meet them in person. It definitely accelerates things and helps develop relationships.

When you do meet people in person coffee works well and has been critical to my transition into the startup world. Meeting for drinks or lunch is cool but I usually prefer coffee early in the morning or late afternoon. It keeps things professional and not everybody wants to spend money on lunch or drinks. Back in New York I was lucky to be right around the corner from an amazing coffee ship called Why Not where I chatted with people regularly. Having a few spots in your regular rotation gives you some more flexibility.

After just 2 weeks in San Francisco I've already met hundreds of people here. Fortunately, Revivn is part of 500 Startups Batch 10 which has increased our exposure to the startup community in a new city. People are always swinging by the office and there are so many events going on that I haven't even been to much outside of the office yet. Now that I'm settled in I look forward to finding my coffee shop out here and continuing my transition into the startup world. Have already heard that Sightglass is pretty good...

Am I Allowed to Blog as a Founder?

Keith Rabois often says that great founders don't blog and I'm starting to understand why. This year I planned on blogging regularly and so far I've failed. Not sure if I'll ever get back on track but Revivn's recent move to San Francisco as part of Batch 10 at 500 Startups is something I want to write about. There are different ways that founders deal with startup stress and I definitely think blogging can help a bunch.

So the last 6 months have certainly been a roller coaster for Anthony and I as we launched our new impact repurposing program in New York. The early success of our program has already allowed us to provide technology to people like Onyait in Uganda and organizations like Tech Kids Unlimited in New York City. These programs allow enterprises to see the value in repurposing hardware that is unused by corporations. It's how we're using technology to enable change in a positive way. 

Lots of people have asked why we chose to participate in Batch 10 of 500 Startups and there are too many reasons to list. After just one week in the program I know for sure that being engaged around a diverse group of startups from around the world will be beneficial to Revivn. Diversity is something that we truly value as a company and our batch is as diverse as they come. During one of our first batch meetings Parker Thompson showed us a map of where the different startups in the batch came from. The numbers were something like 3 from NYC, 3 from LA, 4 from the Bay Area, 7 from 'merica, 3 from Canada, 3 from Europe, 2 from the Middle East and 4 from Asia. We even have YogaTrail in our batch, a startup I recognized through reading this post a few months ago about their experience interviewing with YC. This kind of diversity will be extremely beneficial to Revivn as we explore different ways we can use technology to bridge the opportunity gap that's widening in America and around the world. 

We're living in a day and age where the economy is shifting from an industrial age to an information age. People everywhere are becoming interested in investing capital in early-stage ventures. It's very encouraging to see that Dave McClure is not only finding great startups but also taking the initiative to educate people about investing. If you're looking to learn more about the current environment Semil Shah recently wrote a good post about Dave's second annual "Pre-Money Conference". 500 Startups has an incredible network of founders, entrepreneurs and investors that will continue to compound over the next decade. I'm a big believer in recycled capital and think that investors obsessed with entrepreneurs, not just ideas, produce the greatest returns. This program will provide Anthony and I with an opportunity to accelerate our exposure to the San Francisco ecosystem and others that share our beliefs.

Are you currently in San Francisco and interested in social enterprise, Revivn, 500 Startups or New York City? Send me a short note- would love to chat!



Startup Emotions

During his famous speech back in 1993 Jim Valvano said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” I realize that it’s not for everybody, but if you’re looking to live a full day, every day than you would love working at a startup. You might even get lucky and be part of a team that builds something special.

It seems like a million years ago now but I'll never forget the lack of emotion at my first job. I would sit at my desk performing operational tasks over and over again. It really wasn’t always that way. During the first couple of years I was generally engaged, interested and happy at work. However, after some time those feelings began to disappear. I realized that I craved an exciting environment full of ups and downs. I was too young and had too much fire in my belly for a stable corporate lifestyle.

During the first few months working on RevivnAnthony and I often had little control over our emotions. This is normal for first time founders- things can get extremely exciting or very depressing rather quickly. I remember when we first got our initial product to market. Our expectations were extremely high and unrealistic. When we realized the first version of our product sucked, we were depressed for two weeks. It was hard to get up in the morning and keep working. After all our hard work realizing that we needed to start over was a tough pill to swallow. As Paul Graham writes in his essay: What Startups are Really Like, the ups and downs are often more extreme than founders are prepared for.

After those first few failures we began to bounce back quickly. At this point we're prepared for the mood to change every hour. During any given day we may have a bad meeting at 8am, get great news at lunch and then get back to work in the afternoon only to have to deal with a legal issue until 1 in the morning. As a founder you try (and should) learn something from each event. However, you'll soon realize that the random events that occur are just part of being on a startup rollercoaster. Don’t waste time analyzing why things happen. The worst thing you can do is blame yourself for an event that was simply a result of randomness.

Startup emotions are difficult to control and can lead to burn out.  It’s like game day is everyday. Every morning you wake up having no idea what’s going to happen. The highs and lows are dangerous. Things can fall apart quickly. Remember that it’s your job to pay attention and understand your emotions. Staying in control of them and learning from rejection is critical for success.

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A New Community

Breaking into a new community is extremely difficult. I knew leaving my job to work full time on Revivn would be tough, but I honestly didn't realize how long it would take to really "break in". I think almost every single person I knew prior to starting Revivn was either a lawyer or working in finance, not startups. After reading about some other people who've made different transitions during their careers I realized it was just going to take time. Most people give up after a few months but networking takes years and never really ends.

Everybody asks who you should look to meet and spend time with. Personally, there are four "categories" of people that have been truly helpful to me. Don't like to categorize but it's just how my mind works sometimes. These four groups are other similar stage entrepreneurs, people right behind you, people right ahead of you and leaders. For me the community I was joining was startups/tech but I believe this can apply to anything.

Other entrepreneurs are my personal favorite because they are so easy to relate to. They've committed similar resources and are equally focused on building something from scratch. They're going through the same challenges. They're who you can be very honest with. They give great feedback and they're easy to talk to. They're probably considering the same incubators and accelerators that you are. However, there is only so much you can do to help each other out. Spend time with them, but save more for others. 

People that are 6 months to a year behind you are probably the most diverse group. When I say behind, I mean maybe they're still at a corporate job and building something on the side. Maybe they are considering transitioning to a startup or want to start a company but just attended their first tech event. They are full of potential and probably haven't experienced either the highs or the lows that you have. Some will never end up leaving their current job and give up on whatever they were thinking about doing. Regardless, these are always people that you can help out. I think this is usually the beginning of how you can give back through an ecosystem.

The third group is people that are 6 months to a year ahead of you. You're bootstrapping, they've raised some money. You're still releasing the initial version of your product, they already have an established product . You have a few customers, they have a lot of customers. These people are often very busy and sometimes hard to connect with so it's important to let them know you appreciate their time when they do help you out. Be patient with them and they'll come through for you over time.

The final people to meet in your new community are the leaders. They've been here for a while. They know all the little secrets. And they probably are 5, 10 or even 20 years ahead of you from a career standpoint. They don't have to spend any time with you so be cordial and take some extra time to educate yourself on their background. The best way to learn from them is to know where they can help you out most. Don't be afraid to be direct and follow up with them.

Remember that there is never a perfect time to start transitioning from one community to another. If you think you are climbing the wrong hill, there is a good chance you are. Last year I didn't just go from a full time job at a regulatory agency to building my own startup- I joined the startup career path. The path where there is little certainty and things can change drastically month by month. I'm glad I somehow made it here and look forward to more unexpected happenings this year.


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