3 Tips to Lessen Your Startup Learning Curve

A panel of investors shares their perspective on all things startup during the 2023 NEXT Venture Summit. From left: Cian Robinson, President, Robinson Ventures, LLC, Jason Caplain, General Partner & Co-Founder of Bull City Venture Partners, Scott Millwood, Partner, Founderville and panel moderator Tina Zwolinski, CEO, Skillsgapp.

Founding a successful startup is difficult, but learning from those who’ve “been there, done that” can lessen the learning curve.

More than a few seasoned startup founders and investors attended the 2023 NEXT Venture Summit last week, presenting plenty of opportunities for curve bending knowledge. Two panel discussions titled titled “Ask Me Almost Anything” resulted in so much info zooming around the auditorium I nearly had to dive for cover!

Here are my top three takeaways:

Master the “Art of taking the ‘No.’”
If you’re the founder of a startup, you’re going to hear “No” a lot, especially from investors. How you respond to that rejection could make or break your business.

“It’s actually the art of taking the, ‘no,” said Cian Robinson, President, Robinson Ventures, LLC.
“You’re going to hear ‘no’ more than you will hear, ‘yes.’” There’s lots of reasons to say no, it’s important to find out what those ‘no’s’ are.”

If the “no” is the result of a flaw in the company or the product, the obvious thing to do is fix the problem; however, if the rejection comes for another reason, founders should carefully evaluate it before taking action.

Group of four founders speaking on stage
A panel of investors shares their perspective on all things startup during the 2023 NEXT Venture Summit. From left: Cian Robinson, President, Robinson Ventures, LLC, Jason Caplain, General Partner & Co-Founder of Bull City Venture Partners, Scott Millwood, Partner, Founderville and panel moderator Tina Zwolinski, CEO, Skillsgapp.

According to Jason Caplain, General Partner and Co-Founder of Bull City Venture Partners, after absorbing all of the information you can, the most important part of the “art of taking the ‘No’” is to keep moving forward.

“I call it professional persistence,” said Caplain.

Customize your networking
Building a network is good. Customizing that network to fit your goals is better.

John Barnett – CEO of Supermoon and the guy who helped develop the Boomerang effect (yeah, that boomerang effect) – has helped launch several startups in both Silicon Valley and Greenville, South Carolina as a founder and investor.

Barnett observed that networks work differently in the two locations. While the fast-paced venture capitalists in Silicon Valley don’t put quite the same emphasis on the personal touch, John said that’s what many Greenville investors are looking for.

“Here, it’s a lot more about the relationship with people,” he said.

Founders working in the Greenville area who participated in the " Ask Me Almost Anything" panel during the 2023 NEXT Venture Summit. From left: Moderator Vasant Kamath, Partner, Tech Square Ventures, Lindsey Calcutt, CEO & Co-Founder, Incora Health John Barnett, Co-CEO, Supermoon, and Nick Black, CEO, Good United.

Founding a successful startup is difficult, but learning from those who’ve “been there, done that” can lessen the learning curve.

More than a few seasoned startup founders and investors attended the 2023 NEXT Venture Summit last week, presenting plenty of opportunities for curve bending knowledge. Two panel discussions titled titled “Ask Me Almost Anything” resulted in so much info zooming around the auditorium I nearly had to dive for cover!

Here are my top three takeaways:

Master the “Art of taking the ‘No.’”
If you’re the founder of a startup, you’re going to hear “No” a lot, especially from investors. How you respond to that rejection could make or break your business.

“It’s actually the art of taking the, ‘no,” said Cian Robinson, President, Robinson Ventures, LLC.
“You’re going to hear ‘no’ more than you will hear, ‘yes.’” There’s lots of reasons to say no, it’s important to find out what those ‘no’s’ are.”

If the “no” is the result of a flaw in the company or the product, the obvious thing to do is fix the problem; however, if the rejection comes for another reason, founders should carefully evaluate it before taking action.

According to Jason Caplain, General Partner and Co-Founder of Bull City Venture Partners, after absorbing all of the information you can, the most important part of the “art of taking the ‘No’” is to keep moving forward.

“I call it professional persistence,” said Caplain.

Customize your networking
Building a network is good. Customizing that network to fit your goals is better.

John Barnett – CEO of Supermoon and the guy who helped develop the Boomerang effect (yeah, that boomerang effect) – has helped launch several startups in both Silicon Valley and Greenville, South Carolina as a founder and investor.

Barnett observed that networks work differently in the two locations. While the fast-paced venture capitalists in Silicon Valley don’t put quite the same emphasis on the personal touch, John said that’s what many Greenville investors are looking for.

“Here, it’s a lot more about the relationship with people,” he said.

Founders working in the Greenville area who participated in the “Ask Me Almost Anything” panel during the 2023 NEXT Venture Summit. From left: Moderator Vasant Kamath, Partner, Tech Square Ventures, Lindsey Calcutt, CEO & Co-Founder, Incora Health, John Barnett, Co-CEO, Supermoon, and Nick Black, CEO, Good United.

John adapted, and the result was identifying five new Greenville investors in just the last year.

Dr. Lindsey Calcutt, CEO of Incora Health, points out that a solid network will reveal opportunities you may not have previously considered, especially when it comes to funding. While most founders pursue venture capital, many aren’t aware opportunities like grants and tax credits exist.

“That really comes from networking and asking questions,” Calcutt said. “Learning from people who have been there and done that before.”

The lynchpin to all strong startup networks: other founders.

Jason Caplain shared that when a founder with whom investors have worked in the past refers another founder their way, that carries a lot of weight.

“It goes immediately to top of stack,” he said.

(You can start building your network through the available resources at www.statupgvl.com. Just sayin’)

Systems = Innovation

“Systems and processes enable you to be innovative,” said Nick Black, CEO of GoodUnited, B2B software company with a first-of-its-kind marketing automation for nonprofits.

Black is an Army Ranger combat veteran awarded two Bronze Stars and an Army Commendation Medal for Valor. During his deployment in Afghanistan, Black said he was responsible for securing large swaths of territory in the country with orders to “Figure it out.”

By building systems and processes, Black said he and the soldiers under his command developed routines, saving time and preserving energy to tackle larger challenges when they arose.

Bottom Line

Don’t take NO for an answer, unless you KNOW why.

Curate your contacts to create the network YOU need.

Process means productivity.

About the Author

John Sweeney

Explorer. Conversationalist. Disney History Nerd. John Sweeney is a Communication Project Manager for the City of Greenville, working specifically on #StartupGVL. John is an Ohio native who has lived in South Carolina for nearly 20 years. He enjoys talking with entrepreneurs, exploring the wonders of the Upstate with his family and expanding his knowledge of Walt Disney based historical trivia.
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