Tuesday, June 25, 2019

My Startup Journey - Emotion

Fast and furious
We find joy and deep sadness
The startup journey

Any role in a startup can be a roller coaster ride. My first 60 days as a founder has proven to me that it is a fast, furious and deeply emotional ride. Over the last two weeks, I shared a couple of posts on the journey so far. The first post is about the excitement of starting something new and feeling that, despite the many years I have spent helping grow and scale companies, starting my own is an entirely different journey. The second post is about the doubts and feelings of being an imposter that can creep in when you are starting the journey. The third post is about the constant struggle and the insidious idea that maybe I should take the safe route and just nibble. The fourth and most recent post is about the challenge of maintaining perspective and not letting a GSD (get shit done) mindset undermine the sense of progress because of a lack of external validation.

I am at once incredibly invigorated to be doing something new, inspired by the potential to solve an enormous problem and excited to be finally pursuing my dream of building my own company. At the same time, I’m genuinely scared of failing, of making big or obvious mistakes and being judged an imposter or worse, someone who simply can’t get shit done. I’m 60 days in and it’s an amazing ride and well worth the years of anticipation and “someday” thinking. I am reminding myself to pause and enjoy the journey. Whether it is excitement, doubt, risk or just trying to maintain perspective, the cliche’ is spot on: it is all about the journey and not the destination.

I can’t wait to share what we are building with you. We launch this fall. Please take a minute to follow the Olifano company page on LinkedIn for updates and an early opportunity to register for the beta launch.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

My Startup Journey - Perspective

There is always more
Product to build, work to do 
Keeping perspective

I recently started my own company, Olifano. This is the fourth post in a series about the lessons I am learning along the way.

I love to work. It is a part of my identity. I also love that one of the first things many people who have worked with me would say is that I just get shit done. Well, they would probably say a few other things first but if pressed for a positive they would say I get shit done. I think that is a positive attribute for anyone working in a startup. For a founder, especially so. But what I have learned from my own startup journey is that without the perspective of others the get shit done (GSD) mindset can drive you crazy. It’s never enough when there is no one but yourself watching. It’s never enough when there is no one telling you, “Great job!”. It is never enough when you know how much more there is to do.

One of the challenges in my own founder's journey is simply keeping perspective. In the first week, I created a chart with the key milestones I needed to achieve to get to launch. It is only 17 items long, and some of the items are pretty big (e.g., define a go-to-market strategy), but it helps me keep the big picture in mind and not get lost in all of the small and seemingly endless GSD details of the day-to-day. If that sounds trite, it is. This is not the secret sauce to successfully starting a company. It is super basic but important. We usually create milestone charts and project plans to keep teams aligned and working on the right things. I created this one for myself, on paper. I have found it is hard to keep perspective without reminding myself of the milestones and progress. It’s on paper so it is always staring at me from the desk, regardless of what’s on the screen in front of me. There is more to do. But perspective on all the work done so far helps.

I can’t wait to share what we are building with you. We launch this fall so please stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

My Startup Journey - Eating Shit

Go big or go home
The warning signs are quite clear
Getting out of bounds

I recently started my own company, Olifano. This is the third post in a series about the lessons I am learning along the way. You can find the first here and the second here.

Still one of my favorite quotes, Ben Horowitz in his book “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” notes that “if you are going to eat shit, don’t nibble”. The ski bums here in Park City say, “Go big or go home.” As a startup founder, you have to believe in your idea. That just makes sense, otherwise, why bother. I believe, quite passionately, in the idea of Olifano but I find that I am constantly fighting the temptation to nibble at it.

“Maybe I should keep working as a Chief Customer Officer and start Olifano as a side-hustle?”.

“Maybe I should start with a really small pilot group of users so I don’t disappoint too many people with the MVP.”

“Maybe I should self-fund it all, that way you don’t have to put anyone else’s money at risk.”

The temptation is to nibble. To stay on the easy green ski runs. Stay in bounds. It might work to go slow, start small and build slowly. Proceed cautiously and not risk anything more than I have to. I find that I have to keep reminding myself, don’t nibble! I have yard saled on tough slopes and walked away with more than a few bruises. They healed. I have been fired from jobs I loved. It ultimately worked out for the best. I keep coming back to the Horowitz quote. “Don’t nibble”. It might be easier to play it safe but I might also miss the real opportunity. It might be easier (and a lot less embarrassing) to fail small but I won’t learn what it could have been. It is a constant struggle for me, and a surprise of the founder journey, the constant doubts and that insidious idea that maybe I should stick to nibbling.

I can’t wait to share what we are building with you. We launch this fall so please stay tuned! You can follow Olifano on LinkedIn.

Friday, June 14, 2019

My Startup Journey - Doubt

Brilliant ideas

The right place at the right time
... and then the doubts came

I recently started my own company, Olifano. This is the second in a series of posts about the lessons I am learning along the way. Here is a link to the first.

I knew from years of reading about startups and startup founders that there would be moments of doubt. Reid Hoffman described it as “the valley of the shadow” and Ben Horowitz “the struggle”. In my own experience as an executive leading large teams of brilliant people I often suffered from imposter syndrome and moments of doubt as to whether I was really smart enough to lead others. But as a new founder when doubt hits it can really smack you.

“What are you doing?!”

“Why do you think you can make this work?”

“Most startups fail, why would you risk your reputation and spend... wait, how much?”

Not only are the questions bracing, for me at least, but they hit every day. I walk my dogs at 4:30 in the morning and in the darkness of Park City I think about the day ahead. For the last 60 days, running through the list of doubts has been the recurring theme. It’s tough to start the day with, “WTF are you doing?!”

I don’t have good answers for dealing with doubt or imposter syndrome. It might be one of those things that never really goes away. Maybe some of the founders reading this can chime in with how they deal with the doubt. For now, I remind myself that doubt is expected. It is a part of the process. I tell myself, almost every morning, “Just calm the f* down, this is a part of the journey.” And, “If you weren’t feeling this doubt something would be wrong”. It is a bit of a mantra given how often I worry about whether I am on the right track or not.

Doubt can be a good thing. It can lead to the tough questions that you should be asking. But it shouldn’t stop you. I won’t let it stop me.

I can’t wait to share what we are building with you. We launch this fall so please stay tuned! You can follow Olifano on LinkedIn.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

My Startup Journey - New Beginning

A new beginning
Learning from the seasons past
My startup journey

My startup journey actually began in 2002 when I joined my first startup, a dozen or so people building an HR platform in Dallas. Since then I have spent my career building and scaling teams at startups including SuccessFactors, HireVue, Kahuna and most recently Degreed. It has been the quintessential startup roller coaster: the grind of hands-on software implementations and frustrated customer calls, the highs of IPO and acquisition, and all the way down to the lows of laying off some of the great people I have hired. Despite these challenges and the often hard-earned experience, I feel like my startup journey is really only 60 days old. This year I started Olifano. It’s the first startup where I am the founder - employee number one. We haven’t launched yet so it’s okay if you haven’t heard of it.

I am fortunate to have had the incredible career experiences I have had so far. I have hired and worked with amazing teams, built an extensive network of customers, colleagues, and friends and gained tremendous experience across functions. But - and it’s a big but - I have found that nothing prepared me to be the founder of my own startup. Just 60 days in and it is absolutely clear that it is going to be something brand new. From the painful loneliness of starting something from scratch to the emptiness of knowing nothing happens unless you do it yourself, it is already a profoundly unique experience.

There is a lot of great content written about startups and founders and I won’t pretend to have the answers. I am passionate about learning and sharing with others so over the next few days I will share a handful of the things that I have experienced and learned in my first 60 days. I hope you find the insights valuable.

I can’t wait to share what we are building at Olifano. We launch this fall so please stay tuned! You can follow Olifano on LinkedIn or on Twitter.

About David Verhaag 

David has spent his career building and scaling teams at some of the leading HR technology companies. He was most recently the Chief Customer Officer at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, he held leadership positions at Kahuna, HireVue, and SuccessFactors. David lives in Park City, Utah.

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