There’s Good to the Bad & Ugly CEOs of Startupland

Today I come to praise instead of bury. Amongst all the phony startup entrepreneurs who are “crushing it,” the noisemakers, the scene stealers, the glitter-traction whores, the phonies focused on fake metrics…. there are real entrepreneurs.

For every guy who claims victory when signing meaningless, no-revenue, hunting license contracts, while their competitors collect cash, for every CEO who’s suckering investors into funding his personal PR machine, for the CEO raising his 3rd round of funding required because he’s unable to generate $200K of annual revenue while his Eugene Oregon-based competitor does $3.5M, for every party boy or girl, there are a few real crushers too busy crushing what matters to talk crush- smack at the meetups or meaningless parties glorifying the Jersey-Shore-ification of the startup world.

Startupland has it’s Jersey Shore, it’s glorification of morally corrupt, sluts portrayed as heroes. You can watch your Shark Tank’s and Bravo’s Startups, or the clown-like, over-the-top antics of 500 Startups’ Dave McClure, or Geeks on a Plane,  you can watch the unreal depictions of startup life disguised as real-world stuff that has nothing to do with putting your head down and building a great company. Too many people mistake these shows and stories as real life.

The Social Network tells the story of a kid who drops out of Harvard and just like that he’s a billionaire. Giving the impression that it is that easy. That that’s the standard story while in truth the odds of starting your first company and hitting it out of the park are the same as winning the million dollar lottery.  Startups aren’t about dropping out of Harvard, hanging with Justin Timberlake or Sean Parker or what-ever and doing coke at the club.

It’s work, intelligence, secret sauce, long hours, more work, more hours, great advisors and tons of luck.

With all the attention on noisy trash, the true heroes are overshadowed. So today I’ll embarrass some of my heroes by calling them out:

  • Dan Berger, Founder, and CEO, Social Tables – Dan (pronounced Don) Berger’s all business. He’s cheap as hell jealously guarding investor money like it was his own. He refused to pay to hire me as a paid for coach, then offered me an unpaid advisory position.  Don (spelled Dan) is a stickler for the details that count. He’s intentional about the culture of his company. He and his team have clearly articulated values. This is a guy who exemplifies the cliché of actions speaking louder than words.Lastly, as an investor in Dan’s company, I appreciate his monthly updates in which he reports on key performance indicators, growth company metrics, challenges, and accomplishments. He may not be the most famous guy in DC Tech, he may not be a “legend” in his own mind, but his company just booked more revenue in 1 month than a more famous DC-tech Glitterati will book in his faux-startup all this year.
  • Kevin Lenane, Founder, and CEO, Veenome – Kevin’s running one of the few companies in town that is based on an actual high-technical-barrier-to entry. Veenomes a real deal, secret sauce company. You won’t see Kevin at the DC hot spot places to be seen. He’s not spending much of his time at parties or on press tours or lecturing about what it takes to be successful because not lecturing about what it takes to be successful is one of the keys to being successful.  Kevin’s working it, and Veenome technology is advancing almost as fast as his revenue is growing. Kevin runs a quarterly investor conference call and prior to the call, he sends out an informative packet that ensures a productive call. (10/19/2017 Update – Kevin had a sweet exit selling Veenome to Integral Add Sciences which not only returned most capital to the investors but returned stock in Integral).
  • Sam Aparicio, Cofounder, and CEO, Ringio – Quiet, competent, humble, Sam is a life-long learner. He is constantly seeking knowledge and always open to advise. You don’t see Sam on the speaking circuit, the party circuit because Sam is not interested in being a DC Tech celebrity. Sam seeks fame for Ringio among those who are likely to be paying customers. Sam is the epitome of the Servant Leader.Sam’s user-transparent. Share’s his fears, thoughts, and trials on his very personal and revealing blog.With very little outside capital, this guy is building one of DC’s most impressive technology companies while mostly bootstrapping to a cash-flow positive position. I’m not an investor in Ringio but people I respect, like Ed Barrientos, is one of their investors and I envy Ed’s position.

The key difference between these startup CEOs and the ones I cite so often in my Mr. Cranky rants is:

  1. Authenticity – No BS, no bragging, and they don’t say they’re crushing it… they just crush it
  2. Hard Work – They show up early, they do what it takes, they put in the hours
  3. Priorities – Focused on the company and not themselves. Build a great company and the reputation will follow versus using the company as a vehicle to build the reputation.
  4. Transparency – Even as a minor investor in these companies I have complete visibility to the company’s plans, sales, revenue and challenges

Note: I’m a shareholder in Ringio, Veenome and Social Tables as well as several other great companies that I haven’t mentioned in this post. I’m impressed with most of the CEOs and companies in my portfolio. Any omission in this blog is not a lack of confidence or respect of other CEOs or companies in my portfolio except for Spinnakr and Huge Fans. I intentionally didn’t mention those bozos.