At the NJ Tech Meetup May 15, 2013, held on the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, Scott Belsky reflected on his years as a startup entrepreneur. Belsky is CEO and cofounder, with Matias Corea, of Behance, a New York-based online platform that discovers and showcases creative work.
The NJ Tech Meetup is the largest tech community of its kind in New Jersey, with almost 3,000 members. Each month the meetup brings informed and inspirational speakers to Hoboken to help entrepreneurs, developers and other attendees “spark ideas.”
Behance was bootstrapped for its first five years, then raised $6.5 million in a round led by Union Square Ventures (New York). The company was acquired by Adobe in 2012 for a rumored $150 million in cash and stock. Belsky remains head of Behance and is also Adobe’s vice president of community.
His advice and reflections:
- You don’t have to know everything when you start out. Neither Belsky nor Corea had built a website when they came up with the idea to help creative folks organize their work. Instead, build a team of people who are “tenacious learners and fixers,” he advised.
- When hiring, choose people based on initiative and not necessarily experience. When you hire employees with initiative, “magic happens.”
- Make sure everyone is motivated by what you want to achieve. Being motivated and striving for a single vision helps keep the team together when problems arise.
- Don’t raise funds too soon out of the gate. “If you raise a lot of money quickly, you are possibly incentivized to keep doing something that you don’t love” anymore, Belsky noted. That becomes a problem later on when the startup isn’t gaining traction and people aren’t taking your calls. If you and the team really love the business, your employees will stick with you even when you are full of doubt.
- Don’t think of your company as a tech startup but rather as a “mission-centric, media agnostic service.” Be prepared to support its mission in any way, through any media. (In the beginning, Belsky also ran a paper product business for creatives, to help them get organized.)
- Aspire to a “positive slope.” Said Belsky, “When the idea first strikes you, that’s the best it is ever going to get. It’s intoxicating, and you are full of ideas.” Expect the experience to go downhill at first, then to improve when you obtain your first paying customer, then to worsen again and so on. “If your valleys can be a little less deep and your peaks … a little higher each … time, … you are on the right path,” he said.
- Be the wind at the backs of the people who work for you. Try to get every source of friction out of their way and provide the resources they need. Make sure that when they want to hire someone, “you do everything, including going to the door with flowers, to hire them.” This will help them do their best work.
- Know the difference between criticism and cynicism, and understand that nothing of value is achieved through ordinary means. People will bring you down and call you crazy when you quit a good job to pursue your dreams. “If everyone thinks you are crazy, you are either crazy or … on to something,” he noted.