The Words Every Founder Needs to Hear

I got the chance to attend the Nantucket Conference this past weekend as a young entrepreneur. Over three days, I heard countless stories of success through failure, and I’m convinced that the best entrepreneurs are the ones who heard, “No, your idea sucks,” and kept on going.

Don't take no for an answer

Not just any conference

The Nantucket Conference is a concentrated gathering of some of the smartest, most influential people in the northeast tech startup community. The event is sometimes criticized for its selectivity and price tag, but these same restrictions create an intimate, obliging environment that you won’t find at large events.

As an invited young entrepreneur, you get to see investors and high-profile entrepreneurs in their natural environment. And surprisingly, they actually get along quite well.

Overcoming the naysayers

Almost every one of the speakers had some story of an investor who told them, “no.” In Slava Rubin’s case, he had 95 storied investors, some of whom were in attendance that weekend. Each of them, from Neil Blumenthal to Gail Goodman, were written off by some of the most experienced people in the industry, then set out to prove them wrong.

As an attending entrepreneur, you get a first-hand lesson in hearing “no” in at least one of its many forms. It was inspiring to partake in this tenuous culture of give-and-take while simultaneously bearing witness to the great companies it’s created. I think it’s one of the few times one could feel good about being told no.

The reality is that, in the early days, every startup will hear more “no” more often than “yes.” In a panel titled, “Avoidable Mistakes,” Dulcie Madden shared that amid these challenges, founders need to present a “copacetic calm” to their team, board, investors, etc. Everyone’s startup is a mess, and embracing that fact without freaking out is just how things are done.

How to survive the crazy

Mentors are invaluable. A couple of the conversations I had at the conference completely reframed some of the problems I’ve been struggling with. Anyone can give advice, but only certain people can provide perspective.

Find a peer group. Madden and Goodman hinted at this in their talks. You need a peer group of people who understands what it’s like to smile while everything you’ve built is burning down. You can only bottle that up for so long before it drives you mad.

Good people are out there. Find them. There are smart, talented people who will go out of their way to help you, the Nantucket Conference just had a high concentration of them. People like David Chang, Andy Miller and Karl Büttner are actively trying to donate their time and energy to Boston entrepreneurs through different initiatives, and there are many more people like them.

Three of my biggest champions over the weekend were Brent Grinna, Karl Büttner and Simeon Simeonov. Despite knowing almost nothing about me, each of them went out on a limb to introduce me to others. Brent even pitched my startup, Appcues, to Joe Caruso!

This weekend revealed a strong undercurrent of camaraderie building within Boston (and New York). As these startup ecosystems mature, more entrepreneurs will (hopefully) reach back to help the next generation, creating the same virtuous culture that’s commonplace on the west coast.

For northeast entrepreneurs, overcoming “no” is as important as convincing future entrepreneurs, “Yes, you can do it, too.”

Make things happen, Boston (and NY too, I guess)