Thank you Dad on this Mother’s Day.
Mom passed away 17 years ago. And ever since you’ve tried your hardest to fill that void in my life.
You hadn’t always succeeded. I remember at times you tried to be that emotional support, reaching out to me. I was regretfully too young to really understand.
But I do remember the sacrifices you made. You made more time for Tak and I. I remember those road trips as we visited colleges. And you stepped out of your comfort zone for us.
As I get older and have a family of my own, I start to understand how hard it must have been to even attempt to fill that void. It’s a tricky job, balancing two head-strong boys who were going through their own unique journeys of grief, not to mention yours too. I was too self-absorbed to even comprehend.
All I think that is appropriate to say is a heart-felt thank you.
Happy Mother’s Day, Dad.
Almost one year ago I attended the inaugural TechStars Patriot Boot Camp in DC, flying over 3600 miles from London for an event which I had little to no expectations. I only knew the TechStars brand, and tentatively thought that the interaction could benefit the startup I was working on. It was a simple conjecture - nothing more, nothing less.
But what a year this has been. My startups pitched at SeedCamp London and TechStars NYC finals, and won the Deloitte Innovation and Entrepreneurship Founder Awards. I’ve been an advocate for veteran entrepreneurship, writing for Forbes on the issue, and sharing views with members from the US Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. I’ve gone deep into the industry and was a panelist at the Global Accelerator Network Founder’s conference. And most recently, I started working for TechStars NYC, helping 11 awesome companies pack three years of growth into three months.
In one sentence - TechStars paved my way into entrepreneurship.
How? It’s like when I served with the Army, in the sense of giving me skillsets and knowledge on how to succeed in the military and in life.
It’s like when I attended the University of Chicago and London Business School, in the sense of branding and creating credibility in my qualifications.
Finally, it’s like family. I know I have a strong community that will back me up, and equally I’m committed to backing others in our community. Entrepreneurs and friends like Patriot Boot Camp founder Taylor McLemore, RisingStars Founder Tom Chikoore, RisingStars mentor Josh Emert from GoChime, Jonny Miller from Maptia, TechStars Comms Manager Clare Tischer, and TechStars NYC Program Manager KJ Singh. Leaders like David Cohen, Nicole Glaros, Eugene Chung, Andy Sack, Jon Bradford, Chris DeVore, and Eugene Wan.
So if there’s one thought to veterans thinking about Patriot Boot Camp, it’s this - I owe a lot to the experience that essentially kickstarted my entrepreneurship journey. I can’t forecast how that ride will be for everyone because it’s uniquely individual. But if you pursue the opportunity to the ends of the Earth, TechStars will open doors to the unimaginable.
On April 18, I will be participating at a roundtable discussion on veteran entrepreneurs hosted by the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The central thesis will be to discuss the state of existing federal programs
(Patriot Loans, Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), SCORE, SBDC), their effectiveness, and any improvements needed.
As much as it is a privilege and honor, it is also a unique opportunity to represent veterans issues, which I am deeply passionate about. And I won’t waste my chance at representing thousands of veteran entrepreneurs and their needs to this influential group.
Please RT this blog post and tell me your views. Send them to me at tak (at) taklo.co.
I want you to help me forge a better future for veteran entrepreneurs.
As of today, I’m officially a TechStars NYC Associate.
I’m excited to be part of an organization that practices what they preach. That is at the top of their field. That supports the startup early-stage ecosystem.
I’ll be helping the top startups in the world grow and develop their companies, and kick-ass in everything that they do. Even though I’m transitioning from my company, this project is bigger than myself or my company.
I’ve got one mission and one only from April 2 to June 28 - to help these companies grow to be more awesome.
I’m excited. It’s going to be intense. And you won’t hear from me in three months time.
See you at the end folks.
My first Forbes post on why military vets are needed in startups. Pretty happy to have struck a chord with vets and startup communities alike.
Growth Hacking Analysis:
Tapping into my Econ passion - working on analyzing subscriber growth metrics for startups to understand milestones, goals, etc. The vision is to understand growth drivers, timing, and other goals across various startup industries.
All of the data is public and gleaned from blogs and other sources.
Suggestions on who else to cover?
Army lessons that got me through the last few startup weeks (and rough they were)
The last few weeks have been totally draining. Let’s start from the beginning:
A. Became a finalist at SeedCamp, one of Europe’s most prestigious accelerator programs (big high!)
B. Developer then left owing to differences in life ambitions (big WTF low!)
C. Got into TechStars NYC finals (great - but WTF do I do now that developer left???)
This was an oh-shit, gut-check moment. Do I go on, or just call it quits? How the fuck could I turn this around? That’s when I really had to dig deep. And those little things one learns in the Army come flooding back.
Lesson 1: Don’t ever, ever ring that fucking bell.
SEAL recruits, during BUD/S course, can voluntarily ring a bell to signal that they give up. But those that ring the bell are precisely the ones that the Navy SEALs don’t want - those that give up. Because BUDS/S at the end of a day isn’t a course about physical prowess - it’s about mental toughness.
When C. happened, I refused to ring that bell.
Lesson 2: Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.
So now I had to find a solution to the slight developer problem. I contacted over 22 people from 6 countries in a little more than 24 hours - calling everyone I could find. And at the end of the day, I found a fellow Army vet buddy I had met at TechStars Patriot Boot Camp. I knew I could trust him, I knew he had the intestinal fortitude just like me, and I knew he wanted TechStars just as badly as I did.
Obstacle - overcame.
Lesson 3: Mission, Men, and Me
The next step was to finish the mission. That included finding the team’s ex-Serie C goalkeeper and awesome designer all the way from Italy, revamping the company, and getting ready for the big interview with Eugene Chung.
The team focused on execution leading up to the big day - getting things done, building apps, building a new launch page, getting customers. We booked our flights to NYC from Venice and London in just a few hours, and traveled a combined 7,000 miles to get there. We set up our War Room (kindly donated by Jukay Hsu from Coalition for Queens and set up through Regina Chien and Startup Leadership Program NYC) and got some office space at We Work Labs through Tuan Pham. We worked 17 hours days - working till 3 AM - and then got up the next day to do it again. Wash. Rinse. Dry. Repeat.
We mock interviewed with TechStars RisingStars organizer Tom Chikoore, my TechStars RisingStars mentor Josh Emert, Tuan, and Taylor McLemore to make sure we got our story right and got grilled the toughest questions they could find.
The team fought - of course because we were passionate. But we came together. And when it came time to perform that mission, our team did well. I’m proud to have worked with my men then and what we did together as a team and as a mission.
Who knows what will happen next? Whatever happens though, I know that during my darkest moments, what comes out of me is strength and determination. And when I look to my left and to my right, my team has that same quality.
Here is an essay version of my class notes from Class 9 of CS183: Startup. Errors and omissions are my own. Credit for good stuff is Peter’s entirely.
Class 9 Notes Essay—If You Build It, Will They Come?
Distribution is something of a catchall term. It essentially refers to how you get a product out to consumers. More generally, it can refer to how you spread the message about your company. Compared to other components that people generally recognize are important, distribution gets the short shift. People understand that team, structure, and culture are important. Much energy is spent thinking about how to improve these pieces. Even things that are less widely understood—such as the idea that avoiding competition is usually better than competing—are discoverable and are often implemented in practice.
But for whatever reason, people do not get distribution. They tend to overlook it. It is the single topic whose importance people understand least. Even if you have an incredibly fantastic product, you still have to get it out to people. The engineering bias blinds people to this simple fact. The conventional thinking is that great products sell themselves; if you have great product, it will inevitably reach consumers. But nothing is further from the truth.
There are two closely related questions that are worth drilling down on. First is the simple question: how does one actually distribute a product? Second is the meta-level question: why is distribution so poorly understood? When you unpack these, you’ll find that the first question is underestimated or overlooked for the same reason that people fail to understand distribution itself.
The first thing to do is to dispel the belief that the best product always wins. There is a rich history of instances where the best product did not, in fact, win. Nikola Tesla invented the alternating current electrical supply system. It was, for a variety of reasons, technologically better than the direct current system that Thomas Edison developed. Tesla was the better scientist. But Edison was the better businessman, and he went on to start GE. Interestingly, Tesla later developed the idea of radio transmission. But Marconi took it from him and then won the Nobel Prize. Inspiration isn’t all that counts. The best product may not win.