Come and Build It: An Entrepreneurs Journey

There are some people who keep on moving around all their lives looking for their own particular paradise. For me, I was lucky because I found mine in Texas. It has plenty of room for any dream I’ve ever had. But, try telling that to a wife and family who’ve lived all their lives in the grand shadows of our nation’s most vaunted monuments and institutions in Washington D.C. and the glitz and glamor of New York City’s skyline. The overwhelming response from them wasn’t encouraging

“Texas! It’s a desolate desiccated desert!”

Needless to say, it took time for both Austin and me to charm my family into packing our bags, and hitching our wagons to follow a dream, my dream.

I have to admit, there were times that I wondered whether or not I was crazy. Life on the East Coast had been great for me; I worked for Oracle, was a consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton, assisted in amazing research at one of our nation’s top research and development institutions, held a high position in the federal government, and even testified before the United States Senate. The only thing missing from my Washington, D.C. resume was a position within the White House! But, still Texas called to me and I had to find out whether or not it was a Siren’s song.

Stumbling upon McCombs School of Business’ Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization one day, I knew that it was the opportunity that I was looking for through with which to set myself up for success in Austin. I did not realize how true this was going to be upon submitting my admission package, but even though I already had earned an MBA, I found that the quality and quantity of advice that I received from professors and advisors at McCombs prepared me well for when I took my business idea out of the classroom and into the real world.

However, if there is one thing that is true in life, regardless of the field of work, it is “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” The amount of time that you spend researching your market, validating your idea with potential customers, and writing your business plan, inevitably results in the real world laughing in your face. At Health Hat, the company that I co-founded, this laughter was an opportunity for us to use what we had learned when building our plans to figure out how to react to life. If we had not done the research and customer validation, drilling down into our new target customer segment would have been game ending rather than just game changing. Instead of minor tweaks to our software, we might be re-writing the entire code.

Yet beyond the business plans and beyond building the software, there is a lesson that is not generally taught or mentioned in books. That’s probably because It is a hard concept to qualify or quantify but can be summarized as: ride the wave and make sure to get on the next one. The reason is as simple as Newton’s First Law of Motion “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion..” Startups live and die every day because of two factors: their team, and what people think about their startup.

Ride the wave until it dies, and people eventually will forget about your startup and stop caring about your team.

I’ve found that staying on top of that startup wave is as hard as staying on top of a real wave. This past year has been filled with ups and downs. I’ve been told “Not interested” or “Come back to me when you have success stories” more times than I can count. But I’ve also signed a pilot deal with Seton Healthcare Family. I’ve been told by accelerators that Health Hat is not at a stage that interests them. But, I also became a “Veteran in Residence” at WeWork because of what Health Hat has achieved, and Health Hat made it into Bunker Labs’ Entrepreneurial Program for Innovation and Collaboration. Yet, as small as the wave seems to be to the wider world, winning Texas Venture Labs’ Investment Competitions’ James D. Pippin Veteran Award, for being the best veteran company in the competition was the first wave that I and Health Hat got on that allowed us to catch and leverage all of these other waves.

Riding the startup waves is as much about intuition as it is luck. Good luck!

Joshua Lawton-Belous

Follow Joshua Lawton-Belous on Twitter @alertingmainst