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Been There, Learned That…

The biggest annual bash for local entrepreneurs, San Diego Startup Week, launches June 13 in downtown San Diego.

The popular event is expected to attract 3,000 attendees, including many startups and soon-to-be startups in the tech, biotech, and craft beer sectors.

Some of the startups that were early contributors to the event, which started in 2012, have achieved considerable growth in the last four years. They’ve advanced from green entrepreneurs with negative cash flows to well-grounded businesses in the local economy. But what have they learned since?

The San Diego Business Journal asked four successful CEOs of local startups: What is the one thing you wish you knew four years ago?

Stephan Goss

Zeeto, an ad-tech SaaS company, is certainly shedding its “startup” moniker with incredible year-over-year growth. The company’s revenue is doubling annually, pulling in $42 million in 2015. Zeeto expects to do roughly $100 million by the end of this year.

“Go Big! If I could go back four years and give myself one piece of advice it would be just that — go big. When deciding between various choices that will affect the future of your company always pick the route with more potential — even if that happens to be the riskier route.
Seeing that there is far more intrinsic value in the technology we built to power our sites (than the value in the sites themselves), and then repositioning the company around that value point required a huge leap of faith. Now that we’ve made that leap it has paid off big time. That (raises) the question — how much more could we have grown and done if we made that move two years sooner? If you go big there is a greater chance to do amazing things. You don’t hit the important goals and achieve big things by taking baby steps.”

Stephan Goss, CEO

Scot Chisholm

Another local SaaS firm, Classy, developed a fundraising tool to help nonprofits raise money by streamlining the campaign launch process. It has completed over 300,000 fundraising campaigns with more than 1.5 million contributors. The company’s revenue was north of $10 million in 2015.

“Don’t wait to build your sales team; 99 percent of the time, the product won’t sell itself. At Classy, it took us almost three years to really invest in a sales team. We knew enough about our product-market fit to have hired our first couple of reps and a sales leader about 12 months earlier, but stalled because we didn’t understand the investment well enough and assumed the product would sell itself. A great product can in fact sell itself (to some extent), but to really accelerate growth, you shouldn’t shy away from an early investment in sales. It’s extremely likely you’ll invest in sales eventually anyways, so start small and start learning how to build an efficient team early in your company’s life cycle (especially if you are a product-oriented CEO).

Scot Chisholm, CEO/Co-founder

Adam Riggs-Zeigen

Rock My World Inc., a fitness technology company that developed a popular music app for runners, has achieved an estimated 1.5 million downloads of Rock My Run. The company has raised at least $1.39 million in capital, according to Crunchbase.

“The critical importance of metrics! Lost in the minimum viable product (MVP) or “quick iteration” mantra is the need to have really robust metrics and data to better inform your decisions. For aspiring entrepreneurs, especially on the software side, MVP your product but not your analytics — get those right out of the gate and your lives will be much easier.”

Adam Riggs-Zeigen, CEO

Melani Gordon

TapHunter Inc., maker of web and mobile tools for bar and restaurant owners, has raised $1.5 million since its 2012 founding and now employs 40 people downtown.

“With a fast-growth tech startup inevitably comes a lot of change and uncertainty. Being able to sustain constant change and uncertainty requires time and patience, two things that are in short supply in the startup world. I’ve personally struggled with embracing the virtue of patience over the last four years.
Take up meditation, yoga, any sort of mindful practice that forces you to slow down and create head space for yourself. A very wise mentor and business coach of mine told me a quote that I’ll never forget — ‘Mel, sometimes slowing down is speeding up.’ I carry this with me daily.”

— Melani Gordon, Co-founder and CEO

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