Forge Event: Lessons learned from thwarted startup ambitions

Eric Littleton, John Williamson and Terry Goertz

Eric Littleton, John Williamson and Terry Goertz

Sometimes people learn more from failure than they do from success. Last night at the Distilled Spirits Epicenter around fifty members of the entrepreneurial community gathered to hear from three people who’ve learned a lot from thwarted startup ambitions.

The Distilled Spirits Epicenter donated the space for the event. If you haven’t checked out their auto repair shop turned event space, you really should.

John Receveur, vice president of Business Development at Roobiq, moderated the event.

Eric Littleton was one of the founders of the startup Why Wait, a restaurant app that was all the buzz a year or so ago. When Why Wait failed to get traction from the restaurant community it was supposed to serve, the team decided to pivot and created the recently-launched app, Local View. Local View delivers real time discounts and deals to your mobile device in Louisville and Bowling Green.

John Williamson was the founder of UCloser, a real estate angency management mobile solution that helps both agents and clients navigate sales. He is now a business management director at GlowTouch Technologies.

Terry Goertz was the co-CEO of Park Vu, a startup that worked in the social and entertainment arenas. He is now a data scientist and director of data platform for Appriss.

Responses below are a mix of quotes and paraphrased answers.

John Receveur: How do you decide when hiring if someone is suited for startup life? How do you convince someone to take the risk?
Eric Littleton: Whether or not you can recruit them is a good indicator of whether or not they should be working in a startup.
Terry Goertz: We met them in a bar. If you can’t hang out with us in a bar, you’re probably not going to work well with us. It’s a work culture.

JR: How do you give back to the community when you’re so focused on your startup?
TG: We started Startup Drinks. (It is currently run by Alex Frommeyer.)
EL: Terry also helped us a lot. He was very open to helping us learn. Be open to taking those meetings and don’t be shy about requesting them. Be mentors to other startups.

JR: Were you lacking resources while you were building your startup and how did that effect the outcome?
EL: It’s almost a good thing that there wasn’t unlimited resources when were were building Why Wait. There are and there should be fundamental gates around getting capital.

JR: What was the best decision we made for your company?
EL: To pivot away from Why Wait.
TG: Starting the company. Moving to Louisville was a good decision. Not always a great decision, but a good one.

John Receveur at the Forge Event

John Receveur at the Forge Event

JR: Worst decision?
EL: Running too fast before you have market fit. You can seduce yourself into thinking you can do things before you have the tools to do so.
JW: Getting in bed with a giant company. Big companies don’t always partner well with smaller companies.
TG: Chasing down acquisitions. While we were trying to get three companies at the table at the same time, we lost focus on building a business and product.

JR: What’s your “must do” advice for entrepreneurs?
JW: Find customers and then build product, not the other way around.
TG: Start.

JR: What elements were missing from the Louisville ecosystem when you needed them?
TG: I’ve seen huge growth in the past three and a half years. What was missing were events like these, Monday Open Coffee, the accelerator. Maybe we need more investment money. But from my perspective we’re going in the right direction.
JW: There were some get togethers, fewer mentor type investors like Greg Langdon, and much less infrastruture two years ago- JW
EL: (Who works in the same space as the Velocity accelerator) The Velocity accelerator companies said ‘Yes, famous people live in my town, but I can’t get to any of them. But this place has accessibility. I can meet with anyone I want.’ – EL

JR: How do you view the advice you received from your investors?
EL: Sometimes they push you too fast, but sometimes they give excellent advice. –
JW: It’s very helpful to have investors in the industry that you’re working in. –

JR: What changes would you like to see in the local angel investor community?
EL: A bridge between seed capital and A round… And in Louisville there’s a huge gap between A and Chrysalis.
JW: People willing to invest little bits of money to help people get started. Small early bets would dramatically increase the number of people who are playing the game.

JR: Would you do it again?
: For six years my team, my family worked their tails off. I need a couple of years off. But yeah I would do it again.
JW: Yes, definitely. Next time I want to focus on what strategic advantages our locale holds.

Quote of the Night: “When your guts are boiling, when your backs are against the wall, that’s when things can get exciting,” Eric Littleton.

Forge thanks the Epicenter (especially Kevin Hall, Operations Manager, [email protected])  for his hospitality and Falls City Beer for supporting the event.