Cubes and Suits

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One of the dozens of conversations I had at the most recent ExitEvent Startup Social was with a guy who was there for the first time. He was itching to get into something entrepreneurial, but didn’t consider himself to be an entrepreneur. 
I love when this happens. 
He had so far spent his career doing finance. In fact, he looked like he had just come from the office, removed his tie, and was now staring out over the sea (and there was a sea) of entrepreneurs, a handful of whom were students who had just come over from a (pitch coach) Tim Flood thing where he encouraged them go meet people at the Social. 
They ran with it. So yeah, there were a number of young, fresh, fired-up faces excitedly moving from one conversational cluster to another, introducing themselves and having, seemingly, the time of their lives. 
I can see how that would be a little intimidating for a first-timer coming over from his day job in finance. 
I told him what I tell people who come to the Social directly from their day job because they’ve heard so much about startup and want to get involved. 

Just because you’re not holding the magic line of code that’s going to create the next insert-hot-unicorn here, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get involved with startup. Especially in the Triangle. Despite what you might hear about a dearth of technical talent, we’ve got our share of technicians, visionaries, game-changers and rock stars. What we don’t have a ton of are people who can design, market, sell and grow a startup product to the next level. 
It’s hard to sell your first few units, but then surprisingly easy to sell your next bunch. After that, it gets near impossible. Building sustainable sales channels, establishing recurring revenue, expanding market share and crushing churn—these are things we aren’t very good at. Yet. 
So find somebody here you believe in, I said. Then find a dozen more, get to know them, and when the time is right, get involved. You probably won’t find what you want tonight, but at least you’re in the right place. 
Then I asked what got him interested in startup. You know, to make small talk. 
“Well,” he said, “It’s not a startup or anything, but I make these.” 
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a beautifully crafted leather wallet. He hand stitches them. He got into it just because. He learned how to do everything by doing research on the Internet. He went into the differences between hand-stitching and machine-stitching, the different kinds of leather, and the dreaded “Costanza effect.” He explained all this in a way that I could easily understand it. 

That’s when I told him he was perfect for startup. 
That kind of passion is necessary if you want to found, join, or build a startup. No wait, let me rephrase that. That kind of passion, combined with the determination and work ethic to learn and do what it takes to go from initial idea to a final product you can carry around in your pocket—that’s what’s necessary if you want to found, join or build a startup. 
It’s not everything you need, but it sure means more than being able to sling lines of code or create the perfect pitch deck. 
By the time he was done explaining how his wallet was made and why he did certain things a certain way, he had so outlined the superiority of his product that I wanted to buy one, right there, on the spot. 
Show me the startup founder who doesn’t want someone like that on board and I’ll show you a poser. All that he has to do now is, like I said before, find someone he believes in—then an added caveat—someone who is building something he can get excited about. And something more scalable than hand-stitched wallets. 
I think sometimes in startup we tend to overlook the talent that’s out there in the medium-to-large-sized established companies and even the public and nonprofit sectors. We’re not afraid to poach technical talent from these areas, but for one reason or another we eschew marketers, managers, salespeople, financial people, basically everything except coding. 
We fear that they like the nine-to-five, they won’t be able to keep pace, they don’t know how to sell/market/manage a new product. We think they’ll cost too much. We get concerned that they’ve gotten too comfortable. 
I don’t know that that’s true. I meet more and more people who are stuck pushing powerpoints and spreadsheets at corporate jobs who would kill to join a company that cares about the product it's producing, especially if it’s a product those people care about themselves. 
As the Triangle’s startup footprint continues to grow, we’re going to need more people like this. The great news is, they’re already here. They’re wearing suits to work every day, not playing ping pong or having beer Fridays. Maybe they’ve never seen your widget before, but maybe they just closed a seven-figure book of business for someone else’s widget. 
Yeah, Corporate America used to be comfortable, but it isn’t anymore. Corporate America is waking up to mass layoffs, fewer perks, meetings to talk about meetings, and the slippery, shaky corporate ladder. They’re VPs in a sea of VPs, and they’re starting to see the light. 
I mentioned this a couple times at the Social in later conversations, how I’ve seen this trend starting to build and how I’m trying to reach out to these people (mostly on my blog). One of my friends said, “Let me know when you figure that out, because it’s a tough nut to crack.” 
I don’t know. I think it's starting to crack already.