Persistent Grit — a Kerby Meyers Q&A
During #StartUpWoche this year I had the opportunity to connect with Kerby Meyers halfway across the world. We spoke about the book he’s got out on the trials and tribulations of 16 early-stage start-ups he’s worked with in Denver, Colorado.
Here’s our exchange — it has been edited for conciseness and clarity:
Why this, why now?
I noticed a gap.
I’ve taught entrepreneurial classes here in Denver. And I’ve found that there is an incredible thirst for first-hand experiences. Books like Lean Start-up and The Hard Thing About Hard Things are useful — yet, there’s appetite for more. Especially stories from people who are in the midst of starting up — or just freshly out of that early crazy eating-instant-noodles-every night stage.
I trained long ago as a journalist so I dusted off my interviewing skills and said “let’s get after it” and went out and found a number of early stage founders. I’m the type of person who acts on things when I think about them.
What surprised you the most about the project?
I guess there are two things.
Number one: the wide variety of experiences among the 16 businesses that I talked to. There’s definitely a little bit of overlap — but the specifics of the challenges — and then also the approaches to dealing with the challenges — did differ a good amount. It covered a wide spectrum and I was pleasantly surprised by that.
If you are a reader and you say “oh this is about a consumer products company and I’m trying to start one” you can pick up some nuggets from that chapter — and there are 16 in all — so lots of different types of startups, both consumer focused — and business market focused — each sharing their own challenges.
For example there’s one called Shell Creek Sellers — she’s producing reusable straws for the consumer market. And there’s a company called Sana Packaging — a hemp based manufacturing company focused on the business market. And many more. There’s hopefully something for everybody and I hope the insights will both resonate and be useful.
The other thing that surprised me was the unanimity of the founders in their inability to quickly point to successes. Even though they had the questions in advance they would take a good five 10–15 seconds to come up with wins. It wasn’t just a “how do I phrase this?” — it was more of a “what have my successes actually been?”!
And so it’s interesting — especially as people often have this impression that startup life is glamorous. And then when you ask people who are in it and really working at it — it’s kind of hard for them to see the success. It is hard to step back and accept that “hey, you know I have had some good things!”.
One of the founders (his name is Tony and his business is hofstadter.io) — I asked him about his struggles — and the successes as well. He said: “frankly being a startup is a constant struggle. It’s like being on the struggle bus permanently”. And I just was like “OK, if you’re always on the struggle bus where’s the success stop?”. So that was that was another thing that kind of surprised me.
What what’s the one thing you’re going to do differently based on these conversations?
I found that I’m jumping more quickly to validation of the problems with the entrepreneurs I work with. Really digging into the problems they’re looking to solve. Establish more quickly if they’ve got real world support for this idea in their head — because it’s going to consume so much time, so much energy, so much passion. You want to get people onto a bus with success stops.
Because if it’s not validated — at the end of it — it could be crushing. So I really work to flesh that out early — to ensure that it’s something that has a viable marketplace.
And then I help them get into — and through — the persistent grit. Making it all more fun, productive and impactful.
About Kerby Meyers (from the inside cover of the book)
Extending a long family line of independent-minded self-starters, Kerby Meyers created and ran a magazine through much of his 20s. After dabbling in the corporate world, he started a consulting practice that focused initially on strategic communications and eventually moved into advising early stage companies on an assortment of business matters. He believes great advice is usually within reach, as long as you’re willing to listen for it. He’s lived in Denver long enough to sound like an old-timer to his wife and three kids.
You can follow Kerby Meyers on LinkedIn.