Game of Thrones wants YOU to join a startup

I spent the first year of the Great Recession stuck in a corporate cubicle farm.

As I wrapped up my MBA and eagerly awaited my career’s liftoff, my employer shed one-quarter of its work force and saw its stock price plummet from $28 to $2.

Needless to say, opportunity was limited in such a resource-starved environment. Most of us were just hoping to survive the next round of layoffs.

Rather than wait, I plotted my escape from the cube farm …

And landed at my first software startup.

I was Bulbstorm’s sixth employee overall and its first in sales and marketing.

After a week, my supervisor left. Soon, I received a promotion and a raise and had my stock options doubled. Six months later, I made my first hire. Within two years, I was a key leader in a 25-person company that would soon be acquired.

It was a messy chaotic startup environment and, in the chaos, talented motivated employees climbed quickly. Like working in most startups or running one’s own business, it was a true meritocracy.

Chaos isn’t a Pit. Chaos is a Ladder.

I love me some Game of Thrones. One of my favorite scenes has the king’s advisors Lord Varys and Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish debating what would happen without the structural pillars of society – the faith and the crown.

Varys describes the resulting chaos as: “A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.”

Littlefinger counters: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.”

In other words, chaos presents an opportunity to climb.

This logic doesn’t only apply to Westerosi power struggles. It applies to startups right here on Earth.

For example: For centuries, the established order has been that travelers stay in hotels. Wanna work in hotels? Go hit the Marriott careers page – or cause a little chaos.

If you build your own hotel chain, you won’t receive a ladder from Hilton or Marriott. But, if you build an app that enables homeowners to rent out spare bedrooms, you can disrupt the order of things.

And, in the ensuing chaos, you can climb the ladder to a $30 billion valuation.

Startup Chaos is a Career Ladder.

Mature companies are about order. You can climb. Gradually. With patience. Over time. Just pay your dues and wait your turn. Someday, the guy above you will retire or get promoted because the guy above him retires.

Startups are about chaos, and that makes them true meritocracies. There’s no time for patience or political bullshit. Demonstrate your value. Help the organization succeed and grow. Get rewarded.

You don’t even have to be a founder. I’m not. Just join a team and get things done.

Sales needs leads? Learn how to run PPC campaigns. Coworkers missing deadlines? Implement a project management system.

Now that I’m a solopreneur with my own marketing consultancy, I’ve learned that the same never say die mentality is required of small business owners.

Don’t know business development? Or finance? Or IT? You better figure it out or get your ass back to the cubicle farm fast.

But Chaos is Scary!

The chaos of a startup creates opportunity. It also creates risk. And that’s a scary thing.

In my first year at Bulbstorm, there were no health benefits or a vacation policy. Mis-hires were corrected quickly under a hire slow fire fast mentality. Some tried again with other startups. Others returned to their cube farms.

To quote Littlefinger: “Many who try to climb the ladder fail and never try again. The fall breaks them. Some are given a chance to climb and they refuse. They cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”

If you prefer order to risk, call the mature company down the road. They’re offering bagels, benefits, and the illusion of job security.

I was hungry, I believed in my talent, and I got things done.

If that sounds like you, startups are the only place to be. Because startup chaos is not a pit. Startup chaos is a career ladder.

Here’s to the crazy ones – the startup founders

Here’s to the crazy ones – the startup founders and their teams.

I respect the hell out of you. I don’t envy you in the least.

I’ve been there. I was employee six at a software startup that grew to two dozen before we were acquired in 2013. I did the 12-hour days, the six-day weeks. I rode the rollercoaster of product launches, customer contracts, and investor checks.

I’ve been an independent marketing consultant for almost three years now. I used to think I’d go back to “do another one” someday. I even had an opportunity a few months ago to join one of our most promising startups.

It took me about 30 minutes to turn down the offer.

It’s just not for me anymore. You people kray.

So, here’s to the crazy ones. startup founders meme

In the last few months, I’ve sat at a table with a startup founder who just couldn’t find a way out of her biggest challenge. She was stuck. She threw her hands up. She didn’t know what to do next.

Unfortunately, neither did I. All I could say was I’m sorry. I feel ya. I wish it wasn’t the way it is.

Then, the moment passed and it was back to business, grinding to find the answer.

I’ve watched as another founder signed her first few customers, graduated from her MVP, and closed real funding. After two years of consulting with her, I felt pride in the success. But it wasn’t my baby. In fact, the funding meant hiring and the hiring meant the consultant was replaced.

Good luck to you! I’m on to the next gig.

The lows are low. The highs are high.

For me? No thanks.

So, here’s to the crazy ones.

When you’re part of a founding team, there are no two-week’s notices. No quitting when things get tough. No leaving early when someone else is working late. In a startup, nobody sits until everyone hits.

Besides, I’m not a visionary. I’m a builder. I don’t have a dream. I want to help you reach yours.

So, here’s to the crazy ones – the startup founders and their teams.

May you find the grinders, the customers, and the funding you need to reach for your dream. And, when you do, I’d love to help you reach for it. Part-time. From the outside. No strings attached.

Here’s to the founders. Y’all are crazy. But that’s my offer. So call me maybe. 🙂


** This post originally appeared on the PHX Startup Week blog. Join us every February! #yesphx **


We’ll be back! 3 answers for Phoenix Startup Week attendees

matthew lesko


Ten weeks after wrapping the inaugural Phoenix Startup Week, more than 200 attendees – and a few noobs – gathered for a reunion over happy hour this month.

The reunion was not organized by the Startup Week steering committee. It was grassroots. Robert Backie, Matt Rowley, and Ryan Smith loved Startup Week so much that they ideated, planned, and executed the reunion themselves.

They’d never met before Startup Week.

Now that’s powerful! No wonder people keep asking if we’ll be back next year.

That’s one of three questions Phoenix Startup Week organizers have heard more than any others in the 10 weeks since the big event. With an assist from our chairman Jonathan Cottrell, here are our answers:

1. Will Phoenix Startup Week happen again?

Yes! We’ve already locked in the week of February 22 for our return. As organizers, our focus will be on creating a repeatable, sustainable event that can outlive involvement from our current team, venues, and sponsors.

For attendees, it’ll be bigger and better than before!

One of the unique parts of our startup landscape is that it’s spread out across a sprawling metro area. In 2015, we took basecamp to the people, shifting from Phoenix to Scottsdale to Tempe and back again. In 2016, we’ll spread even wider with new basecamp locations already secured in the west and southeast Valley.

2. How can we carry the momentum forward in the meantime?

Startup Week is just a week, but the momentum continues under the #yesphx banner – on Facebook, on Twitter, and over beers or cups of coffee across our region. We’re using #yesphx to collaborate and to shift the narrative about Phoenix’s startup scene.

Historically, we’ve focused on the challenges we have as a community, including lack of enthusiasm for entrepreneurism. Two-thousand Startup Week participants would argue that narrative is just plain wrong. Sure, there are some things that can be improved – and they are improving – but we use #yesphx to focus on the good. There’s a lot of it!

3. How can I get involved?

Once everyone gets back from their summer vacations, we’ll start planning our next Startup Week. We’ll definitely need volunteers. It’s all about inclusivity, so sign up for the email list and you’ll be invited to the table.

Until then, get involved by communicating and giving to the ecosystem. Engage in the Facebook group and with the #yesphx hashtag. And give without the expectation of receiving anything in return.

As Jonathan says, let’s embody generosity. Let’s be the most generous and accessible community for entrepreneurship in the nation – giving of our time, help, advice, money, relationships, and whatever else we have to offer.

Let’s grab a drink!

Two-hundred people at a startup happy hour is quite a turnout for the Valley. We hope to top that when we meet again on June 10. RSVP here to keep up to date.

We obviously love happy hours, but we don’t want to supplant the many organizations already doing great work and putting on great events in Arizona. Instead, we want to funnel folks to organizations like Arizona Tech Council, Invest Southwest, and Startup Grind.

So check ‘em out. And while you’re out there, spread the word about #yesphx. Give your time to your fellow entrepreneurs. And let’s all come back together for Startup Week in February to celebrate entrepreneurship in Arizona!

Celebrating two years as an independent consultant

It was two years ago this month that Bulbstorm was acquired, finally freeing me to set up shop as an independent marketing consultant.

I tried to escape the 9-to-5 world twice before. Both of those attempts blew up on the launch pad. I tried to start my own ASU sports magazine, but was runner-up for the booster club’s contract. Then I was set to become a freelance copywriter when Bulbstorm made me an offer I couldn’t refuse on my way out of Insight.

Two years into attempt my third attempt, this one seems to have reached orbit.


I celebrated the anniversary as I celebrate most things – by traveling. Hey, after helping to organize the inaugural Phoenix Startup Week, I’d earned a vacation. So, I spent a week exploring the natural wonders of southeastern Utah.

Happy anniversary indeed!

yoga at arches national park

Enjoying my flexibility at Arches National Park. Flexibility! Get it?!

The Way of the Solopreneur

I define solopreneur as anyone who runs his own business without intending to hire employees. There’s a lot to like about being a solopreneur. The most obvious benefit is that you’re the boss. You make the rules.

An overlooked benefit is just that. Benefits.

Corporate perks are one size fits all. A Friday afternoon beer cart. A discounted gym membership. Bagels and benefits. There’ll be some variability in health plans, but if you don’t have a pet then that pet insurance subsidy is useless.

As a solopreneur, you choose your own adventure. Maybe you want to work from home instead of an office. Maybe you prefer to work only with companies with a conscious mission. I truly believe that a solopreneur should get more out of it than just not having a boss. It’s too hard and too risky otherwise.

For me, being a solopreneur has been all about summers off and the ability to work for anyone I choose and from anywhere that has Wi-Fi. Did you know that there’s Wi-Fi in Yosemite National Park? Sure, I pay 100 percent of my health insurance costs. But, yeah, benefits rule.

(I wrote more about my life as a solopreneur – including how I decide what to charge, how many hours per week I work, and more – at Scott’s Marketplace.)

How long could it last?

I’m loving my new career. I’ve learned about PR for tech startups and sharpened my sales skills working with Ubiquity PR. I’ve implemented CRM and marketing automation solutions for a number of companies, from software startups to a car dealership. I’ve built a digital marketing program from scratch for a custom tile manufacturer.

And, yet, I wonder if and when my career as a solopreneur will end at the hands of opportunity. Two years after exiting Bulbstorm, I’m starting to get the itch to do another startup.

Six years ago, Bulbstorm found me by googling Phoenix Marketing Copywriter and landing on this website. When I initially turned them down to focus on my new copywriting business, the CEO trash talked me on Twitter. I couldn’t turn him down after that.

Is the end imminent? I doubt it. But, as I learned in my experience with Bulbstorm, you’re always one unexpected email from getting back in the game.


3 marketing automation sequences to scale your startup

Over the last year, I’ve fallen in love with marketing automation. It appeals to my past as a writer and storyteller, an email marketer, and a sales enabler. And I love how effective it is!

I recently attended a three-day Infusionsoft University training event. Early on, the facilitator pointed out that 80 percent of deals require at least five touches to close. But only 10 percent of companies make five touches. I imagine the percentage is even lower for busy startups! marketing automation sequences

Tools like Infusionsoft make it easier to add touches by automating lifecycle marketing. At a minimum, Infusionsoft recommends three types of marketing automation sequences.

I’ve implemented each of these sequence types for my client Iris, a startup developing PR management software. I’ll use my work with Iris as the examples here.

1. Lead capture. Iris’ primary capture mechanism lets web visitors book a demo by selecting a time directly from our sales rep’s calendar. This is done with Infusionsoft plugin AppointmentCore. The meeting is added to the rep’s calendar, GoToMeeting info is distributed, and reminder emails are sent … automatically. No back and forth on availability required.

Someday soon, we’ll add webinar RSVP and whitepaper download options as additional incentives to prospects who aren’t quite ready to commit to a demo.

2. Lead nurture. After a demo, prospects receive a series of five emails reinforcing the Iris value proposition and encouraging them to buy. The first email covers Iris’s overall value proposition while subsequent emails touch on specific value prop pillars like PR measurement and relationship management.

When a prospect fails to purchase after receiving all five emails, the rep is alerted to reach out by phone. After that, the prospect is moved into a long-term nurture sequence that includes monthly product updates, value-added content, and occasional offers.

marketing automation sequence

3. New customer. Iris is a powerful platform for PR management. And with great power comes great responsibility … to train. Upon purchase, account ownership shifts from the sales rep to a customer advocate from whom a series of offers to schedule free training sessions is sent. Again, this is all zero-touch thanks to Infusionsoft and AppointmentCore.

After customers complete their training sessions, they receive a series of 12 emails with tips and best practices for getting the most out of Iris. Of course, these emails link back to the Iris resource center to really help customers get up to speed.

Marketing automation helps startups scale.

We worked on lifecycle marketing at Bulbstorm. However, due to the technology limitations of the past, the effort was laborious and expensive. It wasn’t automated. It couldn’t scale.

Now, as an independent marketing consultant, I get the chance to implement automated lifecycle marketing campaigns that really scale sales and marketing for startup clients like Iris.

Check out my recap of the Iris digital brand rollout, including positioning, website strategy, sales and investor decks, and more: Iris brand rollout overview