After working for companies like Booz Allen, starting his own startup (TAU, LLC), and failing after two and a half years, Dominick Ard’is decided to join Domi Station team as director of incubation programs and operations. Discover what he’s learned as a startup entrepreneur, a business consultant and a director at a coworking space.
Be a businessman, not a hustler
During our Startup Capital interview, Ard’is reminisced about his early days as an entrepreneur, when he was selling candy to his classmates in school. After describing his “knack” for entrepreneurship, I had to ask: “Are you hustler?”
“Not a hustler,” he said. “I’m more of a businessman.”
The difference is one that I had never considered. So I asked, “What’s the difference?”
He went on to talk about how a businessman is methodical, patient, and deliberate in his or her enterprise, while a hustler is simply chasing money for the short term. A businessman is focused on one or two enterprises while a hustler might be pursuing three or four. The focus, persistence and tenacity of the a person who is serious about business is what makes them able to succeed in the long term, because they’re asking questions like: “How do we begin to scale this enterprise so that it leaves a bigger impact for a lot of people?”
Take a moment and ask yourself, are you hustler or a businessman (or woman)? Are you focused on long-term growth, or quick cash?
Mind the difference between advice and opinion
During our chat, Ard’is recalls meeting with a developer to sketch out his idea for his startup app. He went in looking for advice on whether to go with a web app or mobile app, but what he got was someone’s advice. According to Dom, there is a key difference.
“Opinions are more subjective and advice is very objective. Please don’t confuse the two.”
Advice is based on measurable, quantifiable fact. It’s specific, targeted and effective. Opinions, however, are just the opposite: one individual’s feelings about something. When seeking help for your startup, make sure that you’re receiving advice rather than opinions.
Advice can help you make vital decisions to help you grow. Opinions are more of a distraction, and in some cases, hot air. Be sure to decide whether the advice you just received was based on measurable results, not on somebody’s subjective opinion of something.
Measure everything you can
As part of his role at Domi Station, Ard’is is in charge of measuring the effectiveness of the organization’s startup programs, both the incubator and the accelerator models. Measuring their impact, he says, is tricky.
He spoke about how Domi’s metrics were going to be somewhat invasive, asking questions about revenue, about the company, about demographics, etc…
“It’s important to get a sense of those things because when a mentor is providing council, it’s important that they have a baseline to understand where you are, and furthermore understand your strategy to provide you on-site advice that helps you reach your goals.”
In order to provide data-driven advice, Domi and other startup accelerators need to know what works, and for whom. Getting that type of detailed information can make it easier to identify problems with a new business, as well as opportunities for growth. As an entrepreneur, measuring your growth while identifying roadblocks is key.
Define Failure on your Own Terms
I had to ask Ard’is about his startup, The Town. The Town was meant to be a disruptive tool to “ensure that people would feel some type of intrinsic value about how they were moving as a person within the city, a real human experience.”
But according to Ard’is, he and his partner’s timing was off. Despite winning grants and getting off to a good start, The Town would eventually be shelved. But it certainly wasn’t the end for Dom and entrepreneurship. He had to accept that the timing wasn’t right and that the product wasn’t going to be a success at that point in time.
“It was a good run, but you have to know when to pivot, and sometimes put it on the shelf.”
While The Town may not have been a success story, Ard’is took that in stride, taking his experience and leveraging it towards a career in tech and entrepreneurship. Even if your startup isn’t successful, you still can be. As an entrepreneur, failure can be seen as a personal failure, leading to decreased risk-taking in the future.
The other way to see failure is as a “badge of honor” or a way to earn your stripes as an entrepreneur. A “shelved” startup doesn’t make you a failure as a person, it just means that the world wasn’t ready for your product, or that the idea just wasn’t that great. But that should never affect your attitude as a maker, an innovator, and someone with the ability to change the world.
While failing on your own terms is important, so is defining success. When asked about his final advice for a tech entrepreneur, Dom replied:
“Know what you’re getting into. And don’t think that you’re going to do a million dollar exit in two years. If you do, congratulations to you.”
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel being a multi-million dollar valuation sooner rather than later. However, not every startup success story mentions a “unicorn.” Whether you’re a tech startup or small business, focusing on sustainable growth is more vital than targeting a buyout.
That’s because realistically, not every startup is going to get a buyout. Making it to that level as a first-time entrepreneur is like wanting to play NFL football right out of high school. Before looking for that big buyout, make sure that your vision is right. Growing slowly, while still creating jobs and economic impact, is as admirable a goal as any, so don’t feel like you need an exit to be successful.
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