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Shared Stories Work and Career

Sunday Focus: Mile Marker #2

James Warren November 23, 2014
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We just reached another milestone, with the launch of our crowdfunding campaign for www.sharemorestories.com. Tomorrow, we begin promoting the campaign extensively through our family, friends and colleagues, and among people interested in sharing stories; and we’ll see what happens. I hope to tell you in a future Focus, several weeks from now, that our campaign was one of those, you know, the ones that achieve their goals. I hope to tell you that the next chapter is complete and full of success and we are moving forward. But we don’t know, and that’s the simple and honest truth. When you launch a campaign like this, even with all the planning and preparation along the way, the reality is you’re traveling into the great unknown and you have to wait and see what happens.

Make no mistake, we aim to have a successful campaign, achieve our funding goal, and take our startup to the next level. We will do everything we know how to do and are able to do, in order to achieve that goal. But more than that, we will learn. And that is the startup life: learning. Learning how to build a sustainable business, learning about whether or not customers REALLY have the needs or problems you THINK they have, and then learning about whether or not YOU can really meet those needs or solve those problems. Fundamentally, it’s about learning whether not anyone else, besides your team, cares.

Given our timetable and the calendar, we took the approach to get the thing up and running with a “soft launch” over the weekend and we plan to promote it like crazy starting tomorrow. Our goals are to connect with potential users of our alpha platform, engage people who want to be part of helping storytellers share their stories with the world and fund the development of our beta platform. In the process, we must never lose sight of this: no matter what happens, we will learn. If we get 5x our goal, we’ve learned. If we get zero, we’ve learned. That reality will no doubt make for some anxious moments, but that is the reality we have.

You probably have to be slightly crazy to launch a relatively large crowdfunding campaign (I consider “relatively large” to be anything over a few thousand dollars). That never occurred to me until we put the finishing touches on the campaign the other night. I turned to my wife Darcy and said, “Okay, let’s do it.” I picked up a glass containing my cold, adult-friendly beverage, took a sip and sighed deeply. Then, while muttering “I must be crazy” under my breath, I launched it. We smiled, shrugged our shoulders, she gave me a hug, and I got back to work on everything else I had been pushing off.

“Crazy” is probably not the best word to describe the crowdfunder’s state of mind, but it’s the one that first came to me, I suppose because crowdfunding is still, relatively speaking, a nontraditional way to launch a business, and a lot of work gets done in full view. And sometimes, we regard ourselves (or others) who are doing things differently as a little “off” (until the work is finished and everyone can see the result and we are all amazed… if that’s how the story ends). Either the emperor looks great in that awesome robe, or the emperor has no clothes, and just realized that unfortunate fact without the benefit of privacy.

You might think it’s brave or desperate, exciting or foolish. It could be all of those things or none of them, depending on the people involved. So far, I know this to be true: the process of launching a crowdfunding campaign humbles and empowers at the same time. In that quiet moment of our launch, absent any fanfare or “launch party,” a single action cast the dice and we set in motion the next chapter.

As usual (by now), the present learning opportunity is preceded by many other key moments, like one that occurred about a week ago as one my teammate (Ryan Gilbreath) and I worked on our campaign video at 804RVA. That place is a blessing of a space designed for creators, entrepreneurs, makers, freelancers and the like. We had fun. We learned how to edit, sequence and trim video and songs, we played with fonts, and we tested the limits of the iPhone’s picture and video-taking abilities. We wrapped up just as the sun started to set outside the huge glass windows looking out onto West Broad Street.

After returning home late that afternoon (in my book, 5pm is still considered the afternoon), I continued to edit and tweak the video further, totally engrossed on my laptop, present and not present at the same time in the goings on around our house, which included the preparation of dinner, the finalizing of high school homework and the consistent squeals of our eleven-month-old. In that familiar scene of family life, I finally pressed “play” on the video for the first time. Watching the first rough cut of the video, seeing myself explain our journey, showing people what we had built and what we aspired to build with their support, I cried. I hope that doesn’t seem arrogant and self-serving, but it is what it is. The experience overwhelmed me because my team and I have worked so hard to get this point, I’ve personally poured so much into this vision and, as with all startup ventures, I’m taking risks. In that moment, the dream gained more detail, the picture came into focus a bit more, and my emotions were difficult to contain. My two older sons put their hands on my shoulders and congratulated me. They told me the video was “cool,” which as we all know is the highest praise one can earn from teenagers today. And they went on about their business.

Coincidentally, that is one of the learnings: that we, as entrepreneurs, are often consumed by what we work on, and that even with the unwavering support of our family, fellow entrepreneurs and close friends, unless they’re part of the team and the work, it is still “our thing” and not theirs. That is precisely why we’re crowdfunding. Through this campaign, we want other people to see our concept and platform as “their thing,” so they share the journey with us. Our vision is bigger than us, and if it is to be realized, it will take people caring about it the way we do.

So now what? We’ll see what we learn, make adjustments along the way, and sprint towards the next milestone. We’ve thrown the dice and they will remain agonizingly aloft, tumbling through the air in slow motion, before landing and coming to rest. And we’ll know, then, what we’ve learned.

In the meantime, please take a look and let us know what you think. If our campaign and concept speak to you, please join and support us as we help storytellers everywhere tell their stories to the world and connect with others through shared stories and experiences. And even if it’s “not your thing,” I’d love to know what you think. If you have a crowdfunding or startup experience, I’d love to hear it. Please feel free to share it in the comments here.

That’s all I’ve got for now. More work, more collaboration, more learning. Appropriately, the startup life.

Photo Credit: “Straight Ahead” by John Georgiou

#FridayFocus #sharemorestories #storysharing #startuplife #crowdfunding #innovation #Leanstartup #vision #teamwork #collaboration #entrepreneur


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