• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

Find Your Startup Ecosystem

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I think they were right. We ARE the lucky ones.

By Janelle Jolley (Founder, Sidewalk District)

Being a tech startup founder can be a long, tough journey. And sometimes inspiration to continue trudging ahead can be hard to come by. Lucky for me, a couple of weeks ago inspiration reared its head in the form of a song. I don’t know if Michael Bublé meant for “Hold On” to be an allegory for what founders should keep in mind when he put pen to paper, but that’s exactly what it turned out to be for me.

Didn’t they always say we were the lucky ones?

I was gearing up for my big trip out to San Francisco for the Black Founders Conference while still at home base in Atlanta. There was a lot to be done, as usual. Chief among them, getting a live demo up and running for investors. But everything, and I mean everything, seemed to be going wrong at precisely the wrong time. Murphy’s Law was working overtime! I was about ready to fall apart, but took a step back to reflect on those words.

We, you (yes you!) and me, are indeed the lucky ones. We have taken the opportunity to have our work become the highest expression of our purpose, because our work is tied to a dream and vision. Keep this in mind the next time it seems like your world is turning upside down. Setbacks, delays, forgotten promises, things not going quickly enough, they’re all temporary. Your ability to stay committed to the pursuit of a vision yet unseen is why you do what you do. This is a gift.

We are stronger here together than we could ever be alone…

A couple of years ago, a friend reminded me that ecosystems exist everywhere in nature. No one thing is able to thrive on its own. The tree needs the soil as the soil needs the tree. Neither could exist without the presence of the other. He felt the need to say this to me because I have the unsustainable habit of trying to do it all myself. Needless to say, I carried this habit with me in business and it just doesn’t work.

Don’t be stubborn like me. Find your ecosystem early. Maybe you’re like me and don’t want just one, but several to exist in. Maybe one for females, one for ethnic minorities and one for the social impact world. However you decide to do it is fine, but do it and watch how quickly things change for the better!

This journey wasn’t designed for you to walk alone.

There’s a thousand ways for things to fall apart, but it’s no one’s fault… and maybe all the plans we made might not work out but I have no doubt even though it’s hard to see. I’ve got faith in us, I believe in you and me.

Listen, no one knows better than me how true these words ring. I’m likely the biggest anomalistic founder anyone could ever come across. No educational background in technology or business. No work experience in technology or business. But I’m here addressing a problem that others with better credentials, on paper, haven’t been able to address, despite the naysayers.

We all know that even in the most ideal scenarios startups, and businesses in general, have a rough go of it with the probability of success against them. But that should never factor in to things, should you decide to go forth. Hell, Lehman Brothers had A LOT go wrong and they were headed up by one of the so-called “Masters of the Universe”! Things can go wrong. Keep going anyway.

So hold on… tight, hold on, I promise it’ll be alright.

Maybe it’s taken longer than you’d like to get to the milestone(s) you set. Maybe you’re tired of making the sacrifices required for this stage of the journey. “Founder’s fatigue” comes in many forms. But I’ll take fatigue over forfeit any day.

Above all else that you do to for your company – fundraising, marketing, sales, project management, programming, hiring, partnerships – you’re most important task is to be the Chief Keeper of the Faith (CKF). Every startup needs a CKF to see its way through the patches of fog that sometimes appears.

We’ve got our work cut out for us, ladies, because the future of innovation lies with us, the world over. To heed this call, all we need is all we’ve got: our wits and the clothes on our back.

I don’t know about you, but I think they were right. We ARE the lucky ones.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Janelle Jolley is the Founder and CEO of Sidewalk District. She has an atypical background in journalism and public policy, but eventually found her way to tech. Her passion for local independent retailers and their ability to spur economic development in communities across America is what led her to pursue the Sidewalk District platform. Beware of her supernatural pitching abilities, you will be powerless against them. She was recently forced to get on twitter, you may follow her at @jolleyjanelle.