How I Became an Accidental Founder
The Detroit Founder Friday speaker explains how she stumbled into the role of entrepreneur.
By Molly McFarland (Founder & Chief Marketing Officer, AdAdapted)
I never expected to be an entrepreneur.
When Mike and I founded AdAdapted, I had been working in sales and marketing for about six years. Three of those years had been with a well-established architecture firm, and the following three at a promising Ann Arbor startup, Amplifinity.
I knew very little about the tech world or Ann Arbor startup scene when I first joined Amplifinity, having come from a marketing role at a very established, very traditional architecture firm. The real estate market (and seemingly everything else Michigan) had crashed in 2008, and people were talking about how Michigan had to reinvent itself with new ideas and new industries. I didn’t know how I’d be able to take advantage of this changing energy, but I knew that I did not want to be in real estate anymore. So, when I was approached by the founder of Amplifinity, a word-of-mouth marketing platform, newly funded and touting well-known customers, I was ready for the leap.
I didn’t expect some of the comments I received about the career move. Friends, family and former colleagues were surprised that I would take a role that was so risky. I actually remember thinking,. “Risky? Really?!” I had just watched a huge industry that felt as staple as medicine and education disintegrate around me… how much worse could it be? Maybe I was just naive, but the uncertainties involved with working at a startup never bothered me.
I also was asked a lot if I felt prepared for the role. I knew that I had tools to be successful, but the truthful answer was, no I was not prepared. During my first year as marketing director, I was constantly looking for the protocols and roadmaps that existed at my previous position, but they didn’t exist. At first the constant trial and error, brainstorming and experimenting felt like a scramble. I later realized it was part of the deal. Especially when launching new products and services that have never been seen before, in markets that didn’t exist five years before. No one has it all figured out.
Feeling Like a Fraud
The fun part, I began to realize, was moving as fast a possible and “building the plane at 30,000 feet.”
Fast forward three years: my co-worker (and good friend), Mike told be about an idea he had for a new company. The concept was to reduce app publishers’ reliance on disruptive banner ads with a technology platform that made customized, native ads scalable across mobile apps.
When he first approached me, it was only to ask for some advice on basic messaging and presentation outlines. However, I quickly found myself walking into prospective client meetings and investor boardrooms pitching the newly minted AdAdapted idea. In the beginning, we were so terrified about being called out as frauds that I would turn bright red just introducing myself. But I was also starting to feel addicted: we kept pitching and kept getting positive feedback. We’d find new opportunities, new ways to pitch our concept, and as the company started taking shape we were just excited.
Soon we found ourselves working nights and weekends (mornings, lunch hours… whenever we could). I don’t really remember making the decision to be a founder or an entrepreneur, but I found an idea I believed in, a passion for bringing it to market, and was excited to follow it to the end.
Go Ahead, Leap
After about six months, we knew that it was time to take the leap. We left our jobs and started working full time on AdAdapted. It took us about a year to raise our first round of funding and we’re just starting to embark on the next chapter as a funded company. This coming year will be full of terrifying challenges, but you get used to that. Being an entrepreneur is the most stressful, exhausting and exhilarating job I can imagine, but it’s not a decision I could have ever made in a vacuum.
To my fellow female entrepreneurs, I would say, if you find an idea you believe in and are passionate about making it successful, go for it. Don’t over think your qualifications (very few have it figured out) and remember that life in general is risky – where’s the harm in a little more?
Want to hear more from founders like Molly? Meet them in person at Founder Friday.
About the guest blogger: Molly McFarland is AdAdapted’s founder and Chief Marketing Officer. Prior to founding AdAdapted, Molly held the position of Director of Marketing at Amplifinity where she planned and executed a cross-channel sales and marketing strategy, successfully sold to fortune 500 clients, and assisted in raising Series A funding.