[VIDEO] Co-founder & CMO of Social Pandas gets real and dishes on the hard lessons she’s learned after 5 startups & counting. 

By Lauren Kim (Events Coordinator, Women 2.0)

Anyone who has ever worked for a startup knows that the day-to-day grind can sometimes amount to all out war and only the strong survive. A few make it out of the trenches to tell the stories behind their startup scars. Enter Gretchen DeKnikker, co-founder & CMO of Social Pandas. Watch to video above to see Gretchen’s talk, “5 Startups & Counting – Lessons from the Battlefield,” an honest and refreshing outlook on her startup journey. Read on to learn more about Gretchen in our weekly Lightning Lessons Q&A.

What is the one thing you wish you knew at the start of your entrepreneurial journey?

Oh man, only one thing?  There’s soooo much I wish I’d known!

I most wish that I’d known that the moment I started down the founder path, my life would be forever changed. I’ve always worked for early-stage companies so the rigors of startup life were familiar, but I quickly discovered that life as a founder was a different animal. “Normal” needed to be redefined. I wasted a good part of the first year thinking, “After we get X or accomplish Y, my life will return to normal.”

Eventually I realized that my life in that moment was the new normal. I would never have a day off mentally. I would have to try harder than ever to keep up relationships with friends and family, and trust that they would love me even when I wasn’t much fun to be around. I had to make peace with the fact that I would spend the majority of my time doing things I didn’t feel especially qualified to do. I had always known that I was up for the challenge, I just didn’t know what the challenges would be.

My unconscious resistance to this change was a completely unnecessary waste of energy. Had I gotten a clue sooner, I would have refactored my personal universe to fit this new reality much faster.

What do you love most about your job?

I have the best job in the world. How many people have a brutally grueling day, ask themselves if there’s anything they’d rather be doing with their lives, and can always answer “No”?  I find nothing more rewarding than building something from nothing, and I’m lucky enough to do this every day with the best Pandas on earth.

Okay, okay, I admit that some days I’d like to run away to a far, far off land. A fantastical place with unicorn-powered Ubers, where bacon grows on trees, bourbon flows from fountains, TaskRabbits are spry little pixies who anticipate my every need, and the big decision of the day is which pair of Fluevogs I want to wear.  But I don’t think SurfAir flies to my magical land of escape, so it’s fortunate that I’m happy here in pandaland.

What is your favorite or most inspiring book that you would recommend to founders and why?

Okay, gotta break the rules and go with two here. One of my all-time favorite books is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. I’ve never seen it on a “must read” list for founders. Success, for me, all comes down to people. People buy your product, people invest in your company, and the people you hire can make or break an organization. Oh, and humans are rather complex and fascinating creatures. I highly recommend investing time in learning what makes people tick.

Second, The Founder’s Dilemmas by Noam Wasserman is required reading for anyone who hasn’t founded or worked for an early-stage startup ([less than ten employees]). You’re going to make a million mistakes as a founder -guaranteed. Why not be clever by skipping these, and making new ones?

Where is the one place you go to relax and get away from the pressures of startup life?

I have to confess I am absolutely awful at taking time for myself, but this summer I took a hip hop dance performance workshop. Naturally, the exercise was great for both my mental and physical health, but what I really loved was the lack of responsibility that I had for anything other than myself. I make tons of decisions daily knowing that our employees and investors are counting on me to get things right, so walking into a studio and having a choreographer tell me where to go and what to do for a few hours a week was absolute heaven.  And, of course, this girl loves to get her groove on.

Who is your greatest role model and what would you ask them if you could meet her or him for coffee?

While chatting recently with a long-time mentor about the pressures of being a founder, she told me, “If you don’t want to go home and kill yourself at least once a week, you’re not trying hard enough.”  That may sound dramatic, but if you’re anything like me, you find comfort amid the chaos.

What do you envision the future will look like in the year 2020?

The only thing I’m sure of is that we will still be humans connecting with other humans. The modes will evolve and the depths of people’s imaginations will take us to places and provide us with experiences that we cannot fathom today. The core of what powers innovation will always be people.

Seven years from now, I hope that human relationships regain depth as the technology becomes less visible.  Seven years ago, I actually used my phone to call another human. Now, I use it to keep up with several hundred friends and connect with strangers in 140 character sound bites. I see a world where the technology becomes more ambient, and authentic human connection takes center stage.

(Oops, gotta run!  My iOS7 upgrade is finally complete and I gotta see how many texts I missed.)

Watch the video above to see her talk, 5 Startups & Counting – Lessons from the Battlefield!

If you are in the San Francisco area and you’d like to meet Gretchen in person, make sure to sign up for October’s Founder Friday – San Francisco.

What is Lightning Lessons?

Lightning Lessons is a weekly live broadcast on Wednesday mornings where Women 2.0 sits down with a tech innovator to learn about the game-changing stories of their startup journey and the hard lessons they learned along the way. Take a quick 10 minutes out of your day to learn from the mistakes and feats of your predecessors. Innovators jump in a Google Hangout On Air moderated by a Women 2.0 team member for a bit of story-time and the entire session is broadcast on Google+ for your viewing pleasure. See the full lineup of past and upcoming speakers, and catch up on last week’s session with Katrina Lake (CEO & Founder, Stitch Fix).

Read on to learn a little more about our upcoming Lightning Lessons #14 speaker.

Gretchen DeKnikker (Co-Founder & CMO, Social Pandas)

Gretchen is passionate about building an enterprise software experience that users truly love.  A startup junkie to the core, Gretchen DeKnikker has been launching and growing sexy enterprise SaaS startups and platforms since way back in the last century.

She is currently the co-founder and CMO of SocialPandas, a social selling solution that enables B2B sales people to strengthen relationships and close more deals.  Prior to founding SocialPandas, Gretchen launched LivePerson’s (LPSN) Apps Marketplace and was an early employee at Genius.com, EchoSign (acquired by Adobe) and Revere Data (acquired by FactSet).

Gretchen loves bacon, bourbon, hip hop and all things tech. Gretchen blogs at Enterprise is Sexy and holds an MBA from UC Berkeley.

Lauren Kim (@LaurenJisoo) currently serves as the events coordinator at Women 2.0.  Lauren holds a BA in Development Studies from U.C. Berkeley and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy. She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and women’s issues. In her spare time, she competes in hackathons and snowboards.