Dana Dyksterhuis shares the most important lessons she's learned on the road to getting her startup Fanzo into the Microsoft Azure Accelerator powered by TechStars.
By Dana Dyksterhuis (Co-founder, Fanzo)
“Former Broadcast News Reporter and PR Exec Tackles Startup World by Storm!” seems to be the headline my friends and family think of my life (and I love them for it), but when you do a deeper dive into my journey of being a startup co-founder, things can feel quite different.
“Startup Co-Founder Has No Clue; Seeks Answers” seems more appropriate sometimes.
It’s an amazing, beautiful, brutal, heart-breaking, scary as hell, humbling, lonely and brilliant experience all at once. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Fanzo began with the idea of uniting sports fans around designated watch sites when they move and travel. Several pivots later, we now rank sports fans and the content they share on social media, and create a signal out of the noise by highlighting the best (we are in private Beta). I am so blessed to be joined by my co-founder and CEO, Paul Ingalls, who is like a brother to me, as well as the rest of the Fanzo team (Wayne, Matt and Javi). As part of our journey, we were also a Top-10 team out of 600 who were accepted into the Microsoft Azure Accelerator powered by TechStars. We have so much to be proud of.
Recently, I was asked by Women 2.0 and Microsoft to speak at the Founder Friday Seattle Launch. I am so grateful! I highlighted the following five lessons I shared that are important to me and hope you find something you can take with you.
It’s been almost two-years from idea stage to where Fanzo is today and trust me, there are several moments along the way when I could have just said, “Meh” and walked away. Here are two examples:
Startup Weekend “Almost Flunkie:” I pitched the idea of uniting fans when they move and travel to a room full of people in order to form a team and demo a prototype at the end of the weekend. I was told the pitch was good and generated interest from people wanting to help, however, I was not voted in the Top 15 (or whatever the number was) in order to move forward. One of the mentors there, Rob Zazueta with Vertical Response, told me to stay and build anyway. My team and I built the prototype and presented at the end of the weekend. It was a very cool experience that showed me the potential of what could be. Thank you to Michael Sharps and Ellen Chisa for sticking with me that weekend.
Seconds Away From Missing Out: I went to a Lean Startup event at The Easy with networking, a speaker (Dan Shapiro) and the opportunity for people to give a 15-second pitch on what they were doing and what they needed. I needed a technical co-founder. I wasn’t sure if I’d pitch or not. The line was long and I had all but given up, but at the very last moment I got up there, gave my 15-second pitch, and met Paul as a result. While a ground-breaking and awesome moment that changed my life forever, there’s also a funny story behind this. If you ever see me out at an event ask me about it and I’ll fill you in!
In addition to these two examples, there are also the times when you feel lonely, scared and beat down as a result of risking it all to make your dream come true. During these times, just keep going. Do even the smallest of tasks that you can do in order to keep the momentum going. Or, try the next piece of advice.
Ask for Help
This seems like simple advice but it’s actually very hard to do. No matter what you’re feeling stuck on, confused about, or even happy about, people are here to help. This is advice that has been drilled into me by Jim and Michele McCarthy that I cherish. You’d be amazed at what can happen when you honor yourself, do the strong thing, and ask for help.
Tell your story and be truthful. I love how one of my mentors, Micah Baldwin, has been writing about how you don’t have to talk about how awesome things are and how you’re “Killin’ it!” if that’s not how you’re feeling. In fact, we can relate more to each other when we get vulnerable and more times than not, get the help we need as a result. Yes, it can be incredibly scary but the most beautiful stories are those that touch you because people got raw. Vulnerability translates into stronger, closer relationships. Try it.
Trust Your Gut
The only time my gut has failed me is when I’ve ignored it. Enough said.
Take Care of Yourself
Life in general can get incredibly chaotic. It helps me immensely when I pause, breathe and recognize that I need a break. It can be as simple as going to yoga, playing tennis, going out on the town or having a lazy weekend. Whatever the case, don’t feel guilt for needing to take care of yourself. Just do it. Make it a habit.
There’s one more item I’d like to include and that’s to surround yourself with people who genuinely support and love you and to disregard the haters. A friend told me recently to “Just shake the ick off.” I’m not talking about the people around you who give you tough love and brutal advice to help you grow. Those people are awesome – cherish them! I’m talking about the opposite. It’s easy for people to criticize behind your back… very easy. But it’s also weak. Don’t forget that ever, shake the ick off, and spend your energy on those who do matter. When you trust your gut, you’ll know the difference between the two. Laugh one off, nurture the other.
Finally, I’m generally connected 24/7. I encourage anyone to reach out with your questions, stories and feedback. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your journey is precious... Fight for it and protect it. You deserve your dream!
Dana Dyksterhuis is the co-founder of Fanzo: Where Fans Rule. Fanzo is a Top-10 Team out of 600 chosen worldwide to participate in the Microsoft/TechStars Azure Accelerator. Follow her on Twitter @danad103.