It might seem that launching a business would be easier the second time around, but the opposite is true.iStockPhoto

Some time ago I met with a partner from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a renowned Silicon Valley venture capital firm. She was kind enough to offer me mentorship; we discussed what makes a start-up successful and what attributes she looks for in a founder.

She showed me some research they’d done comparing first-time founders with founders who’d successfully exited from a previous venture. All had been backed by Kleiner Perkins. “Which group do you think were more successful?” she asked.

“Experienced founders are much more likely to succeed,” I replied. “They have proven skills and resilience.”

“That’s what we expected, but we were wrong,” she said. “It turned out that our first-timers have a much higher strike rate. And when they succeed, the companies they build are much bigger.”When we dug into why this might be, she described a theory called “second-time founder syndrome”.

Rebekah Campbell built a successful music management company in her 20s.

Looking back at my recent entrepreneurial endeavours, I see that I too was afflicted with this condition – although I didn’t realise it at the time. In my 20s, I built a successful music company managing the careers of 11 artists, including Evermore, Matt Corby, Lisa Mitchell and George.

When I decided to launch a tech start-up I was confident I’d succeed: I knew how to build a team. I hired someone to carry out market research and another to sell to my first customers. I found an agency to build the technology and a graduate intern to answer all the support inquiries. I put together a PowerPoint presentation and raised my first round of angel investment.

The first version of my concept didn’t take off. I pivoted our approach and tried again. Still not enough traction – but the costs were mounting. Looking back, the mistakes seem obvious. Now, as I prepare to embark on my next adventure, I’ll heed that advice from my friend at Kleiner Perkins: “Always be a first-time founder”. Here’s how.


Campbell grew Evermore's fan base by booking lunchtime concerts in high schools across NSW.

1. Do the groundwork

I thought I was an expert in building companies and that I could apply this expertise to a new business. I was wrong. A founder needs to be an expert in their own customers, not in starting a business. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg knew nothing about raising an angel investment round, but he knew a lot about how university students wanted to connect. By paying someone else to research the market for my business, I missed learning valuable insights.

My next business is in a new area again. This time I’ve allocated a whole year to learning the industry, taking a postgraduate university course to get the same training as the customers I’m looking to serve, and I’m also working in the field. I won’t design our solution until I’m sure the value proposition is right.

2. Hustle

Evermore was my music company’s first client. No one knew or cared about my company or the band. We couldn’t get a gig at a local pub. We had to fight to be noticed. Using the Yellow Pages, I phoned high schools across NSW offering Evermore to play at lunchtime. We’d charge students a gold coin donation and they’d get a CD single of the band. For 10 months we traipsed across the state playing in school halls. We’d stay in backpacker hostels and pay with bags of coins we’d collected from the kids.

Working town by town, we started to build a fan base. When I managed to get the CD single sales to count in the ARIA chart, the band’s song started climbing. Radio stations noticed and started playing Evermore. When the band’s album came out a year later it sold more than 100,000 copies. But by the time I launched my second company I’d forgotten the struggle. I thought I’d launch a product and people would just buy it.

Most successful businesses build granularly at first. The Airbnb founders talk about how they personally photographed the first thousand or so listed properties; Yelp held restaurant meet-ups to build groundswell. Almost every large company talks about how much work went into developing a following. First-time founders are prepared to hustle.

3. Stay close to the customers

In my first business, I was the only employee. When someone had a complaint or suggestion, it came to me. In my second business, I recruited interns to be the initial point of contact. They would welcome new customers and respond to support inquiries. I thought this would be efficient, but the cost was huge. I missed out on valuable feedback that would have helped me improve our product.

As a second-time and now third-time founder, it feels that launching a business should become easier, but the opposite is true. Recall what led to success the first time. Stick to the basics, consider abandoning your support network, and be prepared to sign up customers one by one. 

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I met recently with a large Silicon Valley venture fund. My company is not raising money at the moment, but the fund had heard about Posse and reached out to me online. Since I was in town anyway, I decided to meet with the fund’s investors and build a relationship. I showed them some slides and talked about our vision for Posse. They seemed engaged. They asked questions about the various insights we’d gained and pivots we’d taken. And then one of the executives leaned toward me and said, “You’ve shown a lot of persistence. Just like when you were seven years old selling flowers on the side of the road.”

His partner then started talking about my experience building a radio station in my early 20s and the various bands I’d managed in Australia. I was floored when they asked me whether, before our meeting, I had done the power pose I had written about in a previous blog post about body language. Two senior executives from the other side of the world knew my life’s story and didn’t mind reciting it. I felt naked.

The first time anything like this had happened to me was four years earlier, when I met with a music company in New York. That time, someone whom I didn’t know asked about an event I’d organized several years earlier in college. The question was relevant but a surprise — he had researched me on the web before our meeting.

That night, I did a web search for myself for the first but not the last time. I discovered links to a handful of articles that mentioned episodes from my time as a band manager. Some related to nonprofit work that I’d done but all too many quoted me saying “no comment” following misbehavior by some of my bands. That was not the brand that I wanted to present. Knowing that such web searches before meetings would become more common, I decided to take control of my online brand. Here’s what I’ve done.

1. Think about why

If your only concern is that people will conduct searches on you before meetings, you may just need to create a LinkedIn profile so they will find something that you want them to see. For me, though, the purpose of building an online brand was bigger. I wanted to raise the profile of my company in order to win clients, attract users and raise capital.

I have also decided to be open about the company’s struggles so that those who are interested will come on the journey with me. As a result, they are more likely to be supportive, rather than critical, when we experience those inevitable difficult times. Finally, I wanted to raise my personal profile to set myself up for whatever I decide to do next.

2. Define your brand

In 2008, a close friend shared with me a notebook in which he’d written down his personal values. This made me think a lot about my own values, and I decided to write mine down, too. The process forced me to focus on who I was, how that would affect my decision-making and what persona I would project to the world.

As entrepreneurs we create brand values for our companies but often not for ourselves. By writing down my values, I defined my personal brand and made it easier to make sure that my values are projected across everything I do online. This included the way my own blog is written, the types of other publications I write for and what I post in social media. As with a company brand, I try to ensure that the message is consistent.

3. Understand that social networks are the new calling cards

If you are on social media, people are going to check out your profiles. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will come up first, often in that order. LinkedIn is a great opportunity to showcase your achievements and connect with prospective partners and clients. I now do all of our recruiting through LinkedIn, searching  through profiles based on current or previous employment. When I reach out, I’m aware that everyone who considers replying will read my profile, too. On Facebook you can set your posts to private but, since my brand is about being transparent, I’ve made my profile public. Of course I have to be careful not to put stupid photos up.

An old boyfriend once became annoyed with me because I refused to set my Facebook profile to “in a relationship” with him because I was embarrassed by some of the photos he had on his profile. The photos weren’t of me, but I worried about how they would reflect on me. Maybe I was too sensitive (he certainly thought so).

4. Pay attention to what comes up first in Google

One reason to write a blog with your name in the URL is that it’s likely to pop up first on any Google search. It’s also helpful to have a name that isn’t common. I’m lucky with my first name, which has a less common spelling, and my blog ranks high if you search “Rebekah Campbell.”

If I had a more common name, I might elect to include my middle initial to make it easier for people to find me online. I would try to get the .com URL address for the name and then build sub pages using other terms that people might search for when looking for me. For example, people might search for “Rebekah Campbell Posse” and so I have a web page at that should rank first if anyone searches that combination of words.

If there were bad things written about me online (there aren’t), I would try to create new listings that would rank highly in Google and push the old links to the second page of search results. If you search your own name and nothing comes up, or if an early link displays something you’d prefer to keep under wraps, consider creating a LinkedIn page. It always surprises me when I see politicians who have problem headings on page one of their Google results don’t have a LinkedIn profile.

Of course, transparency does have its downside. In the same venture capital meeting I mentioned earlier, one of the executives brought up my interest in American politics. He suggested we might want to discuss my views at a future meeting. I smiled and, without thinking, let it slip that I’m looking forward to 2016 and that I’d love to work on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The room went silent, and I could tell instantly that they didn’t share my enthusiasm.

Over all, I’ve found building an online brand to be a great investment in time. It can be disconcerting to be reminded that anyone who’s interested can find out pretty much anything they want about me online. But the positives have outweighed the loss of privacy. In any case, I don’t think any of us can choose not to pay attention to our online brand.

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I believe I’m a good salesperson. I’m good at getting meetings with the right people and getting them excited, but I suffer from recurring attacks of what I call First Meeting Syndrome. My first meeting is red hot, but I struggle to get a follow-up; time passes and the deal goes cold. I’m a great door-opener, but I’m not so good at closing the deal.

Earlier this year, I pitched a partnership for Posse to the chief operating officer of a major media company. Once again, our initial meeting was excellent. I managed to score a follow-up with a few of the executive’s colleagues; again, my presentation seemed to go well, and the  group seemed receptive to my ideas. But as weeks slipped by and email communication slowed, I started to worry. Had I blown another opportunity by not being able to seal the deal? Over the past year, I’ve wondered: What am I doing wrong? How come I’m so good at initial meetings but so lousy at following through? I asked mentors for advice, and I tracked folks who are killer salespeople in order to learn what their magic was at meetings.

And I discovered that I was making some fundamental mistakes. It’s always tough for a small company to close a deal with a big company. For one thing, few people have even heard of a start-up like mine, so there are no kudos awaiting the corporate executive who strikes a deal with me. Instead, there’s a high level of risk, working with a product of unknown quality. Because that deal I mentioned was a potential game changer for Posse, one I needed to make happen, I decided to try a few of the techniques I learned from my mentors. And I’m proud to report that last week we closed a partnership that will give Posse lots of exposure in the coming months.

Here are a few of the things I learned:

1. Get the other company to do the talking

I used to spend a lot of time preparing for meetings. I’d research the company, come up with a range of suggestions and try to impress them with my presentation. I’d talk for 80 percent of the meeting. One mentor suggested that I make my first meeting all about them. Rather than arriving with a fully developed proposal, spend most of the time asking about their strategy. Then describe what Posse does and try to generate partnership ideas together.

When I managed to get back in to see the media company, I asked about its objectives. To my surprise, one of the lead executives said that her performance was measured by the amount of traffic she could drive to her company’s website. It became obvious that search engine optimization was crucial.

After I mentioned that Posse collected many reviews that were relevant to pages on the media company’s platform, this executive suggested that if we fed the reviews relevant to their store pages through an A.P.I., that would improve their ranking in Google search and drive more traffic to their site. Now she was interested. This was not an idea I had considered when I delivered my first presentation to the company, but it was exactly what I needed to get an important person on board with the proposal.

2. It’s all about the person

I used to get excited about the prospect of doing a deal with a big brand. When I planned my presentation, I thought it through as though I were pitching to Visa, Coke or the like, and structured it according to my expectations of what Coke wanted to achieve. But in reality, there is no such thing as pitching to a company; I can only pitch to one or two people who happen to work for that company. I have to sell to them.

Most people who work for big corporations have two concerns in these situations: How do I make myself look good? And how do I avoid making myself look bad? They will always be wary of doing a deal with a start-up if they’re not sure it can deliver. I’ve learned to draw attention to our high-profile investors in order to borrow their halo of credibility, and I stress that I will personally lead the project to ensure it succeeds. I try to show how working with us will make the big brand seem innovative, attracting positive media coverage — and make the employees look good in the process.

3. Deal with the most senior person

Senior executives are generally more prepared to take a risk while their juniors tend to worry about making mistakes. I’ve wasted a lot of time presenting to juniors who don’t have the clout or the nerve to make something happen. In my negotiations with the media company, the deal started to falter when it was passed down to middle management. To get back on track, I had to get back to the chief operating officer and get him excited again.

4. Leave a written presentation

I’ve always presented using PowerPoint on a laptop or iPad. But the advisory group that helped run our recent round of fund-raising meetings insisted that I print and bind a copy of my presentation to leave with clients. At first, I thought this was a waste of paper, but I was surprised to discover that it worked. It is easier to visualize a product when there’s a tangible booklet to flip though. I also learned that after the meetings people would pass the presentation around to colleagues. And many of the people I meet with are in their 50s or older and may be more comfortable with paper presentations. This may change with time, but from now on, I plan to print my material and leave it behind.

5. Create time pressure

Daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social were successful initially because of the scarcity principle, the concept that consumers want now what they fear may not be available tomorrow. The same is true if you are trying to sell some kind of deal or partnership. People are unlikely to say yes today if they think can say yes next week. As a start-up founder, I have found it hard to create a sense of scarcity. Everyone knows that my company is small and needs a partner; the executives at the big companies don’t need me. They are always in control.

But I’ve learned that without a sense of urgency I’ll never close a negotiation, so I have to create it. In the case of my recent media relationship, I had to make them want the deal, and I had to give them a deadline to make a decision. I had to say that, if the deadline passed, we would have to reallocate our limited resources to another opportunity, which was quite true.

6. Be persistent

I never used to be sure how hard to push people when following up. If I emailed a couple of times and they didn’t respond, I figured they were not interested. I didn’t want to be annoying. Then, a couple of months ago, a sales person approached me offering to sell an email marketing system for Posse. I met him over coffee and said I’d think about it. He called me the next morning and afternoon and then constantly, until I gave in. As soon as I said yes, he told me he’d be at our office that afternoon to present a welcome gift and to collect the paperwork. Of course, I wanted the gift, which turned out to be a $10 cake, and he got his paperwork signed.

This made me think: Why can’t I be more like that? After a meeting, I used to send a follow-up email, but many of the people I meet with are too busy to respond to nonurgent emails from start-ups; they hit delete and consign my missive to the bit bucket. Now, I go straight to the phone. I feel uncomfortable making the call, but when I reach people, they’re always pleasant. As the founder of a tiny start-up, I learned that I needed all of these tricks to close my media partnership deal. I worked on the most senior person in the organization, asked executives about their strategy, let them come up with the ideas, showed how the project would make them look innovative and reduced the level of risk by guaranteeing that I would make sure it succeeded.

I’m hoping that I have finally shaken First Meeting Syndrome for good.

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Before starting my technology company, Posse, I built a music management company in Australia. With each new artist, we would start from scratch with no profile, no fan base and no money to spend on marketing. I’d work out how to develop a brand and how to reach the right community of early adopters. Most bands give up before they reach 10,000 fans. After a while, I learned that if I developed a fan base of 10,000 and the music appealed to a wide market, the next several hundred thousand fans were relatively easy to come by. During eight years in music, I helped develop the careers of 11 artists. All were unsigned when I took them on, nine reached gold sales and four of them reached platinum.

Here are a few tricks I learned building fan bases for bands that I also used to build a community for Posse:

1. Don’t underestimate the value of passionate fans

The best way to experience a new band is in a small venue crammed with screaming fans. These taste makers become the first to discover a new talent, and they will later say, “I saw them at X with 200 other people, and now they’re playing stadiums.” But how do you find this first group of fans?

In the music business, I won over these critical people by engaging them one-on-one, a slow process that required lots of hard work. In 2009, my management company, Scorpio, signed a young musician called Matt Corby. No record company was interested in signing him, so we built his fan base without any budget. Matt had friends who were fans, and they had their own friends. We started putting on free concerts in people’s backyards, and soon we had requests for Matt to play in gardens all over the country. Our hosts started covering his travel expenses, and at each one, we sold CDs and collected email addresses.

After plodding around every weekend for two years, we released his music on iTunes, and he started with a small but committed fan base. These fans had seen Matt play in a backyard, and they felt they had discovered him, that they were responsible for his success — which they were, for those early fans became Matt’s evangelists. His iTunes single “Brother” sold more than 200,000 copies and won him a recording contract with Atlantic Records. In the same way, tech communities can often take years to develop. When Twitter was introduced in 2006, it attracted a small but passionate user base before really taking off in 2009. Pinterest began in 2009, inviting a few designers to use the platform, and each receiving invitations to give to friends. Ben Silbermann, Pinterest’s co-founder, has spoken of his difficulties raising money from venture capitalists because the site’s early growth curve wasn’t steep enough, which seems laughable today. But it was not until 2012 that Pinterest really took off.

Posse’s strategy for building that initial base involves a student adviser program. We advertise on free student job boards all over the world, seeking advisers to intern from home. They commit to completing two activities a week during a four-week program, and in exchange we provide them with a letter for their résumé. The activities include running user-experience tests, writing up product feedback and suggestions, recruiting friends to join Posse, promoting Posse to retailers in their area with stickers for the store windows, and writing blog posts about the best places in their town. We run the program every four weeks and aim to sign up 150 advisers.

We recently introduced Posse in Singapore and ran the adviser program for three months before promoting the platform to the public. So, when people in Singapore joined the app there was already an active user base and lots of content on the platform. The program has proved an effective, low-cost way to build communities of engaged evangelists. The advisers report that they learn a lot and use the reference letter to gain entry to university courses. Many wish to stay involved with us as brand ambassadors.

2. Leverage other people’s fan bases

In music, the easiest way to build a fan base is by landing a support slot with a major artist. When the band performs as an opening act, thousands of music lovers get to see them.

At Posse, we feature high-profile people on our blog in the hope that we will attract their followers. We publish two or three blog posts every day from celebrities, highlighting their lists of favorite spots to eat, drink and shop in their hometowns. For example, here’s the list of places to visit in Los Angeles posted by Hillary Kerr, co-founder of WhoWhatWear. It’s easy to ask a chef, fashion designer, musician, actor or politician for their favorite places; people love to share their recommendations.

Our community manager Chris writes up the blogs and encourages our featured celebrities to share them on Facebook and Twitter, which they usually do, often to hundreds of thousands of followers. He also reaches out to each of the featured stores, and they all post and tweet the link. Everyone is looking for content to post on social media, and the blog posts generate a huge amount of traffic for Posse.

3. Make sure the product has natural momentum

One of my early clients in music was a band called The Hampdens. The female lead singer had a powerful, ethereal voice, and I fell in love with the music. I paid for the band to record a CD that we released independently, and I used my contacts to get the group onto tours opening for major artists. But the CD didn’t sell. I was baffled. I believed in the band blindly and spent two years and more than $100,000 promoting it. The group was never able to attract passionate fans, its audience didn’t grow and the members became disheartened and gave up.

By contrast, I promoted another band called George. Again, we recorded and released an independent CD and hit the road. Every time George played, people bought CDs and T-shirts. Our independent CD sold more than 30,000 copies, and every tour would double the numbers of the previous one. In 2002, we released an album, “Polyserena,” and it was an instant hit.

When I started Posse, I thought our initial version of the product was great — but it didn’t gain momentum. People didn’t share it with friends, and users would drop off right after signing up. I remembered my discovery from music management: If people don’t love the product, and it doesn’t grow organically, no amount of marketing will save it. I have spent two years improving Posse, and it’s now reached a monthly growth rate in new users of 15 percent, without marketing. We’re almost at the point where I’ll be confident enough to start spending marketing money.

There’s a graveyard for businesses that fail to commit the time and effort to build a community of fans. Many spend a fortune on marketing too early – before the product has gained natural momentum and before there are committed customers. No one wants to watch a band in an empty room. Finding the right first 10,000 fans takes careful thought, hard work and patience. There are few examples of bands or companies that just take off without a coherent community strategy.

If you have any strategies to share, we would love to hear them.

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The Posse team during its morning stand-up meeting. Credit Posse.

Twelve months ago, we introduced Posse, a “social search engine” that helps users get recommendations for products, places and services from their friends. I prepared for this by attending every start-up conference I could, by reading books and learning concepts. But nothing prepared me for the challenges I have faced in the past year. Everything about starting this company has been hard: raising the first money; hiring, then unhiring several people and services; building the first product; figuring out that our planned strategy wouldn’t work; running out of money; raising money again. Now, it finally feels as if we have the right model and the right team, and we are not about to run out of cash — not quite, anyway. But there is no letup. I have yet to discover a point at which life becomes easier.

Conference speakers often discuss start-ups as if they were projects created in a university lab. The basic concept of “The Lean Startup,” for example, is that teams design, build and introduce a minimally viable product, one that tests customer interaction. Next come design improvements and a second version, then another test and more design improvements, and so on. This makes a lot of sense but can be difficult and frustrating. The team members want to be proud of the product they release, so they invest too much effort in designing for perfection. But it is impossible to predict how many times we may have to rebuild something, and no one likes developing the same code over and over. Everyone becomes disheartened when improvements don’t work.

My job as a founder has been to manage the storm as best I can, guiding my ship toward shore without running out of oxygen, hitting the rocks or being overwhelmed by a wave. Along the way, there is a constant battle between producing quality work and rushing to test. We know that time is a luxury few start-ups can enjoy. The team could run out of energy, the cash pool could dry up, investors could lose enthusiasm, a bigger fish could swim along and gobble the market. While balancing these issues over the past 12 months has been tough, we have continued to develop our product. We now have more than 40,000 merchants on the platform, with a weekly engagement that is improving all of the time. Posse hasn’t taken off, but we believe it is on the runway.

Here are some things I’ve learned.

1. Work Fast

We have an excellent team of engineers who like to test everything thoroughly — as they should. Yet, in our case, it’s more critical to introduce new features so we can learn and evolve than it is to produce perfect code with no bugs. Although we have no idea how long it will take to get the product right, we have a limited amount of money and time. Speed is imperative.

2. Focus on Things That Move the Needle

Everyone wants to fix the things that annoy them most, but those things may not have the biggest impact on users. With time and resources limited, it’s vital that every team member focus on the things that make the biggest impact. Right now, we have three engineers building the Android app because at present we are iOS only, which limits our growth. Two more engineers are working to open the iOS app so users do not need to log in to use it. This is essential: We know that only one in three people who download our app creates an account.

Five more engineers continue to develop the user-facing website and to upgrade our merchant dashboard so we can start charging stores, which is important so we can stay in business. Right now, I’m working on our next round of fund-raising to ensure we survive. I’m confident everyone is working to capacity and attending to the right things. But it’s a constant struggle because we are always aware of the many things we have not yet gotten to.

3. Look for Breakout Opportunities

The road map of features we would like to add would take our current team more than a year to complete. It’s easy to become bogged down trying to accomplish everything, but I’ve learned that it is essential to keep searching for new ideas. Every three months I take the team away to a beach house, and we try to look at Posse with a fresh perspective. We analyze what has created the breakout success of other products, like Airbnb or Candy Crush. They are very different products from Posse, but the makers of most of these products spend years trying different things until one change sparks rapid growth. We think through our users’ objectives and look for breakout ideas that could catapult Posse into the stratosphere. Each session results in fresh ideas and a rewrite of our road map.

4. Test and Measure Everything

Start-up founders know they should run regular user tests and can obsess about the analytics of their products. Yet, with so many issues to think about, testing can become something that slips. I’ve spoken to other founders, and many admit privately to doing far less measuring than they should.

Building a product without good analytics is like staggering around in the dark. We have made several time-wasting mistakes by building features that early testing would have revealed were never going to work. Now, I try to complete a user test every week, and we have hired a university student for two days each week to attend to the collection and analysis of data from our products. Having someone focused on this means that it will not be bumped in favor of work on more features.

5. Meditate

I find it easy to run on adrenaline, and I enjoy it. When we first introduced our product at the South By Southwest festival last March I was traveling and working, day and night, and I continued that regimen when I came home. During this period I achieved a lot, but after a while I noticed that I was not on my game. Ideas were not flowing the way they normally did. I became frustrated easily, impatient when things did not work the way I had hoped. Not sleeping properly, I was permanently tired.

I learned to meditate several years ago and started practicing again twice a day. I went back to yoga, and at first, all of the problems of our site streamed through my head like a freight train. Remarkably, I required only a few days to return to normal. Everyone has their own methods of relieving stress. Yoga and meditation are mine — but they are always the first things to go when I’m under pressure.

Introducing a tech product like Posse is hard going. When you use an app that works, like Airbnb, it is tempting to imagine that the product came together seamlessly. But when you read the back story, you generally find out that the start-up endured years of sweat and uncertainty before it took off. Right now, we’re in that phase, with a finite amount of time and energy to get it right. It’s scary.

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Before starting my technology company, I spent 10 years managing rock bands. Most of the artists I represented were successful in Australia, but our big dream was to crack the United States. And the best place to introduce a new band here is at South by Southwest in Austin, Tex. — the world’s largest conference for new music. Each year, along with thousands of others from around the world, I would stage a campaign to make some band the hottest new act of the conference.

Last year, I went back to SXSW to introduce Posse, a social network that helps users see their friends’ recommendations for places to go. Technology companies now use the conference as a platform to capture the world’s media in a bid to be the next big thing. Like many top bands, Twitter and Foursquare got their big breaks as start-ups at SXSW.

With the conference season here again, thousands of entrepreneurs will head to SXSW,TechCrunch Disrupt, Launch and a myriad of other trade shows and exhibitions that showcase products and services. But with so many competitors and limited resources, how can one start-up stand out? Managing bands taught me how to make an impact without spending a lot of money. Last year, when I introduced Posse, I used many of the tactics I had used to introduce bands. Here is how we became one of the hottest apps at SXSW on a $10,000 budget.

1. Get people talking

In music promotion, we focused on being heard by well-known music producers before the festival. These guys are easy to get to because they are always looking for new work, and they are friends with industry executives who ask them what hot bands they have heard about recently. To introduce Posse, we figured out which tech industry influencers go to SXSW every year and asked them to tell us their favorite places to eat, drink and shop in Austin. People like to think of themselves as taste makers, so it was easy to secure recommendations from people like Maya Baratz (ABC News), Elspeth Rountree (NBC and Fox) and David Tisch (BoxGroup). We turned them into the tech elite’s guide to Austin, publishing the map on our site and distributing print copies around the festival. With everyone looking for places to eat and drink, our maps became very popular.

2. Timing is everything

With music acts, we held off releasing a band’s album until right before SXSW since that was when we could obtain maximum media coverage. At SXSW, that coverage morphed into hype. Similarly, we raised a round of funding for Posse in December 2012 but did not announce it until four days before SXSW. We finished building our iPhone app in January but did not release it until the day SXSW started. This culminated in a TechCrunch feature that ran the morning the conference started. When people came past our stand, Posse was fresh in their minds. They wanted to try the app.

3. Go guerrilla

During SXSW, every inch of available wall and pole in Austin is covered top to bottom with posters by 9 every morning. Most of these posters are plastered over within an hour, so there is a short window of opportunity to make an impact. When introducing Posse, we designed notices that resembled the typical lost animal posters that people use when a cat or dog has gone astray. We found the funniest looking animals we could and displayed them in the center of the poster with a prompt for people to find the best places to eat, drink and shop. We photocopied a few hundred of these in black and white, designed to look cheap and homemade (which they were) and stuck them up the next morning at 7, all around the conference center. They became conversation pieces, with Mashable declaring our campaign “perhaps the best example of how effective postering can be.”

4. Be ready to hustle

If you go to a conference like SXSW to introduce something, you must be prepared to hustle every day. I brought Jen with me from our office in Sydney, and we stayed at a share house outside the city that we found on Airbnb — but we weren’t there much. All day and all night, we were on the street or in hotel lobbies where important people stayed, handing out stickers and maps. If you were influential and at SXSW last year, there is a good chance we persuaded you to download our app. Opportunities were everywhere. On the first day we noticed a long line of people waiting to register, so we bought three boxes of cupcakes and made our way down the queue handing them out to anyone who could show us our app on a phone.

Hustling often pays off in unexpected ways. One afternoon, Jen and I were getting out of a cab after buying stuff at Walmart to make our trade show stand, and we handed stickers to two guys as they helped us unload the car. They happened to be journalists for NBC, and five minutes later they interviewed me on the street and filmed us handing out stickers, publicizing our start-up. That night, Posse was the lead story on NBC News in Austin. The next day our trade show stand was packed with people who had seen us on TV the night before — including someone who managed the food and drink apps in the Apple App Store and advised us in the development and marketing of our app.

5. Get a street team

Every band has a “street team,” but most businesses and apps don’t. We could afford to send only two people to SXSW, and two people have limited range. But a month before the conference, we advertised for student volunteers on the University of Texas jobs board. We think we were the only company to do this, and we were flooded with applicants. We interviewed prospective team members by Skype and chose an enthusiastic group of 10 marketing students, who got the opportunity to learn about introducing products at a conference and received a letter for their résumés. They were quite successful at signing up users, staffing our stand and distributing our maps.

6. Leverage other people’s events

Every year brings a few music shows that everyone wants to see. A new band should endeavor to appear on the bill for one of these shows, gaining exposure to the whole industry at once. It’s much easier than staging your own show and competing with every other gig that’s on at the same time. I also used this ploy to introduce Posse. SXSW tried to convince me that we should invest $10,000 in staging our own party. Doing so would have given us a venue and a listing in the official event guide, but we still would have had to promote it, dress the venue and buy food and alcohol. And I had a budget of $10,000 for the entire event, including flights and accommodations.

So we teamed up with an influential group of women in technology called Change the Ratio. It had already organized a party, and we offered to sponsor it. For a fee of $2,000 we secured naming rights to the event and covered the venue in posters, and I gained a speaking opportunity. Change the Ratio attracted all of the power women, so for a tiny cost and little effort, we owned the hottest women’s event of the festival, with attendees like Randi Zuckerberg and Cindy Gallop. I had long been wary of trade shows. Big companies like Microsoft and Google pour millions into their presence, and it seemed unlikely that a start-up on a budget could get noticed. We decided to give it a shot, and I’m proud to say that we did make an impact.

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Starting a tech company is expensive. That’s why those who start one — unless they can do everything themselves, including designing, coding and selling — must accept fund-raising as an early goal.

Every day we read about budding entrepreneurs who raise millions of dollars to start something. Often, we never hear of them again. A handful resurface when the company sells for a fortune, but most trip and fall into the start-up vortex of doom, spinning to an almost certain and painful death. Companies don’t send out press releases when they die, so the vortex isn’t well known. But as someone who has spent the last eight months trapped in it, I know I’m lucky to have escaped to tell the tale.

Three years ago, at home in Sydney, I hatched an idea for a tech company called Posse, a “social search engine” that helps users get recommendations for products, places and services from their friends. I drew up a plan for the product and showed it to a web development agency for a cost estimate. The agency’s answer was that it would cost plenty. So I created a PowerPoint deck and started pitching investors. With an idea but no track record, I thought angel investors might be the way to go. I pitched more than 700 times, and one full year after I started, I finished my first round with $1.5 million from 23 individual investors.

Next came the team, a product, and in no time we were parting with $100,000 a month in expenses — engineers don’t come cheap! And after 10 months, we were still finding our feet. I made a couple of hiring mistakes, the product didn’t work right, and we needed to raise more money. We were now entering the vortex. The second round was tougher to raise than the first. We had made progress but didn’t have exploding user numbers. I discovered that it’s much easier to raise money for a vision than for a product. With a big vision, investors dream of what might be. When the product appears, no longer a vision, investors see what it doesn’t do more than what it does do — or what it might do.

With a start-up, everything must fit together for the product to fly. We needed the right team and the right strategy, and we needed to execute. Some companies require several iterations to get it right, and that can take years. I moved from Sydney to New York and spent 70 percent of my time raising money, a process that compromised our priorities. Investors wanted to see growth when we needed to focus on engagement — getting people to return to use Posse again. I’ve caught myself pushing growth to impress investors, when both the team and I knew it was inappropriate.

The team became disheartened, and since I was on the road raising money, I wasn’t around to motivate them. They became less productive, and everything slowed down just when investors were demanding progress. As this dragged on, team members left, which made things even more depressing. I was exhausted and started to lose faith. Many companies fail at this stage. It’s the death spiral that almost killed my business and at times seemed like it might kill me as well. The things I have learned about avoiding and surviving that spiral, as I’ve built my company, will be the topics of my posts on this blog.

To get started, here are a few discoveries I have made along the way.

1. Avoid the Vortex

Entrepreneurs are optimists. I started with a plan, budgeted costs and believed my idea would fly. I would raise enough money for the first year, and I thought that by then I’d have enough traction to raise my next investment round at a higher valuation. This is how entrepreneurs think when starting out, but the number of companies who actually do this in the first year is tiny. Even successes like AirBNB, Twitter and Pinterest needed several years and many pivots to get it right. If I had it to do over, I would raise more money right upfront, when everyone is still excited about the vision. And I would give myself at least two years runway, giving us time to make mistakes and focus on the right things without distraction.

2. Raise Money Before You Need It

When we were spending $100,000 a month, I knew just how much time we had left, and four months before it ran out, I started trying to raise money again. As we compromised priorities and team members left, my energy collapsed. It’s almost impossible to raise money in this situation. I remember one day in particular. On a hot New York summer afternoon, I was sitting in my co-working space at the Alley in Midtown. Paralyzed by stress, I couldn’t do a thing. I summoned my last fragment of energy, walked to Central Park, sat on the grass and cried. I knew I was approaching the very bottom of the vortex. I was spinning fast; one slip and it would all be over.

3. Focus on Breaking Even

It’s sexy to focus on growth; we often hear of sky-high offers for companies with no revenue but lots of users. Yet thousands of companies have both users and growth — just not steep enough growth to raise money or be bought by Facebook. Next time I start a tech company, I’ll pick an idea capable of generating revenue from Day 1, then I’ll expand that revenue so we break even as quickly as possible. I might seek investment to accelerate growth — but I won’t fall into the trap of needing it.

4. Learn to Live With Discomfort

Early on my founder journey, I recognized I would need to figure out how to handle stress. I started reading about Buddhism and found comfort in its teachings: that everything is temporary, that suffering is a part of life. Uncertainty and suffering are part of running any business. I took up yoga and learned to meditate, yet I survived the year by recognizing that my path was of my own choosing. That day in Central Park, I got a glimpse of failure. To my surprise, it wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t about to die, after all. Since then, I’ve been more willing to accept the uncertainty.

At 4.58 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning, I got the email I needed: confirmation that the funding round I’d been working on all year had closed. The last investor had said yes. That day, I slept, watched TV and went for a walk in the park, enjoying my first adrenaline-free day for months! What got me through the year was tenacity. Half an hour after my breakdown in Central Park, I dusted the twigs and dirt off my skirt and marched down Lexington Avenue to another pitch. Like 99 percent of my meetings with investors, it ended with their saying no — but it didn’t matter. The only way out of that vortex is to keep going.

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