Takeaways: “From Nothing to Something” by Brian Distelburger (’01)
“There’s never a ‘right’ time to start a company. If you wait around for the perfect moment it’s never going to happen—you have to run with your ideas and see where they can bring you.” – Brian Distelburger
Brian Distelburger’s Bio
Brian Distelburger has extensive experience with start ups and publicly traded companies in the online media and database marketing space. Brian believes Yext will revolutionize the way consumers connect with local businesses and looks forward to the continued challenge of building a great company.
Yext provides local cloud-computing services for marketers to manage their geodata and content to connect it everywhere. Over 200,000 businesses, including 7 Fortune 100 companies, 23 Fortune 500 companies, and 16 of the top 100 retailers use Yext.
Brian began his talk by explaining that “from nothing to something” is the framework that he uses to think about entrepreneurship. He explained that personally, his “nothing” was his starting point as a student at Cornell University with a less than stellar academic record (he was bold enough to show us his GPA), and his “something” was the desire to build a giant company. In order to get from nothing to something, Brian did some myth-busting about the trajectory of starting a career or a company:
It is not linear. You cannot expect to graduate from college, get an entry-level position at a bank, and then continue to be promoted around every two years until you eventually work your way up to CEO. The path of a career or a company will never be this predictable or reliable; expect some twists and turns.
It is not exponential. When starting a company, do not go into it with the mindset that you will be able to sell it for $20 million within the next year. This happens occasionally, and when it does it is basically a miracle.
It is not a zigzag. This model implies that you are always headed up and to the right, that every decision will be leading you in the right direction. In reality, as an entrepreneur you will make choices that cause you to end up behind where you started.
So…what is it? Think of it as a maze. You have to make decisions with imperfect information, expect dead ends and running into a few walls, and you have no idea how long it will take to complete.
How to Navigate a Maze:
1. Pick your maze
- Whether starting a company or choosing a career path, you have to choose an industry that you are passionate about.
- Be self aware—figure out what your strengths and weakness are, think about how you spend your time and what you are interested in.
2. Select the right people to run with
- Who’s your team?
- Find a variety of perspectives:
- Industry experts (zoomed-in)
- Investors (zoomed-out)
3. Persevere at Dead Ends
- It happens to everyone—companies grow in different ways, things that you can’t anticipate will happen.
- Watch out for dead end jobs and other setbacks.
4. See Around Corners
- Once you know your landscape, develop the ability to know what’s coming next.
- What you learn over time is that your business is actually a maze of mazes and you can run it as an entrepreneur, an investor, or a mentor.
Entrepreneurs are constantly dreaming of building up their ideas from nothing to something…it’s time to take Brian’s advice and stop waiting for permission to start your dream company. Startups are about risk taking and constant innovation; as Brian explained, “You never develop a comfortable level and in order to stay in the game you can’t let yourself get comfortable”.
Venture outside your comfort zone and discover something a-MAZE-ing!