“The hardest conversations are often the most important ones,” I heard myself say to a group of CUNY students two weeks ago. I was referring to lessons learned in hiring employees, but it was then that I knew I needed to have a honest conversation with all of you about what's been going on at Food+Tech Connect. I share this because I know that many of you are/will be in the same position with your food or health startup, and I hope you can learn something from my experience.
2012 was an amazing period of growth for FTC. I secured fellowship funding from CUNY to hire my first paid employee and validate key business model assumptions. With that employee, I launched a new website, increased our editorial coverage and created a product development strategy. I also produced 6 events, consulted for a wide range of food-related companies and traveled around the country speaking about the emerging food tech sector.
Then, in November, everything changed due to some unforeseen circumstances. My employee took a higher paying job at another company 5 weeks before Hack//Meat, our marquee event. I scrambled to pull together a new team for the event (thank you Veronica and Rachael) and began working 14-18 hour days. Hack//Meat was a major success (we even had a forward in The New York Time Green Blog!), but the loss of my employee set me back close to 4 months with other things we were working on.
When January hit, I quickly discovered it would be impossible for me to balance hiring a new team, finalizing event and product strategy for 2013 and selling sponsorships, as well as managing consulting projects and editorial. There are, after all, only so many hours in a day! I knew that I had to prioritize planning, building a team and income generation to ensure the future sustainability of the company. So that's what I've been doing for the past couple of weeks and will continue to do through the end of February. It's why editorial will continue to be a little light for now. But I promise we're working on some really exciting things that I look forward to sharing with yo
u in early March.
Some major takeaways from my experience over the last couple of months:
The Hardest Conversations Are The Most Important Ones to Have: Setting clear expectations from the beginning is important in any kind of relationship, especially in working relationships. Addressing the topics or issues you find yourself pushing off will likely save you time, money and peace of mind in the long run.
Always Be Hiring: Much like the adage “always be closing,” always be hiring is my new mantra. Most startups don't have the luxury of time or budget to find the perfect candidates when an employee leaves. As a startup, it can also be difficult to find people that share your vision and can handle the inevitable uncertainty that working at a startup brings. I'm going to start taking meetings with more people that inquire about positions at FTC, and I will be looking for people at events that I host or attend.
Rest & Work-Life Balance Are Key: I was completely burnt out and stressed after Hack//Meat. I had trouble sleeping, which meant I was less productive. Once I committed to sleeping 8 hours a night no matter what, focused on planning and made time for my friends and family, everything suddenly felt manageable and I've been able to make significant progress.
Now, it's your turn. What have you learned from your fails? How have you overcome some of your greatest challenges with securing funding, launching and growing your company? Being an entrepreneur is not easy by definition, but there are some unique challenges in the food and health tech sectors, and we all have a lot to learn from one another's experiences.
FTC invites you to share your stories as part of our new “Fail Friday” series. Fail Friday will be a place for food and health startups to write about their challenges and lessons learned. We'll do our part to promote your story and encourage feedback from investors and other startups in the community. And as an little extra incentive for anyone that's on the fence, we're guaranteeing a startup profile for anyone that shares their story. Sign up to share your story here.
Thank all of you for your continued support and understanding as FTC grows.