Jordan Raynor is a Co-Founder of Tampa-based Citizinvestor — the largest crowdfunding platform for government projects in the U.S. The following is an excerpt from his new book, “Startup Stories: Lessons Learned from a Startup’s Launch, Grind, and Growth.”
“The start of any startup is intoxicating. For us at Citizinvestor, it seemed like we were on a rocket ship barreling towards the moon. Before we even launched, we had been glowingly profiled in seven publications and asked to deliver a TEDx talk. We then found out that we had been chosen from 200 applicants as a finalist for Code for America’s inaugural startup accelerator program. The icing on the cake came at a moment when I had one foot in my new venture as a civic entrepreneur, and another in my former life as a political operative.
“It was the last week of August 2012, and I was spending most of my time at the Republican National Convention being hosted in my hometown of Tampa. I was walking to a briefing by the Romney campaign’s Digital Director when I received an email informing me that Citizinvestor had been selected to receive a $5,000 grant at an event hosted by Rock the Vote. I couldn’t believe it. We didn’t have a product or a single customer yet, and here someone was just going to hand over $5,000 because they thought our idea was cool.
“We were asked to pick up the check at a club in Ybor City that night. Rock the Vote was hosting a party with DJ Steve Aoki, or as [Citizinvestor Co-founder] Tony [Desisto] kept calling him, ‘DJ Okie Dokie.’ That same night, my wife and I had tickets to the opening of the Republican National Convention, but I figured we could make it to the party to pick up the check and still have time to get back to the Convention Center to hear Ann Romney and Chris Christie speak. As we walked into the club, we couldn’t have stuck out more if we tried. Tony, [my wife] Kara [Raynor]and I stepped out of a Brooks Brothers catalog onto an alcohol-laden dance floor crammed with glow stick waving teenagers in what can only loosely be described as clothes.
“The club thumping (kids still say that, right?), we awkwardly made our way upstairs to collect our $5,000. We were enthusiastically greeted by the event’s organizers who heaped praise after praise on Citizinvestor. With the launch of the site imminent, everyone around us was setting expectations at a level matched only by the volume of DJ Okie Dokie and his screaming fans. We couldn’t help but mistake the hype for success.
“While press, speaking engagements, and events that promoted Citizinvestor were great, they weren’t what mattered most to our core business. About a year after our launch, Tony and I were feeling overwhelmed by the number of things we were working on, so we took the time to clearly define what mattered most to building our startup into a sustainable business. We were able to boil it down to two things: getting municipal governments to post crowdfunding projects, and getting those projects funded. Those were the only two things that made us money and moved us toward sustainability. With those two things clearly defined, we held a number of ‘stop doing’ meetings where we looked at every task we had on our to-do lists and asked ourselves whether or not it helped us get projects or get them funded. If the answer was no, we dropped the task without hesitation. In our first ‘stop doing’ meeting, we dropped half of the things we were working on and the company was much better for it.
“At the start of a startup, it’s easy to trick yourself into believing that the things that are the most fun are the things that are helping you build your business. And maybe they are! But in our experience, the things that matter the most are the things that are the hardest and least fun to do. After you have come down from the intoxicating launch of your startup, get focused on what matters most as quickly as possible.”
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