It’s a story that many of us know all too well: a promising young college graduate sets out into the world—and finds that things are not as they once were. Debt looms, job prospects are lackluster at best, and before you can say “millenial,” you’re back in your parent’s house, waiting tables, wondering what’s next.
For Lindsay Nelson, CEO and co-founder of Theme Dragon, Inc., opportunity was founding a tech company. She and original cofounder Megan Bradford poured their proverbial blood, sweat, and tears into this enterprise. Five years, several iterations, and a stint at a Seattle business accelerator later, things are going smoothly and successfully.
“My class graduated into the worst recession since the great depression after spending our lives pursuing an education that we were told would pay off in the form of a job. This life situation immediately pushed me toward entrepreneurship. With so few job opportunities, it became clear that I was going to have to create my own,” says Nelson. “Our generation is really capable and willing to think outside the box to solve problems and make a difference in the world.”
At this point, Nelson and new cofounder of her latest venture Jason Champion are gearing up to break new ground in video analytics (Bradford now stays on in an advisory capacity). Their latest product, Statdragon, launched just last week. Statdragon is a SaaS platform that allows businesses to access and analyze metrics about their existing videos, and optimize their video marketing strategy. You can check out further details here.
How do dragons fit in here?
One of the things that helps build a successful brand is a unique and recognizable logo. Bradford and Nelson thought that those brands who featured an avatar or character (like the Moz robot) were memorable.
“We decided on a dragon because they are strong, magical and well, just all around badass!” Nelson says.
What about bootstrapping?
When you’re starting a business to build your own luck, you don’t often have a lot of start up capital. To complicate things further, your startup is also frequently a side hustle while you hold down a day job. How do you balance it all? Nelson has some tips:
- Know your burn rate. And this isn’t just for your business, but as many startup founders know, your personal finances can matter just as much (especially if you aren’t profitable yet). “Make sure you’re on top of your personal finances, and project how long you can last on that money,” Nelson advises.
- Validate your idea. A wonderful idea is just that, but you need to test its viability, do research, and gather outside opinions. “You need to constantly step back and evaluate whether you’re really solving a pain point and creating value. If not, be agile enough to change direction and re-focus,” Nelson advises. This is a process she went through first hand, deciding on the fresh direction for her business as they went into development of a new product.
- Keep customers at the forefront, and listen to them. “Let your mission, values, and customer happiness be the guiding force behind everything you do, and remember you are not the customer. They are, so get out there and go talk to them,” she states.
- Plan ahead. Business planning has been a big factor for Theme Dragon since the beginning, and in any smart business, you want to know where you’re headed. Nelson suggests creating a projected sales forecast and planning how you’ll achieve it, realizing of course that you’ll make adjustments to these numbers as you grow.
- Be hyper-focused. If a taking on a customer means changing too many things, that client just might not be the right fit, Nelson says. Staying zeroed in on your mission and the value you know your business has to offer can save everyone a lot of time and effort. Don’t be scared to turn down “dumb money.”
- Network like crazy. Nelson encourages up and coming entrepreneurs to get out to industry events, and strategically plan who they want to connect with. She notes that if you’re considering acquisition as an exit strategy, creating and maintaining relationships is going to be key.
- Partner well. Nelson acknowledges that choosing a business partner is like choosing a spouse, and that she’s been fortunate to twice connect with people who synergistically allowed Theme Dragon to rise to the next level. When it comes to picking a partner, she’s clear about the high stakes: “Choose co-founders who bring a completely different skill-set to the table, and who fully align with the same set of company culture values that you have. This is a marriage, so getting along and being super productive matters for the overall health of the business. Hire and surround yourself with people who are hungry for the opportunity and super driven,” she advises.
Five useful tools and an entrepreneur’s workspace
What helps a busy entrepreneur get work done? Nelson recommends several software platforms that she says keep things efficient over at Theme Dragon.
- Buffer helps you with managing and scheduling your social media posts.
- Yesware is a sales and tracking gmail extension.
- Unbounce is a helpful platform for quickly creating landing pages.
- Mailchimp and Mandrill are leaders in newsletter management.
- Unfuddle allows development teams to easily collaborate on product management.
I’m always interested in an entrepreneur’s workspace; it’s where it all happens. Nelson lives and works in the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon (where I also hail from), and frequently works from home in her downtown high rise. In regards to what’s on her desk, Nelson says “I am always jumping between my laptop, iMac, and phone.” While it might seem like a given to those who aren’t city-dwellers, she also notes the importance of her car. Even living in a bike and mass-transit friendly city, it’s still occasionally a must to have a reliable source of transportation.
“Raise your hand, speak your piece.”
Are you a woman in a male-dominated field? Nelson has been there, and knows the ropes, as much as one can in a tough situation like this. In addition to the quote above, she offers some words of encouragement for those women who might be facing adversity at work:
Do it anyway. It can be difficult to persevere with things like workplace discrimination and the pay gap. However, the world is changing and the more that we as women continue to do our best work and don’t back down about receiving our fair share, the more likely a cultural change is to occur. Nelson says, “If you have an interest in fields that are traditionally less female saturated like engineering, don’t be afraid to pursue them. Gender diversity in these (and all fields) will only help them become more successful.” Diverse perspectives lead to innovation. You know you have a right to a seat at the table despite any detractors, so take it.
Look inward. Nelson notes that in two studies, both from Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” and from a Harvard Business School study, when it came to judging women’s work less favorably, the women involved in the study were just as biased as the men. That is a bitter pill, but it’s also an opportunity to think about the ways that you might be judging the women around you, or subtly valuing your male coworker’s contributions more than your own, or that of female coworkers. A cultural shift can also require an internal shift.
Keep your hope. It can certainly feel overwhelming sometimes, the idea that people are (sometimes completely unconsciously) biased against women in a work environment, but notice that we’ve come this far, and by using our voices and determination, the future will continue to be brighter. “Women shouldn’t have to cater to un-evolved expectations of them. Anita Sarkeesian said, “Contrary to popular belief, the system of patriarchy has not existed for all of history across all time and all cultures. And as such it can be changed.”Forward progress means that society must change its perspective on women instead,” Nelson asserts. “It will take time to get there, but I know that gender bias can be re-written.” As