5 Startup Lessons I Learned In The Hood:
Well, I am finally home from Boston and now back on the West Coast! After being gone for two months, my wife and two children are happy to see me again! I have just completed a two month network/startup accelerator, for individuals, called Boston Startup School and it was sponsored by TechStars. I wanted to start sharing some of the many things I learned, while in Boston, so I’ll start with how I learned to ADAPT quickly.
The word ADAPT is something I have truly learned through this experience. I now relate to the word differently and know so much more about myself than before I went to Boston. I showed up in a town where I didn’t know anyone, had zero connections, and didn’t know how to get around. After two months, I now am back home with a professional network across the East Coast, life long friends, and know where to get the best burgers in Back Bay!
At Boston Startup School, I learned many things about startups but I had to adapt to almost every situation. Having been part of two startups, I know that being able to adapt quickly is key, but changing everything in your surroundings at one time really adds to the equation.
ADAPT IN MY LIVING SITUATION: I ended up booking a place online to live. I had very little time to find a room to rent, after being accepted, so I had to move quickly. I found what I could and booked it. What could go wrong ? :)
While on the cab ride to the house, I quickly realized that this may have been a bad place to pick. The cab driver told me that I shouldn’t walk two streets in another direction or I might not make it back alive. Uh…..what??!! While unloading my belongings, I was told to keep my voice down in fear that someone would rob us and take my luggage. I knew at that exact moment that I was in for some interesting times.
After arriving, it was basically a Hood’n Breakfast deep in the heart of Dorchester! Whoops! I was way out in the hood. I have never been in a place where my “spidey senses” were on such high alert. The house was 170 years old, ok at best, and was falling apart from the inside out. The house guests were not allowed to leave lights on anywhere, so basically it was complete darkness other than your room.
I read that about 10+ people had been shot, stabbed, or killed within .25 miles of this house. This was all within the last 6 months. Let’s just say that It was a ROUGH area! Within two nights I had almost been jumped on the train by five gang members who were yelling at me no less than 3 inches from my face, while standing over me. They were yelling at me and asking if I had a problem with them in a very agressive way with no interaction on my part. I made the mistake of making eye contact with the group leader as he walked on to the train. Dang! Why did I make I contact. Check that off the list to NEVER do again. I was a bit fearful to say the least, especially when I had to walk two miles in the hood to the local laundry place. How did I survive? What did I do? ADAPT.
I went and got a knife the size of a stapler and carried it with me everywhere I went. Suddenly I didn’t feel as nervous to travel at night. Now, I still took every precaution, but I felt more secure. I basically had to tell myself I was Jack Bauer from 24 and nobody was going to mess with me, or at least I would hope not! I wanted to return alive. You know your in a bad place when you are two stops PAST the place people call “Stab & Kill” also known as Savin Hill on the Red Line.
While the location was a setback, I found it to be a challenge in my thinking. After needing to ADAPT to a new living situation, I tried different ways of dealing with it. I had to learn to overcome a very serious threat by completely changing my mental thought process. Fear is in the brain and comes out in emotion. When you are fearful you freeze up. That’s what I did on the train that night with the gang members and it almost cost me a mugging at minimum.
What I learned to do was ADAPT and turned the fear into a thought process. What is the worst that could happen to me? Ok…that was bad, but really I started reducing it down to odds. I figured it other people could survive and make it, maybe I could too. I turned my frozen fear into actionable data. I started developing patterns of travel, times to leave, and places to look at each corner in the dark when traveling at night. I knew how many steps I had to take from each location and could mark time from spot to spot. This gave me something to think about when in the bad parts.
I started to ADAPT by learning, by changing, and by doing. My living situation was tough during the experience, but it taught me some valuable lessons on how to ADAPT and apply those lessons to a startup.
- PREPARE TO LEARN AS IF YOUR LIFE WAS DEPENDENT ON IT: Your startup is just like the hood. You have to quickly learn and figure out how to navigate every obstacle quickly and adapt or you will not make it.
- DON’T FALL PREY TO FEAR: Whenever you feel fear, don’t waste emotion on it. Instead, go get data that you can take action on. This will help you make better decisions as a leader.
- A/B TEST: I took may different routes in the hood to see what worked best. In a startup, you have to try many different things to see where the best route is. When you A/B test, you will see many different things you didn’t even know were there.
- ASK FOR HELP: In certain hours, I only travelled by Uber/taxi. I didn’t want to go it alone. It was too risky. The same is true for startups. Startup founders sometimes feel the burden to try and always have the right answers when they should be looking for help. Ask for help early and often within your mentor network and those you trust.
- ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE: Looking back on my living arrangements, I now have appreciation in a new light. One day, you will look back at your startup and realize the great moments and experiences you had and appreciate them.
Even though my living arrangements were not great, my experience at Boston Startup School was! I’ll never forget it and ALWAYS be thankful for it. Being able to ADAPT in any situation will help me for years to come.