Starting a Company? Don't Do it Alone!
Life as a Founder can be a very lonely and difficult journey, but it doesn’t have to be!
In episode 50 of Pit Stops to Podium, the pole position belongs to Aaron Hurst who shares with us the power of entrepreneur communities. Aaron is the founding managing director of Endeavor Atlanta, a unique global organization dedicated to the selection and support of high growth entrepreneurs in underserved geographies, providing them with the services they need to scale their business no matter where they are located. If you’re ready to take the journey and find the right community, then slide in, buckle up, and hold on!
It can be lonely at the top. Founding a company takes courage, but also a willingness to cope with isolation. It is not an experience that can be readily shared with family and friends. Therefore, it is vital to be able to share “war stories” with a community of entrepreneurs going through the same gauntlet of circumstances.
The Multiplier Effect
Out of one, many. It’s possible for just a few individuals or companies to change an entire community. This outsized impact means taking individual successes and multiplying them. When local investors shun up and coming companies, these entrepreneurs step in and provide the necessary capital and mentorship.
Paying it Forward
Make it bigger than yourself. The transformation one company or one individual undergoes can become the transformation of an entire community. Silicon Valley doesn’t have to be a one off if entrepreneurs reinvest in the community they benefited from.
Connect with Aaron:
Brendan: Hey everybody, welcome to Pit Stops to Podium, the RevPartners podcast where we talk to execs who compete and won in taking their companies from high growth to high scale. My name is Brendan Tolleson. I'm the co-founder and CEO of RevPartners and I'm delighted to have with me today, Aaron Hurst for this episode of Pit stops to Podium. Welcome, Aaron.
Aaron: Thanks Brendan
Brendan: Well Aaron I guess we got to know each other man it's a long time now when I was at QASymphony working with Dave Kyle um that's probably what five or seven years ago right yeah probably about five I think yeah okay well and Aaron just so to introduce you to the community um you have a really unique role at a really an amazing community called Endeavor so I'd love for you to share with the audience who Endeavor is what you're doing and what your roles within the organization
Aaron: Yeah happy to do it so uh so I am the founding managing director of Endeavor Atlanta we are one of 40 endeavor affiliate offices around the world and Endeavor is a really unique global organization that selects and supports high growth entrepreneurs and underserved geographies and then provides them with the services they need to scale their business no matter where they're located and then our long-term mission we're actually setup as a non-profit is to dramatically increase the ability for a founder in an underserved geography to create a high growth highly scalable highly valuable venture creating jobs creating wealth and hopefully creating what we'll talk about later this idea of a multiplier effect that places like silicon valley have now become famous for where you see generations upon generations of innovative companies and entrepreneurs creating and scaling companies
Brendan: Yeah I love it and I've been fortunate to see some of the work you've done firsthand and some of the entrepreneurs that are part of the ecosystem I think in fact we've had a few guests on this podcast that are part of endeavor I think about robin uh with road sync we talked about Dave my former boss at QASymphony and I think Rob Foreman too may be involved from from Sales loft so you're doing great work you have great people around you uh Aaron before we get into the big idea we do have a tradition here at pit stops to podium that's to get to know our guests outside of work so what are three fun facts our audience should know about you?
Aaron: Yeah I'll start with what my favorite which always is a fun one at a cocktail party um my wife's name is Aaron as well she has the traditional female Irish name and i have the i guess old testament male spelling but when we meet people for the first time or we introduce each other um i always like to to say yes we're homonyms and it's like an intelligence test for people so either they don't understand what that means and they walk away or they do and they have a good laugh so so that I'd say I'd start there
Brendan: How do you know who to respond to the question in light of the names
Aaron: How do I know who to respond to first? Good question so so it's funny i think within our family it's you can almost you get good at picking up tones and like who they're talking to so if they need me it's like more of a yelling you know kind of grunting tone like they need dad or oh they say dad or mom too they don't usually say Aaron um and i think amongst our family we also can kind of pick up on tones and thankfully for individual cell phones individual emails we don't have a home i don't know who has a home phone anymore my parents probably do maybe your parents do as well but uh thankfully everything we live in an individualized world so it doesn't become that big of a problem
Brendan: Well that's definitely a unique fun fact what else do you have?
Aaron: Yeah so one other one I like to I think for for the the nature of your podcast I've paid my way through college twice so I went to Georgia tech undergrad paid my way out of state through college waiting tables co-opting at a software company called Manhattan associates and then I decided to do it all over again and went to grad school for my MBA at UNC so not only paid my way through college twice I dumped a lot of money into the Atlantic coast conference
Brendan: So well that uh that says a lot so that's really cool what's your third
Aaron: Third um I guess in the spirit of sharing what I like to do so I have three amazing kids they're uh 12 almost 12 almost 10 and six years old so i love spending time with them they they play different sports and have different activities i love golf so I'm secret maybe not so secretly anymore trying to get at least one of my kids to enjoy golf as much as i do so that's my that's my secret mission with with sports and my kids
Brendan: How's that going so far?
Aaron: You know it's a work in progress brother we actually joined my board chairman David Cummings as an investor and co-founder of something called in town golf club so we were lucky enough to recently uh join and it simulated golf so my son loves video games my oldest son of course so he plays Fortnite or whatever and and so this is like the perfect entry to golf is to go play simulated golf you know for an hour versus a five hour round you know in 95 degree heat in the summer
Brendan: That's a great spot it's a great strategy
Aaron: I don't know if it is or it's it's work in progress hopefully it will work that's great well Aaron as always it's it's fun to hear a little bit about our guests outside of just the work context So thank you for sharing uh let's transition to the big idea we you know you kind of teased it out with what you do today from an endeavor perspective but I think it's a really powerful topic especially for the entrepreneurs and our audience and it's really around you know why and our entrepreneurial community is important and what we always have to do is kind of park on three key areas but before we get into why it's so important let's let's actually let's dive in that why let's get into context um in light of what you've done uh what you share with this audience
Aaron: Yeah yeah so the idea of entrepreneurial communities um or what we call communities that endeavor aren't new i think people often call them ecosystems um they take different forms sometimes it's a program that you join sometimes it's an accelerator where you're maybe giving up equity in your company to be a part of a community so there's lots of sort of shapes and forms for what they they might look like you know in your industry or for your type of company or in your geography um but to kind of jump into the why is it important um these these communities are really how you know you you tend to see thriving entrepreneurial you know uh hubs form and sometimes traditionally those hubs are physical meaning they're in certain geographies like we talked about you know a minute ago with silicon valley but you've seen that happen in other places uh mainly along the coast in the U.S. but in other places like Tel Aviv and Israel or London or you know other parts of Europe and in Asia um but yeah the idea of community of of having a place you know and it could be a digital place too where you can meet like-minded founders or entrepreneurs you can get the resources you need whether it's capital it's mentors or advisors it's talent or maybe it's even early customers um it's such an important thing and then if you think about how these you know these these entrepreneurs and these communities you know spawn more companies and inspire others and kind of pay forward and I will talk about it later it's such an important um concept for how economies grow right so if one founder sort of scales has success you know doesn't mentor anybody doesn't invest any capital I'll take kind of the extreme you know opposite end of what we're looking for um isn't a part of a community think of all the lost opportunities for their knowledge you know for their inspiration of their story for you know if they didn't give any equity to anybody that's obviously a personal decision there's a wealth you know kind of generation piece of it um and and just their expertise right it's it's got it's all kind of gone and locked up you know it doesn't go to the next generation so I think there's there's a kind of a important societal component to entrepreneurial communities as well
Brendan: Yeah I think you I mean you probably hear more than I do but there is a loneliness factor of being an entrepreneur and like isolation and I mean regardless of how big the company is I mean at that level it's not always easy to share within your four walls and so having that outside trusted advisors who are cohorts in terms of their responsibilities can I'm sure add immense value in a lot of different areas
Aaron: Yeah for sure and so yeah at a founder or entrepreneur level right there's I think three main things that that that these communities really are you know add a lot of value for or why they're really important one is speed right so it doesn't matter if you're creating a you know a local restaurant we just talked about our our local restaurant The Grove uh here in Decatur um or uh you know highly scalable venture venture-backed software company you're you're fighting against time all the time right um and so you have being a part of a community or a network whatever word you want to use or an ecosystem or if it turns into it ends up being accelerated or whatever those those networks are geared should be geared if you're in the right ones to help you you know speed up your ability to learn your ability to find the right connections right whether it's for capital or for advisors or for new talent or maybe new customers or new markets um so I think speed is a big big reason why you know finding your your entrepreneurial community the right one for you and your company is important the second one is it's important to have some mechanism to pull yourself out of the day-to-day of your business as an entrepreneur we see it all the time um I'm sure in the companies you work with especially the earlier stage ones you probably see it all the time I think what you guys do at RevPartners is helping in some ways helping uh you know companies get out of the weeds from a revenue operations perspective which is awesome but these communities can help you do that right they can get you 10 20 30,000 feet up and go well okay wait a minute if i you know hired these other two people instead of just trying to do it all myself I could really focus more on the next 12 to 18 months of my company versus like just surviving the next two to three days right um I think a good community will do that for for for entrepreneurs and then the third I think you mentioned a minute ago is stress management so you know it's it is being a founder is the loneliness thing I think in the world i like to say it's one of the most courageous things a human can do right is to start a company from zero so having a community of other people who are going through the exact same journey is super important because there's few people if any that you can talk to you can't always talk to your investors you can't always talk to your spouse or significant other or your family you can't necessarily talk to your co-founders right so if you have a community of others uh that you can connect with and even just share war stories is hugely important
Brendan: That's pretty compelling and uh it resonates with me for sure um well and they're curious too Aaron just in terms of you know with what's happened in the world with Covid and people being remote um you know you mentioned kind of physical and digital I'd be curious to see you know your your take on has it has it emphasized how important this is as a result of what's been going on um just I'd love to hear your observations of community in the context of Covid and um some of the observations you've seen over the last few years
Aaron: Yeah it's a really interesting time for sure to think about community um especially for entrepreneurship um yeah I think both are important I think Covid certainly has shined a light on you know humans ability to kind of push through a time where we can't be together in person which is you know amazing you know in itself obviously fueled by technology so if we didn't have zoom and other you know internet technologies to make that happen it would have been a pretty dark time for the last couple of years even though it obviously has been dark uh on its own um it's been interesting as we've as we got you know towards the last six to twelve months of the two-year Covid period the entrepreneurs we work with have cont I would say unanimously ask for more in person right so human connection there's just something magical about being in a room with people especially if it's a group of people that you trust and they're part of a community that you trust and that you value and it's a group of like-minded you know people or maybe have differing opinions but you know share maybe similar goals and sort of use the world um there you can't kind of you can't get that over a zoom right um and and so our entrepreneurs now are asking for more in-person events i don't think I've ever heard you know you don't you usually don't hear a busy entrepreneur asking for hey Aaron can i go to this can I go to more events we actually have that happening right now which is pretty I kind of I think that kind of tells you the the missing the thing that people have been missing the last few years
Brendan: Yeah I would agree with that so thanks for sharing I'm just curious to know your observations so we talked about what the intent of a community is for we talked about why it's important and so I imagine there are a lot of listeners out here and entrepreneurs that are pretty convicted about that they should do it and so let's talk about like how do you figure out which is the right community for you
Aaron: Yeah it's a great question I think the first step is really understanding the kind of business that you are building right and and what i mean by that is what what trajectory you know do you is your business on today and where do you want to take it into the future um there are lots of different business types I tend to boil it down to four different types of businesses we actually have a pre-endeavor program called scale up both in Atlanta and Birmingham Alabama where we help the founders it's a seed to series a stage sort of program we help those founders actually figure out where what path they're on at a very detailed level which has been really interesting so the four types are high growth so think of venture backable businesses I always remind entrepreneurs that type of company is you know very very rare it's I think less than two percent right that actually go on to raise institutional venture capital so i think unfortunately we live in a time where um it's sexy to be venture-backed maybe it's always been sexy but i don't think we've ever had a sexier time to you know to announce your series a or your c round or your d round um but most businesses aren't that type of business so um I kind of caveat high growth is you know maybe we should have put that at the bottom because that's the least you know that's the the least common business the next one I'll say is a bootstrapped growth business so these are companies that you know given the market that they're in or the product that they're building or the service they offer they don't necessarily have to go out and raise capital but they can continue to grow really nicely there may be an opportunity in the future where they can bring in a growth equity or private equity type of investor to help them scale even further you often see companies that end up doing roll-up strategies later on kind of fitting in that bucket so not quite venture high growth hyperscale whatever word you want to use but but still growing quickly and and you know but but but can maybe call their shots if you will because the market you know dictates that the third kind of company is I call them quick exits so maybe a very competitive market um maybe your company's a little bit late to that market um or there's others that have kind of scaled very quickly or your niche it got really small quickly given other entrants into the market so it's something you you kind of have to think about doing something with quickly over the next few years and then the fourth again maybe I should have started here most common business type is a self-sustaining business right this could be anything from kind of the local restaurant or boutique retail store to an e-commerce business that makes certain products for a very specific audience you know you kind of think small tam um but can be profitable uh may not have the greatest margins but it could be an amazing business right so I think the first step is figuring out what kind of business are you building where what what kind of business do you want to build and then that really should dictate the type of community that you should join so if you're building a self-sustaining business you shouldn't apply to TechStars right right um if you are building a TechStars kind of high growth venture business then sure that's a fantastic opportunity or yc or whatever other accelerator you wanted to you know to pursue um I'd also add there's lots of industry vertical specific um programs and communities that people can join and then there's ones that are I would almost they're more horizontal across entrepreneurs so organizations like EO which Atlanta has a very active thriving chapter I think the quality can vary depending on geography but EO is a great organization globally that entrepreneurs can get involved with and you could be a high growth business but you might also be a nice self-sustaining business right um and you still could commiserate and be in community with entrepreneurs across different types of companies
Brendan: Yeah I like that it I think what it does is it gives people permission and i think what you were describing earlier is the perception is that this is exclusive for that vc backed hyper growth or high growth however you want to categorize it but the reality is that there are communities for all different types of companies and and this community concept should be for everyone because the need as you described earlier is is for all these different types of categories and so understanding who you are and accepting that and not being I think it's an important part and then ultimately creating that community around you to have like-minded individuals in a similar type of industry or category or segment
Aaron: Yeah absolutely right yeah there's there's nothing worse than like I mentioned a minute ago then you know seeing entrepreneurs that are spending tons of time applying to venture you know type accelerators or thinking that they're on maybe a higher adventure path than they're really not right like that's that's that's kind of the worst outcome where you know you're you're asking for resources and being community with with folks that your business just isn't the right fit for and maybe you're even if you're lucky enough to get capital you now have investors that aren't necessarily aligned with the path that your business might be on so
Brendan: It reminds me of we had a previous guest Charlie Paparelli also in the Atlanta area kind of angel investor and he talked about you know every services company wants be a software company every software company wants to have a service company and it's just like stay in your lane and it kind of reminds me of that of like accept who you are and be okay with it and and really own it and start to pursue it so I think that's a really good reminder so we talked a little bit about why it's important we talked about you know if you're an entrepreneur or founder how do you find the right community for you but let's talk about you know the impact meaning how do you we talked about giving it forward multiplier effect let's let's flesh it out a little bit further uh as to what can happen when you pursue these communities
Aaron: Yeah and and you know given that endeavor focuses on high growth you know venture backable types of companies I'll I'll use that lens but i think this appli they can apply to you know the other kind of four or the other three types of businesses that we just talked about um so so focusing more on high growth businesses and and communities for high-grade businesses I think most people don't realize unless they're involved in you know high growth technology businesses are in venture that silicon valley you know the San Francisco silicon valley area was really just a rural tiny farm town as late as the early 1960s right and all it took was a couple of really ambitious um early silicon chip entrepreneurs founders to really kind of push the limits on what they thought they could do scale their business and then the most important part instead of disappearing once they had success with companies like Fairchild Semiconductor they paid it forward so you had the founders of Kleiner Perkins kind of spawned off of that early you know silicon uh chip company days you had intel get founded by those you know some of those founders you had the first check written to Steve Jobs and and and Wozniak at Apple was from folks that were at Intel right um I can't remember the gentleman's name so it didn't take a lot it was literally just a couple of you know companies that scaled went big and then plugged back their time their money their knowledge their credibility back into that one ecosystem and then you compound that over 60 years and now you have this you know area that's population wise is I think smaller than metro Atlanta but has created you know some of the most innovation most most technology here all you know most of the technology the world uses today and the internet et cetera it comes from one little tiny spot in northern California it's kind of crazy to think about so i think if you got to zoom out on that concept right it doesn't take many big successes where you have this paying it forward happening to really transform an economy and that's that's what endeavor tries to do right and it's in each each geography's own unique way so we're not taking you know uh everything has to be like silicon valley kind of lends to places like Atlanta or Argentina or Spain or South Africa like each culture and each ecosystem is different but this idea of obviously thinking big getting the right support and community behind you to make it happen and the resources you need to scale but then paying it forward you know that anybody can do that it just takes time and kind of concentrated focus
Brendan: Yeah I like I like giving that lens of the silicon valley uh what it was you know 67 or 50 60 years ago to what it is now and since we're both in Atlanta and you're focusing on Endeavor Atlanta i think it'd be really cool to kind of get that practical you mentioned every every g is a little bit different in terms of how it can manifest itself but here's a fun Atlanta story uh that that would be good for our audience to hear
Aaron: Yeah so so in Endeavor we call this the multiplier effect this idea that you know a few individuals or a few companies that are run obviously by a few individuals or by people uh can have just an outsize impact on an ecosystem and Atlanta's had some great entrepreneurs but one that comes to mind and you know selfishly he's he's my board chairman in Endeavor Atlanta but he has demonstrated this for our ecosystem that's David Cummings so you know David has founded multiple companies Pardot was kind of his first big one that he scaled you know not to a huge size of employees or even revenue but you know had a very successful you know outcome financially and instead of kind of disappearing or you know keeping his money and not doing anything with it back in the ecosystem he bought you know the old Atlanta business chronicle building which is now the Atlanta tech village to create a home a physical community for tech startups in Atlanta before Wework existed before accelerators in Atlanta really existed right he invested really early in companies that I'm sure local investors probably looked at and went there's no way I'll write a check you know and now several of those are unicorns like Calendly and Sales loft right he's had other successes with terminus and rigor and you know countless others and then he's he has mentored you know probably thousands of entrepreneurs over the last decade you know as he you know exited Pardot started the tech village and then you know just constantly in community with entrepreneurs and that's one person that's one person obviously had an amazing team at Pardot um but one person you know a team that scaled part out and then had that success and paid it forward and you know think of all the jobs and all the revenue and the wealth creation that is generated off of just that and so if Atlanta can do that you know two or three more times even let alone more than that think of the impact that that's going to have on our region and the fun thing to see too you know it's this idea of community almost when you sign up for a community you're kind of signing up for paying it forward right if you join a you know a church organization or a you know something in your community or you join the pta or a board of a non-profit like you're you know you're you're gonna you're gonna you're paying it forward in some way um or if you're gonna benefit from a community you know okay once i have success if I have success I'm gonna pay it forward later right um and so um that's that's a huge big important reason why joining community is important too because it kind of plugs you into something that you can pay for later right once you have success
Brendan: Yeah it becomes bigger than yourself and I think it um and that's one of the beauties of entrepreneurship and ultimately these communities is that it not only transforms the individual but transform the community not only your your micro community but ultimately a city uh which about what happened with silicon valley and that ultimately disrupts the world and changes the world and you're seeing that as you mentioned with David Cummings in Atlanta um you see that impact permeate throughout the city and you know Atlanta being known for kind of Fortune 500 type companies established brands of you know Delta Coke Home Depot et cetera as now a thriving software technology community and so it's really just neat to see how these to your point the multiplier effect can really shape and change culture
Aaron: Yeah absolutely and back to your question about you know Covid and going digital for a few years one of the fun positive outcomes of that is is our work in the southeast region so I have a couple of employees on my team in Birmingham but now you know we have amazing mentors here in Atlanta that are helping a smaller market like Birmingham that's you know more nascent hasn't had as many kind of big wins in the tech community you know we're our our endeavor entrepreneurs in Atlanta and some of our mentors and board members are mentoring those Birmingham companies and they're you're all in the same community you're you're in this community of high growth entrepreneurs so who cares if you're in Atlanta or South Africa or Birmingham uh and everybody can hop on a zoom call so that seeing that kind of barrier break down I think over the last couple of years has been amazing and then it's been really fun to see the impact that our kind of later stage entrepreneurs guys like Dave Kyle you know your former boss you know ceo of QASymphony um that they're having now that they're paying it forward by you know mentoring the the up and coming entrepreneurs that we're working with
Brendan: That's great it's beautiful well Aaron I really appreciate you coming on board and being on the podcast I'm convicted and I'm sure a lot of folks that are listening are as well so you know I know there you mention the four communities endeavor is really focused on that kind of scale up uh or high growth vc back so what will be a practical next step for folks in our audience that kind of fit that category either in your scale up program or your more established program what's next step they can take from an Endeavor perspective and also as it relates to you?
Aaron: Yeah so the beauty of Endeavor is there's there's not a formal application so they can just send me an email it's aaron.hurst at endeavor.org um and you know we can grab coffee to talk about their company we for the full endeavor you know networking community that you join for life we tend to focus on high growth sort of series a or right before series day stage companies and scale up like i said it's c to series a but uh scale does have an application we're actually closing the Atlanta one uh this week so it's probably you know unless you're really on uh on it getting your podcast out Brendan they may miss this year's cohorts uh deadline um and Birmingham just closed at the end of last month but um and we'll be announcing companies that are selected soon but yeah feel free to email me um or go to our website and we would love to meet with any entrepreneur
Brendan: Well I think the beautiful thing that you said too is that Endeavor is global and so you know any from our audience regardless of where you are um there's like a way in which you can connect and learn more so don't feel like you're excluded if you're not in Aaron’s territory because there's a lot of great resources out there but Aaron thank you so much for sharing a little bit about your story about the endeavor story and the power of community really do appreciate you coming on.
Aaron: Thanks a lot for having me, Brendan!