Starting (Up) a New Chapter￼
Sometimes in the life of a startup, there’s a pivot… A lightning strike… Or even a slow creeping up… something that shifts your trajectory, maybe a tiny bit or maybe a complete 180. For Precursa, we’ve had some realizations, recognized some truths, and had some hard conversations with ourselves. And it’s led to the start of a new chapter. If you’re the founder or CEO of a startup, you’ll likely be face with making tough decisions at some point in your journey, and this episode will help you navigate this (potentially challenging) situation, too.
Sometimes pivots and shifts happen in an instant, and sometimes it’s more like the slow-boil of the frog… It creeps up on you until it’s so in your face you have no choice but to act.
In this episode, we reveal the shift that Precursa has taken, and we hear how CEO and co-founder Cynthia Del’Aria got to this point where the ultimate decision (to take a “pause”) was made. She shares the realities of making tough decisions, what the conversation with the team sounded like, where we go from here, and what it all means for Precursa.
Cynthia also talks about how (and when!) the culture in a company actually gets built. (Spoiler alert: It’s NOT when you’ve got thousands of employees and it becomes “trendy”!) She also talks about how a company culture gets built whether you’re being intentional about it or not and encourages us to choose intentionality. Cynthia also challenges some startup myths and the status quo for founders and (gasp!) talks about taking a weekend off.
If you’ve gotten caught up in the “startup-y things” you think you’re “supposed to do” to succeed, then this episode is for you and will help set you back on your own straight and narrow path.
PS – We’re going to a bi-weekly format starting in April of 2022… Same great content and guests, just every other week. And we hope to be back to weekly soon!
Be sure to like, share, and subscribe to Precursa: The Startup Journey on your favorite podcasting platform and tune in for the next episode!
Email us with any questions or comments (firstname.lastname@example.org). Check out our website (https://www.precursa.com) for more information on getting your startup rolling.
Straight to you from Denver, Colorado, this is Precursa: The Startup Journey. We share the ins and outs of building a tech startup from inception, to launch, to revenue and beyond. If you’ve ever wondered what building a startup from scratch really looks like, you’re in the right place. With full transparency and honesty, we reveal it all about Precursa on our ride from idea to exit: the wins, the lessons learned, and the unexpected twists and turns.
Hello everybody. And welcome back. This is pre of the startup journey. And today I am joining you to give you some news and to talk about some things that are going on and to share a change that we are making at least for a little while. So we’ve been in development since last February. So just over, you know, 15 months or, um, I can count, uh, 13 months. And during that time, we’ve probably spent the last nine months, uh, going through the fundraising process. And three different times, we felt like we had a lead investor on board and it was just all about the details and the paperwork. And, you know, this thing happens sometimes where you kind of get ghosted. It’s not really ghosting. It’s more like strung along maybe. And it’s fine. Sometimes people have a hard time telling you no, sometimes people have every intention of, of investing or helping or whatever.
And they just, they just don’t. But this just happened again in, in the last, like, you know, six to eight weeks, um, where we were certain, you know, we had a lead investor. We were like, okay, this is okay, good. We, we finally got there. We finally got there and it’s just sort of fallen off the radar again. Um, not my radar, but the investor’s radar. And so I took a step back and we had a call like two weeks ago now where I was like it telling Paige and Sarah, how frustrated I am with the whole thing. And Paige said, well, what if we took a break? And of course, you know, my, my hackles went up and I was like a break. I don’t wanna take a break. Like, I don’t wanna be on a break. Right.
And she said, well, well just, just hear me out, hear me out. Okay. Um, she was like, what if we took a step back, reassessed got clear on, on some things. And maybe what there is to understand is that we don’t need an investor. We don’t actually want an investor. Like we don’t even know what, what could come out of taking a break and reassessing and seeing what comes, what comes up. Right. So I said, well, I have some ideas that my help us be able to continue to boots this, let me do some thinking, let me talk to some folks, you know, let me, let me kind of sort this out for myself. So I had like two or three more conversations and every single conversation people were like, well, what if you, what if you just like, took a break? And I was like, oh, okay.
Like, God, if trying to communicate something. So the, the communication that I got was we’ve got, we’ve got a few, not a lot, a couple of unknowns, a couple of we’re sorting this out kind of things going on right now. It’s created a sense of risk that doesn’t really exist for investors, but it’s, they have a sense of it. And, and it, I think it’s scaring them a little bit. And, you know, I talked to my lead architect and I was like, what do you think? Like what, what should we do? And he said, he said, well, what if we took a break? I was like, seriously, you’re like the fifth person to say that. And he goes, well, what I mean is what if we pause the team and you and I pair program sort some stuff out, fix our project management problem, because we’ve been trying to use this project management tool.
It is not working. And to be fully transparent, I should be the one doing the project management and the product owner role right now. That’s just the size company we are. And I haven’t been able to do that effectively, mostly because I look at the tool and I’m not exactly sure what’s getting done, or, you know, what people are working. Like I just don’t know, which is a problem. And so he said, well, what if you and I just worked for the next two months? And we figure some stuff out, we get part of this machine learning stuff done end to end. And then we can look at what’s actually left to be done. And then we can make some decisions, whether that’s do we bring the whole team back and we know how much it’s gonna cost, because we have a better sense for how much work there is left to do.
Or maybe we make so much progress that we take a different time. Like there’s so many other options when you have knowledge. So I sat with this for like a week, a little more than a week actually. Um, because my fear, you know, when you’re the CEO of a startup, when you’re the CEO of any company, but definitely when you’re the CEO of a startup, you know, we talk about this a lot. The vision is up to you. The execution is up to you. Like you’re the one. So how I make this decision and how I communicate, whatever the decision is and whatever the impact is on the team matters just as much as the decision itself. And so I had to sit with this for a little bit, and here’s what happened. I got to the end of the week, last week and my to-do list was done.
Now there’s always development work and there’s always stuff that can be done in Precursa. Right. But I got a lot of stuff done and my to-do list was done. And so I said, I, I, you know, and, and I have, have to add this in. I had lunch with, with a friend of mine who was talking about how, you know, she’s also building a startup and she’s like, I don’t know if she’s like, I don’t really have any traction or maybe I do. I don’t know. And she’s like, but every time, every time something occurs to me, I go, does that sound like fun to do? Do I wanna do it? Does that forward something like, am I excited about it? It, if I am, I do it. And if I’m not, I don’t. And she was like, because her whole purpose in building a startup is to build it in a way that the culture is the most important thing.
She’s like, the business is just what I know and what I’m good at in, in an area where I know people. And she’s like, that’s not really the thing. The thing is proving that you can build something from the ground up culture first. And we had this conversation and she knew that I was kind of thinking about, you know, this whole break thing and whatever. And I said, well, you know what culture created? Cuz let’s be honest when you’re the CEO of the company, when you’re the founder, you set the tone, whether you like it or not. And so every decision that you make, people are watching it and they’re taking cues from it now, right now we’re paying people what we can and, you know, thank God I know such amazing developer who love working with me and who are willing to work for, you know, basically peanuts.
But the reality is when you’re a CEO, when you’re a founder, people are taking their cues from you. So my, the cues I’ve been giving people is that I work nice and weekends, I do everything I have to do. I’m killing myself for this. And as much as I would never expect anyone else to put that much into my company and we are paying people, although it’s not, not even close to a market rate, um, we are paying people. So, you know, they’re, they’re getting some kind of, you know, reward or whatever out of it and reward payment or whatever. But there is a culture that is getting created every time I act in this way. And the thing that I know from working with other companies, I’ve worked with some companies that have very, very difficult cultures, very difficult work environments. I have a client right now that has the most wonderful culture and most wonderful work environment I have ever been in, in my life.
And I look at, I look at the full range of all these things and I, and, and I started thinking to myself like, what do I wanna create? Because here’s the thing I’m doing it already. Like the people that I hire, how I ask them to work, how I support them or don’t how I, how I, how I engage my with the work. Like all of these things are cues. They’re, they’re markers, they’re people are watching. So there is a culture that’s getting created. And so far the culture is we have some seriously passionate people on our team, their passion for whether it’s what they do or what we are doing or both, they’re all incredibly talented. And most of them are exceptionally passionate. I love that. Wouldn’t change that for the world. What I don’t like is I am giving them cues that I expect something more than what any person should have to give to work at a company.
And what I mean by that is obviously nobody, you know, this is no one’s full-time job right now. Everybody’s, everybody’s a contractor everybody’s, you know, nights, weekends in between gigs, whatever, but they’re watching me and they’re assuming, and they are orienting themselves around, well, Cynthia’s basically killing herself for this startup. So I probably shouldn’t talk about the fun weekend I just had because there’s a whole bunch of work to do. And now I’ve started to create an environment where people will feel guilty for having a life that is not what I’m interested in at all. So I took a step back and I said, okay, my to-do list is done. I mean, it was six o’clock on a Friday, right? So it’s not like it was, you know, noon on a Friday, although what would be wrong with that too? But it was, you know, six o’clock on a Friday.
And I was like, I’m actually gonna take, take the weekend off because if I am going to consciously choose what kind of culture I want in my company, and I’m going to model it from the beginning, I want people to have lives. I want them to enjoy those lives. I want to have a life and to enjoy it. And if that means takes an extra six months to get wherever we’re going. I mean, you remember when you were a kid and it was summer and you were like, oh, Christmas is so far away. Think about that as an adult now summer happens. And you’re like, oh God, I gotta start planning for Christmas. Like, and it’s here. It’s fast. It happens so fast, right? Six months, what is six months? What is it? What it is, is the opportunity to not create an environment, not create a culture, not create a standard by which people relate to working for Precursa means that I have to kill myself or means I’m not allowed to have a life or means I’m not allowed to have fun or means I, I don’t get to have a weekend.
So all of this kind of came together and, and here’s the reality, right? We’re, we’re still a small company. Um, you know, we’re, we’re making very, very little revenue, um, almost no recurring revenue right now, obviously, because the way we’re engaging with people is, is working on the, working with them, through the roadmap one on one. And you know, they, they pay a lot to work on that work with us, but that, that money goes right back into building the platform. And so we’re a small company. We don’t, we don’t have payroll. You know, we pay our contractors and, you know, we’re cash flowing through our other companies and through the revenue that we do make, but we’re burning a lot, right? So, but here, here’s the thing. You, as the CEO, you, as the founder are going have to make difficult decisions. Sometimes if you train yourself, when your company is small to make difficult decisions, when they need to be made to handle your team and handle communication with your customers and your team members or whoever you need to communicate with, and to honor the type of culture and to be conscious about the type of culture that you are creating.
If you do all of that from the beginning, from employee number one, which is you, the founder, the CEO, whatever you call yourself, you will have a whole different deal. Then a lot of what happens in the startup community. And for those of you who have listened from the beginning or listened for a long time, you’ll know, I talk a lot about your startup’s your baby. Your startup is your child. Your startup gets 150% of you. And I know people get annoyed and there’s only a hundred percent. I, I get it. But your startup gets everything. When I’m start to realize is what that actually means and how that actually fulfills itself in the world may look different than what it sounds like on paper.
There are crunch times they’re gonna come. I don’t care. What, what size company or how stable. And I’m putting that in quotes or startup a year. What ever everybody’s got. Everybody’s got times when they’ve got crunch times. The reality is if it’s always a crunch time and people are always feeling that way, there’s gonna come a point where you’re gonna lose people. And, and they’re gonna, they’re not gonna be there when you, when you need them. So the kinds of decisions you have to make as a CEO or ones to say, okay, I’m gonna take a breath. I’m gonna look at what is really required in this moment. What can I reprioritize? What can I shift priority on what can I put down altogether? What can I stop doing that actually isn’t serving anything. And the only reason I’m still doing it is because there’s a habit, right?
Like these are all the things that you have to look at and you have to start with yourself. You know, over the holidays, I did an episode about taking a holiday, like taking the time off. And here’s, here’s the thing I’m starting to realize. It’s not enough to do it once a year. It’s not enough to do it twice a year. My ability to make good decisions, my ability to breathe, my ability to remember why the hell this matters in the first place is so diminished when it feels like my whole life is about making this thing happen. Now, you know, part of the ride in Precursa is about breaking up and challenging the myths, challenging the status quo. Oh, because I just don’t think it needs to be any of these ways that you know, all startups are blah, blah, blah. And all startups are blah, blah, blah.
And you have to do this to be a startup and blah, blah, blah. If you wanna be successful. Like, I, I think I’m coming around to the belief that if you wanna be successful as a startup, as a business owner, what I ever that’s, whatever you want that to look like, you have to listen to yourself first. And that’s not to say you don’t get advice. That’s not to say you don’t have wise people around you. It’s not to say you don’t do research. I mean, our whole process is about, you know, is there a customer who will pay you and is this a real problem that you’re solving? And that is all a hundred percent important, but there’s a whole section at the end where we do, we, we challenge you in your mindset about being an entrepreneur. We talk about getting a co-founder or not getting a co-founder. We talk about the realities of building a startup.
And the reality is you ha it takes a, and it starts with you. See, I I’m really, I’ve done a really great job of building my village. I’ve got people around me who are amazing. They get the vision, they buy into the vision. You guys, I talk to my team today about this. And I said, guys, we’re gonna take a break. This is what that will looks like. This is not goodbye. This is a pause. This is, I gotta sort some stuff out. I gotta get clear on some things. I need to be a better leader. I need to be better organized for you so that you CA feel like you can trust me in that capacity. And I gotta sort out my mental health, you know, I I’m, I’m running myself ragged and I’m doing nobody any good. When I do that, every single one of the people on my team was like, yep, that’s exactly right.
That’s exactly what you should do. We totally support that. We love you. We’re, we’re really glad that you’re doing that. One of them even called me afterwards and was like, I needed this. Like I needed your example and your inspiration because I’m struggling in my own business with pushing myself too hard. And that’s why I say it starts with you. It starts with me, right? So the benefits of being the founder, the benefits of being the CEO, come with the responsibilities, right? There’s gonna come a day where we’re gonna either exit or with talked about IPO. That just doesn’t resonate for me. It’s gonna be an exit. There’s gonna be someone who’s gonna come along and love what we’re doing and want the data. Um, and, and it’s gonna be an exit and I’m gonna make a lot of money that day. The reason that that will be worth it. And the reason that that will be good is because from the beginning I’ve been, I have challenged myself and I have pushed myself to make the right decisions and create a world that will support that kind of success and that kind of growth. And not just for me, but for every single person that I bring along on the journey. And who’s on my team’s. So I took the weekend off. It was weird. Uh, I was joking that when I turned my computer back on Monday morning,
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Uh, my fan like kicked on right away. And I was like, oh, look, my computer doesn’t know what to do when it doesn’t work for two days either. Cause I, I did not turn on my computer for two days. I think it’s really important to actually have time off regularly. And I am now in the process of reorganizing my week, reorganizing my clients, reprioritizing what I’m doing to ensure that I have the time to do that every week. Like I said, what is it gonna cost me six months? Probably not, not even that much, probably more likely I’ll be more productive. I’ll be better at one at anything that I’m doing at everything that I’m doing, because I’ll, I won’t be mentally checked out. I won’t be mentally exhausted and probably it’s gonna work out for the better all the way it round the fear comes from.
But what if it is an extra six months? What if it is a year? What if it takes a lot longer than I thought, because I’m paying attention to this other thing, you know, for my personality type, it would be easier to just be like, no, no, no, I’m just dig, dig, dig, grind, grind, grind. I can do anything for a while. I can do anything for a while, which is true. I can do anything for a while, but I’ve been doing this grind for 18 months. This is a long time. And what I realized is I really don’t wanna give up my company to investors. I don’t wanna be pushed by someone who doesn’t have, have the desire that I have to create a culture where people are happy to create a culture where people love to come to work, to create a culture where people don’t feel like they have to work nights and weekends and slog and grind.
And to be honest, a lot of investors they’re, they’re just enter in how you’re getting them a return on their money. I’m interested in something different than that. So there’s a group of investors, part of the female billionaire club who, uh, a bunch bunch of these women have created funds. Um, you know, a lot of them are investing in early stage companies. There’s some, some grants and some other non-dilutive capital that we’re looking at going after, but I’m looking at options. And I want, I, I, I am shifting my mindset. I’m shifting my belief that and getting curious, right? I’m getting curious. Is it possible to build a startup, to potentially build a unicorn, to build a very successful company that makes its investors a lot of money that makes its founders a lot of money that makes its team members a lot of money. That makes a difference in the world, the way that we want to for entrepreneurs and for incubators and accelerate and for investors and for everyone who’s engaged in the early stage startup world.
But that also has the kind of culture people wanna be in from the beginning. And I really do have a hypothesis that not only is this possible it’s probable, but it’s actually going to take me making some tough decisions and being willing to pull back and being willing to say, maybe this is gonna take longer, but I think it’s better for the humans involved. Like I said, it’s a, it’s a hypothesis. It’s one that I’m willing to explore. And it feels right, even though it is very, very scary because today I told the team, I said, you know what? We’re taking, we’re taking a two month pause, finish up whatever you’re working on. Like, if you’re in the middle of something, finish it up, you know, make notes, get with the team. If you need to, to get support, like finish up what you’re working on. And then we’re gonna take a break.
And that’s terrifying because I wanna tell them, I wanna crack the whip. I wanna be like, work more, work harder, work longer, go, go, go, go, go. Cause I want, I want this out. But the thing that I realized is one, we talked about the mental health piece, but the other piece is, is am I start to, I started to question whether I’m actually pushing for something that’s not, that’s not true. And what I mean is, am I pushing for, get it out there, get it out there, get it out there. I want it out there already, but it’s not ready. I have feeling there’s something else that we need to know or something that we need to discover that once we do changes some things that are fundamental. And I can’t tell you what that is. I can’t tell you. I, I can’t tell you anything about it.
Other than I just have this feeling and things get created in space in time. Nature of whores a vacuum. I’ve heard this phrase. I hate it. I don’t know why. It just, it sounds annoying to me, right? But what I’m realizing is maybe very wise about that saying is without, you know, a vacuum is just space and time without it. How can anything come in to get to how, how can new ideas come in? And how can like sometimes space is what’s required time. It’s, what’s required to create the mental capacity to find solutions that you didn’t even know. Were there problems you didn’t even know? Were there new ways of thinking about things and something in my gut and something in, in just, just the path that we’ve taken to get to this place tells me, this is part of, this is part of this, this whole time period as well.
So this I’m, I’m no longer resisting the path I’m following the path that’s laid out. I’m choosing to embrace it. I’m choosing to go with it. I’m choosing to let it unfold and to be the arbiter and the executor of it. And I believe my job is to hold the vision, to execute when there’s something to execute and to listen and be a good steward outside of that. And that’s all there is for me to do. So that’s what we’re doing. So to that end, one of the things we’ve talked about, and I decided to pull the trigger on is we are going to for a little while, we’re gonna do every other week with the podcast. So yes, I realize this is dropping on April 1st. This is not April fool’s day joke. Um, but we, we, the amount of time that it takes to not record, but produce and pull together all the assets and all the thing, it, it takes something and I have help.
Um, but it still requires me doing a lot of the work and I’m happy to do it because I love my audience. I love you all. I love our guests. I love this podcast. Like it is one of my favorite things about the journey over the last year. Since we start, since we started this podcast last April, it is literally one of my favorite things. And I look forward to it every week. What I realize is if I’m going to take space, if I’m going to take, if I’m really going to lean into what, what messages that I’m getting right now, I need to, I need to take a step back on this too. So what that means is we’re gonna go to it every other week. Um, we’re still recording every week. So, but it just gives me a little bit of space and time for the weeks when things are, are really busy, I’ve got some buffer before I have to get the next episode over to the production company, with all the assets and everything, which is a relief.
I mean, it’s just a relief. And in the meantime, we’re gonna be, we’re gonna look at our process. We’re going to look at the tools we’re using. We’re going to catalog all the work that is left to be done. We’re gonna catalog what we already had. I’ve done. We’re gonna make a plan. I’m gonna continue to talk to some investors who I think are strategically aligned with us, who I think would listen to this episode and hear what I’m saying and get it and support it. And I am sorting out for myself. You know, the thing, the thing I remembered about myself and I, I told my co-founders and I told my team, this is I have never built a company on raised money. I’ve never gone out and raised funds to build the company. I’ve always made money to build a company like gone out, made money, done the revenue thing, and then build from there.
And for some reason, because I think it’s important to understand the journey of raising money. And I think we will. I really do think that we will, but for a while, I gotta go back to my roots. My roots are, I’m great at making money. I can, you, I am great at providing value and exchange for money. I can do that all day long every day. I’m great at it. I just forgot. And I, and I got caught up in investing in pitching and all the I’m gonna put this in quote startupy things. What I want you to take from this dear listener, dear startup, founder, dear startup, CEO, startup executive, the journey is going to look how the journey looks and yours might look different. If you, if you listen to all the entrepreneurs we have on the show, if you listen to all the podcast out there where they interview entrepreneurs about their journeys, no two are exactly alike.
There’s some themes. There’s some things that we hear a lot about, but a lot of these have become enshrined myths in our world, in our, in our realms where now we believe, oh, in order to who be da, da, da, da, da. I have to go raise money in order to be da, da, da, da. I have, you know, whatever that, whatever those in order to right, in order to have a successful startup, I have to kill myself for it. I have to break myself over and over and over again, physically and mentally and emotionally. Now I do believe that you have to, you know, you can’t build a company that’s bigger than you are. That’s bigger, bigger than your, your mindset is, but that’s a very different thing than, than killing yourself for your company. So I’m gonna listen to my intuition. I’m gonna go on this journey.
I’m going to see where this takes me. And I want you to be open to where are you trying to force yourself into a journey that looks like something you assume is how success gets created? What if success is so much closer than you ever believed? If you gave into your intuition, if you gave into the path, that’s already laid out in front of you and just walking it rather than trying to make it look like a particular thing and forcing it, what would that really look like? What would you give up? What would you do different? What would you take on and what makes you happy?
I challenge all of us and this, this is an exploration. I’m gonna be on myself. I challenge all of us to every time there’s a decision to be made. What a cost and how does it make you feel? And what if we went with a thing that gave us the most relief or made us the happiest or put space into a world where there isn’t any right now, what could get created in there? So starting in April, this is April 1st. So we will see you again in two weeks on April 15th and every two weeks after for a little while. And at some point we will go back to weekly. Um, we have a ton of great guests lined up. I’m still working on getting this, uh, this VC guy in here to talk to us about the nine outta 10 statistic. Um, you know, so, so that’s probably gonna happen sometime in the spring or the summer. There’s lots of great stuff coming and we’ll keep giving you updates. And we will go on this new piece of the journey together.
I’d love to hear what you think I’d love to hear. You’re you know, are you willing to try this? What about it scares you? What about it makes you nervous? Are you nervous for me now? Are you nervous for Precursa? I want you to reach out and tell me what you think so you can email us, uh, at startup precursor.com. We’re on social media, we’re on LinkedIn, we’re on, uh, Instagram. We’re on Facebook, we’re on Twitter. Um, you can find all those on our website. Um, so get connected. And what does this make you think? What does this make you feel? And, uh, I, I would love to, I’d love to hear, and I’d love to hear how you fly it for yourself, if you do, or if you’re like Cynthia, your nuts, that there’s only one way to build a startup. I’d like to hear that too. All right, folks. So I will see y’all in two weeks with yet another guest who is brilliant and you will love her. And, um, as always, thank you so much for coming on this journey with us. Thank you for continuing to listen. Our, our audience continues to grow month over month. It’s really exciting to, to see. And, um, yeah, it’s, I’m, I’m looking forward to the next phase. This is gonna be interesting. So as always happy entrepreneuring, and I will see you all next time.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Precursa: The Startup Journey. If you have an idea for a startup and you want to explore the proven process of turning your idea into a viable business, check us out at precursa.com. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode. Until next time…