Joel Milne: Startups Are About Capital And People

Joel Milne is a serial entrepreneur in the truest sense of the term. A quick look at his LinkedIn profile tells you everything needed to understand. What is more difficult to understand is why Joel feels like his job as a founder is to work himself out of a job.

Our conversation didn't focus on business strategy, product development, or market position. The most striking point Joel made during our conversation was that startups are about capital and people.

From a money standpoint, Average Angel investment rounds in 2015 were higher than ever according to the Angel Resource Institute. Venture capital levels were huge as well, according to NVCA.org.  

The money is the easy part. The main takeaway from my interaction with Joel was his thoughts on people. The most profound statement he made was that entrepreneurs can only do so much on their own. "You need people to scale a startup into being profitable," he said.

Ego And Trust

The stereotypical view of startup founder is arrogant, cocky, and single-minded. Joel laughed when I said that. "I was very cocksure when I started," he said, "but the startup process tends to beat the ego out of you."

His self awareness struck me. It takes a very self aware person to understand the limits of one's own skills. Joel told me multiple time he's a generalist. He can do many things well enough to get the ball rolling, but getting the best results means allowing professionals who specialize in a particular skill set to step in and do it better to scale. 

"I can't make it the Joel show," he said. "You need people in order to scale a startup."

 It was solid self awareness that led to this popular Medium post explaining why he left ScoreBig. It takes an emotionally intelligent person not just to look around and realize they worked themselves out of a job but to be thankful for it.

That is great and all, but how do you trust others with your vision enough to let them get work done for you? After all the mistakes and learning, Joel said "You're not going to bat 1.000 on this. . . . [it's about] people I've worked with before. Having some sort of relationship with people is the most valuable thing you can build."

Culture And Startups

Culture matters for a startup to be successful. The fact Joel has been through the process four times is a testament to that. Everything isn't always roses and champagne. Joel said this is where a lot of startups fail before they get off the ground. This means hiring the right people for the right spots is vital. Joel told me several times the first five hires for a startup are a major turning point in growth. 

Culture is also vital for those who aren't techies. Marketing and business role are a necessary part of any business. I asked about people like me who don't code and still want to be involved. Joel said it's still about fit and passion.

"The hesitancy to make the necessary changes is a key friction point for startups," he said. "It's not fair to that employee, your startup, and your investors to NOT make that change. 

Now What. . .

Joel left ScoreBig officially in January 2016. He still stops in for lunch and stays involved with the people. He's now moved on to his next project. While he wouldn't give me too many details, a startup he lists on his LinkedIn profile is Emotely. I asked about the pain point he's looking to address in his next venture. He said with mobile apps like this it's not necessary about a direct pain point as with consumer products that address a particular problem. 

"I'm fascinated for a long time about technology affects our relationships," he said. "I find it amazing, and it changes the world. That's where I'm looking."

My Thoughts

I write often about interaction and the serendipity of connection. It's a lost piece of of vital information in the vast sea of billion dollar valuations, mergers, exits, and outrageous media speculation. There is no way Joel could go through the startup grind four times and be looking for a fifth if he didn't understand himself, the people with which he surrounds himself, and the dynamic interaction of it all. The time spent with Joel was refreshing and fun. His brilliance is as readily apparent as his humility.