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Media Center Demo Day

Ed and Alana on Demo Day

Ed and Alana on Demo Day

Radish’s Interactive Director, Edward Wisniewski, takes particular pride in the fact that he was the (for real) first person to walk through the doors of the Made in NY Media Center on October, 2013. Coming in a close second, I brought the first desk plant. Nine months ago, the two of us made what felt like a major move and threw down some overhead for space in the incubator program. We’d been working from our apartments for five months and needed somewhere to congregate.

Our acceptance to the Center came under the premise of turning our tiny two-person interactive “agency” into a world-class digital creative shop focused exclusively on social impact projects. Less than a year later, we’re a team of seven people, thanks mostly to the Incubator’s incredible team and a lot of espresso.

As we do with everything that comes flying at us, when we were offered a spot at the inaugural demo day we just replied yes to the email and forgot about it. That brings me to the first of five well-learned lessons about Demo days and starting up and incubating:

  1. Say yes to almost everything. Try not to forget about it after you do, but say yes. You can start saying no when you’re sleeping on a bed of money in your new four-story brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. (I should mention that said brownstone comes equipped with a washer and dryer.) That’s when you can start saying no. In the meantime, say yes when someone asks you if you want to pitch your straggling start-up in front of a room full of high-profile potential investors and advisors because, hell, what do you have to lose? Except a little face and maybe a few nights of sleep. Say yes to new clients, say yes to people you think seem a little crazy, say yes to free lunches, and definitely say yes to biting off more than you can chew.
  2. The trickiest part about starting a business is figuring out what your business is actually doing. It’s kind of like trying to find time to have a shower when you’ve got a new born baby. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll have two minutes to jump under the water before you’ve got to jump back out and put out a fire. Most of the time when you’re starting a company, you’re shooting from the hip like you’re in a black-and-white Western. The hardest thing about Demo day for Radish was not talking about what we do; it was figuring out what we do in the first place. What are our core values? What do we believe in? What, exactly, is our plan? Yes, we’re working 80-hour weeks building a company. But what is our company about and why should people give a shit? We figured it out, but it was painful and it took hours of discussion to distill our core statements. We’re so glad we did it.
  3. The hardest work to do is your own. Sink money into it or you’ll never see it done. We do client work at Radish and client work always takes priority over internal projects, like launching a new Radish website, or working on our pitch deck. The problem is that most of the time, these internal projects are just, if not more, important than the client work. Without them we can’t grow, or market, or make things easier on ourselves. Chances are, if you’re a real client-based startup, you’re counting on your talent to chip in and try to get your agency projects off the ground. Forget it. Gamble a little. Sink a couple grand into a project and then you’ll see it finished. You’ll also see it pay off.
  4. Listen hard, and follow your gut. If you start a successful company it’s because you have some strong ideas about the ways things should be done. You’re probably pretty stubborn, but you’re probably also trying to learn from other’s mistakes. We’d never done a Demo day before and it was really tempting for us to mimic other team’s approaches, or to just execute the vision of a mentor or advisor. But sticking to our guns is what got us into this, and it’s what got us out. Pitch what you believe in, and pepper that with some seasoned advice. Remember that no one in the start-up world really knows what the hell they’re doing.
  5. Which means you gotta fake it till you make it. Seriously. Just put on your make-believe hat and pretend that you were born to stand in front of a room of some of the top CEOs of the country and tell them that your creative agency is going to change the world. And that you, and the people who are crazy enough to drink your koolaid, are the ones to do it. The weird part is that people will believe you. And then you’ll start believing yourself, and before you know it, you’re not faking it anymore.