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PivotDesk Q&A: CEO and Techstars mentor, David Mandell on What It Takes to Start a Startup

Starting a business can be a major roller coaster filled with emotional highs and lows that can throw you for a loop. Some days you know exactly what you’re doing and other days, it’s a huge mess. Couple that with the fact that nine out of ten businesses fail, it’s no wonder why you feel overwhelmed.

Our CEO, David Mandell, is a well versed in the ups and downs that come with being CEO. PivotDesk is his fourth venture, and he experienced both success and failure in his previous startups before founding PivotDesk. Now David mentors tons of startup hopefuls in the TechStars program, which he has been involved with from the start.

David recently chatted with the creator of The Startup Madness Podcast, Joel Lutfiyya, about what it takes to beat the odds. Below is an excerpt of their conversation, but here’s the link to the full podcast if you want the fully nitty gritty right away.

How This Startup Got Started

Q: How did you come up with the idea for PivotDesk?

D:  While I was trying to figure out what to do next after my third startup, I consulted for a company where I was very good friends with the CEO. They originally shared their space with another company who moved to their own space, and were left sitting on 10,000 square feet of empty space. The CFO was miserable and had no idea what to do. The landlord could care less; he was still getting paid every month. Brokers tried to help, but nobody likes a sublease deal. At least once a week the CEO would come in and say, “What the hell is going on with that space?”

As a TechStars mentor, I said, “Larry, I know five or six companies that would love that space, but they probably can’t sign a sublease because honestly, several of them don’t even know if they’re going to be in business six months from now, let alone two years from now. It would bring some great energy in your space, drive some revenue, and you’d be helping the community.”

Larry looked at me and said, “God, I would love to do that, but there’s no way I can deal with the bullsh*t. I can’t run around chasing checks. I can’t be worried about credit risk. I can’t be worried about who’s supposed to be here or who’s not supposed to be here. I have too many things on my plate to deal with than to worry about who’s leaving shit in the refrigerator on a Friday night.”

I kind of looked at it and I said, “You know, I bet there’s a pretty easy way to build some tools to help you manage that process, drive some revenue and find homes for all these companies that are trying to grow their businesses.” That was the genesis for PivotDesk.

Finding the Pain

Q: Sitting in an office, you saw a problem? All you had to do was open your eyes and ears, and you were able to formulate a solution to the problem?

D: Yes, that’s exactly right. The key to starting a business is to find the pain.

[bctt tweet=”The key to starting a business is to find the pain. — David Mandell”]

Find what’s making somebody miserable. If you can find something that’s making somebody miserable and you can provide a better solution, there’s potentially a business there. It’s how I started PivotDesk. I saw two sides of an opportunity, both of whom, [host and guest], wanted the same solution, but it was too painful for both of them to make it work. I just spent some time trying to figure out the right way to do this. Can I provide a platform that makes it easy? If I can do that, are people actually interested in using it, and more importantly, are they willing to pay for it? If all the answers to those questions are yes, then you’ve got a potential business.

What People Are Buying Is You

Q: Isn’t it important for people to understand that you, yourself, is what people are buying into?

D:  Anyone that comes to me and says, “Hey, I think I want to get into the startup world,” I tell them, “Don’t bother. If that’s your attitude and you’re just thinking about it, you’ve got a really rude awakening coming to you.” The people that come to me and say, “I need to do this. This idea is going to be massive. Here’s what I’ve done so far. Here’s where I’m stuck. What do I do next? How do I get it to the next level?,” are the people that have the chance of succeeding. They’re not waiting for anything. They’re taking an idea. They’re testing it. They’re pushing it. They’re tweaking it. They’re bending it, and they’re moving. They’re moving as fast as they can. It’s not always in the right direction. But if you move fast, you’ll figure that out pretty quickly, and then you’ll shift. If you’re just sitting there taking your time, you may never realize it’s the wrong direction until it’s way too late.

[bctt tweet=”If you’re sitting there taking your time, you may never realize it’s the wrong direction until it’s too late. — David Mandell”]

Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome

Q: You work with start-ups. You are a start-up entrepreneur yourself. Give me and the audience some ways to deal with the self-doubt that we all have. Even the president wakes up and says, “What am I doing here?”

D: It’s about learning. It’s about using the data. It’s about making decisions and making the best decisions you can. Those aren’t always right decisions. In many cases there’s no such thing as the right decision.

[bctt tweet=”In many cases, there’s no such thing as the ‘right decision.’ — David Mandell”]

There’s just a decision and how you act on it that matters. The more you doubt yourself and your abilities, the harder it is to make those decisions. As soon as you realize that everyone out there is guessing just as much as you are, it makes it much easier to step up, look at the data, and say, “This is what I believe, here’s why, and this is what I’m going to do.”

Want more? Listen to David on how he actually built the platform without building the platform, how he hooked up with investors and the mentality it takes to push through and more. Listen to the full podcast here.   

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