Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Startup-People of Seattle: Mike Grabham (Startup Coach)

The blog-series “Startup People of Seattle” introduces some of the key personas in the ecosystem to learn more about what they are doing, to share their thoughts and ideas, and to promote networking. 

In our first interview, meet Mike Grabham:
“It is so much easier today to start a company then it was 15 years ago. I believe that if you have an idea you should go for it and try it.”
Mike Grabham is a 6x founder. He has experienced success and failure and now uses what he has learned to coach startups. Mike helps founders validate and refine their business models until eventually finding customer fit (PMF) for new products and services. He also offers an online course called "New Idea to Customer Course".

To start, could you please introduce yourself shortly Mike?
Sure, I have been living in Seattle for 20 years now and have been doing startup-things basically my whole career, so I am very involved in the community around here. Currently I am helping entrepreneurs for a living as a consultant or coach (
What do you love about your job as a startup coach?
I have started so many companies over the years and I made many good but also many bad decisions. I enjoy sharing what I have learned with people who are going through the same stuff. It is so much easier today to start a company then it was 15 years ago. I believe that if you have an idea you should go for it and try it.
On LinkedIn you describe yourself as a 6-times founder. Could you highlight some of what you have learned throughout these entrepreneurial experiences?
One thing is that you must be passionate not just about building a business but also about what the business does when being part of a founding team. When things get rough that passion is crucial. Another thing is to always surround yourself with very smart people. This becomes especially important when hiring employees or when looking for partners. Try to find people with complementary skills and consider you will be in a long-term relationship with them. Therefore, make sure to interview and get to know them before making such a commitment. Even with angel investors you got to make sure you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. 
As a coach I learned that most startups are not talking to enough customers to deeply understand the problem they are trying to solve. This is very important though, so I try to push founders to do extensive customer discovery. I say “Talk to more customers” a lot. Over the years I have seen that if you are doing a good job with hiring the right people as well as with understanding customers you have a good chance for success. 
What makes a startup seem promising to you?
Again, its about the people. They must be good people and I must want to be working with them. A second aspect is the problem they are solving. I am not interested in stuff that already exists in similar ways. I want to work on new solutions, therefore uniqueness is very important to me.
What recommendation would you give someone new to the startup ecosystem here in Seattle?
It happens to me constantly that someone new to Seattle comes up to me asking for places to go, etc. There are many meetups for example that allow someone to network and enter the ecosystem, like the Open Coffees on Tuesdays that John Sechrest organizes. There really is no shortage of opportunities to meet people here in Seattle. Because of that, I recommend thinking about what your interests are and what you want to learn more about first. Once you know that, go on Geekwire, WTIA, where there are lots of events etc. posted. I also always recommend New Tech Seattle.
Great! Thank you so much for taking the time.

Here are some things I learned from this interview:
  • Startups are about people. First, it is super important to get together a great team of people who enjoy working with each other, who are smart and who have complimentary skills. Second, a startup builds products for people, so it is crucial to understand their problem. 
  • A founder must be passionate about the problem he is solving. Being passionate about building a company is not enough.

In the interview Mike mentioned a bunch of resources and organizations he finds helpful, find out more about them here:

About Seattle Angel:
A strong ecosystem creates an environment that allows startups to thrive. Seattle Angel’s goal is to strengthen Seattle’s startup ecosystem by increasing the access to funding for entrepreneurs to push their ideas further.

Seattle Angel Conference:
SAC round XVI is about to start. Are you an entrepreneur looking to get about $200k in angel funding? Are you curious to learn more about pitching, to polish all the documents needed for investments and to receive great feedback? Or are you an accredited business angel who wants to learn more about angel investing and due diligence? In any of these cases you should consider reaching out to us. You can find more information here:
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About the author: Sven Goepfrich 
Sven Goepfrich is currently finishing his MBA in Syracuse. His studies focus on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. At his school, he is working for the department of finance. Sven was actively interning with the Seattle Angel Conference in summer 2019. He is currently looking for full-time career opportunities in this field.

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