Matt Helbig – Founder of Valid8

[quote style=”boxed”]Be kind. Just be really kind to people you meet online and in person. Not like in a fake way, but really listen to people. If you have negative feedback to give, do it nicely.[/quote]

Matt Helbig is just a guy who loves to talk about Startups. A graduate of The American University in Washington DC and former Army Infantry Officer. He’s currently working on Valid8: A Social Network for Startups. Prior to Valid8, Matt worked in sales, marketing and business development for both Startups and at least one Fortune 500 Company. The latter, an experience he hopes to never repeat. He has also been a volunteer at Startup Weekend, San Diego as well as a fundraising campaign manager at Project Welcome Home Troops; a non-profit dedicated to preventing veteran suicide.

Matt is a firm believer in the power of ideas. “There seems to be this ongoing debate in Startup circles on the relative value of ideas; are the worthless or priceless?” Matt falls strongly in the “priceless” camp, believing that all things in this world began simply, as ideas. “Of course there’s that pesky execution component,” but he feels with the proper motivation that powerful ideas provide, “there’s nothing that can’t be manifested from humble beginnings.”

Born in Baltimore MD, Matt currently lives in San Diego, but his day job is in Afghanistan as a Military Advisor for the State Department. The best way to connect with Matt through his website where you can find his entire social media profile. He’s also an avid Redditor: /u/ou812icruok. He loves to connect with other entrepreneurs so please, don’t be shy. Also, he loves avocados, but he understands people that don’t.

Where did the idea for Valid8 come from? What does your typical day look like?

Valid8 was something that I built for myself really. I was driving down the road in Temecula California, listening to the “Entrepreneur on Fire” podcast by John Lee Dumas when I had this moment of clarity. There wasn’t a totally online Startup incubator, complete with Crowdfunding portal, and I just didn’t understand why. I mean, the gap between having an idea for a business and taking the first steps towards realizing that goal is still huge. Organizations like Startup Weekend, Startup America and others are helping. But why was there nothing like them online, with a global reach? That was about 18 months ago and since then I’ve been building, researching and recently testing the concept with my launch of Valid8 about 2 weeks ago.

My day is pretty standard for most startup founders. I’m up early, grab a bite and one of those large diet Monster energy drinks. Then I put on my body armor, grab my rifle and proceed to drive around Afghanistan helping to mentor Afghan soldiers. After work, I get in a run, then sit down to my custom “action item list” that I built on excel. Checking off boxes on at a time. Pretty typical I suppose; except for the day job part.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’ve never been an artist. I can’t paint or draw or sing. But when I’m working on my Startup, I become prolific…inspired. I’ve found that managing that energy, focusing it, is easier when I organize my schedule and myself. Finally, I’m an analytics junkie. If I can’t measure it, I won’t do it. So any ideas I have, any changes I make are underpinned with data. I guess my creative process is one part hunch and nine parts measurement.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The Democratization of Creativity. Ten years ago if you wanted to make an album or film or business, you had to have all sorts of resources; not the least of which is money. Now, with the tools for creativity becoming more widely available and inexpensive, I think we are going to see an ever-increasing self-employed class of citizens: Able to align their work and their passion because of the increased connectivity in the connection economy. In the field of Startups for example; now for less than a couple hundred dollars and a decent computer, you can basically create a business.

Couple to that the legalization of equity-based crowdfunding for non-accredited investors and there is a full-on revolution about to take place. Relatively soon, everyday folks will be able to invest in Startups for equity. I really don’t think the impact of this can be understated.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Meditation. Hands down. I find it focuses my mind and makes me more productive; calmer too. If you don’t have a meditation practice, just sitting and focusing on your breathing for about 5 minutes daily is a powerful tool for increasing your productivity.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Pharmaceutical sales. Whenever your beliefs aren’t in line with your work, the both are bound to suffer. I learned that I could take all this energy I’m currently expending on behalf of someone else’s company and put that towards something of my own. There is this wonderful quote from Steve Jobs where he says, “ Everything around you was built by people no smarter than you. Once you realize that, your world will never be the same.”

It made me realize; I can build something. Something people like me would want to use, and maybe the world would be better for it.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Blog daily six months prior to launch. There is this ongoing debate between the Lean Startup camp that says, “Launch that MVP and just iterate until its right.” Don’t invest time and resources into something you’re not sure will work. On the other hand, there’s the “Inbound Crowd”, where content is king and connecting to your audience is vital prior to launch.

What I’ve found was I was way to dogmatic in the lean approach. When I launched a couple weeks ago, I found its hard to ascertain data from a the small user group that I was able to cobble together over a week. I think a good middle ground is to identify your “tribe” as Seth Godin would say. And connect with them prior to launching. No need to be super specific in your message, just try and appeal to a broad spectrum of future users. That way if your “Dog Walking Startup” pivots into a “Dog Grooming Startup” you’ll still have the attention of dog lovers.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Be kind. Just be really kind to people you meet online and in person. Not like in a fake way, but really listen to people. If you have negative feedback to give, do it nicely. Remember that in the Startup world, these are brave souls who stand up and say, “This is who I am, and this is what I’m building.” Everybody has an idea for a business. GoDaddy makes millions from domains that just sit there because it’s hard to stand up and say those words. Pitching a Startup makes people feel vulnerable, so just be kind. Also, give people your time. Don’t do it at the expense of your work or family, but give it freely. It all comes around in the end.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to strangers. Go ahead and email that person that you think can help you. And stay in touch. At the end of the day, were all human beings. From the editor of Mashable down to the kid running a blog from his dorm room. What is the worst that could happen in asking a stranger for help? They say no? Ok, plenty of others in the world that can help. Also, be genuine. If you’re a Startup, its Ok to have a cheesy explainer video you made with iMovie. Don’t pretend you’re bigger than you really are. Just own your amateurism, embrace your humbleness.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I had a startup in 2004 that was an organic alternative to chemical fertilizer: Freeze-dried compost tea. I mean, it was a really good idea and it was a big, hairy audacious goal at the time. I was young and without any resources, knowhow or money. So I partnered with some investors who fronted a sizable amount of cash in exchange for equal equity splits between my cofounder and I.

We didn’t get the product into production as fast as we would have liked and needed some more money to extend our runway. I wasn’t able to sell the extra angel round we needed and basically just closed up shop at the first sign of failure. I didn’t overcome it. I had failed and that was that. In hindsight there are about a million things I would have done differently, but in the larger sense I’ve overcome it now. Failures will happen; I guarantee it. It’s important to know if that failure is critical or just a bump in the road. Chances are it’s the latter.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Oh man, I have a section in my blog about this called “Steal This Idea.” Here is one that I think would be super exciting I haven’t written about yet. NFC (Near Field Communications) chips are these small thin disks about the size of a post-it. They are gaining popularity over QR codes as a way to “Hardlink” the outside world and the web. All Android smart phones have this capability to read the tags and allegedly the iPhone 6 will have a reader as well.

Start an affiliate network of poster hangers (with NFC tags embedded) and marketers looking to boost their mobile ad campaigns. Affiliates get the posters with their own affiliate ID embedded into each chip. They go around and hang them in places they either have, or buy, permission from. They get paid on a CPC basis. Advertisers only pay for the clicks they receive.

NFC is fascinating to me and, guilty as charged, I have registered on GoDaddy. To be fair though, one startup at a time is enough.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I can’t visit animal shelters. I have zero willpower to not adopt dogs. Just like Startups, one is enough.

What software and web services do you use?

I love the Chrome/Evernote combo. I prefer G+ over Facebook, though I understand people that feel otherwise. I’m also in love with a free app in the Mac App store called Image Tricks lite for resizing and cropping photos, which, as a blogger, I want, done quickly and easily. I’m a big fan of freeware on principal, or services that offer a freemium model like Hootsuite and Mail Chimp.

What do you love about them?

The Chrome/Evernote is nice because I travel a lot and all my bookmarks and notes stay in the cloud. I like G+ for its ability to make random connections as well as authorship attribution for SEO reasons in Google. Image Tricks lite, because it’s fast, easy and lightweight. And freemium models in general because I know I’m buying something I like, not something I think I’ll like.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Since I’m sure everyone says The Lean Startup… I’ll go with Stone Soup. It’s a children’s book about collaboration and what you bring to the table as nothing more than an “Idea Person”.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

John Lee Dumas from the Entrepreneur on Fire Podcast
Jason Fried “37 Signals” Signal vs Noise Blog
Aaron Koblin Designer