Be open to pivots. Be willing to let your ideas fail. The things we build never end up being what we thought they were going to be at first. Sometimes, it’s a good thing to be stubborn and strive, but you have to be open-minded.
Phil Stover is a co-founder and partner at Blue Skies Ventures, which builds idea-stage tech companies and provides capital and growth advice to seed-stage companies. A serial entrepreneur and investor, Phil also recently co-founded esports platform PvP.com. Phil previously served as Farmers Insurance’s director of customer experience and sales strategy.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
My co-founder and I wanted to use our networks to help other startups become successful. After working in a couple of different fields, we realized we’d built a lot of valuable connections with companies and investors.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I don’t know if I have one, to be honest. I spend two and a half or three days per week in my office. The rest of them, I usually spend meeting with founders, investors, and many others, either at coffee shops or at their own offices. Recently, I’ve been trying to work from home on Mondays. I’ve been so booked that I have little time to do what I call “real work.” To take care of planning and administrative things, I need a day to actually work from my computer.
How do I make days productive? I meditate every morning. After that, I feed my daughter breakfast for half the week. I get her ready and take her to daycare around 8:30 a.m. At the end of the day, I pick her up or go to an evening event. One or two days each week, I have a meeting or networking event after work.
How do you bring ideas to life?
That’s exactly what our company does! We take ideas, develop them, validate them, and then build them out. We have an internal market validation process in which we survey a bunch of target audience members about the concept. What do they like? What else would they want? We take those answers, compile them, and mash them up in some business planning and research tools. Then we ask: What’s the leanest, skinniest version that we think will get business traction? That’s what we build as our minimum viable product.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Diversity in startups. First, it’s just the right thing to do. Second, there’s business value in building diverse teams. Although existing networks do make diversity more challenging, I think there’s a real recognition in the startup community of its importance.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
It’s all about maintaining a positive mindset. That’s the point of my morning meditations. They help me clear my mind, identify what’s important, and then focus on those things.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be patient. I’m a fairly impatient person, but I do think good things come with time. When I was younger, I wanted everything at once. I’ve since realized that things don’t always happen as quickly as I want them to, and that’s OK. I need certain experiences to prepare me for others.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Ideas do not get stolen. If you’re actually delivering something of value, it’s very difficult to replicate. You might inspire copycats, but you’re better off spending your energy defending what you have. Worrying about your idea being “stolen” is unproductive.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be open to pivots. Be willing to let your ideas fail. The things we build never end up being what we thought they were going to be at first. Sometimes, it’s a good thing to be stubborn and strive, but you have to be open-minded. The market is going to take you where it wants to. Then, it’s up to you: Do you want to go there?
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Partnerships and adding value first. I’ve outsourced a lot of work to partners and even given projects to another accelerator. Those things have brought so much good back to our business. After floating one really awesome project to the accelerator, we’re now getting pulled into two others. A marketing partner recently delivered a great consulting project for us. Establish partnerships through your relationships, and give before you expect to get.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Honestly, our first business model didn’t work. Even though we thought we did a good job, we had projects that didn’t go well. A year and a half in, we had to reassess.
The good news is that we had data to show us where to go. We noticed, OK, this isn’t working — but it does seem to be adding value in another way, so let’s go there. That’s actually how Blue Skies Ventures was born. The downstream model didn’t work for us, but we overcame it by being open to what we learned as we went.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Come visit our venture studio, and we might just set you up with one!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
We just got our daughter Emma a Saturday nanny. She comes in twice per month. Because my wife and I both work, we struggle to make time for household stuff. Our nanny helps with laundry and may watch Emma for a bit if we go work out, but she mostly makes sure our place isn’t a total wreck on the weekends.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Google’s G-Suite. I use the whole package — Calendar, Hangouts, Google Docs, all of it. Docs is my go-to tool for collaborating with people.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight. It’s the story of Nike’s founder. Pretty much every entrepreneur will read it and not just relate to it, but be inspired by it. I remember thinking, “Wow! If he was able to pull that off with a tenth of the resources I have, then what can I do?”
What is your favorite quote?
“You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” –Wayne Gretzky
- Meditate in the morning to focus on what matters.
- Be open to pivots. Product ideas rarely work out as envisioned.
- Establish partnerships. Give before you expect to get.
- Consider contracting help for household chores or outside-of-work needs.
- Read Phil Knight’s “Shoe Dog.” Appreciate your advantages.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.