The Discipline of Staying Flexible: Summer Catalyst Director Elliott Adams Talks Entrepreneurship & Iteration
So, you’ve got a business idea, a hypothesis even. Can it be proven? Does your customer want what you’re offering? Rewind – who is your customer, again?
These are the questions that motivate Elliott Adams, the director of this year’s Summer Catalyst Program at Babson San Francisco, and form the foundation of his perspective on venture development.
The Summer Catalyst Program is a 10 week pre-accelerator experience that offers co-working space, mentors, and guidance to help early-stage entrepreneurs develop their startups. This summer’s cohort included six teams representing the tech, social venture, food & beverage, and service industries and was directed by Elliott.
Elliott brought extensive experience as CTO of CD Baby leading up to its acquisition for $22 million in 2008, an advisor to startup founders at Techstars Startup Next and Startup Weekend, and as an entrepreneurship faculty member at Loyola University and Hult International Business School to the position. Most recently, he added author to his credentials: His book The Startup Mixtape, a guide to building and launching a high growth tech startup, was published last fall.
Reflecting back on the 10 weeks of the Summer Catalyst program, Elliott remarked on the level of collaboration and connection among the student teams. He says, “The things you hoped would happen did happen.” And he speaks of the hard work the teams put in and the progress they made in the final weeks of the program, refining and polishing their pitches in preparation for the Showcase finale.
So, post Summer Catalyst, what does entrepreneurship mean to a former CTO turned educator, advisor, author, and self-described “semi-retired DJ”? When asked, he starts to riff on the idea of entrepreneurship as “the new norm of existing, doing business, or being in charge of your career.” Entrepreneurship is not restricted to the founder of the next high growth tech startup (here he cites Facebook as an example); rather entrepreneurship is a way of being, thinking, behaving, and acting in the world.
Offering up tips for the Summer Catalyst teams and for all entrepreneurs, Elliott encourages them to stay open to the feedback cycle and to stay flexible. But he admits it’s not easy: “It’s a constant discipline… a deliberate practice.” Elliott specifically touches on the idea validation and customer discovery stages as critical to venture development and iteration: “It’s really tempting for an entrepreneur to build something out of their own vision… You still need to be disciplined about whether this thing you built is serving your customer.”
Elliott values curiosity and discovery, and his own ability to put them into practice is exemplified when he explains how he first connected with Babson: “The real story is I just messaged Debi Kleiman on LinkedIn and asked, ‘What are you guys working on?’” How incredibly fitting that his introduction to Babson was one borne of entrepreneurial initiative.