Susy Pilgrim Waters
Just in time for a late summer beach read, a new novel from a TechStars veteran explores the delicate imbalance founders juggle as they work to build a company, win customers, and possibly find love along the way.
In between jetsetting between launch parties, she took a few minutes to answer some questions about her new book, which was born of a successful Kickstarter campaign.
So being about startups, I have to ask: What’s your elevator pitch for this book?
Short version: Founders Less Than 3: Startups and Sex
Long version: Founders Less Than 3: Imagine mixing the startup thrills of the Facebook movie with the girl geek wisdom of Lean In and you’ve got Celery, the hottest accelerator program in town where five guy CEOs and five girl CEOs compete for big money and serious fun.
A look at life in a startup accelerator in Boston seems pretty niche. What convinced you it was fertile ground for a novel?
Since I’m a TechStars accelerator alum from the Boston class of 2012 and met so many “characters” when I was there, it struck me this might be perfect for fiction.
The TechStars accelerator is not niche. It was founded in Boulder by David Cohen, Brad Feld, Jared Polis, and David Brown, and now has programs in Boulder, Boston, Austin, New York, Seattle and London. In fact, accelerator programs are popping up all over the world now.
One day after our weekly “pitch session” at TechStars, I realized getting up there and doing your thing wasn’t too different from American Idol or Shark Tank. Viewers love to follow those shows for the characters and the happy and not-so-happy endings – everything you love in a good novel. With Founders Less Than Three I followed that contest format, added a love story and threw in some sex for good measure.
You’d gone down the route of traditional publishing before. Why Kickstarter this time around, and what stood out to you about the difference crowdfunding a novel versus pitching publishers?
I think Kickstarter is much more than a crowdfunding platform. I think it’s a prototyping platform for artists. You say, here’s my idea for a book or movie or CD, what do you think? I got a big thumbs-up so I went ahead with the book. It let me raise money in the same range as a publisher might give me for an advance—$15K in my case. From there you know you’ve got this crowd of supporters wishing you well, but also giving you the peer pressure to finish the project or potential embarrassment if you don’t. That was very helpful for me.
I’ve had the privilege of working closely with Guy Kawasaki on his last two books – both of which were self-published. In fact, he claims I am “the mother of APE” – his newest book Author Publisher and Entrepreneur , co-written with Shawn Welch. His book brilliantly describes how you can take control of your publishing process by doing it yourself, embracing “artisanal publishing” as he calls it. Since most traditional publishers give the author 30% and keep 70% of royalties and Amazon turned that on its head, by giving the author 70% and keeping 30% it’s a brave new world in ebook publishing. His book makes it a no-brainer and a rather fun entrepreneurial adventure.
He says you should start building out your network for the book at the same time you are writing the book. Kickstarter also lets you do this. You start “marketing” before you even start writing the book. Then when it’s time to publish, you have a crowd behind you cheering!
One thing you’ve talked about before is building up that devoted and far-reaching fan base to actually reach your goal. Any parallels between that kind of hustle and your time in the startup world?
Every kind of parallel, as you well know – it’s all about sales when starting a company or selling a book. At Celery the entrepreneurs practice how to pitch their idea again and again – that’s sales. They learn to keep it simple, to make it alluring, to inspire everyone listening. When one of the guys keeps trying to get my main character Monica Kroy into bed, she has to tell him, “Sorry, man, I think you need to practice that pitch of yours.”
Anything else you think people should know about you, your book, or anything else?
The startup world can feel very exclusive – like it happens exclusively in Silicon Valley in California and only young white males need apply. My startup world has lots of women, LGBT entrepreneurs, geeks of color – all colors – and is a very inclusive world. I want anyone reading it to know that great ideas have no gender, race, age or sexual preference. I also believe Boston will be increasingly important as a place for breakthrough ideas, since we have the best talent in the world right here in Boston when it comes to mobile technology, biotechnology and educational innovation, to name only a few areas of our expertise.