Last month, Capital One Labs sponsored the most recent DC event in the Tech Cocktail Sessions series. The topic of the night focused on building a startup business into a successful company. Both of the evening’s speakers brought years of successes, failures, and hard-earned lessons to the mic.
The first speaker was Alexis Juneja, a co-founder and VP, Strategic Development of Curbed Media, a lifestyle media company. The company delivers intelligence on real estate and design; dining and nightlife; and, shopping and style via its three brands: Curbed, Eater and Racked. Through the years, Alexis has been involved in every stage of company development from incorporation, to ad sales, to capital raising; she now focuses on strategic partnerships and corporate development. Despite her title as the head of strategic development, Alexis plays a role in all aspects of improvement and development within the company.
Curbed started as a collection of blogs in 2004 and has grown from what Alexis called an “aggressive hobby” to a full-fledged media company with national and local blogs. Over the years the company grew rather organically, and the slow process allowed many of the founders to keep their day jobs until they were ready to launch Curbed full-time. Alexis pointed out that it was easier to have such a trajectory five to seven years ago as there was not the kind of pressure that startups face today.
Alexis talked about strategy—primarily identifying people’s roles within the company and making sure everyone has the same goals. Founders and those in management roles should constantly be thinking about what their purpose is underneath their title. Communication is crucial among senior management. It’s such a priority for Curbed that they’ve even taken retreats where the focus is on strategic development and communication. Alexis ended with a couple points on the company environment and how the people you’re surrounded by really make or break the culture.
Next up was Hooman Radfar. He is the co-founder and chairman of AddThis, the world’s largest social infrastructure and data platform for publishers and advertisers. AddThis’ social plugins and analytics are used by over 14 million websites to increase traffic and engagement. His talk revolved around building a successful company culture. He sees culture as “the language in which the story of your company is written.” You cannot have a positive and creative culture with just one person or one kind of person. Hooman stressed that “diversity of thought” is what leads to innovation; therefore, he seeks out diversity when hiring.
The take-home message from Hooman’s talk: People First. This does not just refer to customers or clients. Success is dependent on an alignment across customers, employees, and investors. During the Q&A, he likened hiring the wrong person to tissue rejection. If someone does not fit with the values and culture of the company, things will start to fall apart. The right people, who share the same values, and working in an environment of continual improvement, are just as critical to the success of a company as product and marketing.
It was great to see Tech Cocktail back in its old stomping grounds for an inspiring and informative night. Check out some images from the event below, and be sure to join us on July 31st for the next DC Sessions event.
Kristin Pryor @kristinpryor is an archeologist turned budding entrepreneur who is enthusiastically navigating her way through the DC startup space. She has an unending passion for learning and is never satisfied with the status quo. Her current obsessions include wine, hiking, and Downton Abbey.
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