When I talked to Jilliene Helman of Realty Mogul I learned that a true entrepreneur is someone who takes the best of herself and makes something for her market. It is something precious and new, and it takes 100% commitment.
Jilliene Helman, left, and co-founder Justin Hughes
Jilliene and her co-founder Justin Hughes, who she has known for years, both left jobs they had held for a few years to start Realty Mogul, an ambitious startup that is meant to make the real estate game easier for institutional and accredited investors.
They've gone through the Windows Azure Accelerator, powered by Tech Stars, for three months, and are about to graduate at a Demo Day later in the month in Seattle. I asked her what were some of the key points she picked up by going through this process. If you are also considering applying for the accelerator, consider what she has to say.
Ambition Is Fueled by Decisions and Every Founder Builds a Culture
There are two things that my conversation with Jilliene showed me about the Azure Accelerator experience. One is that a true entrepreneur brings commitment and her inherent qualities to the experience. The second is that, regardless of how inherent qualities like decisive action and careful planning are, or how innate the ambition and adherence to traits like accountability are, the entrepreneur in an accelerator learns to use those traits, because it may not be totally true that she has used them effectively before. In other words, it seems very true after talking to one of Realty Mogul's co-founders that the Accelerator experience peels back all the cliche and stereotypical thinking about how a person should run a business, and it teaches them how they can run the business in their way to get the results they need.
That may jar some MBAs out there, who probably have read reams of books on how to run a company. But Jilliene has proven that sticking to one's gut instinct -- she quit a job she was in for four years and totally committed herself to this program -- and hiring to build a culture model after her own beliefs, has helped her get to the point where she one day woke up and realized she needed to hire three people yesterday, because her startup was actually generating business.
While people turn their noses up at failure, ambition puts failure in perspective. Ambition puts failures into context, and like hope, it gives people a reason to complete what is really just a dream of the founders. Think about that, and it's the consummate accelerator story. Two founders dream something up, make the break from their known reality, and they stumble, but continue on.
"You have to really want it," says Jilliene. "You are going to fail at some things. We have a few times. And in order to get back up all those times, you have to really have something on the line."
Three months later, they are ready to demo.
"It was a seize the opportunity kind of thing. I was in a full time job prior. There was not enough time to do a kick ass job at the job and run the company. It was a clean break, shutting down everything in our lives, and the only thing we are doing is working and spending time with family."
She says that the moment she realized she needed a full on team, it was a little bit later than she would have liked. But she had the benefit of having talked to some mentors at the Accelerator who had coached her on hiring. Jilliene felt that she knew what to do. But she already had something else even more valuable -- her own (and Justin's) sense of commitment to certain personal values -- accountability, ambition, decisive action.
When she builds a team, she is hiring to fit that culture, she says. She doesn't look at the typical stereotypes of what makes a good sales person, for example. She looks at what characteristics of theirs fit into how she runs the company, and how that fits into the expectations driven by her and her co-founder.
"We would rather hire a sales guy who fits our culture than a sales guy who has better numbers," she says.
"Culture to us means accountability."
So I asked her if she has always been this way, feeling that culture is what drives the business, or if this is something that she learned in the Accelerator. Her answer suggests that this is one of the qualities that make a good Accelerator candidate -- be someone that already brings your own sense of self to the experience. What the accelerator experience taught her was to use something inherent to her as part of her management and building style:
I am that way irrespective of the accelerator. That [accountability] is just so strongly ingrained in me. I have seven brothers and sisters. If you don’t do what you say you are doing to do, people can't rely on you."
Part of it is coming from a conservative banking background, you don’t come late to a meeting. I was not hiring people for accountability before. I was hiring people for skills sets. I was hiring for the best …. Regardless of their scrappiness, or their accountability.
It’s totally about building culture, and I never knew the importance of building culture before coming to the accelerator.
More Information about Realty Mogul
Partnership with Gust (we are featured on the home page): https://gust.com/startups
Interview with American Express Open Forum: http://www.openforum.com/articles/prepare-yourself-for-crowdfunding-success/
We are also a Founder Institute graduate: http://fi.co/
Angel List Profile: https://angel.co/realty-mogul