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As Founder and CEO of Routific (Techstars Chicago 2015), Marc Kuo is an expert on advanced route optimization algorithms and brings more than a decade of experience in the field of logistics.

This is the second post in a two-part series.

As entrepreneurs, our lives are intertwined with our businesses. We take ownership of our work, and as a result, work can take quite a hold on us. In my case, it can get quite extreme – especially since I’m married to my co-founder!

It’s been a year since our time at Techstars, and we’ve realized the experience has not only affected the way we do business; it has also profoundly shaped the way we live day-to-day. This is the second of two blogs about lessons learned – in business and in life – from our time at Techstars.

Part II – Lessons in Life

Intellectual Honesty

Intellectual honesty is an applied method of problem solving, characterized by an unbiased, honest attitude. Some pillars of intellectual honesty include:

  • Your personal beliefs don’t interfere with the pursuit of truth;
  • Information is not purposely omitted, even when such things may contradict with your hypothesis;
  • Facts are presented in an unbiased manner, and not twisted to give misleading impressions or to support one view over another.

We were reminded again and again to stay intellectually honest during our time at Techstars. We also learned how intellectual honesty could have a direct impact not only on our relationships, but also on our metrics and how we, as a team, measure success every day.

Answer With The Headline

Techstars Chicago MD Troy Henikoff urged us all to “answer with the headline.”

If someone asks you a question, don’t give them a long, roundabout, tangential answer. Get straight to the point, and then wait for a follow-up question.

Craig Wortmann, a renowned sales professor at the University of Chicago, taught us a similar concept in what he calls the “sales trailer.” In the sales trailer, you say just enough to pique someone’s interest. Then you shut up and listen. (This is great practice to really get your one-liner down.)

The key is to give specific answers to specific questions – and only just enough to satisfy the initial inquiry. This strategy allows interested parties to continue to probe if they want to know more, and gives you the opportunity to reel people in slowly into an engaging dialogue (if you care to do so).

Bias Toward Action

When we decided it was time to run our cold-call experiment, we spent a few days preparing for it: we wrote scripts and researched leads; we studied up on cold-call best-practices and SPIN selling; and then we re-wrote our scripts and researched some more…

One of our fantastic mentors, Ed Scanlan, showed us a better way. Ed sat down with us one afternoon and picked up the phone. Within a half an hour, he had made more than a dozen calls and qualified a handful of leads. Research and (over)preparation only served to increase our anxiety and kept ourselves from taking real action. Ed encouraged us to just pick up the phone and start dialing for dollars.

Entrepreneurs Are Optimists

Some people like to call entrepreneurs risk-takers, but we prefer ‘optimist.’

It takes a real optimist to start a company – and that’s a great thing! But make sure you keep your optimism in check, especially when you are creating your financial model. It always takes longer to get to your milestones, so remember that your job as CEO is to avoid running out of cash. When you project that you are going to hit profitability in 6 months, give yourself a year. Make sure you don’t overpromise and underdeliver to your investors. Build in a good buffer, keep that optimism, but always always always be prudent.

Take Your Breaks

During our time at Techstars, I was lucky to participate in weekly CEO roundtables hosted by Brad Feld, managing director at Foundry Group and co-founder of Techstars.

Brad is one of the few mentors to talk about meta topics that are often overlooked, but so very important. How do you stay healthy as a CEO? How do you keep your team healthy and happy?

There are three specific things I still remember very clearly:

1. Do what you love. Disconnect for one hour a day by doing what you love, whatever it is.
2. Say good morning to your wife. Make sure you pay attention to your loved ones.
3. Check in with your team often. Care for their professional as well as personal well-being.

Give First

“Give first” was another life lesson we took away from our accelerator experience.

To ‘give first’ is to help someone out for the sole purpose of helping – not because you want something in return. This leads to a very healthy ecosystem where people are more willing to lend a hand. It turns out that the more people you help, the more people will be happy to help you.

Marc Kuo Marc Kuo
Founder and CEO of Routific (Chicago ’15). Marc is an expert on advanced route optimization algorithms and brings more than a decade of experience in the field of logistics. Previously, Marc was a founding team member at Axiom Zen, an algorithmic trader for UBS Bank in Hong Kong, and a consultant at Cap Gemini in the Netherlands. He graduated cum laude with a master’s degree in operations research from Erasmus University, where he majored in computer science, machine learning and artificial intelligence.