What do Baja desert racing, Burning Man, the public relations industry, and co-working have in common? Local entrepreneur Jim Graham, that’s what. Jim’s topic was “Stuff I Know Now That I Wish I Knew When I Started In Business,” based on an adventurous career in Washington journalism, PR for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, marketing launches for a half-dozen start-ups, seven years in PR for Burning Man, and co-founding the Desert Dingo off road racing team.
Jim is a co-founder of Satellite Telework Centers, which are co-working offices located in Felton and Scotts Valley, and he kicked off our first speaker series event at the new Cruzio building in downtown Santa Cruz.
So what did a PR expert tell us about starting our own companies? “First thing, don’t believe your own press. Too many startup founders fixate on looking good in the press to the detriment of running their companies. The purpose of PR is to create awareness for the company and drive more business. It’s easy to lose track of that.”
Second, Graham says, “Know your co-founders very well – understand their strengths and weaknesses and personal characteristics that might affect their ability to do their jobs. This includes anything from having a lousy temper to not dealing with stress well to having delusions of grandeur.”
“I worked with one IT person who honestly believed he was going to live for 10,000 years. Everyone thought it was a joke, but he was dead serious. Unfortunately, because he focused on side projects related to his expected life span, the product the company was developing was delayed for months and the company eventually ran out of money before they could establish themselves in their market.”
Graham also shared his story co-founding Satellite Telework Centers and the evolving structure of employment that is trending toward freelancing and remote working. Where coworking facilities place a strong emphasis on networking and open office space, Graham said “Satellites” are ideal for people who meet with coworkers and clients elsewhere but need a space where they get their work done without the distractions that come from working in the main office or the isolation of working from home.
“Members do spend time talking with each other and some have collaborated on projects, but what we hear more of is people telling us how much more productive they are working here.”
Satellite Telework Centers has locations in Felton and Scotts Valley, is scheduled to open its third facility in Truckee in May, and is in the early stages of building out five more locations throughout the state.
Other tips Graham passed along included knowing each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, playing to each person’s strengths and hiring to infill the missing skill sets. Graham also said as quickly as possible bring on a finance person, and, contrary to past speakers, Graham strongly recommended bringing on a good lawyer as early as possible.
“It’s all about synergy and creating a team that complements each others skills,” he said.
In addition to co-founding Satellite Telework Centers, he volunteers one quarter of his time to community activism. He helped Felton acquire its water system from a German multinational corporation, ran Burning Man’s media operations for seven years, and used his experience racing the Baja 1000 in a vintage Volkswagen Beetle to explain techniques for managing teams in high pressure situations.
Jim left us with the Gladwellian idea of being a connector – not only networking for our personal benefit, but also to the benefit of others. “You never know when someone you meet might be able to help you out, or someone one you know. Get contact information from everyone you meet and plug it into a contacts app.
Jim was a connector for the PIE students and we thank him very much for coming to talk with us.