Entrepreneur 2 Entrepreneur: Dejen Tesfagiorgis on Team

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Dejen TesfagiorgisThank you to Split Rock Partners  for underwriting the Entrepreneur 2 Entrepreneur series.

Minnesota tech entrepreneur Dejen Tesfagiorgis started ArtsApp in 2o08 as an audition software for Universities and Performing Arts programs screen and archive video-based applicants more efficiently.  ArtsApp has been in the Minnesota Cup, MinneDemo, and Project Skyway bootcamp.   Tesfagiorgis had raised local angel capital and grew the company over the years until it was acquired by DecisionDesk
a larger east coast player in the same space.

Why did you pick the concept of team?

My team has been my support structure and a crucial part of moving fast and effectively, especially not being a developer myself.

A team is hard to assemble. When I started ArtsApp in 2008, I contracted with a terrible development shop in St. Paul and had to throw away 40k worth of code because they didn’t see the potential and the vision of what we were building. They worked for money, and worked poorly. This plus I wasn’t demanding enough for status reports / updates in the development life cycle and I jumped right into a relationship with the contractors instead of testing with a smaller (under $10k) project. After raising money from the Norris Institute at St. Thomas I brought a team in house, and was fortunate enough to work with with friends from high school. We met and had a friendship / emotional connection beyond a business relationship and figured out a lot of things together in place of me giving instructions. A good team can make 2 + 2 = 5.

Split Rock Partners

How has your perspective of team changed over time?

I now better recognize my weaknesses and that I need a good team of arguers / compromisers to make something great happen. I’m not yet a great independent leader. I’m better at collaborating to make successful business relationships. I’ve also realized that celebrating accomplishments with a team you’ve struggled alongside is more fulfilling than attempts to be alone at the top.

What was/is the ArtsApp team all about?

Now they’re laid off…so the team has changed drastically. I know that’s a terrible answer but sadly the first thought that came to mind. My team worked independently on a lot of projects and would share progress periodically (at our peak there were six employees, including one intern and another a contract .NET developer). When we sold a few weeks ago we were at three employees including myself and a handful of investors. The act of ending a working relationship is hard, humor and experience is a way I’m coping with realizing another team (DecisionDesk INC) has executed better than ArtsApp was able to. Now I’m working alongside DecisionDesk’s team and seeing how I could have improved is a good lesson I’ll take forward in a few years when I start another business.

What advice would you have for a peer entrepreneur in the context of team?

As the entrepreneur know your weaknesses and if you’re not a developer, don’t start a software company. About team, your early hires really shape the social structure of your company, so make sure the entrepreneurial spirit is in every member of your team. The team should have the ability to DREAM BIG and execute incrementally. About coding, find someone you trust and either learn to code over the course of a year or build non-business relationship with individuals in the development community. You know, having friendships before business relationships.

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