Rick Cecil, co-founder of ruzuku, shares his experiences in the first week of the Triangle Startup Factory.
Eight weeks ago, my furnace stopped working. Six weeks ago, my water heater started leaking. Four weeks ago, a pipe burst in my bathroom. (I still have a hole in my wall from the repairs.) Two weeks ago, my dishwasher stopped working.
Bad things come in threes? I wish the bad things had stopped at three.
When you’re an entrepreneur, these things bring an added level of stress. Not only are you stealing time from your company to deal with contractors and replacement parts, but you look at the bills you’re collecting and wondering why you’re not working at a big company for a larger salary.
But you turn back to the work, doing all the things that must be done to keep the company running — all the things that you hope turn the company into a thriving business. So it’s pretty amazing when someone comes along and not only tells you that they believe we’re on to something, but invests their time and money into the company.
We applied to Triangle Startup Factory three weeks ago. In fact, we did our pitch while I was in Florida on the first vacation I’d taken in over 10 years. The pitch worked — I don’t even think Chris or Dave even realized I was on vacation at the time — and we were accepted into TSF.
So, last Sunday, I left my wife and kids behind (amidst all the chaos of a house that seemed to be falling down around our ears) to start a three month stint in the Triangle Startup Factory.
Monday morning found most of the members of the ruzuku team sitting around a conference table with four other startups — all of us learning how dramatically our lives were about to change — learning not just how fast we had to run to keep up, but how fast we’d need to run if we wanted to win.
They weren’t kidding. The first week was a blur.
The first part of the week, Abe and I spent refining our elevator pitch. I’d like to think that two years of working on ruzuku meant that our elevator pitch was perfect, but I’d be lying to you and deluding myself. (And after a week of practice, it’s still not perfect, but it’s much better.)
The rest of the week, we spent reviewing our business model — asking questions we’ve asked ourselves a dozen times, but this time we had a fresh pair of eyes looking over our shoulders, pushing and prodding us to come up with the best answer. More importantly, they gave us valuable insight on how to answer these questions in a meaningful way.
We spent a couple of days working on a Business Model Canvas for ruzuku — the first of several iterations, I’m sure — to see how the many different aspects of our business connect. We walked away from the exercise with some new insights into our addressable market and are continuing to explore the possibilities we uncovered.
Wednesday afternoon we met the former CEO of Spring Metrics who had gone through a similar program with Dave in 2010. He had a lot of insight into how to succeed in the program. Mainly: take the time to build relationships with everyone who walks through the TSF doors. (Pro tip: this is how you succeed in life, too.)
Friday we met James Avery, the CEO of Adzerk who had a similar message, but who also had a few insights into our revenue model—some ideas that could have serious impact on how we do business, making it easier to address the multiple verticals we’re after. It’s exciting stuff.
With all the chaos and excitement just getting started, I was a bit disappointed that I had to return home to Illinois. While I missed my wife and my kids, I had just had a hugely productive week working on ruzuku and didn’t want to stop, but there was another reason that I dreaded this trip.
By the time I got home Friday night, the kids were already asleep. Gina was up, though, and we talked into the wee hours of the morning. We talked about the kids and about TSF. We didn’t, though, talk about Foxie, our dog, who had been part of our family since 1999. Foxie had been diagnosed with Cushings Disease at an incredibly young age and who had surprised us all by living to the ripe old age of 14, but who’s body was finally giving out.
Saturday morning, after just a few hours of sleep, I walked my trusted companion one last time, having to hold her back legs up so she could even pee. Alone, I drove her to the vet. Our drive was short and somehow I managed to do it without crying. After the vet administered the anesthesia, she left us alone and I stood there, petting Foxie for 10 minutes until she passed into a deep sleep. I left, unable to remain for the final injection.
I hated this dirty deed. Even in those final minutes, she trusted me completely and I was betraying that trust. By far, this is one of the most adult decisions I have ever made. Quitting my job to start ruzuku, having kids, buying a house — none of that really compares to the weight of taking the life of someone you love.
Driving home, the world seemed an eery blur. Foxie would never greet me with excitement as I walked in the door. There were no more shadows for her to bark at. No more scraps to beg for. No more itches behind those scraggly ears that needed to be scratched. My wife and I cried—my son cried, too. But I think he’s sad because we are. He doesn’t remember the young pup that I knew — who could actually walk and run or who would roll over in the most awkward flip-floppy way to get a treat.
But that wasn’t the end of my trip. Otherwise, this might be a very different story.
You see, my wife is pregnant with child #3. So, I got to spend Monday afternoon staring at blurry ultrasound pictures of my new daughter. Her hands held firmly up to her face, I was once again reminded why I started ruzuku, and I felt myself recommit to this entire endeavor — almost in spite of all this whirlwind of bad luck hitting us hard: despite the furnace, the hot water heater, the burst pipes, and the dishwasher. Despite even losing my dog.
I want to teach my kids that they must chase their dreams. That life is never going to slow down or stop throwing shit at you, so waiting on the sidelines for the “right” time just means you’re going to be a perpetual wallflower. Things don’t get easier once you start. In fact, they get harder, but you don’t quit because things get tough. You quit on your own terms when you’ve exhausted yourself aiming for success. And who am I to teach this if I can’t use my life as an example?
So, Tuesday morning, after a short stint at home, I climbed into another airplane and flew back to North Carolina. Looking at my schedule for the next few weeks, I’ll see my business partner more than I’ll see my family. While I miss my family, there’s a huge opportunity to grow ruzuku through the Triangle Startup Factory.
Is it worth it? Last week I would have said, “Yes.” Today, I say “Absolutely.”
I admire your persistence Rick and appreciate everything you and the team are doing to make Ruzuku a premier learning platform. Did you know that two grad students started Canvas? They were prompted by their prof to design an LMS that would incorporate all of the key features available in Moodle, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, ANGEL and eCollege, but make it easy to use for instructors and students.
Make it for the Facebook generation was a shout from the prof. Canvas still has a ways to go and has certainly benefitted from significant startup capital from a Silicon Valley software guru. Nonetheless, they are still hampered by concerns and features that users want modified…and seem to have little patience with respect to the timeline for the changes. A similar scenario exists for many new “web apps.” Ruzuku seems to be in that stage now.
Your emotional story reminds me of my own life and how getting ahead always seems to be undermined by some unexpected turn for the worse. In fact, when things really started to go GREAT in some ventures, I dreaded the near future because invariably, the short term success meant something “bad” was destined to happen…definitely like a roller coaster. In that scenario, the only steady part of the ride is when you come into the landing.
Thomas Edison is one of my main inspirations. As you are probably aware, it took nearly 1,000 trials before he could find an element that would sustain. When I think of persistence or wonder if I can find the werewithall to continue in my own pursuits, I stop for a minute and think about what it must have been like for Edison. My own challenges suddenly pale in comparison.
I suggest listening intently to us instructors and evaluating not only what we say we want, but figuring out with the team how you can bring those modifications to light. Once Edison found the element, darkness was a thing of the past.
Rick – WOW! Know I’m 1000% behind helping Ruzuku be to go-to site that inspires souls to teach what they know! Transferring / sharing wisdom is one of the most rewarding life acts I know! (Spoken by a monk, shaman and social worker!) You, and all you hold near and dear – are in my daily practice! In gratitude I bow to ya’ll!