Music Man Turned Tech CEO: Investor Money Won't Solve A Startup's Problems

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  This is the second post of the eight-part “The Business Breakthrough” series, in which small business owners share the biggest regrets, best advice, and hardest lessons of their careers. “The Business Breakthrough” is sponsored by Capital One Spark. See more posts in the series »

expand the room team membersExpand The Room team members work together on a group project.

Expand The Room (ETR) CEO James Cole says millennial entrepreneurs are disillusioned by the fairy tale that money from investors solves all of their startup problems.  After building the web and mobile development design company out of his co-founder’s one-bedroom apartment 10 years ago, Cole warns budding business stars not to fall prey to the allure of poisonous capital, advising them to embrace the challenges of financial bootstrapping. 

“Young people today say, ‘I have a really great idea and someone’s going to give me a million dollars to do it!’ I don’t think that’s the only way to do it, and I think that there’s a lot to be said for doing things on your own,” Cole said.

“When you take money, yes, you relieve certain pressures and problems, but I think you also create other ones.”

Though the company was founded in 2002, Cole said that things really hadn’t taken off until 2007, timing that would soon after challenge the tech startup.

Expand The Room team meetingExpand The Room team meeting discusses upcoming events.

Cole told Business Insider that he and partner Todd Doyle never accepted money to help launch ETR, but the company survived both the dot-com bust of 2000 and the housing bubble of 2008 without the help of venture capital.

The CEO, once involved in music distribution and management, said he learned to be resilient after dealing with the unexpected financial struggles, and applies the lessons learned to his business strategy today.

“Every change in the economy or the market is really an opportunity. When (the housing market) collapsed, there were a lot of layoffs at companies, and we saw that as an opportunity to go in and help those teams because they still needed to get work done, but they didn’t have the staff that they were used to.”

Despite a potentially vulturous business strategy, Cole said he is proud of the work his company has produced, growing the business consistently for over 10 years. He added that growth must be nurtured by an engaged team, focused on both ideas and strategy, not just focused on flooding a project with capital.

“An equal combination of good idea is needed to be blended with execution. If you have a great idea but you’re not able to execute on it, it’s going to be hard to push that idea forward,” Cole said. 

As for the future, Cole said Expand The Room will carry on, despite whatever financial fastballs come their way.

“We push forward every day, and try not to dwell that too much of something will be good or will be bad, because there always will be good, and will be bad.”

“After a decade at this point, we’ve seen that mountains soon become molehills. Trust your gut.”

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