Life in the fast lane: Why these 4 CEOs turned to startups

by Kelly O'Halloran
August 24, 2017

Working for a startup isn’t for everyone. But for folks confident in their abilities and willing to take risks, the thrilling — albeit stressful — roller coaster of startup life is exactly where they want to be.

We connected with four Austin startup founders to fill us on in why they chose this path and asked them to share some of their favorite memories from startupland.

 

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Before launching Conceivable, a startup helping infertile women conceive, Kirsten Karchmer founded and ran The Texas Center for Reproductive Acupuncture for 15 years. Although her practice ranked as one of the largest centers in North America, Karchmer wanted a way to reach more women at a cost benefit to them.

What were some of the factors that made you want to work at a startup?

I was already running a very successful clinical practice in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas, when I realized that 7 million women get diagnosed with infertility every year in the US but only 200,000 get IVF. That meant that over 6.8 million women in the US don’t have access to affordable and effective fertility solutions.

Even my clinic was cost prohibitive and I only helped 10,000 women in 20 years, so I decided I had to leave what was safe and comfortable and go build a tech company to change that.

What's the most rewarding aspect of working for a startup?

My company helps infertile women have babies. We have the best job in the world!

What has been your favorite 'startup moment' so far?

I wrote a letter to Ben Horowitz telling him he needed to hear about the work we are doing at Conceivable. He personally responded and invited me to pitch at Andreessen Horowitz. I was SHOCKED!

 

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Stephen Huerta, Workify’s co-founder and CEO, turned his back on the corporate world in 2011 to launch his first startup, HI Group. Despite the company folding a few years later, Huerta said he was committed to the startup world from that point on. Today he heads up Workify, an HR platform launched in 2014 that helps companies continuously gather employee feedback and identify trends.

What were some of the factors that made you want to work at a startup?

After spending time working for a big management consulting firm and then working for an investment bank, I had the realization that you spend more time with your co-workers than you do with your loved ones and friends. I’m forever grateful for the skills and expertise that I gained working for larger companies, but I knew that I needed something more. I couldn’t ignore this growing sense that I should be doing more with my time and that I could be making a bigger impact than I was in the corporate world. Ultimately, I took the plunge in 2011 leaving Goldman Sachs to launch my first venture.

Even when my first attempt at launching a startup failed, there was no turning back. The notion of starting a company and working with people that shared the same desire to take risks and do something meaningful was too compelling to give up. This is what keeps me in the startup world.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of working for a startup?

Along the way, there are moments filled with doubt. You’re fearful that you won’t be able to create what you’re trying to build. You’re afraid that no one will want to buy your product. You’re scared that investors are going to reject this thing that you’re passionate about. But you still have to pursue it.

You bring on a team and start to face these big challenges as a company. But slowly, your team overcomes each challenge one by one. You get your product live. You close your first big deal. You convince investors to take on the risk because they believe in what you’re doing.

These are the moments that are special to me. The moments when it feels like the cards are stacked against you, and as a team, you pull together to overcome the odds. Even if that means that you only have another quarter, or two, to continue working on your dream, I don’t think there’s a more rewarding feeling.

What has been your favorite ‘startup moment’ so far?

For me, it goes back to the beginning. After my first venture failed, I had a chance meeting with my eventual co-founder, Dustin Wells, over Skype. At the time, I thought this was a one-off catch up and that I was informally interviewing for a job. Fast-forward a week: - we met up in person, and it was at this point that Dustin let me know that he was not interested in hiring me, which is what I thought was the purpose of the meeting. Instead, he shared his intention to launch a business with me, and this is how Workify was born. Without this chance meeting and encounter, I wouldn't have been able to jump back into the startup game and accomplish all of the amazing things we’ve accomplished with the team at Workify.

 

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Founder and CEO Gillan Taddune launched Banyan Water in 2011 to help enterprise clients cut and conserve water. Prior to launching the Austin startup, Taddune served as chief economist for the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and SVP and chief environmental officer at Green Mountain Energy Company. Her appeal for startup life begins with her team, a collection of innovative experts in sustainability, green technology, irrigation, and data and analytics.  

What were some of the factors that made you want to work at a startup?

Startups are filled with smart and driven people who like to innovate. I thrive in environments like that. They are filled with endless challenges and it's thrilling to figure out how to win and make new concepts come to life.

What's the most rewarding aspect of working for a startup?

Having the ability to make instant impact in a company and see the results of your ideas and efforts in a relatively quick amount of time.

What has been your favorite 'startup moment' so far?

At a previous company, we were dangerously close to going out of business... and then we won the deal of the century that put us on the map for good!

 

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Immediately following graduate school in 2005, Ben Rubenstein dove headfirst into the startup world. Nathaniel Stevens, a childhood friend, recruited Rubenstein to co-found Yodle with him — which Web.com bought in 2016. Just 90 days after he stepped down from Yodle, Rubenstein was back in the biz with his current venture, Opcity, which raised $27 million in May. The company connects real estate agents with live, pre-screened leads.

What were some of the factors that made you want to work at a startup?

Speed. Startups get things done, and get them done quickly. With a blank canvas and a high-performing team, you avoid the bureaucracy of a large organization and work with smart people who take action and iterate quickly. A startup allows for a significant amount of societal value creation to occur in a very short period of time. Creating and doing good can be a lot of fun.

What's the most rewarding aspect of working for a startup?

The most rewarding part of a startup is watching products and people grow so incredibly quickly.  Team members often work with limited resources, and need to be scrappy and push themselves to levels beyond their experience. It’s been very rewarding to watch employees take on stretch roles, fail quickly, and recover even stronger. You get many opportunities to learn through mistakes, so startups have the luxury of taking more risk on high-potential resources. Learning and development occur quickly since so much is happening in a condensed time period.

What has been your favorite 'startup moment' so far?

When we had five people on the team and released our first version of the product, we did no marketing or communication to initial users. I remember it was a Friday night and our head of engineering had just rolled out our text-dispatch process. The second he released it, I said to him, “Let’s try it." He was nervous. “What if it doesn’t work or no one uses it?” “There's only one way to find out,” I told him. We sent out our first text and saw an immediate response. We had created a product and it was used instantly! It was a great feeling to build something simple, watch people use it, and collect feedback within seconds.


 

Images provided by participants.

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