Beatport's former president and COO offers entrepreneurial advice

This week, Code is introducing you to successful entrepreneur and founding partner, Lloyd Starr. Lloyd has diverse experience in the tech and startup community, from playing a key role in the growth and acquisition of Beatport, to advising for the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, and now working with executives and businesses to look inward to unlock their success at his company, Velocity Plus

The avid runner and martial artist shared his unique insights and raw experiences as an entrepreneur to offer you advice from someone who's been through it all--multiple times. 

What are some of the challenges you've faced that other entrepreneurs should be aware of? 

When we launched Beatport in 2003, the music industry was quickly shifting from physical to digital and no one had a strong understanding of the online music monetization landscape or digital music legal-landscape. We learned from our mistakes and corrected them on the fly. This was incredibly brave and nerve-racking at the same time. We owe some of our rapid growth and success to pure perseverance. 

Having a solid foundation of trust is another important factor for new companies. In the early days at Beatport, everyone was reckless with their communication and day-to-day interactions. I witnessed a lot of resentment build in the first four years and in the end it was a real cost to the business. After we repaired broken trust in the organization, we got more done with 60 people in the next three years than we ever did with 120 the three years prior. 

Finally, It's important to have something in place to guide the organization. If the boats aren't rowing in the same direction, then they're pulling apart. Find a process that makes sense, use it consistently, and adjust as you see fit.

What's the best part about being an entrepreneur? 

I don't know if there is a best part. It kind of sucks, to be honest. You're constantly sacrificing, living outside your comfort zone, and pushing forward. And, well, that's what I love about it. 

You touched on it briefly, but what is the worst part about being an entrepreneur? 

The relentless demand to succeed that comes from the voice in your head. Your own perception of what your family, friends, peers, and competition will think about you if you fail. It can drive you to work all the time, in fact, some of the great entrepreneurs of our time boast about the number of hours they work. But, you don't have to do that to succeed in life and business. What you do need is the ability to stay creative, and the only way to do that is to take time for yourself and have a number of healthy and creative outlets. 

What's the most important skill an entrepreneur must have, in your opinion? 

The ability to say "no." Once your business gains traction, the hardest decision you'll make everyday is what you're not going to do. You have to learn very quickly how to prioritize and use your energy wisely and understand why. 

And was it hard for you to learn to say no? 

Yes, I have many battle scars. I was the person who pushed beyond sanity. There was one point when I worked 12-16 hour days for three months straight, with no downtime. To push yourself that hard, that long, is completely unhealthy and unnecessary and at the end of the day it wasn't worth it. 

I recommend finding a mentor--or Sensei, as I call it--and really listen to what they have to say. My partner at Velocity Plus has the wisdom that only experience can bring. He keeps me grounded and focused. 

What made you want to be an entrepreneur, what made you think that you could do it? 

Actually, I felt like it was the only path for me. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Along the way I had people tell me that I wouldn't be successful and my confidence took a hit. I worked hard to overcome that, and found a way to prove them wrong, and I will continue to do that. 

What was the hardest part about being one of the first employees at Beatport? 

No one had done it before, there was no blueprint. We had to build everything from scratch with an inexperienced team. We built, rebuilt, redesigned, rebuilt, and built again. It was an ugly and clumsy process that burnt a lot of people out, including me. 

And from this journey, being one of the first employees to selling Beatport, what is the #1 thing you learned from that experience? 

You can't give up. We made mistakes, we did so many things wrong and had to fix them later. As an employee, you have to be adaptable and resilient and if you remain flexible you can always find a way. 

How did that experience shape your company today? 

My experience at Beatport has everything to do with why we founded Velocity Plus and why I work in interim leadership. So, Velocity Plus is about helping executives get through difficult growth stage challenges and connect executives to the why of the organization. Our biggest challenge comes down to the people: startup founders can be stubborn, they want to keep plowing forward. But they need to take a look inward, and when we help them do that, we've seen some awesome results. 

From your experience at Velocity Plus, what advice do you have for new startups?

In today's landscape, the big, high multiple growth is waning. Over the next several years investment will go towards businesses that can show profitability and growth. It's important to have this baked into your P&L from the start. Leverage the incredible network we have here in Denver. 

What is something to consider when deciding to work for a startup or not? 

I see people jumping from company to company every 9 months looking for the largest benefits package and salary. It has been a great landscape for people who are only looking for that. I recommend committing to something you find purpose in, staying flexible, and sticking it through. 

Throughout your career, how was the Denver tech landscape changed? 

Significantly. When I moved here from San Francisco 17 years ago, there was a lot of enterprise organizations here and it wasn't as entrepreneurial as it is today. There is far more talent, funding and support now for startups like Tech Stars, Built in Colorado, Galvanize, and the Black Stone Entrepreneurs' Network

What's your favorite part about Denver?

The people and their attitude. Having worked in both New York and Silicon Valley, I found there to be a stigma that we don't work as hard in Colorado. I have found no proof of that, actually quite the opposite. I like the fact that our business culture is to work hard, work smart, and stay healthy--which really shows as the Denver startup community becomes more and more successful every year.