6 startup tips from Storefront co-founder Tristan Pollock

By the time most people are hitting 28, they might be hoping to have a decent job, a roof over their head, some food on the table. By the time NDSU grad Tristan Pollock turned 28 last year, he had successfully co-founded an Airbnb-style storefront rental company (aptly named Storefront), raised $7.3 million in funding last April, and was recently named in Forbes Magazine’s 30 under 30 for 2015.

Tristan Pollock's startup tips

A Minnesota-native and a Bison through and through, Pollock now hails from San Francisco where he is an entrepreneur in residence at 500 Startups – one of the most active micro venture capital firms in the world.

Our contributing writer Matt Gantz had the chance to speak with Pollock about his story, and asked his advice for how the startup scene in Fargo can find similar success. What resulted was a cohesive list of six startup tips. Thanks Mr. Pollock!

Tip #1: Use personal networks to grow your team

Initially, the Storefront team grew solely via personal connections. Receiving recommendations from friends and connected professionals was an invaluable cause of short-term expansion. Once the company was mature enough, the team branched out to AngelList, finding key partners to move the company into its next stage.

Tristan continuously praises the use of personal references in hiring for new ventures – those personal connections in sometimes detached, overarching professional networks tend to speak volumes to the abilities of candidates. Ultimately, reaching out and finding this talent can help grow your team in a safe manner.

Tip #2: Expect to learn

Shifting from corporate retail culture to multiple startup projects proved a dramatic change for Tristan. He claims he learned 100 times as much in two years as a Storefront co-founder compared to his time at Best Buy. Although the transition was intense, he preferred diving into something new and finding creative solutions without a set and stated strategy.

As a startup participant, you will develop a number of different skill sets and learn through various disciplines. And while your knowledge of industry advances, beware of systemic pitfalls. Amid all the success in the San Francisco Bay area, Tristan argues focus is a big issue affecting the startup community. To counteract this concern, his advice is for new company founders to take a step back and determine their top metrics – their reasons for being in business. By harnessing energy into these areas and truly focusing on the end customer, startup participants can shake off this lack of focus and effectively provide the goods they work to create.

Tip #3: Speak the right language

The Storefront team looks at the big picture: the people they support want to see their companies grow huge. To assist this goal, Tristan and his team have identified what connects them to their customers in order to more effectively produce their services: design. Many users of Storefront are small art- and fashion-oriented companies that simply want the retail industry to be more accessible.

Tristan is currently honing in on this concept and is spearheading an effort to “speak the same language” as his customers. Through a rebranding going live in the near future, Storefront is expecting to establish an even closer connection with its users to help them with their end goals. To more effectively cater to your interested parties, understanding your clients’ needs and how they communicate is a must.

Tip #4: Know when to give up

On a smaller scale, that is. Tristan and team have tested numerous approaches for various aspects related to their company’s strategy, and they have failed on numerous occasions. Tristan advises that it is necessary to be aware when you are right and when you are wrong, and then be able to act on that acknowledgement.

Startups are a natural vehicle for risk, and oftentimes you do not come out on top after taking a chance on a unique idea. Learning from those failures and simply knowing when to accept them as such is important to keep the business moving forward without compounding losses.

Tip #5: Develop a mentor mentality

During the early stages of Storefront, Tristan benefited from investor networks and support through the AngelPad accelerator. “If you are thoughtful and reach out to other founders, they will grab coffee with you,” he says. Being able to call on those stakeholders and other connected company founders proved a boon to his work, and he believes continuing to build a similar mentorship mentality in the Fargo startup scene could be fruitful for those involved.

Tip #6: It’s not as hard as you think

Tristan says we’re all making startup life too difficult. If there’s one takeaway he wants you to get from his list of startup tips, it’s “Start small, think big.” In so doing you can slowly build up to your end goals or aspirations. And as you develop your company’s concept, be inclined to challenge your mindset by connecting with those outside your current professional and even geographic ecosystem.

By figuring out how other people think, you can more successfully create goods for customers. Incorporate Tristan’s startup tips into your company culture and you’ll see startup life isn’t as risky or as difficult as you once thought.

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Matt Gantz

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