Startup Lessons from a Serial Entrepreneur

When you walk into Brooklyn Boulders, you’re greeted with brightly painted walls in a graffiti-like style that take inspiration from the Boston skyline. Crowds of people climb over its rock walls.

At first glance, you’d never know a coworking space hides in the back of the gym. About a year after starting his third startup Drift here, CTO and founder Elias Torres returns to share his experiences with StartupClimb.

Photo by Trish Fontanella

Startups are Opportunities

Originally from Nicaragua, Elias began his career in Boston without a degree in computer science. His first job out of college was IBM – where he stayed for ten years until he took the leap into startups. By going to events, meeting founders, and working part time for startups, he began to gain experience. His greater message: there is an opportunity for anyone to contribute and make an impact. 

Surround Yourself with People Who Are More Successful than You

In retrospect, there was a pattern of people Elias looked up to who taught him a lot. His first year in the States, he hung out with the nerds in high school on the math team. His first job at IBM was technical assistant to an executive. From there, he met and worked with other members of the company. During the same time he met now co-founder David Cancel, Elias had opportunities with less-experienced startups. He didn’t care about equity, he focused on experience and learning, and joined David on their first company together.

“I chose to work with someone who was more successful than I was.” 

Keep Learning

His first startup began in 2008. Guess what happened? The market crashed weeks later.  Although ultimately unsuccessful, the work exemplified the challenges of startups.

“That was my first startup experience, working day and night out of my bedroom. Wake up, go to the desk, work, go to bed, wake up again, and do the same thing. 7 days a week. Exhausting, but learned a lot.”

The following 5 years proved a bit more successful. HubSpot acquired the next startup and Elias helped rebuild their product and engineering team.

Know Your Goal

Creating a vision for yourself and your company is crucial to staying on track. He sees a lot of young professionals struggle with this. Ask them what they want to do and they aim to save the world, but they don’t know how to get there.

You have to know what you want to do. You don’t start a company to figure it out.

Elias is going for what Drift calls a BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal:

I want to make 100 million dollars. You know why? I don’t need 100 million. But I would like to spend the rest of my life – I’m 40. If by 50, I make 100 million dollars, I want to dedicate myself to help the world. Now I want to make a change.

Focus on One Thing

So how do you get there? Take that BHAG and break it down into manageable steps. What do you have to accomplish this year, this quarter, this month, this week, and this day to achieve it? Make it a singular focus. If there are too many goals, none of them will happen.

When Elias sits down at his computer in the morning, he has one thing he focuses on that day.

Get shit done. Ship it. 

Practice Discipline

On his first day of work at IBM, Elias showed up at 8 AM sharp. Within a few months, he was rolling in at 1PM and coding into the night. Now, he’s learned to do differently. The more discipline he practices to form better habits, the better he becomes.

Everything takes discipline. You have to train your body, your health, your mind, your spirit, every day to accomplish this great goal.

On To the Next One

Usually, a product precedes funding. In Elias’ most recent startup, the funding preceded the product. It took about 8 months of experiments to establish the industry, vision, and product. The mission at Drift is to help everyone on Earth know, grow, and amaze their customers.

“You don’t just go to a startup and have success right away. It takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of experience”

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