Founder and CEO, SwimTopia (TeamTopia)
Venture Forth 8 Alumni
Tech Ranch Mentor and Instructor
Mason Hale first got the idea for his venture in 2007. It all started when his wife volunteered him for the position of “Computer Guy” of their kids’ swim team. While the job sounded easy enough, Mason had no idea what he was getting into. After spending hours hand-entering data from paper submission for the hundreds of kids on the swim team, he knew he needed to find a solution for the painfully antiquated system.
That’s when he began developing what would eventually become the software for SwimTopia, a comprehensive solution to help teams run better.
Tech Ranch really is a community. I’ve been around the Tech Ranch for many years, from the beginning really, and there has always been this idea that we are here to help each other. It’s much more of a collaborative than competitive feeling. The idea of “to go far, go together” is baked into the DNA of the Tech Ranch.
With that spirit in mind, Mason shares his insights and experiences as an entrepreneur.
The biggest thing I didn’t anticipate is how different and difficult the job of CEO really is. When I started SwimTopia, I already had some startup experience, having been the CTO at a startup for 4 years prior. I had been managing people most of my career.Still, while I thought I knew the CEO role well, I only knew it at a distance. It is a completely different thing to step into those shoes. It’s a huge burden to shoulder the responsibility for every decision and every mistake. As CEO, you set the tone for the company culture. The company becomes a reflection of you. You are the one responsible for everyone’s jobs, making sure payroll gets paid, and making sure your investors see a return for putting their trust in you.Being CEO is not just about being the “boss”. It’s really about being accountable to everyone related to the company. It is a much more personal experience than I anticipated.
Getting used to stepping out of my comfort zone. It’s been amazing to me to see how the challenges of entrepreneurship can spark creative thinking. When faced with an existential threat to the company, that moment of urgency makes it possible, even critical, to see options that you didn’t previously know were there.Having ridden this rollercoaster for a while now, I know many of those options I didn’t see before had been there all along, I just couldn’t see them. When I stayed within my own comfort zone, I was blind. Now I’ve learned the things you think of as limitations are often really nothing more than your own untested assumptions.
Just breathe. When the rollercoaster ride gets really rough, and you don’t know if or how the company is going to survive, it can get very scary. I think every entrepreneur faces that fear at some point. In those moments, it’s good to step back and remember this isn’t life or death. Relax. Breathe in. Breathe out. Call a friend. Talk a walk. As bad as the situation might appear, it is mostly in your head. Keep your perspective, don’t panic, and it will be alright.
Raise more money than you think you’ll need. I’ve seen many entrepreneurs who were too optimistic and didn’t raise enough money to get them through the “valley of death”. Many first-time entrepreneurs wrongly assume raising more money requires giving up more equity. In fact, most of the time, raising more money comes from raising at a higher valuation, not necessarily from selling a larger stake of the company.