Hacking A Startup From Idea To Exit

Ben Lamson
Exited Founder of WeDidIt, Head Of Revenue at Paperspace
1hr 43 min
May 16, 2024
About the Show

"The most successful entrepreneurs, salespeople, and executives that I've worked with are all curious. The ones that aren't, I've seen just flop and fail."

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Ben Lamson is the Head Of Revenue at Paperspace, a GPU cloud and software stack for machine learning and artificial intelligence developers, which was recently acquired by Digital Ocean. Previously, he was the co-founder and CEO of WeDidIt, a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits that was acquired by a private equity firm. Lamson's entrepreneurial journey began in his early twenties, inspired by his parents, who were both successful small business owners despite not having college degrees. Growing up in a close-knit family in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Lamson learned the value of hard work and determination from a young age. In college, Lamson pursued his passion for wrestling, becoming a Division I athlete at American University.

Lamson's career in sales began at Meltwater Group, where he met his future co-founder, Sisu Suh. Together, they left Meltwater to start WeDidIt, hacking their way through the startup process by entering business plan competitions, winning grants, and participating in accelerator programs. Through their scrappy efforts, they raised a total of $3.5 million for WeDidIt before successfully exiting to a private equity firm. After the acquisition, Lamson joined Paperspace as the Revenue Leader, where he implemented a product-led growth strategy that resulted in a 350% revenue increase in just 12 months. His success caught the attention of Digital Ocean, who acquired Paperspace in 2023.

Throughout the interview, Lamson shares valuable insights and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, such as the importance of being curious, asking the right questions, and constantly learning. He emphasizes the value of resilience and grit, drawing parallels between the challenges of wrestling and the struggles of building a startup. Lamson also discusses the future of generative AI and its potential impact on various industries. This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in entrepreneurship, sales, product-led growth, and the future of AI. Lamson's inspiring journey from college wrestler to successful startup founder and revenue leader is a testament to the power of hard work, determination, and continuous learning.

Key Moments

Hacking Your Way from Startup Idea to Successful Exit

Ben Lamson, the current Revenue Leader at Paperspace, recently shared his entrepreneurial journey on the Forward Obsessed podcast. Lamson's impressive career includes co-founding WeDidIt, a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits, which he successfully sold to a private equity firm. His current company, Paperspace, a GPU cloud and software stack for machine learning and AI developers, was acquired by DigitalOcean in 2023.

Throughout his journey, Lamson faced numerous challenges, nearly failing multiple times and pivoting his business to adapt to the market. Despite these obstacles, he persevered and ultimately achieved multiple successful exits in his career. In this article, we dive into the key learnings from Lamson's interview, exploring how aspiring entrepreneurs can hack their way through the startup process and come out on top.

1. Embrace your entrepreneurial spirit and be willing to take risks

Lamson attributes much of his success to his willingness to take risks and be accountable for his own failures and successes. "Success is timing and being lucky and being in the right place. So much of it is just that,” he shares.

Entrepreneurship is inherently risky, and success often comes down to a combination of timing, luck, and being in the right place at the right time. Embracing this uncertainty and being prepared to pivot when necessary is crucial for any founder.

Ben Lamson on Forward Obsessed
Ben Lamson on Forward Obsessed

Embracing an entrepreneurial spirit and taking calculated risks is essential for startup success. Without a willingness to step out of your comfort zone and pursue your ideas, you may never take the leap to start your own business. Many entrepreneurs fail because they are too risk-averse or hesitant to make bold moves when necessary. In Lamson's case, his willingness to take risks, such as leaving his job at Meltwater to start WeDidIt, ultimately led to his success. By embracing the uncertainty and being prepared to adapt, he was able to navigate the challenges of the startup world and come out on top.

Putting it into practice:

To cultivate your entrepreneurial spirit, start by identifying your passions and the problems you want to solve. Read books like "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries and "Zero to One" by Peter Thiel to learn how to validate your ideas and create value in the market. Attend entrepreneurship events and join startup communities to network with like-minded individuals and gain exposure to new opportunities.

2. Be scrappy and resourceful in the early stages of your startup

When Lamson and his co-founder were starting WeDidIt, they had to be scrappy and resourceful to get their business off the ground. They entered business plan competitions, won grants, and participated in accelerator programs to raise a total of $3.5 million before successfully exiting.

In the early days, the duo even took on odd jobs, like participating in game shows and writing fake reviews, to extend their runway and keep the business afloat.

Ben Lamson on Forward Obsessed

Being scrappy and resourceful is crucial in the early stages of a startup when resources are limited. Many entrepreneurs fail because they are not creative enough in finding ways to fund their businesses or extend their runway. By being proactive and thinking outside the box, Lamson and his co-founder were able to secure the necessary funding and support to keep WeDidIt going, even when times were tough. This resourcefulness ultimately paid off, allowing them to build a successful company that attracted the attention of investors and acquirers.

Putting it into practice: 

As a new founder, it's essential to be creative and resourceful when it comes to funding your startup. Look for grants, pitch competitions, and accelerator programs in your industry. Consider platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to validate your idea and raise initial capital. Don't be afraid to take on side hustles or freelance work to support yourself while building your business.

3. Ask the right questions and be curious to learn constantly

Lamson emphasizes the importance of asking questions and maintaining a curious mindset. "The best salespeople ask the hard questions softly," he notes.

Continuous learning is essential for personal and professional growth. Don't be afraid to admit when you don't know something and seek out answers. "You can't be afraid to say, 'What's that mean?' So many people are afraid to speak up because they're afraid they're going to look stupid or like they don't know something."

Ben Lamson on Forward Obsessed

Asking questions and maintaining a curious mindset is essential for entrepreneurial success. Many founders fail because they are too proud to admit when they don't know something or are hesitant to seek out new knowledge. By constantly learning and asking questions, Lamson was able to gain the insights and skills necessary to build successful companies. His curiosity also helped him identify new opportunities and adapt to changing market conditions, allowing him to pivot when necessary and stay ahead of the curve.

Putting it into practice: 

Cultivate a habit of lifelong learning by setting aside time each day to read industry blogs, listen to relevant podcasts, or take online courses. When faced with a new challenge, don't hesitate to reach out to mentors, colleagues, or experts in your network for guidance. Embrace a growth mindset and view failures as opportunities to learn and improve.

4. Focus on building a great product and let it drive your growth

One of the key factors in Lamson's success at Paperspace was his focus on building a great product and letting it drive the company's growth. "If you get a chance to sell a great product, you take that opportunity. It's a game-changer," he shares.

After joining Paperspace as the Revenue Leader, Lamson implemented a product-led growth strategy that resulted in a 350% revenue increase in just 12 months. This incredible growth caught the attention of DigitalOcean, who eventually acquired the company.

Ben Lamson on Forward Obsessed

Focusing on building a great product is essential for driving sustainable growth and long-term success. Many entrepreneurs fail because they prioritize short-term gains over creating real value for their customers. By putting the product first and continually iterating based on user feedback, Lamson was able to create a platform that truly resonated with Paperspace's target audience. This product-led approach not only drove impressive revenue growth but also made the company an attractive acquisition target for larger players in the industry.

Putting it into practice: 

To build a great product, start by deeply understanding your target audience and their needs. Conduct market research, gather feedback from potential customers, and iterate on your product based on their input. Prioritize user experience and create a product that solves a real problem in a unique and compelling way. As your product gains traction, focus on optimizing your onboarding process and creating a seamless customer journey to drive growth.

5. Be prepared for the stressful acquisition process and negotiate favorable terms

Navigating the acquisition process can be stressful, but Lamson's experience shows the importance of being prepared and negotiating favorable terms. He secured a double trigger in his equity, ensuring it would vest immediately upon acquisition, resulting in a life-changing payout.

As a key leader, Lamson was deeply involved in the acquisition process, working closely with the founders to navigate due diligence and negotiations. He emphasizes the importance of learning complex topics quickly to effectively communicate with all stakeholders. "It's literally the exact path I've taken for all of this stuff. I'll ask it, 'How would you explain this to a grade schooler?' And then I go, 'How would you explain it to a high schooler?' So I get the two analogies, I go one level up."

Ben Lamson on Forward Obsessed

Being prepared for the acquisition process and negotiating favorable terms is crucial for ensuring a successful exit. Many entrepreneurs fail to plan ahead or don't fully understand the complexities of the acquisition process, leaving them at a disadvantage when it comes time to negotiate. By securing a double trigger in his equity and being deeply involved in the negotiations, Lamson was able to ensure a favorable outcome for himself and his team. His ability to quickly learn and communicate complex topics also helped him navigate the due diligence process and effectively advocate for his company's interests.

Putting it into practice: 

To prepare for a potential acquisition, familiarize yourself with the process and common terms. Read books like "Built to Sell" by John Warrillow and "Exit Rich" by Michelle Seiler Tucker to understand how to create a valuable and sellable business. Consider hiring an experienced advisor or attorney to help you navigate the legal and financial aspects of the deal. Be prepared to communicate your company's value clearly and concisely to potential acquirers.

Ben Lamson's entrepreneurial journey is a testament to the power of perseverance, resourcefulness, and continuous learning. By embracing risk, being scrappy, asking the right questions, focusing on product, and preparing for the acquisition process, Lamson was able to successfully hack his way from startup idea to a successful exit.

Aspiring entrepreneurs can learn valuable lessons from Lamson's experiences and apply these principles to their own journeys. Remember, success in the startup world is a combination of hard work, adaptability, and a bit of luck. Stay curious, stay focused, and never stop learning.

To learn more about Ben Lamson's inspiring story, be sure to check out his episode on the Forward Obsessed podcast. You'll gain even more insights into his entrepreneurial journey and discover additional tips for navigating the startup world.

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