They say that all it takes to build a successful startup is just one brilliant idea. However, while it’s great to have a clear vision for your company, it’s important not to be so tied down to your original plan that you ignore the valuable feedback that your client base and potential collaborators are providing you. In this episode, Gene Marks and Tom Bachant, the founder and CEO of Unthread, discuss how Tom used the needs of his target audience to help guide the development of his early startups and how aspiring entrepreneurs can use this strategy to achieve similar long-term success.

Podcast Key Highlights

  • How Do I Know What Type of Startup to Create?
    • The most successful startup ideas are created out of necessity; someone identifies a need and offers a product or service that provides a solution.
    • Using this approach ensures that your company already has a built-in demand and an existing client base.
  • What Are Some Strategies for Growing Your Startup?
    • Depending on your specific industry, you may be able to find other institutions and organizations that can sponsor you and help your business reach an even wider audience.
    • Listen to your customers since their needs will show you which direction to take your business.
    • Be open to working with other businesses that want to collaborate with you; it may be a sign that you need to add a B2B facet to your company rather than just remaining a strict B2C.
    • In some cases, another company may want more than just your services and offer to acquire your startup as a whole.
  • What Are Some Common Problems That Startups Encounter?
    • Monetization
    • Initial Investment Capital
    • Adjusting Your Original Vision
    • Scaling Up to Meet Customer Demands
    • Delegating Tasks with a Limited Workforce
  • How Can I Improve My Communication With My Clients?
    • As a business owner, you need to know which messaging platforms your customers prefer.
    • Make sure that whichever means of communication you’re using is scalable and won’t become overwhelming for you and your staff.
    • If possible, use an interface that consolidates and sorts all your communications with your clients so that you can easily access all your messages in one place.
  • Where Can Startup Owners Find Support?
    • For initial support, aspiring entrepreneurs should reach out to startup accelerators, like Y Combinator, which not only provides some investment capital, but will also train you in all the basics of running a business.
    • Assembling a network of mentors and other startup owners can also provide you with additional support for any needs that might arise later on.
    • Don’t be afraid to outsource any aspects of your business that you’re not proficient in, whether it be bookkeeping, accounting, tech support, or marketing.
  • Why Is Work-Life Balance Important as a Startup CEO?
    • Consistently working overtime and sacrificing your personal life for the sake of your startup is a recipe for burnout. While there may be some short term payoff, it’s not sustainable.
    • Ultimately, it’s really about your output, what you contribute to the business, and making sure that you are doing what’s best for the company; failing to take care of yourself is definitely not in the company’s best interest.
    • Your longevity as an entrepreneur is critical to the success of your startup and it’s impossible to achieve that with a hustle culture mentality.
  • What Are Some Common Misconceptions About Running A Startup?
    • Avoid starting a business simply because you want to be your own boss and because you want to build this thing that you want to build. The market ultimately dictates which direction you need to pivot and if you can’t accept that, you won’t succeed.
    • Startups are not a get-rich-quick scheme; if you are not willing to sit down and do this work for a decade or more, you should consider another path.



The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.

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Gene: Hey, everybody, and welcome back to another episode of the Hartford’s Small Biz Ahead Podcast. My name is Gene Marks. Thank you so much for joining us. My guest today is Tom Bachant. He is the founder and CEO at Unthread. Tom has also been involved in quite a few startups in his business career. He was also featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 we think in 2019, right, Tom? Somewhere around then, right?

Tom: Around there, yeah. Who’s keeping track?

Gene: Around there, which is fine. And I’m thrilled to have you on. So first of all, thank you so much for joining us.

Tom: All right. Thanks, Gene. Good to be here.

Gene: Yep, I’m glad to have you. So let’s take you through your career as it is and what you’ve been involved… First of all, you’re an engineer in training correctly. What type of engineer were you out of college?

Tom: Well, in college, I studied biomedical engineering, which included me taking one coding class, which I absolutely hated. It was my least favorite class. I did the worst. Of all my classes in college, that was the worst grade I got. But I did pick up programming sort of on the side as a hobby when I found that you can actually code things that you want to code. My whole freshman year of college, I spent a lot of time learning how to make iPhone apps. That was my first thing. This is like 2010 when iPhone apps were really cool, all the first apps are coming out. So I just got really addicted to it. I thought it was really fun and that’s what kind got me into the whole startup game.

Gene: It’s funny how that period of time, I mean, the iPhone was 2007 and you’re right, around 2010, it’s like there were apps coming out all over the place. People were into it. It’s like AI today.

Tom: Totally.

Gene: Right? I mean, I get these roundups that get emailed to me about different AI apps that are coming out and I’m like, “Oh my God, this is same thing back in after the iPhone came out.” It’s just a whole…

Tom: Yeah, there’s always a gold rush period for a new technology.

Gene: There is. There is, which is cool as long as you know what you’re doing. Okay, so you’re into that. You were writing apps. And this is was during college you were doing this, as well as taking your college?

Tom: Yep.

Gene: And then you graduate college. I have your bio. Besides Unthread there was Sobrio, Sobrio?

Tom: Sobrio.

Gene: Dashride.

Tom: Yeah.

Gene: Sobrio.

Tom: Sobrio.

Gene: Dashride, Everyspace. Just briefly tell me about those companies, and Unthread, as well.

Tom: Yeah, so I got started just building indie apps on the side. I built an app for UConn, where I went to school, called iHusky, which would tell you all the dining hall menus, the bus schedules, all that kind of stuff. That was my first app that I released, and that really took off at UConn. It kind of gave me this adrenaline hit that you feel when you’re creating something that’s really useful to other people. I’d be waiting at the bus stop and I’d see people take out iHusky and I would just… that feeling is hard to describe.

Gene: Yeah. Did you actually go over to people and be like, “Hey, Man, I wrote that that you’re using right now”?

Tom: No, but often…

Gene: You ever say that?

Tom: My friends would do that on my behalf. They’d be like, “Hey, you know this is the guy who made iHusky?” So that’s one…

Gene: I’d be like, “No you didn’t. Get out of here. You’re messing with me.”

Tom: No, but I did put my name in the credits, so that way I could verify if people didn’t believe me. I thought about that.

Gene: Smart. Smart.

Tom: That was my first foray into it, just understanding the value that you can have by writing some code and distributing to a huge number of people. So the next project that I worked on with a friend, a co-founder at the time, was Sobrio, which was taking this process that existed on these large college campuses of sober rides for students, which was previously done through texting random phone numbers, and people would call you back and they’d say, “We’ll be there in two hours to pick you up.” People would walk crazy distances, there’s terrible public transportation, and turning this into a peer-to-peer ridesharing app. That’s what Sobrio was. We launched that in 2011. So that was actually before Lyft, before UberX, before their their peer-to-peer ridesharing app. And the idea there was just connect the supply of drivers to demand of people who needed rides and facilitate the payments and everything through there.

Gene: Amazing. And you did that while you were in college you wrote that, or was this after college?

Tom: This was in college, which was great for me…

Gene: During college.

Tom: As a college student, because I could be a driver, I could be a passenger. We knew the campus really well, so it was easy to understand what was the current process that people had and how do we make this better? So yeah, it was a lot of fun to do that. During college, it was just in my spare time.

Gene: Sure. And did Sobrio catch on? Was it a popular application or was it just for UConn people?

Tom: Yeah, it was. We had eight different campuses that it was doing really well at, where we had a good supply of people who would provide rides, a huge demand of people requesting rides. It’s always tough to build up this two-sided marketplace, but colleges made it easy to leverage this idea of safe rides. Oftentimes, schools would sponsor us being on a campus because we would promote safety and reduce drinking and driving. So yeah, it was popular at a few schools. I will say, though, as you may have seen on the news with Uber and Lyft, operating a ridesharing app is extremely expensive and difficult to scale, so we did start to hit some limits on what we as college students without any money could do with this app.

Gene: So what did you do with the app? Did you just shut it down or did you sell it?

Tom: Well, we saw that the existing taxi companies on these college campuses were coming to us first pushing back like, “Hey, we don’t want this Sobrio thing on the campus,” then once realizing that this was a thing that was going to stick around, they’d say, “Hey, how do we get on this app? We want people to be able to request rides on demand.” At this point, Uber was launching, Lyft was launching and like, “Hey, we need the ability for people to book rides on demand for us.”

Gene: Sure. Sure.

Tom: And at first we’d push back, be like, “Hey, that’s not what we do,” but at a certain point you realize okay, people are begging you for something, you should maybe consider it. And so yeah, we decided to take the Sobrio platform, which was the B2C ridesharing app, and turn it into a B2B platform to allow people to do on-demand ridesharing for existing fleets of taxi companies and limo companies. And our very first customer of trying this out, we made 100X more money that we ever did in the lifespan of Sobrio, so we figured we were onto something with that.

Gene: Was that Dashride?

Tom: And that’s what Dashride was, yeah. That was a pivot basically from Sobrio, which was the B2C, to Dashride as the B2B version.

Gene: Right. I love the, we’ll get into it, but it’s a follow the money course. I’m sure you were like, “Hey, this is really great with Sobrio and we are providing a service and it’s a safety thing and it’s all that,” but very tough to monetize and a lot of headaches involved. And then you pivot over to Dashride, which you’re like, “Okay, this is way easier to monetize,” and still providing that kind of same service, but you got to run a business and you’re going to follow where the profits are, which is great. So how long were you running Dashride? How long did that last? Give me the lifespan of that company.

Tom: Yeah, so we officially pivoted to that in 2013, maybe 2014. We ran that company for about five or six years, up until 2018. And at that point, we were building these kind of complicated ridesharing dispatching algorithms on how to optimize your fleets. And we started talking to autonomous vehicle companies, which at the time, I mean now they’re still popular, but the time it was like people thought AVs were going to be there in two years, which they were a little off of those predictions. We started talking to them-

Gene: A little bit. Elon Musk is a little off on his predictions on that, right?

Tom: Yeah, exactly. He was part of the problem of maybe misleading people’s expectations, there.

Gene: A little bit. Little bit.

Tom: So we started saying, “Hey, you’re about to launch these AV ridesharing services. You’re going to need to solve all these problems we’ve been solving for the past six years.” And we talked to a few different companies and ultimately one of them just said, “Hey, we don’t want to just purchase your software, we want to acquire this, bring you guys to do this for us.” And so that was Cruise, the self-driving car company.

Gene: Fascinating. And when they acquired you, you went on as an employee of Cruise, correct?

Tom: Yep, exactly. So that was a fun transition going from… we were running a company of only 12 people at the time that happened then to being a small big pond of 2,000 employees.

Gene: Right. Well I can see by your bio, so that was like they bought you in 2018 and then clearly you got fed up because in 2021, you started up another company, Everyspace, right?

Tom: I wouldn’t say I was fed up.

Tom: I learned a lot.

Tom: It was a great experience. I think that there’s a value in having that experience of a big company and the problems that you see there. There’s value in having the small company experience. So I did really enjoy my time at Cruise and I used it as a great learning experience. Everyone I worked with was incredibly smart and driven, no pun intended, but I would say it was more the craving to have a startup and that feeling again of you built something, you see people use it, that kind of thing doesn’t go away. So that’s kind of a temptation that pulled me away.

Gene: Fair enough. That’s fair enough. All right, so then you started up Everyspace, and tell us a little bit about that.

Tom: Yeah, so the story of that is almost similar to Sobrio, where I really just wanted to create a way for my friends and I to plan trips together. We wanted to do things like ski trips, whatever, like a friend’s bachelor party, and the old way of doing this was on Facebook Events, which Facebook Events, at least for me and my friend group is just not a thing people do anymore. So I created this kind of easy way to just create an event page, group text all your friends, you decline the event, you’re opted out of the group text, that kind of functionality. When COVID hit, the idea of planning parties was not really a thing.

Gene: Yeah, kind of went away.

Tom: And we said, “Okay, well, now there’s a lot of things happening virtually,” and it’s not as much peer-to-peer events, but it’s really companies hosting things like virtual happy hours or bringing groups together for different virtual events. And that was also a terrible experience, where people are sending out Google forms to collect RSVPs and we said, “We can do better than this.” So Everyspace started as a way for people to plan better internal events.

Tom: And then from there, similar to how we learned from what people asked of us when we were running Sobrio, when we were running Everyspace, people started asking us, “Hey, it’s not just the events. We actually care about building these communities of employees.” So when you’re at a large company, you join either a club or an affinity group or an employee resource group. We want to make that whole process seamless, where you can actually easily connect with people virtually, not just during the event, but also beyond the event. So being able to send newsletters and engage with people that way. And that’s what Everyspace became.

Gene: Again, similar story in the sense that you’re running Sobrio, you start getting told by the taxi companies that there’s an opportunity here because they wanted to work with you. Here, you’re running an application that, or you’re building an application to just do events and then you start hearing from your customers, “We want more,” and so you expand into that. It’s like listening to your customers and going with it. And I’m assuming… it’s just funny, because these companies, they did not turn out to be what you started them. They evolved and they pivoted towards how the market was demanding. So the lifespan of Everyspace, then what happened to that company? Did you ultimately sell it?

Tom: Everyspace is still in operation.

Tom: That’s been kind of sold off to a different group who’s running it now, and my co-founder and I have switched to focus on this business called Unthread. We launched that a little over a year ago.

Gene: Tell us about that.

Tom: Yeah, we went through Y Combinator, where we were kind of just thinking about what are the real problems that we want to solve that are important to us, that are more closely related to our experience? And having run startups for several years, a big part of that is customer support and customer success. And we noticed the landscape of how that process works today is different than it was 10 years ago back when we first launched our process for Dashride, for example. And the big difference was people are talking to their customers not via email, not via an in-app chat thing, they’re talking to their customers over Slack channels or over Teams channels. And this is something that it wasn’t even technically possible back then, but people were adopting this because it’s more personal.

Tom: You get a direct line of communication with your vendor or with your customer, increase in engagement, but it’s totally unscalable. You can’t imagine having a text thread with all of your customers. If you have a thousand customers, you would just lose your mind.

Tom: So we said, “How can we support this new way of talking to customers, still give people what they want, which is like a personal chat experience, but make it scalable”? And that’s what Unthread does. We take all of your chat channels, whether it’s Slack or Microsoft Teams or email, and we put it into a unified inbox where we can help you assign responsibility of messages, prioritize, and ultimately automate a lot of these processes that get lost in the sea of just sending thousands of messages.

Gene: Where’d you get the idea for this?

Tom: So, at Everyspace, we were actually doing a lot of our customer support over Slack channels that our customers created for us. So again, you see the parallel to Dashride. We didn’t even know that this was a thing that people were talking to customers on Slack. Again, we used to use Intercom back in the day for our support. So we’d have a customer like Snapchat, they set up a Slack channel with us, and all of a sudden, okay, now we’ve got to deal with this Slack channel, we’ve got our internal channels, this is totally chaotic. Who’s going to respond to this? Who’s going to close out these issues? And we found it difficult to scale even at our startup phase. So when we saw that other companies were doing this, major companies like Stripe and DoorDash, these people are still talking to customers on Slack, how are they managing this? And we realized that there really wasn’t a good solution.

Gene: You had mentioned, so particularly for Unthread, you participated in Y Combinator.

Tom: I did.

Gene: And I’m interested to hear what your experiences were and what you thought of the process for others that are watching or listening to this that might want to consider doing the same. And for those that might not even be familiar with Y Combinator, give a brief, if you can, just a brief background description as to what it is and then just give me your thoughts. Say I’m interested in getting involved in Y Combinator or I’m having a startup, what advice would you have for me?

Tom: Yeah, definitely. So Y Combinator is a startup accelerator, meaning that they give you a small amount of funding in exchange for equity in your company and they put you through this intensive period of time…

Gene: Bootcamp.

Tom: Three months’ bootcamp culminating with a demo day, where throughout that three month period you’re working on your key KPIs, you’re understanding what does your company do, what are the targets, trying to grow your customer base, build out your product as quickly as possible, culminating with a demo day, and then most companies choose to raise money at that point.

Gene: Can I interrupt you and ask you, did you find that Y Combinator, most of the companies are tech companies or were there any that are just straight out B2B companies, manufacturers, distributors, service companies? What type of companies did you find that your fellow startup founders, as it was?

Tom: Yeah, I’d say they’re all tech companies. For them, I think something they value is the scalability of companies. There’s this term like venture scale. Can a business scale up to become a billion-dollar company? Oftentimes something like a services company can’t, and so you’re not likely to see that in Y Combinator. You might still see manufacturing companies who have a unique element about their manufacturing process that can scale and can make them into billion-dollar company. But yeah, you see a lot of software companies for that reason.

Gene: Got it, got it. So tell me more. So how was the experience of Y Combinator? Helpful, not helpful? What did you learn from it?

Tom: Yeah, I mean, we thought it was incredibly helpful. I would definitely recommend anyone at least apply if you’re thinking about it, and especially if you’re at a point where your business is in the early days and you’re figuring out key things like how do I talk to my customers, how do I do my marketing, what’s our ICP, these sorts of questions. For us, we were really in the early days, so having this network and support allowed us to get the answers to those questions a lot faster. So you have dedicated group partners who you hop on weekly calls with. These are experienced entrepreneurs. Y Combinator is one of the leading accelerators in the world, and their network is some of the best founders out there. So they’re there to give you advice on your company, personalized to the exact challenges that you’re seeing. They’ve been through this a million times.

Tom: You also have a network of other companies in your batch who not only serve as emotional support, because you’re all kind of going through the same challenges, but oftentimes, especially if you’re a B2B company, it’s a great way to validate your idea and say like, “Hey, you’re running a business. I’m selling software to businesses. Is this interesting to you?” So it’s kind of a built-in network to try to validate you to get your first few customers.

Gene: Were most of the interactions, is this an online only type of thing or did you have a lot of face time with other startup founders and other people giving you advice?

Tom: We did it in 2022 and I think they were just starting to do some in-person things. So we saw, I think every month or so, we would go in and see some people in person, but I think now they’re fully back to fully in person.

Gene: Good. A lot of people at startup businesses do it because they want to do it their own way or they’ve been employees for places for 10 years or 15 years, or they want to be their own boss as it is. The takeaway I get from you, Tom, is that you’re pretty open to hearing feedback, and I’m assuming you’ve grown quite a thick skin over the years of people criticizing stuff that you’re doing or calling into question this. And then, when you participate in Y Combinator, I mean, you’re asking for that, right? And people are going to challenge you, what you’re doing. Talk to me a little bit about that. How important is it to be open to hear other people’s points of view and to act on something?

Tom: Yeah, I think definitely you’re going to face a lot of rejection, just that comes with the territory. But yeah, I agree. I think that you can’t be too stubborn about… there’s some element of having a vision for what your company should be, and there’s some unique insight that you should have to have that vision, but you always need to be listening to the market, listening to your customers. Even if you’re a year into your business and you think that you’ve got to a defined path and you got to stick with it, you always have to be listening to what are people telling you? Maybe things change and that original hypothesis that you had was right a year ago, it’s not so right anymore. And not taking that personally, not saying…

Tom: “Well, I was wrong about my assumption.” Yeah, okay, we’re wrong about assumptions all the time, but the ability to quickly pivot and adapt and just think about the customer I think is the most important thing.

Gene: So you’re an engineer background and you’re a software developer, so you strike me as the guy that builds products and you’re the tech guy. Are you good at business? Can you read a P&L? Do you feel comfortable with financial statements and talking to bankers or potential investors?

Tom: It is a skill I’ve been forced to learn. Those…

Gene: Congratulations.

Tom:… elements of running a business I don’t think are as fun. And that’s another part of this process, is figuring out the things that you think you’re good at and outsourcing some things that you’re not good at. So I’m not doing our own bookkeeping or accounting, that’s not my specialty, and I’m happy to outsource that to someone else, but that’s it. The key elements of the business, like you said, like P&L is like how much money you’re making, what’s our margin per customer? What’s our CAC? What’s our LTV? These are things that are really important to the business that I need to really be on top of. Some of the more, I guess, tactical work around that is not as relevant, but yeah, I think you need to have both. It is selling the business short if you try to just be the product guy or just be the tech guy because there’s so much more to it than that.

Gene: You had also mentioned that you have co-founders in some of your businesses. Is it the same person every time or have you worked with different equity partners?

Tom: Different partners. So my first co-founder in Dashride and Sobrio, yeah, we worked together for seven or eight years. We went over to Cruise together, worked together there. He ended up leaving to start his own company before I left Cruise, so he’s got another startup that’s doing really well. I’m sure you guys would want to have him on the podcast. He’s another UConn guy from Connecticut.

Gene: Cool.

Tom: So he’s running another startup called Leverage. They’re doing really well. And so when I left Cruise, I wanted to find someone else who I wanted to work closely with, and my current co-founder is actually someone who joined as an employee of Dashride as a software engineer initially. Came over in the acquisition to Cruise. We worked together for a few years there and he joined as our CTO. And yeah, because we’ve worked together for so long, it was just obvious we’re going to have a great working relationship.

Gene: So what’s your role in this company now? I’m surprised that he’s the CTO and you’re… So, you’re the CEO of the company, which means you’re spending a lot of time doing development work, I’m assuming, and now you’re more the face of the organization. How is that?

Tom: Yeah. My day-to-day definitely is a lot different. I was the CTO of Dashride, the CEO here, and at an early stage company, titles mean whatever, but ultimately I am responsible for revenue generation and business development, and so I am doing all of our sales and marketing efforts, leading all our customer success. At an early stage company, you just got to do everything. I’m still building product, I’m still writing some code every now and then. And personally, I like this. I like the ability to kind of jump across these different areas. Prior to a few years ago, I didn’t really have experience doing enterprise sales. What does it mean to navigate an enterprise sales process and get different stakeholders on board and go through what it takes to earn a six figure deal? But I had to figure it out, and this is, I think another thing about what entrepreneurs are, are people who have a growth mindset and there’s something they need to learn for the sake of their business, they better learn it because no one else is going to do it.

Gene: Agreed. Agreed. Tom, and again, stop me if you don’t want to answer the question, but I have to ask something. Just personally, I clearly do not know what your personal life is. I don’t know if you have family, if you have whatever, and it’s just the narrative for the startup founder like yourself, like you said many companies, is that oh, you’re working 24 hours a day and you don’t have any time for a social life and it’s all just work, work, work, work, work. Is that you? I mean, is that a reality? Do you feel that in what you’re doing, starting up even with Unthread now, can you balance running a startup and also having a balance in your personal life, as well? How’s that been for you?

Tom: Yeah, I think that balance is super important and shouldn’t be understated, and I think I have the luxury of having gone through it twice to really have the perspective on what is important to me. I’d say the first company, running Dashride, I’m in my early, mid-twenties, yeah, I was working 18 hours a day and would sacrifice anything in my personal life for the sake of the company, and that’s a recipe for burning yourself out. By the end of that experience, I was completely burnt out and I didn’t have many years left in me to run that company, and I realized some of the sacrifices I made were short-term sacrifices.

Tom: And so running Unthread now, I think I have more clarity to see that it’s really about your output, what you contribute to the business, and making sure that you are doing what’s best for the company. And oftentimes, making yourself miserable is not best for the company. You taking an hour to go to the gym or workout or to see your family, to see your friends is better for the business than you slaving away on a laptop for that hour to try to crank out a little bit more work that day. Your longevity as the founder, as an entrepreneur in my opinion is the most important thing. And you see oftentimes, a lot of founders have this kind of hustle culture mentality, and they can make it a couple years, but after that, they’re out of gas and you really need to be in this for the long haul.

Gene: Few founders are really able to transition from being a founder to managing an organization where you have people and benefits and compensation and the leases that have to be signed and paid time off and all that kind of stuff. So from an employee standpoint, about how many employees, if you can share, does Unthread have approximately?

Tom: We’re still early, four employees in the team total.

Gene: Have you run an organization larger than that yet or only still… I’m assuming Sobrio was also relatively small, as well.

Tom: Yeah.

Gene: I know you worked at Cruise, but… Go ahead.

Tom: Yeah. Dashride, we were about 12 people at the time we sold, and at Cruise, I was running a team of about 40 people, so that’s about the cap. But yeah, it’s a super important part of the job. At a certain point, that primarily becomes what you’re concerned about is people and bringing on the right people, keeping the right people. Absolutely.

Gene: Are you concerned about that? You love starting up businesses, clearly you have a history of getting them to a certain point and then exiting them and successfully exiting them, which is also, that says a lot because a lot of people don’t have that kind of a record, but no, I mean, you haven’t scaled up to hundreds or thousands of employees. Do you feel like you’re that kind of a guy that could do something like that? Or are you the kind of person that would just get an organization to a certain size and then be bored with managing it and want to go on to some other different type of challenge, personally?

Tom: Yeah. Well, there are new challenges that come from that, and again, I think having a growth mindset, which I’d like to think I do, I’m excited to always learn more. And yeah, the challenge of running a 50-person team, a hundred-person team is completely different than what I’m doing now. If I haven’t done it before, I’m going to figure out how to do it and it’s going to be a good time.

Tom: One thing I think that has been really helpful is having a network of people who have done this to help in the learning process. I think you kind of shoot yourself in the foot if you try to do all this blindly. You can read books on this stuff, and I do recommend doing that, but ultimately having a network of people who you can go to with questions who have done this sort of thing is super valuable. That’s been super valuable for me. Figuring out, again, doing enterprise sales for the first time as of a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it weren’t for other people who have run sales teams, been CEOs of successful companies. This is where YC comes into play. Their network is very helpful. Just reaching out to people who you think would be helpful for you. Oftentimes people are willing to give you advice and help you through this because they’ve been through it and we all need to help each other out. No one’s strong enough to do this on their own.

Gene: Final thoughts. As somebody who has now been doing this for a decade and we’re going to continue to do it, you’ve gotten smarter with each organization that you have started. Looking back, if you were going to talk to somebody that’s looking to start up their own business for the first time, give me just a couple takeaways here. Listen, these are some things you need to make sure that you are going to be doing before you even go this direction or the mindset you need to be in. Just a few takeaways would be great.

Tom: Yeah. Related to what we said earlier, I think if you’re starting a business just to be your own boss and because you want to build this thing you want to build, can set you off on the wrong foot. Ultimately, the way I see it is, yes, I have a vision for where things should go, but the market is my boss and whatever it needs, I will need to build something for it. You need to be forward-thinking and build what you think the market’s going to need before it does need it, but ultimately, that feedback loop is super important. And if you are stubborn about, “I just want to build this one thing,” you’ll find yourself getting very frustrated when people don’t want it because your hypothesis might not be right. So I do see that happen a lot.

Tom: I’ll also say, some people think of it as like a get rich quick sort of thing. They’re like, “Oh, let me run this company for a couple years, and I see that in TechCrunch, this company sold for a hundred million dollars after being in operation for two years.” That is absolutely not the norm, and if you are not willing to sit down and do this work for a decade or more, maybe you should consider another path. You really need to be committed to this and again, think longer-term rather than short term.

Gene: Great stuff. Tom Bachant is the founder and CEO at Unthread. He has also been the founder of a number of other startup organizations that he has sold or moved on from successfully. Tom, great conversation and great advice for anybody looking to start a business. Thank you so much for joining me.

Tom: Yeah, thanks for having me on.

Gene: Everybody, you’ve been watching and listening to The Hartford’s Small Biz Ahead podcast. My name is Gene Marks. If you need any help or advice or tips in running your business, please visit us at or Again, my name is Gene Marks. Thank you so much for listening or watching. We will see you again next week. Take care.

Thanks so much for joining us on this week’s episode of The Hartford’s Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you like what you hear, please give us a shout-out on your favorite podcast platform. Your ratings, reviews, and your comments really help us formulate our topics and help us grow this podcast, so thank you so much. It’s been great spending time with you. We’ll see you again soon.

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