Robert: Have you always been entrepreneurial?
Gene: Yes, I think I’ve definitely had an entrepreneurial spirit since I was a young child. My first venture as a young “entrepreneur” was during elementary school. Every day I would ride the school bus to school and sell candy to other kids. I would buy candy from Sams Club in bulk, put it into zip lock bags and sell it to the other kids on the bus. At the age of 18, I took over running my family farming business and even for the 14 years after college when I worked as a software engineer, I always had some sort of side business going on. Whether it was buying items from yard sales and flipping them or writing code for fellow business owners, I think I’ve always had a tendency to lean towards entrepreneurship.
Robert: Where did this idea of Propellant Lab come from?
Gene: David and I have started several companies over the years and we always wished there was a community of like-minded individuals that we could lean on for help. There are plenty of incubator and accelerators out there and we even participated in one a long time ago, but their focus was more about churning out cohorts and less about being in the trenches with their members. We created Propellant Labs because while we have had a ton of success stories, we have also made a lot of mistakes and we wanted to share those experiences with other founders. Our goal at Propellant is to help entrepreneurs (at all levels in their entrepreneurial journey).
Robert: How did you develop the company from the first thought you had of it?
Gene: I believe that most businesses fail because they did not test the market first. When starting Propellant (just like with my previous startups), we began talking to founders to see if there was even a need for our new twist on an incubator. We listened to the market and the market loved our concept, so we incorporated and in October of 2018, we launched our first cohort.
Robert: What are the difficulties of running an incubator?
Gene: We work with a lot of founders and every person has their own needs, we love helping our members reach their business goals. Unfortunately, we can’t accept everyone into the program, we have a limited number of seats and not everyone is coachable. I think one of the most difficult parts of running an incubator is telling someone that they didn’t get accepted into the incubator program. While we may not have a spot for them in the program, we still want to encourage them to keep working on their dream company.
Robert: What are the next steps for the company?
Gene: Our next logical step is to continue to expand the incubator and to offer external services (like development, legal, etc to our members). We already have a few of these partnerships locked in, but in the next year or so, we want to expand on this. We have a few other amazing things in the works, but I can’t disclose them publicly yet.
Robert: What’s the ultimate vision for the company moving forward?
Gene: Our ultimate goal is to help 1000+ founders grow their company to $1M or more per year in revenue. Fortunately, we are making a ton of progress towards reaching this goal.
Robert: If someone wants to grow a business, what’re some of the first things they should think about?
Gene: I mentioned this previously, but understanding who is your target audience, is key to success. Money does NOT cure all of your problems. In fact, I recently wrote a book called No Money Down that focuses on starting and scaling a business, without blowing through your entire life savings. Imagine raising $1M in venture funding and then spending the vast majority of that capital on marketing. I have a friend that owns a custom tobacco products company when he first launched, he was convinced that his target audience would be entirely male. After testing the market, he quickly came to the realization that this is a product that men do not buy for themselves, it is their wives, girlfriends or for parties. So imagine what would have happened if he didn’t test the market and would have continued marketing to men only. Always listen to the market, it will definitely help you figure out the best way to scale.
Robert: What have been some of the most valuable resources you’ve come across as you’ve gone through your entrepreneurial journey?
Gene: Entrepreneurship communities (like what we offer at Propellant Labs). Entrepreneurship can be very lonely and having a friendly face that knows what you’re going through and that you can lean on, can really help you get through some tough times.
Robert: What do you do to manage the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and how do you unwind/destress?
Gene: I don’t drink, smoke, party, etc, which is the traditional way to “unwind”. I prefer spending as much time as possible with my beautiful family. It is my favorite thing to do and reminds me of why I work so hard every day.
Robert: What are the biggest lessons or takeaways so far in your entrepreneurial career and any advice you have for aspiring entrepreneurs or early-stage founders?
Gene: My biggest piece of advice is to NOT become an entrepreneur for the money. The hours are long, the work is difficult and many times you will go a long time without taking a paycheck. Also, surround yourself with people that have a similar mindset and bring people onto your team that are hungry, but not starving. What I mean by that is, look for teammates that have the drive, but aren’t so “hungry” that they get desperate and start cutting corners.
Robert: Where can people go learn more about you and what you’re doing?