Going back to Startup University

Jay Clouse learning, stories

At some point in my early twenties, I finally began valuing education. I wish I could pinpoint a point in time when my mindshift towards learning occurred, but honestly I can’t.

Things always came pretty easily to me growing up and going through public school. Without experiencing much difficulty, I just didn’t take learning very seriously. During the period of my life that I had my most free time to learn, I utilized it the least.

I discovered entrepreneurship late into my freshman year of college, and I’ve been addicted ever since. A rough chronology of the last 4+ years looks like this:

2012: Member of the ManCard founding team

2012: Founder of MarketOSU

2012: Interned at Fundable prior to and through launch

2013: Member of NextChaptr StartupBus team

2013: President of the Business Builders Club (OSU Entrepreneurship org)

2014: [kind of] started a digital consultancy, Boosted Brands [and quickly killed it]

2014: Joined founder Alex Burkhart as COO of Tixers

2015: Sold Tixers to OneUp Sports

Entrepreneurship has served as a catalyst for me to fall in love with learning. If you don’t push and improve yourself every day, you will lose. If you don’t stay on the cutting edge and understand your market and industry, you will lose.

I hate losing.

I don’t often call myself an “entrepreneur,” but I do think of myself as one. It’s become part of my identity.

For the past month or so, I’ve really struggled with the concept of identity. When you identify as an entrepreneur, it becomes such a huge part of who you are. It becomes a huge part of your brand. Whether accurate or not, I became obsessed with how my brand would be affected if I was no longer identified as an entrepreneur.

Could I take a position with someone else’s company? What will people think? Does it make me a failure if I no longer work for myself? Will I lose my friends who are entrepreneurs?

Most frequently, I worry about hierarchies. In college, we had a speaker at the Business Builders Club tell us the best thing about being a founder and/or CEO is that anyone will respond to you purely based upon your signature.

“If you are a founder, business owner, or CEO you can be peers with anyone.”

I don’t know if that specific quote was what stuck in my mind, but I certainly subscribed to that idea. And over the past few years, it’s been integral for my confidence in communicating with others.

If that is true, what about the opposite? If I am easily pinpointed in a standard corporate hierarchy, does that limit the access and rapport I’ve worked so hard to build? What happens to my brand?

Honestly, this is one my biggest fears.

Every time I share that thought with friends, mentors, or people I trust, they all dismiss it. Saying it out loud is even embarrassing.

But what is even more embarrassing and a bigger fear is the risk of compromising my own personal growth and education. After several hard weeks, I came to peace with something my good friend Chris McAlister has always said:

“What you do is not who you are.”

I am very thankful that I have come to this understanding sooner rather than later. I am a life-long learner, and growing as a person – who I am  – has to take precedence over any ill-conceived fear of outside opinions.

And let’s be honest: no one cares as much as we think they do.

What’s my point?

In June of 2016, I left Tixers and its holding company, OneUp Sports.

The past two years have been the best, hardest, and most fun two years of my life. I truly believe I learned the equivalent of an MBA working with Alex in taking Tixers from accelerator >> seed round >> strategic partnerships >> acquisition in one of the most competitive industries on the planet.

Leaving Tixers is one of the most bittersweet decisions of my entire life. And in doing so, I’ve had to come to terms with the concept of identity I talked about above.

I had planned to take some time off, re-evaluate what is important to me and ensure my next move was aligned. But sometimes life works out in different ways than you anticipate, and opportunity trumps timing.

Shortly after leaving Tixers, opportunity with a local startup knocked.

I emailed one of my best mentors about my next move, and the importance of continuing to learn without starting something half-assed for the sake of autonomy.

“I think there are a few things to consider.  The first is – can you *find* an environment that would give you lots of learning experience. I say that because…there just aren’t enough other entrepreneurs (in Columbus) who would be able to help you level up the way you need to.

It’s not suggesting for a minute that other places aren’t great – they are.  I’m saying that going to another small startup is going to remind you of what you already know, probably not teach you what the “next level” looks like.

The other part that I’d point out is that you sorta need to be around folks who don’t think Columbus is the end all/be all.  I’m not saying people who don’t love Columbus.  I’m saying people who love Columbus but also realize that the big game isn’t being played solely here.”

This was incredible insight from someone I really respect, and he was right. Alex and I learned a ton from each other and from the experience of building our company – but our headcount never hit above 3 FTEs.

What’s more, our team was always completely distributed between Covington, Cincinnati, and Columbus. Working remotely is an incredible perk – until it isn’t. There is certainly something to be said about working alongside a team.

Shortly thereafter, I reached out to a local startup company whose founder and senior team I knew and really respected. For days I asked them a barrage of questions regarding company culture, vision, and styles of leadership. Unsurprisingly, this company passed all my tests.

I am incredibly proud to be a member of the CrossChx team.

After two years of working alongside Alex at Tixers where we learned via trial by fire, I can’t wait to learn from the senior leadership at CrossChx as well as my 100+ coworkers (who are some of the most talented, driven people I’ve ever met).

I will be leveraging my startup experience to run point on validation and development as Director of our newest product, Connect.

It’s a new chapter for me that I’m excited to start. It’s my goal to continue to grow and impact the Columbus startup ecosystem, and what better way than to help grow a local startup juggernaut?

Someday I will run my own company. And when that day comes, I’ll have one hell of an idea how to start, grow, capitalize, hire for, and build that company thanks to my continuing education at Startup University.

Click here to learn how CrossChx is balancing the inequities in healthcare (and if you know any physicians in the Columbus area, I’d love to talk to them).


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