Navigating Uncharted Waters: What it Takes to Do Something That Hasn’t Been Done Before

What do you do when you want to build a business completely from a scratch, in an area that no one has previously pursued? The prospect of starting a project from below ground zero can seem daunting and it takes a special mindset to venture into the unknown.

Materializing a dream from an undiscovered space requires three things: courage, self-reliance and determination. It’s not simply enough to just have a vision – you also need the mental fortitude and will to see your business through to the end.

First, you need the courage to jump right into the unknown. Courage can propel you to achieve what was once thought to be unachievable and to deflect doubt coming from any naysayers.  This can also help entrepreneurs like yourself confront any uncertainty or internal conflict you’re likely to encounter as you bring your vision to life.

Once you find that inner courage to start building, you need to foster self-reliance to sustain growth. With self-reliance, you can rely on yourself when it comes time to make difficult decisions and also trust your instincts as you push forward toward attaining your goal.

And finally, determination is a trait every dreamer needs to persevere. Determination means you won’t quit in the face of adversity and are driven to overcome any obstacle, no matter big or small. It can enable you to get through any negativity (both internal and external) and to keep an eye on the bigger picture.

Building your business from nothing is far from easy and is not for the faint of heart. But with courage, self-reliance and determination, there is little to stop you from achieving your goals.

The Third Wave, Steve Case and How to Create a Social Enterprise

One of my all-time favorite reads is a book by Steve Case called The Third Wave. Case, the founder of AOL, shares with readers his vision of the next technological revolution and believes there are only five sectors left that have yet to undergo complete change and re-innovation. These five sectors include:

  1. Education
  2. Healthcare
  3. Fintech
  4. Energy
  5. Social Enterprise

If you’re surprised by any of these sectors, you shouldn’t be. They all share a common denominator that prevents rapid innovation within each of these industries: government.

Unfortunately, investors tend to shy away from companies that are closely tied to the government Also known as “cross-sector partnerships”, there are two key things to keep in mind if you hope to get investors on your side:

  1. Your intellectual property is your ability to build relationships
  2. Your barriers to entry include taking those relationships and creating formal partnerships

When I used to work in the angel investing and venture capital space, I noticed a correlation between raising capital and selling it to the government. But raising money, especially in the first round, starts with a strong relationship between entrepreneurs and angel investors. I recommend meeting your prospective investor every few weeks for coffee and following up every three weeks with progress updates. Not only does this show you know how to cultivate a working relationship, it also demonstrates your ability to deliver promised milestones to your angel investors.

One thing you should be careful to avoid is treating the government like another customer as you try to solidify a formal partnership. While you can consider the government as a client, they aren’t going to be the ones you turn to for advice on innovation. Asking for the government’s feedback can diminish your credibility as a thought leader. Instead, I suggest finding board members and co-founders who share the same passion as you to add to your leadership team.

Start by positioning yourself in front of thought leadership working within your space and convincing them you have something of value to them. Look for individuals who come from a variety of industries and bring unique experiences to the table. Potential board members should see you as a relentless entrepreneur who can also help prospective partners with the network you’ve built up to this point. Remember to be patient; board members are going to evaluate your passion, ability and value before coming to a final decision. Only after you’ve won their trust can you approach them with the offer of joining your company’s board.

My directors and legal counsel, for example, come from diverse backgrounds and each individual brings years of experience to the table. Here are some of my directors and their work experience:

  • Ernest Sanders
    • Instrumental figure in creating the safe passage model and recipient of 2014 University of Chicago Medicine 74th Annual Community Partner Award
  • Todd Belcore
  • Jamal Jackson
    • Current legal counsel for Solve Smart Cities

Together, my directors fill the roles that are crucial to the success of Solve Smart Cities and have helped us quickly build and formalize relationships with our partners. Solve Smart Cities is currently meeting with employers and expanding our nonprofit partners.

If you’d like to learn more about our vision or would like to discuss potential partnerships, please visit

Co-Founders: Finding Your Perfect Match


Matt Strauss, Solve Smart Cities, Co-founder & CEO

Peter Thiel – Finding Co-founders is Like Finding Your Spouse  

Finding a co-founder is tough, very tough. All startups have an incredible amount of risk. You meet tens or hundreds of people who share your idea. Many people say they would love to help, but they ask for consulting fees or other payments. Resources are scarce in startups, so that is usually not an option.  

Websites such as CoFoundersLab and Founders Dating help entrepreneurs address the common problem of finding an ideal co-founder. But these websites are often full of people with their own ideas who do not want to implement someone else’s vision. As Peter Thiel says in his book Zero to One, “Finding your co-founder is like marriage. How many of you would marry someone after meeting once?”

Thiel is right — you must approach the search for a co-founder as you would a potential spouse.  

Finding someone you trust and who shares your values is essential. The ideal co-founder believes in the company, will work only for equity, and has a proven record of “executing” ideas to businesses.  

So let’s say you found someone you think could be a perfect match. Especially when it’s someone you don’t know well, it is critical to make sure you are on the same page.  You should view the world similarly, agree on the types of people you would hire, and have the same vision of the product. If you just met this person, you shouldn’t start building your product right away. Instead, talk two or three times a week, once in person and the rest over the phone. Share all the details about your vision, and get their feedback and input. Discuss the potential hurdles. Then, address equity. Make sure everyone is comfortable with their sweat equity incentives and amounts.

For us, it was easy getting along. First, I met Reid. We agreed on one key thing: being a mentor is awesome, but it is difficult to scale your impact. Seeing your mentee overcome hurdles and achieve their goals is one of the best feelings ever. But, it’s tough to recognize that you can only help your mentee reach a certain milestone;  the next milestone may require additional time or resources that you cannot provide.  We both knew we wanted to work together to solve this problem and scale our impact.

Then came Emile. After hearing Emile speak at a few events, I met with him to explain my goal of scaling social impact through software. Emile’s ears immediately perked as he knows software is key to scaling impact. I initially asked Emile to join as a board member, but instead Emile insisted on becoming a co-founder. That moment Reid and I realized we were on to something.

That “something” is the belief in solving the opportunity gap by providing new funding streams to workforce nonprofits and job training programs. Solve Smart Cities works with workforce development nonprofits, such as Cara Program, ReWork, UCAN, The Ideal Candidate, and others, to scale their impact. Solve Smart Cities is looking to partner with churches that offer job training programs and other nonprofits focused on manufacturing training. Please reach out to us if you know of any!