Most of the founder stories we hear are the successful ones-the ones with happy endings. This is not that kind of story. Being a founder comes with only one guarantee: at times, the obstacles will be so absurdly difficult they will seem almost comical. While you can't predict what's ahead, you can prepare for it. And you can learn a lot from Lynsie Campbell's experiences since she's survived everything a startup can throw at you. In This Better Work, Lynsie Campbell shares the true stories of her fifteen-year journey through the hyper-masculine tech startup world-the good, the bad, and the ugly. Learn how she raised millions in venture capital funding, hired for every startup role, braved two accelerators, experienced one successful exit, and burned one startup to the ground. Was the journey everything she thought it would be? Absolutely not. It rarely is. But it did generate priceless advice that can help other startup founders make better decisions-and avoid some horrible mistakes.
I've been chasing dreams my whole life.
When I was a kid, my parents let me try lots of stuff. I took violin and piano lessons. I sucked at both. I ran track and cross country. Played soccer and softball. I was athletic, but it wasn't "my thing." None of these things were my thing.
I found solace in the arts and media. I read a ton of books and listened to a lot of music, but I loved writing more than anything else. Two English teachers at my small high school just outside of Pittsburgh helped nurture my love of language. Mrs. Herb picked transformational books for me to read and encouraged my writing. Mr. Sullivan was in charge of the school's new media club, which was made possible by Channel One News, the daily news program for teenagers that was founded in 1989. Channel One provided audiovisual equipment to any schools that aired its programming.
I loved Channel One. Anderson Cooper and Lisa Ling both started their long and distinguished careers in journalism there. Kids who were not much older than me were covering the news. I wanted to do the same, so I signed up to write, produce, and direct our high school morning news program, Raidervision. I hosted the program a few times a week with my friend Dave English. I'd finally found my thing.
I was a rabid consumer of media, mostly books, movies, and music. I learned who I was by way of Kurt Vonnegut, Depeche Mode, Winona Ryder, True Romance, George Orwell, and R.E.M. My unabashed love of these things led to a series of jobs that indulged my interests.
I grew up in a middle-class household where the collars were more blue than white. My dad worked at Wendy's and drove buses for Greyhound before he landed a stable job as a deputy sheriff for Allegheny County. My mom was a bookkeeper for my rich uncle but has probably never made more than $40,000 a year in her life. I knew in high school that I was going to need a job, but I didn't want just any old job. I wanted a job I actually liked. I still feel this way today.
When I was fifteen, I started working at the local video store, Video Hits. I organized the VHS tapes on the shelves, ate fistfuls of popcorn, and made small talk with the people who'd come to find their evening escape. Bonus: I also got unlimited free video rentals.
After a few years at Video Hits, I upgraded from VHS to the big screen and started working at a movie theater. The screen might have been bigger, but the benefits were nearly the same. I continued to eat an unhealthy amount of popcorn and watch any movie I wanted to see for free.
I went to college at Penn State University, and when I came home in the summers, I worked at Barnes & Noble, where I alphabetized books, worked the register, and made lattes at the in-house Starbucks. The benefits were now more adult: discounted books and free coffee.
Soon after arriving in State College, Pennsylvania, I declared my major. I was going to study journalism-the perfect major for those who are curious and love to write. I honed my interviewing, research, and writing skills. I learned how to edit audio and video. I thrived under the pressure of a deadline. I never would've guessed that this humanities-based major would be such a good primer for entrepreneurship.
My first internship during college was at KDKA-TV, the CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh. I worked at the assignments desk for a guy named Dicky Nassar. He sent me out with photographers to cover minor events. I'd talk to the people involved, collect details, and report back to Dicky. I spent my nights calling the local police departments and gathering the same sort of information.
I enjoyed the experience so much that for my next internship I researched and applied to a bunch of different programs in television. Most of them were in New York City. That seemed more doable to me than Los Angeles. In retrospect I'm not sure why my nineteen-year-old self thought either was doable.
I applied to The Today Show, Good Morning America, Dateline, Late Night with David Letterman, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien-all the usual suspects at the time. A few weeks later, my phone rang. It was the HR manager from The Rosie O'Donnell Show. She wanted me to come in for an interview. A week later, my dad drove me to New York City. It was cold, and traffic was horrible. He grumbled the entire time, but I knew he was excited too. Two weeks later, I got the call I was hoping for. The internship was mine if I wanted it.
Holy shit, I was moving to New York City to work at The Rosie O'Donnell Show!
The only downside: it was an unpaid internship. My parents agreed to cover the cost of an apartment equal to what I would have been paying in State College. I took a bus into Manhattan from North Jersey every morning. I had a cell phone, but there was no GPS at the time. I have no sense of direction, so I was constantly lost.
The Rosie O'Donnell Show accepted seven interns at a time. We rotated through departments, learning about each aspect of the business and meeting everyone who worked on the show. First, I worked with the producers. Then I was sent to the talent department, which was responsible for booking guests.
On my first day in the talent department, I said hello to the four associates with whom I'd be working. I hadn't finished my second sentence before James Avenell, the show's most senior talent booker, stopped me and said, "Are you from Pittsburgh?"
Wow, it had taken him almost no time to pick up on my yinzer accent. "I am."
"Very cool. My partner is from Pittsburgh. His parents own the James Street Tavern on the North Side."
And just like that, I was completely at ease.
A few weeks after I'd started working in the talent department, the senior music producer fired her assistant. I don't know why James went out on a limb for me-the Pittsburgh connection?-but he did. He approached the senior music producer, Deirdre Dod, and the head of the talent department and told them they should give me a chance, that I worked hard and played nice with others. Deirdre agreed to give me a shot. As a talent assistant, I'd be helping her book guests and coordinating their segments.
I felt like it was the best job on the entire show. I pinched myself constantly. After dropping out of Penn State and moving to New York City, I became the youngest employee at The Rosie O'Donnell Show. I was twenty-one years old and working in Rockefeller Center, on the same floor as Saturday Night Live. I was booking the biggest musical acts in the world at the time, including N'Sync, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, and Christina Aguilera. Elton John once kissed me on the cheek, for fuck's sake! It was an incredible experience.
As the show was coming to an end in 2002, I knew I needed to figure out what to do next. I loved New York City, but if I didn't finish college now, I never would. I didn't want to go back to Penn State. All my college friends had graduated. So I went home to Pittsburgh, finished college at Duquesne University, and started looking around for my next gig.
Pittsburgh is one of the country's most prominent sports towns, so I grew up a sports fan. If I couldn't work in the entertainment industry, sports was a solid second option. I sent emails, with my résumé attached, to the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates.
The Pirates called. The organization needed seasonal help in marketing and promotions. Score! Which, sadly, is not something the Pirates did a lot that season. They lost 103 games. It was brutal.
During my time with the Pirates, I worked closely with the Pittsburgh media. That's how I met Ryan Camuso, the morning show producer for The Alan Cox Radio Show, which aired on the city's alternative rock station. We got married four years after we met. Ryan had always wanted to work in television, and after being in Pittsburgh for two years, I longed to do something different. I missed the entertainment industry, so I suggested we move to Los Angeles. He agreed to give it a shot.
We had no idea what we'd do once we got there. We picked an apartment sight unseen. We had no clue what the neighborhood we would be living in was like. I'd been to Los Angeles once before we hopped in the car and headed west.
I landed at The Mitch Schneider Organization (MSO), a boutique music publicity firm founded by the former Rolling Stone journalist. I'd met MSO's vice president Marcee Rondan when I was a talent assistant at The Rosie O'Donnell Show and she was the Backstreet Boys' publicist. I was starting to see how this business really worked, that more often than not it was who you knew, not what. Just a few months after I started working at MSO, Mitch offered me a job as his assistant. Yes, please! Among my duties was assisting Mitch with his client roster, which consisted of the company's biggest clients (and some of the biggest musical acts in the world), including David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Alanis Morrisette, Matchbox 20, and Johnny Rotten.
Ryan and I settled into life in Los Angeles as well as two kids from Western Pennsylvania could. I liked LA, but I didn't love it the way I'd loved New York. I felt like I spent half my life trapped in a car on a sprawling freeway. I missed the...