We asked a bunch of CEO’s for their best advice about starting a business.

Navigating the path of entrepreneurship is no walk in the park, and that’s exactly why we gathered insights from our seasoned founders during our recent monthly meetup. As we delve into their candid advice, it’s crucial to recognize that the entrepreneurial journey is a rollercoaster – highs, lows, twists, and turns. But hey, isn’t that what makes the ride exhilarating?

Our founders have been there, done that, and are graciously sharing their pearls of wisdom. Buckle up and let’s explore their unfiltered advice on what every aspiring business owner should ponder before taking the plunge.

1. Accountability Matters: “Find someone or find somebody to hold you accountable.” The entrepreneurial road is often winding, and having a support system ensures you stay on track when the going gets tough.

2. Stress Check: “Sit down and evaluate how much stress you can take over the next couple of years.” Recognize that entrepreneurship comes with its fair share of stress. Be honest with yourself about your capacity to handle it.

3. Customer-Centric Approach: “Don’t be afraid to ask your customers why and get feedback.” Your customers hold the key to your success. Engage with them, ask for feedback, and turn them into sales advocates.

4. Problem Solving for Profit: “Find a customer, solve their problems, and make money.” Start with the problem and the customer. Innovation is great, but it needs to translate into profitability.

5. Define Your Why: “Know your why.” Understanding why you’re in this game is crucial for navigating both the peaks and valleys. It’s more than just making money; it’s about purpose.

6. Build a Complementary Team: “Find someone as dedicated to you that can help and has complementary skills.” Being a lone wolf is tough. Surround yourself with a team that complements your skills and dedication.

7. Measure What Matters: “Pick two things to measure that define your business success.” Focus on meaningful metrics and measure them frequently. Don’t overwhelm yourself; simplicity is key in the early stages.

8. Are You Sure?: “Ask yourself: are you sure you want to do this?” Dip your toes in; test the waters. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Assess your commitment and, when the opportunity strikes, embrace a little bit of well-timed luck.

In closing, remember, these insights are not meant to discourage but to empower. Embrace the challenges, celebrate the victories, and keep pushing forward. The entrepreneurial journey is an adventure – an unpredictable and rewarding ride that molds not only your business but also you as a resilient and dynamic individual. Here’s to your journey and the success that awaits you!

NextGEN exists to provide community support for founders. Want to be a part of these conversations in the future? Reach out and get connected. We will plug in you.

Pedro Escobar: The American Dream meets Fintech

pedro escobarPedro Escobar’s journey is more than just a story of professional success; it’s a deeply personal account that intertwines his roots, challenges, and pursuit of the American Dream. Born in Brooklyn to Honduran immigrant parents with limited education, Pedro’s story begins with a modest upbringing. His parents, with no education beyond grade school, worked as a janitor and housekeeper during Pedro’s early years modeling a work ethic Pedro exudes today.

What is a Susu?

The Susu Lend story starts with a practical need: Pedro’s family needed to purchase a new refrigerator. Denied a loan at a local Sears, Pedro’s father reached out to their community and formed a susu, a lending community common in African and Hispanic cultures. A susu involves an informal savings club where members take turns contributing, a practice often used by those considered “unbanked” or “credit-invisible” in the traditional banking system.

“Unbanked” or “credit-invisible” refers to individuals or entities facing challenges accessing conventional banking services. Pedro empathizes with these individuals, understanding they are hardworking people deserving of opportunities for a better life. This empathy led to the creation of Susu Lend, driven by Pedro’s desire to assist individuals in accessing financial opportunities, whether for starting a business or meeting basic needs.

Pedro’s father’s first Susu venture was successful, leading to more, and eventually, the establishment of Wendy’s Grocery Store in New Jersey. Despite the family having to sell the store, Pedro credits his parents for instilling resilience and persistence in him. Eventually, his parents moved to Greenville, SC, and have since invested in real estate in the Upstate. 

From IT to Business School, Surviving 2008

Pedro began his IT career in 2003. The challenges of the ’08-’10 recession led to losing his corporate IT job. In 2010, Pedro and his family moved to Greenville, SC, following in his parents’ footsteps. This move proved successful for Pedro’s career and his wife and children, who graduated from Clemson University. After successfully launching an IT consulting business in Greenville, Pedro returned to school and graduated with a degree in IT Business Management from Western Governors University in 2021. He kept the momentum going by enrolling in business school to focus on launching his next venture. 

While pursuing an MBA at Cornell, Pedro turned his vision for Susu Lend into reality through a class project bringing in founders with varied backgrounds in finance, banking, and data science. Today, Susu Lend is a thriving company that completed its first cash beta. Pedro is working on a digital MVP with plans to launch the app in 2024. Recognizing the complexity of finance and legalities, Pedro diligently seeks advisors and investors to ensure compliance.

Accelerating Business in Cohort 2

In 2023, Pedro completed the NEXT Accelerator program as part of cohort 2. His story, empathy, and kindness made an impact on the entire group. His parents, who inspired him so much throughout his life, were able to come to his final presentation. 

“The NEXT Accelerator was more than a typical startup program; it was a gateway to a thriving community of innovators, mentors, and experts. As the founder and CEO of Susu Lend, a fintech startup aimed at empowering the unbanked and credit invisible, I found unparalleled support and guidance here. The program managers and staff’s dedication and expertise were instrumental in refining our pitch, making it resonate more strongly with our audience. NEXT didn’t just help us grow; it connected us with mentors and partners who shared our vision. Any entrepreneur in Greenville looking for a supportive, dynamic environment would find NEXT an invaluable resource.” Pedro Escobar

Pedro is committed to addressing the trust deficit in his first target market by focusing on his roots. He understands the skepticism within communities, particularly toward institutions and banks, and believes that building trust is paramount for sustainable growth.

Bridging Cultural Gaps

Maintaining a strong connection to his Hispanic roots, Pedro envisions Susu Lend bridging cultural gaps. He acknowledges the challenges immigrants face and aims to fast-track financial stability, especially within the Hispanic community. Pedro’s personal touch extends to Susu Lend’s operations, where he incorporates cultural nuances into AI-driven decision-making. He imagines what AI can do with the cultural data he is collecting and how it can benefit other industries and companies in the future.

As Pedro continues raising funds and engaging research experts for Susu Lend, his journey is a source of inspiration. A living embodiment of the American dream, Pedro overcame challenges and actively empowered others through financial education. His involvement in the Hispanic Alliance and mentoring youth through the SDA program reflects his commitment to the community and nurturing future entrepreneurs. Pedro’s story, filled with personal details, stands as a beacon of hope for aspiring entrepreneurs facing adversity and striving to positively impact their communities.



Jon Scott, ScopeStack: It’s all about connections and culture

For Jon Scott of ScopeStack, it’s all about connections. Connections have not only had a major influence on the success of his business but they’re integral to his company culture. Being fully remote, he believes it’s important to intentionally plan moments to connect with colleagues, as well as the community. Most of their team is located in Greenville – they didn’t want an office but they wanted the option to all meet in person. Flexibility is great but proximity is helpful to accomplish this. They are intentional about their values, being upfront from the beginning of each hiring process. They believe in authenticity and being action-oriented as well as giving back to their community through serving. 

There has to be a better way. 

Before there was a team culture to consider, Jon was working in the IT services space scoping out services projects. And the process was painful. “There’s got to be a better way.” (We’ve heard this before!) Jon, and his technical co-founder, Andy Vanasse (one of the smartest guys he knows), put their heads together intending to create a lucrative side hustle. 

Jon remembers sitting in a hotel room when Andy sent a prototype over to him. “I clicked on it and it sent me a statement of work. Wow, that’s legit!” It gave him hope that it could be bigger than a little side project. Jon was used to having a lot of ideas but this one felt right and even his wife agreed!  

ScopeStack launched in 2018.

In March of 2018, they onboarded their first client, who is still on the platform today. A testament to the great service ScopeStack is known for. 

Although Jon had been around the business and tech world, this was his first startup. When asked what the biggest learning curve was, he referenced all the hats entrepreneurs have to wear. There is a lot of learning to be done and for Jon and Andy, it was important to pursue and maintain a high level of integrity.

“I don’t have all the answers and I need to have people around me that I can ask questions.” Jon started with the NEXT VMS program early on in the business. He remembers pitching the idea in front of the mentors. It immediately clicked for Scott Millwood, former board chair and mentor, who knew the problem they were solving because he lived it. 

You need to sell something!

ScopeStack ended up with a core group of experienced advisors. In their first meeting, Jon mentioned that he would not be able to pay himself. Their advice? Well, you need to sell something! More than just advice, the connections made through that mentor network were critical. A member of their executive team was a direct connection from these initial mentors and he has been an amazing addition. “We never would have made these critical connections if not for our mentors. Everyone has always been super supportive at every single stage.”

Jon Scott, Cliff Holekamp, Cultivation capitalAnother introduction through his mentors was Cliff Holekamp of Cultivation Capital. We were fortunate to get the two of them on the NEXT Venture Summit stage talking about the founder/investor relationship. His mentors encouraged him to meet Cliff even though he wasn’t ready to raise. Even early on, you can tell investors where you’re going and start building that connection. Building relationships and trust early on allows for the ultimate ask to be easier. Jon and his team focused on hitting goals and building credibility to show they were a good investment before they were ready to ask for an investment. They also worked to build a cash flow-positive business model. Jon’s advice for future founders? Don’t just meet someone and then ask for money. You need to plan for that. Go ahead and make connections now so when you’re ready to raise, it’s just a conversation of how much you need. 

His relationship with Cliff started as more of a mentor/mentee relationship which did put Cliff in an interesting position. Oftentimes his investor goals did not align with his mentor’s guidance. The transparency on both sides of this relationship helped build a lot of trust in the relationship so when it was time to raise, they both knew what they were getting into. 

Building relationships and trust before the ask. 

SCRA was a great partner to ScopeStack as well. They received two rounds of grant funding which is a great option for a capital infusion early on. Why did they raise? They had hit $1MM in revenue, were cash flow positive, had lots of runway, and wanted to scale faster. To do this, they wanted to build a team to take them to the next level. SCRA and Cultivation Capital worked together with ScopeStack’s round. The fact that they all knew each other and had strong relationships was critical to making the raise successful. It took about a year and a half to close the round but the time it took to build relationships was worth it. 

Jon got his undergraduate degree in business focusing on computer information systems from Anderson University, where he was recruited to play soccer. (He is one of those rare people actually using their degree!) Jon has leaned on those Anderson connections as he has built the business. He also received an MBA from North Greenville University. But, he says that nothing can beat the education he has received over the last several years as a business owner. “I have learned so much. How to set expectations to how to have difficult conversations. I’m so grateful even though it was really hard.”

Overcoming challenges and decisions fatigue

Today, Jon’s biggest challenge is making all the decisions he needs to make every day.  Decision fatigue can lead to burnout so he does what he can to protect himself. He recommends taking a day off each month for just your mental health or maybe taking off Fridays. 2023 brought a lot of other challenges due to incredibly fast growth. They hired 10 people in 2023 going from a team of 6 to 16. Getting everyone on board and having the right people was challenging and he learned that he was not the right person for the job. “I used to hire people like me, that I liked and could hang out with. But, you quickly learn you need different types of people to run a successful business.” They now use Predictive Indexing to make sure they are onboarding the right people for each role. 

Now with a bigger team, they have additional expenses so the focus is on sales. Their number one thing to solve is the top of the funnel – how do you get more leads in the door? It’s a math game. You have to have so many leads to get so much revenue. This is a common challenge for founders.

Learning to delegate is a skill that entrepreneurs must master to scale their companies. As you grow a team, understand the difference between accountability and responsibility. Jon spends time focusing on the accountability chart – this helps set the appropriate expectations for the team as well as lead to delegation when possible or necessary. In 2023, Jon led a Founders Founder on the Entrepreneurial Operating (EOS) system that he uses day in and day out. Figuring all of this out is what keeps Jon coming to work every day. 

Don’t overcomplicate it.

One of the best pieces of advice he has received is: “Don’t confuse important decisions with difficult decisions.” In other words, don’t overcomplicate it. Clarity seems to be key. Jon loves the challenge of a puzzle, turning chaos into clarity. He loves how quickly they can move as a startup, and how nimble they can be. And, he appreciates that while he is a visionary, he’s found a great complement in co-founder Andy who is wired to get things done.

Jon will never forget the moment it hit him that they had a real business. They had multiple customers and had landed their first enterprise account. People were actually paying them! He encourages business owners to put money back into the business. Companies will never grow if they don’t invest back in themselves.

NEXT Upstate Rebrands as NextGEN – Greenville Entrepreneur Network

NEXT Upstate Rebrands as NextGEN  

One of the region’s top economic development organizations looks to the future while continuing to support and grow the Greenville Entrepreneur Network (GEN)

February 8, 2024 – Greenville, SC – For almost two decades, NEXT Upstate, the organization that began as an initiative housed inside the Greenville Chamber, has grown in reputation and scope of services. Hundreds of startup founders from across the region have benefited from its support in the form of mentoring programs, networking groups and regional events drawing national attention to Greenville. The companies they support go on to raise millions of dollars and employ thousands of local workers, improving the economy of the entire Upstate of South Carolina. 

NextGEN references the Greenville Entrepreneur Network and represents a new generation of support for the founders, entrepreneurs, and innovators who call Greenville home. 

“Fostering entrepreneurship is not merely about building companies. It’s about building communities, encouraging change, and celebrating growth,” says Eric Weissmann, Executive Director of NextGEN. “As an organization evolves, we need to respect our heritage while driving forward with our eyes fixed on the future. There’s no better time to be an entrepreneur than now and no better place to follow your dreams than here in Greenville, SC.”

Over the last two years, NextGEN has launched new programs and services such as an accelerator program, workshops, and monthly events, widening the aperture of who it serves.  NextGEN is also the driving force behind #StartupGVL – the rallying cry and unifying brand for the regional community of entrepreneurs and the dozens of groups who directly support them. 

“The rebrand merges the legacy and history of the organization with its future,” says Carlos Phillips, President/CEO of the Greenville Chamber and NextGEN board member. “The new branding reflects the refined strategy and exciting direction as NextGEN supports Greenville’s high-growth entrepreneurs.”

It’s because of this firm foundation that NextGEN is one of the longest-running entrepreneur support organizations in the State of South Carolina and a draw for companies looking to launch or expand in a place they love to live. No one succeeds alone, so to have a built-in network of others to help you is encouraging. 

“NextGEN is a critical component to our overall economic development strategy,” says Shannon Lavrin, Greenville City Manager and NextGEN board member. “Greenville is a vibrant, thriving community, but we know we’re in a competitive space when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. A robust innovation and entrepreneurship network is critical to attracting high-growth companies and keeping them in Greenville.” 

For more information about NextGEN, connect with sydney@nextsc.org