Startup Trenches

"Whether launching a startup as an entrepreneur or a new product initiative as an intrepreneur, sharing tales from the trenches can help pave the way."

This is a blog by Andrea Michalek. She is the co-founder of Plum Analytics.

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Coming Full Circle

Last week, I had the pleasure of delivering the keynote at the second event of the Philly New Technology Meetup. This new networking group is led by Mike Krupit, Brad Denenberg, Cory Donovan, and Eamon Gallagher.  At only 2 months old, and already almost 300 members strong, I’m looking forward to seeing this group become a staple of the Philadelphia technology scene.

Mike had asked me to speak a few weeks ago, and I happily accepted.  I had once heard that you should never turn down an opportunity to speak in front of people, and whenever I can, I try to live by that rule.  

I began by talking about how I was at the very same podium, in February 2012, just 6 weeks after founding Plum Analytics, giving a demo of the hands-barely-off-the-keyboard alpha prototype of our product.  Less than 2 years later, Plum was acquired by EBSCO.  It was a sense of coming full circle to be back, this time talking about the path I have traveled as a technologist and female entrepreneur.

Later the same week, I found myself on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University, where I had received my undergraduate degree in computational biology.  I was in Pittsburgh for some great meetings, and I had a few minutes to spare, and I decided to walk into the building where I had taken some of my very first classes.  I was struck by how much things had changed, but yet I could imagine my younger self walking those very same halls.  Like hearing a song from long ago, there is nothing like a physical place to bring you back to that time.

I walked into one of the empty classrooms, and saw the seat I usually sat in for my freshman year Physics class with the inspirational Hugh Young.  I took my seat, thinking back to that time and how I felt that the very buildings had secrets that I just couldn’t grasp.  I sat in the empty classroom, for what seems like a very long time, thinking of who I was back then, and just how far I have come.

If you’d like to hear more about my journey - watch the video here:


So often being a mom, my girls (ages 9 and 6) only see me as their chauffeur, the packer of lunches, and playdate arranger.  On a cross-country flight to San Francisco, my laptop battery died, and I started reflecting on how daughters perceive their mothers as well as my own career choices that I am making as the founder of a startup.

Years ago, interspersed in all of my notebooks, I started journaling about “If for any reason.” I suppose it is a bit morbid, but I wanted to record my thoughts on life that if I died, I might not be around to tell my daughters.  I imagined them having these bits of advice, directly from me, as they were facing major life decisions.  I will spare the public my thoughts on love, friendship, marriage, etc., but I decided to share some of my thoughts I’d like to pass down to my kids about working through adversity, dreaming, and following their passion.


You get to decide how to spend your life.  You are never truly trapped.  There are always options.  You may not like the choices you think you have, but there is always another way around the obstacles you are facing.

Think about what you are truly passionate about.  Live for that.  Focus on that.  Let others see the gleam in your eye when you speak about it.  They will support you.  They will follow you.

Don’t ever let work become just a job.  Find some cause, some purpose, some underlying reason and cheerfully pursue it.

If you do this, I know you can accomplish great things. 

Reflecting on starting a company

I often wonder what the world will be like for you as an adult.  Many of the challenges I’ve faced as a female technologist, I hope that by the stereotypes I (and other women) are are breaking, make the road a bit easier for you to travel.

When people ask me why I started Plum, I tell them of the moment when I knew I was “at the wrong side of the table.”  I was at a due diligence meeting, where the company i was working for was looking to acquire a startup.  Sitting in a conference room, me on the side of the table with the acquirers, looking across the table at the entrepreneurs.  I knew I was on the wrong side.  I called your dad from my hotel room that night and told him I would be quitting my job soon.  Roughly 2 months later I did.  I hope when you have moments of clarity of how you should be spending your life, you listen closely to your heart, make a plan to get there, and pursue it relentlessly.


That doesn’t mean it will be easy

Telling a story like that is easy.  It almost seems romantic is some ways.  But, even with the best of planning, there was a lot that I thought I knew but didn’t.

How to start from nothing

I had consulted for a decade for early stage companies, had done many entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial projects, but early in the life cycle of Plum, I found the first big challenge.  It is really hard to start from nothing — no seed funding, no day job.  Those early days were different than any other entrepreneurial thing i had done.  Much harder.  Day by day, step by step, we found a way though.  The biggest part of that was surrounding myself with other people who supported me.  Your dad, our family, my co-founder, and the team we recruited to work together with us.

What knocked me off my feet

Having been through the highs and lows of startups before, I thought I’d be more zen about the roller coaster.  Brad Feld wrote a great post about vomit moments.  He describes it as “it’s that moment where a specific thing happens that cause you to want to run into the bathroom and vomit, which you sometimes do.”

In the 16 months since starting Plum, I’ve had my fair share of vomit moments both personally and professionally:

  • Checking email during a layover on my way to our public launch of our site, and realizing our site was up, but all data had been deleted.  Having to hop back on the plane, contemplating how it happened and thinking we had been maliciously hacked.
  • Finding out my dad’s femur shattered BECAUSE HE HAD CANCER.
  • Finding out he died.


There have been so many impossibly hard moments for me, especially in 2012.  Life is like that sometimes.  And how do you make it through them?  For me, it is to cope through focus.  Sometimes, that is hard, especially when stress levels feels like they are at an all time high.

So, for example, during the darkest times personally I could still find a way, to get back to focusing on making my company successful.  Why was it important enough to pull me through?  It comes back to passion.  I know, without a doubt, that the work I am doing is important.  We can change how research is done,  change the pace of discovery,  make a difference.

I hope, years from now, when you are working on something you are passionate about it will both inspire you and ground you.

I think, in some ways, even as young kids, you know that my work is more than a job, to make money, to buy you toys.  Abby, when you were starting second grade, you brought home a paper you had filled out during school to introduce yourself to the classroom.  On it you had to write what you were most proud of and why.  You answered “My Mom — because she helps libraries.”  Maybe you do see more than I realize.

Some say, “go big or stay home,” but I prefer, “keep going.” Drip by drip.
— Seth Godin

It’s been awhile since I have blogged on Startup Trenches, and was just reflecting on the fact that Plum Analytics has already been in business for 15 months.

If you’re looking for news about Plum, following our blog there is probably the better place.

For example, thanks to Marianne Parkhill, we have we just blogged a nice roundup of news around my startup, Plum Analytics.


We are amazed at how quickly altmetrics has turned from a “fringe” topic to one that is on everyone’s mind. This is evidenced by how many people are writing and talking about it just in the past month alone. We want to share some of the most interesting of these articles so you can keep up…

Every now and then, I read something that resonates about the type of leader I strive to be.  This reading this post was one of those times.


The prerequisites for being a great manager are:

  • Sincerely and deeply caring about your team and company.

  • Having empathy, self-awareness, organizational awareness, perspective, maturity, and security.

If you possess those characteristics, you can become a great manager in practice by doing…


We decided to create a blog to keep everyone up to date about what is happening at Plum Analytics.  We just had our one year anniversary and are proud to have launched our PlumX product.

If you haven’t seen the 1 minute product screencast, it’s a good way to get a sense of the main features of our product.  You can watch it here:

A post welcoming my new startup Plum Analytics to the scene.  Absolutely chuckled over being called a “Real Grown-Up Person.”


I (Jason) recently watched Andrea Michalek’s presentation describing Plum Analytics, and I’m excited to see yet another altmetrics tool being rolled out. I have to admit that it’s still a bit surreal to see Real Grown-Up People talking about altmetrics as a viable commercial product,…

imageI attended a great Coffee and Capital breakfast a week or two ago with Gloria Rabinowitz from Golden Seeds presenting.

It was an informal, yet info-packed session, and it was great to hear directly from a successful angel investor on what she looks for when investing, as well as some information about the due diligence process.

However, what has struck me the most, was her closing statements.  She thanked all of us for being there, being entrepreneurs, and starting businesses in Philadelphia.  She then talked about how entrepreneurs “make their own luck.”

At an early stage startup, some days are euphoric and some days are a slog.  Starting out each day, it’s never clear which it will be.  A phone call, an email, or even an unplanned conversation can flip the day one way or the other.

With so much uncertainty, the thought of making your own luck, is inspiring.  As entrepreneurs, the job is to find a way through, no matter what.  In the early, cash-constrained days of a startup, the reality of decision making on what to spend money on looms large.  With more to possibly block and tackle on than hours in a day, there is also an opportunity cost to every task you take on.

It’s been a little over 3 months from when we founded Plum Analytics.  We’re pleased with the traction we’ve been able to achieve — product, funding, customers, revenue, and team are all cruising forward.  Each day though, it takes firm resolve to remember the end goal, shoulder through the obstacles, and stay focused on the things that matter.

Last night, I was talking to a fellow entrepreneur at a networking event and they said, “Yeah, you are lucky.”  I smiled, and thought “Yes, yes I am.”

Image credit / buy the shirt here.

Great blog post about a successful bootstrapped startup.

The best quote from it:

There’s a popular backlash against founders who worry prematurely about hardware and software scalability.  But if you’re rising early and working hard on an organic startup idea, you have to design your business as a loosely-coupled chain of scalable systems as early as possible.  Because unless you have a purposeful plan to throttle your growth, you aren’t in control of your own tipping points.

Read the full post.

How times have changed.  I quit my corporate job in September, to get back to my entrepreneurial roots and start a new company.

This weekend, my co-founder and I cashed in some frequent flier miles for plane tickets to Dallas, TX to go to a tradeshow in our target industry.  The first of our old customers that we bumped into, asked us to take him out to dinner.  We laughed, told him that we’re now bootstrapping a startup, and sorry, but we can’t take ya’all out to dinner.  We joked with folks that we were just alternating who slept in the front seat vs back seat of the rental car each night.  It wasn’t quite that bad, but bootstrapping a startup does make you intensely aware of your burn rate.

As we handed out our new business cards with the $300 logo we crowdsourced on 99designs, we chuckled many times this weekend over how the times had changed, and changed for the better.

Eric Ries outlines defines strategy for a startup as:

"The role of strategy is to figure out what questions to ask."

In a whirlwind 48 hours, we flew to Dallas, got the real-world input we needed on our most critical questions, and flew back home to get back to building the product on Monday.

If you are an early stage startup, I’d encourage you to think creatively about how to get out in front of the folks who can both help you formulate and answer those questions.  There’s nothing better.