“People would say ‘Charise you are taking this huge risk’ and I would look at them and wonder what risk they were talking about,” laughs Charise Flynn, COO of Dwolla. “I grew up on a family farm, risk was ingrained into my being from the outset,” explains this thirty-something entrepreneur who left a stable job at the height of the great recession to launch her own consulting company providing advice and support to the emerging Des Moines start-up community and who would eventually join one of her clients as COO of Des Moines’ premier start-up, Dwolla.
It’s the lessons learned along that path, and particularly those found within the exponential growth of Dwolla over the past two years that Flynn expects share with the audience at the February edition of the Business Innovation Zone Luncheon in another of the organizations extended Q&A sessions with local business leaders.
“Perhaps without even knowing it I was always an entrepreneur at heart,” reflects Flynn while explaining how a Philosophy major from Simpson College goes down a road that leads to a very non-traditional occupation. “I had a real interest in business and in building things,” she recalls. And so she built a successful consulting business, helping guide other entrepreneurs through execution related challenges.
Ben Milne, Founder of Dwolla, was one who sought assistance from Flynn in the early stages of Dwolla’s development, and would ultimately ask Flynn to come on-board as the third member of the project and help lead them through the rapid and extensive growth curve that would follow their successful initial funding round.
“I expect questions that center on what it’s like going from two team members to thirty plus team members and all the things that change quickly throughout that process,” she says of her session. “I know that there are a number of companies right on the cusp of making that leap, and I think I can share some lessons that will help.”
Flynn encourages anyone who is, or wants to be, part of a fast growing company to attend, but she extends a special invitation to those who might operate behind the scenes. “My experiences and insights will be different than those of the founders, we have different perspectives,” she explains. And moreover she encourages people to come prepared with questions. “I always find the Q&A more valuable than the presentation, and I intend to keep my introduction very short to allow for more interaction.”
Flynn expects questions that resemble those she has faced herself being both of an operational and cultural nature. “Changing phone systems, hiring staff, making communication more intentional, transitioning customer support away from the initial developers, are all among the operational challenges you face during expansion,” she recalls. “And I often wondered who I could contact who has been through this before.”
With growth, more attention also must be paid to maintaining the desired culture. “In the beginning we were a few people, all in the room, there was no need to discuss culture, it was common to us all,” Flynn observed. “But as we have grown to more than 30 people, many of them coming from more traditional corporate environments, we discuss culture more. Part of building the right team is building the right culture.”
This Forty under 40 honoree expects to share what for her has been the biggest lesson, “Your work is never complete. It really is an ‘all in’ endeavor for a start-up to succeed,” she comments. “And while Des Moines is a strong and supportive environment for start-ups, we are still an anomaly and it’s not uncommon to notice that yours are the only lights on in a 25 story building.”
Flynn hopes to provide some answers and share some insights February 20th with others who would burn the midnight oil.
$15 admission fee (includes lunch)
February 20th 2013
11: 30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
The Greater Des Moines Partnership
700 Locust St., Suite 100
Purchase your tickets at https://tikly.co/BusinessInnovationZone — Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities will be made if requested at least two weeks in advance. Contact the BIZ for details.
The BIZ’s mission is to connect entrepreneurial needs with qualified community and state resources and to provide guided professional and business direction. The BIZ helps entrepreneurs maximize their successes by helping them navigate resources, strengthen knowledge, improve skills, form strategic alliances and secure proper capitalization.