Sprouter Gives Startups And Entrepreneurs The Seeds To Grow

Posted on / by Natalie Sisson / in Interviews / 10 comments

You have to love a startup built just to help entrepreneurs and other startups. You gotta love it even more when you learn it’s founder and CEO is a woman with pizazz, personality and perseverance.

What’s more, Sarah Prevette was recently named one of Inc. Magazine’s 30 Under 30 entrepreneurs 2010 – the only Canadian on the list. Sarah is knowledgeable on social media, startups, and community building and has been profiled numerous times in the media – from IT Business to Wired, and CBC to the Wall Street Journal. She also started Sprouter, a brand-new startup which facilitates networking and collaboration between entrepreneurs.

Her right hand wing-woman, Erin Bury, is top notch too. Erin is the Community Manager at Sprouter, and a frequent speaker about Community Management, social media and entrepreneurship. She’s appeared in the New York Times, Forbes, CNN, MSN News, and on CBC. You can catch her tech writing at BlogTO and her column in Women’s Post too.

I got to interview Sarah and Erin to learn what it takes to be successful as an entrepreneur, why entrepreneurs need to stick together, what a community of entrepreneurs can accomplish, and more importantly all about Sprouter.

Sarah Prevette

Sarah, as a serial entrepreneur what do you think it takes to be successful?
The traits I see common among successful startup founders are passion, perseverance and resourcefulness. It takes unfailing confidence to drive forward despite obstacles and incredible hustle to find ways around unforeseen barriers.

In your experience how valuable is it to fail in business and bounce back?
You can’t let your mistakes paralyze you. You need to learn from failures; you’re going to have lapses in judgment, you’re going to make mistakes. You need to commit yourself to constant improvement and not let fear of failure hold you back. I don’t believe that failing in a previous business should be glorified but I do think that battle scars teach valuable lessons to the entrepreneurs who’ve gained them. My first startup was not a roaring success, but it certainly made me approach my second one very differently.

There is an unprecedented amount of content out there for entrepreneurs to consume – dive into related case studies and try to learn from others mistakes.

What was the inspiration behind Sprouter and what gap do you seek to fill?
If Facebook is for keeping up with friends, Twitter is to grow your public-facing brand, and LinkedIn is your online rolodex, then Sprouter is a way to grow your business behind-the-scenes – to get advice from like-minded people and to solve the pain points you encounter along the way.

But Sprouter isn’t just another social network – it’s a one-stop resource for entrepreneurs, connecting them with expert advice, entrepreneurship content and offline events. We’re trying to fill the gap of using Web 2.0 technology to help specifically entrepreneurs get help with their business, something we don’t think has been done until now.

How important is it to have access to like-minded entrepreneurs, advisors and investors?
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely – you’re often working out of your home or with a few coworkers. Networking in person and online allows entrepreneurs to make contacts in different industries – the media, investors, etc – and allows them to meet other entrepreneurs who are experiencing the same challenges. Networking can be beneficial no matter what industry you’re in, but it’s especially helpful for entrepreneurs who rely on the power of their network to succeed.

Sarah, I really liked your answer on the Small Biz Blog about what you’ve learned as an entrepreneur – You’ve got to be the 3 A’s: Amazing, Accessible and Authentic. Can you share examples of how you go about doing this?
Thank you. The 3 A’s are a way to articulate the need for startups to try to be extraordinary over their competitors, to engage in dialogue with your customers and to be honest in all business dealings. Love your customers and treat them with the highest degree of revelry.

Every startup founder knows how hard they’ve worked for each customer – especially the first ones. Keeping this in mind as you grow and never losing appreciation for loyalty is key to ongoing success.

Erin Bury

Erin, what’s the most challenging part of growing a community of people who are short on time and keeping them engaged through Sprouter?
It’s definitely a challenge to add one more tool into an entrepreneur’s daily routine. It sounds cliché, but the best way we keep the community engaged is by continually providing value.

Whether it’s through a really great Q&A session, or our weekly publication, or our startup-focused blog, we’re always trying to find ways to integrate into people’s day.

I think it’s important to recognize that we can’t make entrepreneurs come to us, we have to go to them. That’s why we’re active on sites like Facebook and Twitter – we know that we have to be where entrepreneurs are already hanging out, and prove our value to them there. We also integrate with sites like Twitter to make it easier for entrepreneurs to interact on both platforms.

Where do you want Sprouter to be in 5 years time and what impact do you wish to make?
5 years is a lifetime in social media terms, so it’s difficult to say. Sarah founded the company to help entrepreneurs like herself succeed, so I think no matter what form Sprouter takes it will always be about helping entrepreneurs. Period.

Every feature we add will only serve to help people succeed with their business. I’m sure Sprouter in 5 years will look very different from what it looks like now – that’s just the nature of a constantly-changing web 2.0 startup – but the underlying values and goals behind the company will be the same.

Personally, I’d love to see Sprouter as a globally-recognized entrepreneurship brand – the first thing you think of when you think of online resources for entrepreneurs.

What trends are you seeing with regards to women entrepreneurs and how are you catering to this through Sprouter?
We’re in a traditionally male-dominated field (technology startups) so it’s great that we’re an example of a thriving female-led company. In fact, our company is 50% women. I know a ton of successful, smart, driven female entrepreneurs – they may not be as abundant as their male counterparts, but they are behind some of the most ubiquitous technology around (SlideShare, Flickr, etc).

We try to highlight entrepreneurial talent, regardless of who is behind it. We’ve highlighted some amazing female entrepreneurs, but it’s not because they’re female – it’s because they’ve started a cool company and have achieved an amazing measure of success.

What are your top 3 tips to manage your time and ensure you get to relax?
Great question. When you work at a startup there’s a tendency to live and breathe the company – not because it’s a requirement, but because you’re passionate about what you do and you want to work hard. I make sure I devote one weeknight every week to relaxing – whether that’s playing my guitar, reading, or watching a movie.

Everyone needs downtime, every startup employees! I also make to-do lists just about everywhere – my iPhone, notepad, online, you name it. Keeping track of to-dos makes sure I don’t let things slide – which doesn’t mean everything gets done all the time, it just means that I do have it written down somewhere J I also believe that it’s all about prioritizing.

What are some of the top books you’ve read that have made a personal difference to you and influenced you and why?
Well, I’m a huge fan of novels, but they don’t really impact my day-to-day work. When I started out learning about social media I read Groundswell, Expanded and Revised Edition: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, which I think is still a relevant guide for companies looking to get involved with online tools.

I also loved The Whuffie Factor: Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business by Tara Hunt. It talks about social currency and why you need to cultivate relationships to succeed.

One of the best tactical books I’ve read is Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs (New Rules Social Media Series) by Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan. It’s a great guide to using SEO to promote your business.

[For more books I recommend check out: Must Read Books. – Natalie]

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and from who?
The best advice I’ve received was from my mom, and it was to take a risk whenever one presents itself. To not play it safe, and to take chances.

I was in a secure job when the opportunity at Sprouter was presented to me – I could have easily stayed in my secure job and turned down the offer. Instead I took a job at a startup, and have learned more than I could have hoped for, and grown my personal and professional networks.

What is your key piece of advice to any female considering becoming an entrepreneur?
Don’t be afraid to fail. Not every idea succeeds, but the lessons you learn from failure can often be more valuable than the business itself.

So true! Tweet and connect with them here:@Sprouter, @SarahPrevette and @ErinBury – oh and sign up to Sprouter!