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The key to a successful startup, advice from startup veteran Mandela Dixon

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The key to a successful startup, advice from startup veteran Mandela Dixon

Mandela Dixon, the co-founder and CEO of Founder Gym, spent her career working with startups. She got her start in Silicon Valley in 2011, working at several small-but-growing companies in the San Francisco Bay area, and then went on to work with them in a supporting role at investment firm Kapor Capital. Over time, she saw a gap in access to knowledge, network, and capital with many tech startup founders. Last year, she took the leap back into entrepreneurship to address this issue—and credits her success to date to one, crucial piece of career advice she acquired.

“You need to make sure you fill up your oxygen tank before taking a deep dive into the ocean of startups. You are going to need the money to give you a runway to experiment to find out if your product meets the market’s needs.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

Dixon has seen firsthand that many founders take the leap without proper “oxygen” to survive in the industry until they start getting paying customers. And there’s more than just anecdotal evidence to suggest this is a common mistake: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20 percent of new businesses are still in business after their first year.

So, before she left her job to start her own company, Dixon began saving in earnest in a new account she calls a “jump jar.” (Also known as capital in the bank.)

“I knew I needed to make sure I had a certain amount of capital to live off while I went out and experimented with my hypotheses of a solution,” Dixon explains. “ By having cash, I gave myself time to figure it out, because often time it really is what you need.”

Today, Dixon is co-founder and CEO of Founder Gym, a business designed to give the underrepresented group of founders a leg up through training. The company accepts a group of applicants and leads them through an online, four-week, intensive program. The curriculum pulls best practices from entrepreneurship, education and sports psychology to help founders walk away with the tools they need to succeed. Dixon herself leverages many of these strategies every day as she continues to grow Founder Gym—but has never forgotten that critical piece of advice that got her started.

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