From Founder to Functionary: Life can be great after your startup fails

Cold chills? Sweaty palms? Fear of saying the wrong thing? We have all been there. That moment when you cross the threshold of a networking event and set out to – well, network. It’s not easy, and thank goodness Andrew Grochal and his team at Mixer Events solved the problem for us.

Andrew Grochal, Director of Project Management, CarGurus

Andrew Grochal, Director of Project Management, CarGurus

To fully appreciate just how great Andrew’s Mixer app was, we all have to harken back to 2012. The setting is a Tech.Co demo day at the Microsoft Nerd Center in Cambridge, and these were the heady days of early innovation economy in the Boston area. The GCAi team was making the rounds when I stopped at the Mixer Events table and loaded the app. Seconds, seriously, seconds later I had my first “Mixer moment.” See, this useful app would load the LinkedIn profiles of all those who chose to use it at the event and allow us to contact each other at the event. An individual at the event read my profile and decided that he and I needed to talk. It was the start of a great relationship.

I was sure Mixer was going to take off and I’d be reading about Andrew and his company on the West Coast, launching new functionality and struggling to find room for all the VC money that was pouring in. Indeed, I wasn’t the only Mixer fan out there, as indicated by this favorable Tech.Co article from the time. But not all good ideas make great companies, and soon Mixer came to the end of the startup road.

“It was a great experience,” suggested Andrew in a recent interview with Darcy Fortune, a reporter with GCAiPlanet. “I was doing everything. I learned how to recruit, work with engineers and event planners, take customer feedback and pitch investors. I enjoyed it but it was stressful – exciting but terrifying. I also learned a lot – the importance of celebrating small wins and setting milestones in order to complete tasks by a specific date.”

Soon after, Andrew was living in a cardboard box on the banks of the Charles River, dreaming about all the snacks offered at those networking events. Wait, that didn’t happen at all. Instead, he took all the skills he developed as a founder and began to help other startups. His first stop was a small cybersecurity startup that he helped get off the ground, and then soon after he found himself at the amazing, where today he serves as director of project management.

“A good friend was at CarGurus and mentioned that they were looking to hire someone for business development,” Andrew recalled. “I like cars but am not a car fanatic” – guitars are his passion. “However, CarGurus is more of a technology company and I liked their business model. For me, it’s the best of both worlds – a later-stage company, with a strong senior team and a startup culture. We are always testing new ideas, constantly innovating, and rolling new things out all the time.

CarGurus also has a classic startup feel – pingpong table, beer on tap, but also a great group of passionate people, hungry and fired up. The people who work here believe what they are doing will take over the world. I feel like I have hopped aboard a rocket ship!”

With his days living in the cardboard box far behind him (that still never happened), Andrew now has time to recall some of the other lessons learned from his days of a startup founder. “Starting your own company might appear to be glamorous, but it’s actually very hard to do. Boston is very supportive of entrepreneurship, but the competition here is also pretty steep. In terms of advice, I would say prioritize working with people who inspire you and whom you think you can learn a lot from. That continues to be important to me well after my days as a startup founder have passed.”

John Garvey