This article was published in the Spring 2021 issue
by Rilee Buttars, Co-founder and CEO, Dónde
I’m a first-time founder, and my pedigree is a bit unconventional. I’m just as surprised as anyone to find myself here.
Seasoned entrepreneurs say the second time around is much better. And who am I to argue? It does seem much smoother on the other side. But for me, I’m not looking to Plan B.
This travel/fintech startup called Dónde is my dream, and this gig has to work. When investors and advisors ask me how they can help, I always answer in the same way: “I need you. I need your expertise. Tell me your mistakes. Tell me how we avoid the biggest pitfalls. How do we not become a statistic of just another failed tech startup?”
And they always answer in the same way: “You’re going to make mistakes. Period. But we’ve got this.”
I’ve been working on Dónde for about three years, and we’ve made mistakes. I’ve also learned a lot. Here’s a small list of the things that helped us get to this point, made the difference between yes and no, and will carry us into the next phase.
Dónde was ignited because I ran into an old friend at the 2018 Women Tech Awards. I saw him coming over and actually forgot who he was for a moment. I started to sweat, wracking my brain to remember how we knew each other. Ah! Owen Fuller, BYU advertising program. That was it. He is well-known in the tech scene, head of an emerging software company, and I had no business shootin’ the breeze with him about my ideas. But I said something anyway. Owen has been key from the beginning. He was the first one to say the idea had potential. He helped shape our vision, listened to the bad pitches, answered my calls, and cheered us on. He was the one who told me I could go to the ball in glass slippers and absolutely crush it. When you need a fairy godmother, you first have to ask for help.
Follow your gut
It was hard to work on Dónde in the early days because of my full-time job and full-time kid. Why does chasing your dreams always happen late at night and on weekends? I was scared to make changes, and the risks were high. It’s not like I was a college student coding with my buddies between classes; I was a 30-year-old with a kid and a mortgage.
We met our initial investors at a park. Our family was riding scooters on the blacktop; they were at the slides looking calm and collected. Something strange compelled me to ride over to them on my bright pink Razor and say hi. I brought up Dónde and felt like a fool. Six months later, they gave us the funding needed to take the leap, allowing me to quit my job. My gut led me to them that day just like it continues to guide me daily. It’s not always right, but it usually is. And I’m always glad I listened.
Life will give you lemons.
And it sucks. Sometimes they’re mental, physical, societal, cultural, or global. Sometimes they’re all of them at once. We incorporated in January 2020 and walked the halls of Silicon Slopes Tech Summit telling everyone who’d listen about our new travel startup. Then March 2020 rolled in. The world was in trouble, and the travel industry froze. We continued to develop in silence, hoping beyond all odds that travel would rebound. Some believed in us. Some did not.
We launched MVP on February 1, 2021, just as vaccines became more widely available and trips to Mexico skyrocketed.
Just keep going, even when you don’t think you can. You can.
My first meeting about Dónde was in November 2018. That same month, I fell off a metaphorical cliff when my chronic illness reared its head for the first time. And I’ve never been the same. I was a walking zombie during the earliest Dónde days; most nights, I went to bed unsure if I’d wake up. I was constantly scared, in pain, confused, and grieving the health I once took for granted. But I kept going.
Thanks to my 4-year-old’s Frozen II addiction, my mantra became, “Do the next right thing.” I circulated through 17 different doctors. I made drastic changes, followed strict protocols, and begged people for their patience when they had no reason to give it. I cried a lot. I wanted to give up.
It was the steepest mountain I’ve ever climbed. Yet I did it, one step at a time. Three years later, Dónde is live and my health is stable. It was part magic and part luck, but mostly, it was sheer willpower.
When someone believes in you, believe them.
I like praise, and I often ask people to repeat it. It’s not because I want to gloat; it’s because I don’t believe them when they say it. I question their intent, reasoning, and if they were somehow duped. Most people are their own worst critics. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart. It’s a waste of energy, and no one has time for that.
Give people the benefit of the doubt
When I first met our co-founder Josh, I thought it would never work out. He was the “new guy” and different from the rest of us. I was scared to rock the boat, but the pros outweighed the unknowns. I decided to go for it. Two years later, he’s my right-hand man, the difference between success and failure, and our missing puzzle piece. You can’t always see the future, so you gamble. And often it turns out better than you expected.
Patience is a virtue
It’s awesome when you can say “now!” and things just happen. But more often than not, you have to wait. And waiting is hard. I’m terrible at it. Owen, our advisor, said that someday Dónde would be bigger than just an idea; someday we’d sign our first customer. Someday we’d raise $1M. Someday we’d have users. He gave me every reason to believe we could hit key milestones, but when you’re at square one, it’s hard to imagine all the squares that await you. Looking back, I’ve learned that things won’t happen overnight, but they do happen night after night, day after day. The work is more important than the wishing, and in time, it starts to unfold.
You know more than you think
My career has been charted with this phrase on repeat: “Fake it till you make it.” I’ve been faking it most of my life. I jumped from one thing to the next, never an expert over anything, jack of all trades. Probably because nothing ever really fit. Or maybe I didn’t fit. And yes, switching gears can bite you in the butt. Most of the time, I doubt myself and what I bring to the table or if I even deserve a seat at all.
When I take a step back, I realize that jumping around has taught me a few tricks. The struggles and doubts and trials and triumphs have shaped me. I've gained a lot of knowledge that eventually clicked together and has given my voice the power it deserves. The winding path teaches you to ask a lot of questions, lean on people, and trust yourself. I think those are the most important lessons of all.
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*Read the latest issue of Silicon Slopes Magazine, Spring 2021