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The Krispy Kreme Challenge: Paving the Way for Entrepreneurship

Greg Mulholland’s name has a permanent spot in Park Scholarships lore, in great part due to his role in co-founding the Krispy Kreme Challenge. When asked how the experience of starting a running-and-donut-eating charity race helped prepare him for launching his own business, he offered the following insights.

The original Krispy Kreme Challenge team in 2004: Row 1 (L to R): Jordan Schwarz '05, Josh Coltrane NCSU '07, Matt Latrick '06, Stanley Hassinger '05, Greg Mulholland '07; Row 2 (L to R): Brantley West NCSU '07, Ben Gaddy '07, Peyton Hassinger '07, Carrie Goodson '06

The original Krispy Kreme Challenge team in 2004: Row 1 (L to R): Jordan Schwarz ’05, Josh Coltrane NCSU ’07, Matt Latrick ’06, Stanley Hassinger ’05, Greg Mulholland ’07; Row 2 (L to R): Brantley West NCSU ’07, Ben Gaddy ’07, Peyton Hassinger ’07, Carrie Goodson ’06

The Krispy Kreme Challenge was just a very special instance of a startup. We didn’t have to raise money, but many things I learned there have helped me along the way in this journey with Citrine Informatics. It taught me a few things:

  1. Execution is king. The Krispy Kreme Challenge organization wasn’t ever pretty. Things that looked like they were planned were often held together with duct tape and willpower. But on race day, we had to deliver. There was no choice. We could always make things smoother and more elegant next year, but in the meantime we had to deliver and close. At Citrine, we sometimes have had to do the same thing. There may come a day (unlikely) when everything runs smoothly and we all just relax and watch our systems work. In the meantime, though, we have to push with real intensity. Sometimes this means all-nighters (or several in a row). Sometimes it means doing more legwork or delivering a confined feature set. What it never means is pushing back deadlines or missing goals. We do what we need to. We made a commitment to our investors and now our customers that we would deliver, so we do.
  2. Leave your ego at the door. With the Krispy Kreme Challenge and with Citrine, it is not about any one person. We succeed and fail as a team. I don’t really care who is right or wrong, I care about doing the job we need to do efficiently. With that said, I am as guilty as anyone of getting whipped into a frenzy when I think things are going wrong. But because we all know we are working toward the same goal, our team can absorb those moments and move on.
  3. Trust and delegate. With the Krispy Kreme Challenge and at Citrine, no person can do everything. I can’t even do everything that I am supposed to do, let alone look at what others are doing. It is critical that I am able to trust my teammates. In the Krispy Kreme Challenge, it was Peyton Hassinger ‘07, Donald Katz ‘07, Ben Gaddy ‘07, Caitlin Kelleher Meisenbach ‘07, Saket Vora ‘07, and many more over time. I knew that if I asked them to do something, it would be done right, no questions asked. And they knew the same of me. At Citrine, we have the same thing. My team trusts me to do sales calls on my own, or strike deals, or manage the finances. I trust them to build the technology. This is exactly why we brought Jordan [O’Mara] on; I knew I could rely on him 100%, and he has never let me down. I would go as far as to say – particularly in a startup – that if you feel you must check on someone’s work before it goes out, you probably should part ways.
  4. It’s not about the money. With both the Krispy Kreme Challenge and Citrine, it has never been about the money. The Krispy Kreme Challenge was just fun. People wanted to do it, and I wanted to make it happen. The money came, and we had to decide what to do with it. We found an excellent cause – in concert with Dance Marathon‘s pre-existing relationship with NC Children’s Promise – and went with it. With Citrine, the approach we take is, “What needs to happen in the world?” We can make science go faster, so it is what we must do. We obviously believe there is a good business here, but when our founding team formed, it was that we loved working on this stuff and thought it could have a really big impact.
  5. Work together. Find vendors, partners, and other great people to help and engage deeply. We would never have gotten off the ground without the help of Raleigh Running Outfitters and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.
  6. Break rules. We broke a lot of rules in running the Krispy Kreme Challenge. From trademark infringement, to lots of illegal parking, to using university printers for the event, we used what we had at hand to get the job done. At Citrine, we have a good team of lawyers that keeps us on the straight and narrow, but we challenge convention. We take action and ask questions later. We push boundaries as much as we can. What’s the point of doing a startup if you live by the same rules as the big guys?
  7. A commitment to excellence is critical. The product you put out in the world will forever be a reflection of you personally. Don’t forget that. Commit to excellence and never diverge from it.

posted 2015.06.30