Last week I jaywalked across Clark and LaSalle from Catapult Chicago to 1871 for what proved to be an unconventional, honest, and really funny Founders’ Stories event featuring Belly founder Logan LaHive.

For an hour and a half, with only one beer related bathroom break halfway through, Logan talked about his experience building a company in the customer loyalty space from scratch in Chicago.

Logan began his tale—for it really was more of a tale than a talk, and included a sprawling number of characters, digressions, and foibles—by describing how he first got some traction as a founder in residence at Lightbank (the investment firm behind a whole bucket-full of Chicago startups, including Groupon).

And here are (roughly) the cornerstones he suggested potential entrepreneurs build with in order to launch a successful business.

  • Keep believing in your concept and your ability to refine it, no matter how many times it gets shat upon by smart people with money;
  • Don’t be afraid to leap out of the theoretical into the practical by getting out of the office to “f—ing SELL” to potential clients;
  • Talk to your actual customers and refine your business model accordingly—by marking up your notes with a sharpie between unannounced pitches at coffee shops if necessary—they’re the only ones whose opinion of your product really matters;
  • Build your business in Chicago, where people want  to help you out without smothering you with their own agenda. But keep in mind, your concept doesn’t have to be sexy—it has to WORK;
  • It’s nice to talk about work/life management, but the reality is that founding a company can and should consume nearly every waking moment;
  • When an investor really gets you, hang on to them for dear life;
  • Reward your adventurous early clients with special attention, like a punch in the stomach;
  • And It doesn’t hurt to accidentally take your first beer bong hit since college with a bunch of the analysts investigating the viability of your business proposal. In other words, camaraderie can get your foot in the door, and a combination of tenacity and a solid revenue model can fling it wide open.

It was more than a little amazing to hear a CEO talk about his business with such candor, and his honesty has got me rooting pretty hard for Belly’s continued success. Though I do hope he begins to enjoy being compared (aesthetically) to Zach Galifianakis, because he could do worse than resemble a brilliant, bearded, tortured genius.

image via Carol L. Schroeder |