Friday, March 9, 2012

Startup [YourTownHere]

Last year I read in the local rag that Sam Abadir had raised $6 million for appMobi, and it was at 35 East Orange St in downtown Lancaster.

Sam who?

This town is entirely too small to learn something like that through the paper. Something felt wrong; there are clearly tech companies here, but they didn't seem to be connected. 

So I asked Ross Kramer of Listrak, Kirk Barrett of Cimbrian, Dave Weaver of Loggr.net to  help gather startups and see what's out there. 

The first Startup Lancaster event drew 20 people or so from about 15 startups. It was thrilling to see the level of interest. 

Since then, we've had about 8 meetings, and a bunch of the companies have made substantial progress. Others have stalled, and some have taken on completely new models. One changed their plan from outsourcing to hiring locally, and will launch shortly. Some have raised capital. 

Recently Kyle Sollenberger (departed co-founder of CoTweet) joined us and has been doling out advice to other passionate founders. 

No founder has all the answers, so we're blessed to have Kyle and the other vets mixing it up with the first-timers. 

I've learned a lot from talking with these founders, and am thrilled to see some of the progress. By getting together, we've helped each other, encouraged each other, guided each other, and developed friendships along the way. 

STARTUP MECHANICSBURG
This week, an intrepid entrepreneur, Josh Smith, heard Kyle present to the Central PA Tech Meetup (another, more general tech group), and Kyle apparently mentioned Startup Lancaster.

Josh liked the idea but didn't like the drive to Lancaster (wimp!), so the next day he started Startup Mechanicsburg (rolls right off the tongue). 

Awesome. 

YOU CAN DO IT TOO


If you know one other startup, one other aspiring founder, set a date, get together, and share your challenges and achievements. 

Call it Startup [insert your town's name here]. There, you've just started your own little ecosystem.

Here are some tips:
  • Use Meetup.com. I used Eventbrite until this week. Meetup is sooo much better, and in the week since I started using it the group has added new founders much faster for some reason. 
  • Promote the night through social media, emails to friends, family, investors, other tech meetups, etc.
  • Tell your nearest branch of Ben Franklin Technology Partners
  • Pick a day of the month when most people are likely to be able to make it. Friday would be a bad choice. 
  • Start at 6 or 7; 5 is too early, after 7 is too late. 
  • Be on time. 
  • Schedule it for an hour and a half to two hours. If people see 3 hours, they might not come, but people will tend to stay two to three hours. 
  • Founders only--no investors, lawyers, vendors, employees, bankers or cops. At some point it makes sense to invite a guest speaker, and maybe even to have a show and tell event where you invite local investors, press, etc. We're just about at that point here in Lancaster. 
  • What happens in fight club stays in fight club. That means don't tell people outside of the group about the challenges of one founder or another. Respect confidentiality. 
  • Be open about your challenges and feel free to share anything. 
  • Be ethical.
  • Typically we order dinner--each is responsible for their own bill. 
  • Make sure the staff knows you're getting separate checks. (crucial!)
  • Pick a venue with a back room or quiet space. If there's music on, ask them to turn it off so you can hear each other without shouting. 
  • Beer is encouraged but not required. Have some. Not too much. 
  • Occasionally have someone demo their stuff. But not often--it can really cut into networking time. 
  • Have each founder introduce themselves with a description of what their startup does and one or two challenges they currently face. 
  • Break into small groups to talk about challenges--no more than 4 per group. 3 is ideal. 
  • Come back together and share what you've learned
  • Don't let any one person dominate (especially the organizer)
  • Be generous with your advice. 
  • Swap out leaders. 
  • Tip the staff. 
  • Do it again next month.
  • Let me know if you've started something -- I'm happy to join you sometime, and I bet others in our group would as well to help you get going. 
If you have more tips please leave them in the comments. 


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