Whether it’s giving time, giving attention, or giving advice…
Its astonishing effects can be seen in every aspect of life. The simple act of lending a hand is something so small and nearly effortless. But the power of consistent contribution to a common vision creates — as if from thin air — an energy and intention all its own.
I witnessed it first hand at a recent Verge event, where the enthusiasm and passion of 150 software developers, investors, and business founders filled up an old converted warehouse space in the Broad Ripple area of Indianapolis:
Giving gains momentum.
It’s addictive and it attracts other givers. And as the energy of a group of givers builds, the energy compounds.
Smaller and smaller amounts of individual energy produce increasingly impressive effects as the collective group of givers magnifies the intent.
Givers contribute without expectations of receiving anything in return. But if you pay attention, I bet you’ll witness that it’s this group of magicians who gain the most in the long run.
Then we’ll have an intimate fire-side conversation with serial software entrepreneur, David DeRam.
If you won’t be joining us in person, you can tune in on the livestream on the Verge Facebook Page. You will be able to ask questions in our Q&A and join the conversation with the Twitter/Google + hashtag #vergestartups.
What makes a good startup community? Just ask Brad Feld.
Brad is a partner at the Foundry Group and has helped build Boulder Colorado into the thriving startup community that it is today. He’d be the first to tell you that, among other things, sustainable entrepreneurial communities need to answer to an important question.
That is, can new entrepreneurs easily get connected with experienced entrepreneurs and investors in your community?
In my recent voyage to Florida, I found one of the gateways to the growing startup community in Miami. Or, more like she found me…
At the first break of the summit I was attending, I was blind-sided by the bubbling energy of Susan Amat, the head honcho of Startup Florida and Executive Director of The Launch Pad at the University of Miami. She is a hyper-connector and evangelist for all things in the Florida Startup Community, and for four inspiration-packed days pulled me into the world of Miami startup events.
Susan, along with nearly a dozen young Floridian founders, eagerly told me which Miami startup events they loved and who was making things happen for South Florida.
I dove in head first to learn more about what makes the Miami startup community tick. Here’s what I found:
The 5 Best Miami Startup Events
1. Refresh Miami
Brian Breslin and Davide Di Cillo do an awesome job of picking presenters and regularly packing venues with 50 and 100 passionate start uppers at Refresh Miami. Presentations are technical, candid, and laid back.
I had a chance to see a lineup of demos from the Miami Game Developer Group. The developer-centric audience engaged with great questions and a few clever comments. As long as Miami’s technical talent continues to come out, Refresh Miami will only build on the momentum it already has.
The SuperConf speaker lineup is a magnet that attracts South Florida’s entrepreneurial and technical talent. Presenters are imported from San Francisco, New York, and other startup hubs. But it also hand-selects some of its homegrown talent to grace its stage.
When I walked into SuperConf, I found a room of around 150 people who listened, took notes, and engaged in thoughtful Q&A.
Auston Bunsen, the mastermind behind SuperConf, has obviously built something incredibly valuable for the Miami startup community. He also knows how to throw an awesome oceanfront party, which was the perfect crescendo to this killer startup conference.
3. South Florida Hack and Tell
Show of your software development chops at South Florida Hack and Tell. This meet up brings together resourceful hackers in an engaging, educational format.
Get in touch with organizer Mike Greenberg and the Hack and Tell crew to get involved today.
4. BarCamp Miami
This user-generated “unconference” has a national network and a reputation for providing engaging collaborative learning. BarCamp is usually focused on early-stage companies and open-source technology.
BarCamp Miami is well attended by the smart software developers in South Florida. So, grab your laptop, and get yourself to one of these unconferences.
5. Miami Startup Weekend
Build a startup from scratch in less than three days. There’s no better way to get a feel for entrepreneurship than at Startup Weekend, a global startup event series that has helped launch hundreds of new businesses, build stronger startup communities, and educated thousands of start uppers around the world.
It’s clear to me that Startup Weekend Miami events have sparked many of the connections in the conferences and meetup groups I attended in my sprint through the Miami startup community.
It was fun to immerse myself in the Florida startup community for a few days. While the car-centric sprawl of South Florida poses serious challenges for founders who are hungry to connect, a consistent cadence Miami startup events is establishing lines of communication and new opportunities for collaboration.
While that is a pretty classy pickup line. There’s a Midwest startup who thinks there’s a better way to find your soul mate. And they used an iPad App Development Tool to do it.
Our video team caught up with Kevin Emmons, co-founder of Miss Pivot, a social experience company that just launched an iPad app that’s been picking up a ton of press. Here’s the interview:
iPad App Development as a Tool to Transform Your Business.
Miss Pivot launched in 2009 as a breakthrough wing woman service that helped people who want to learn social skills and how to connect better with others. But it has become so much more.
Since then, Miss Pivot has expertly managed the metamorphosis from local service company to a confidence company, where they give people the skills they need to succeed in social situations. And they want to help as many people as possible.
Here’s what they did…
Use Mobile Apps to Engage Customers
Globalizing Miss Pivot meant creating products. They used video and content to engage people and to get them to interact with your content. With their iPad app, Fire Cupid, they’ve connected with their customers in new ways while acquiring a whole new set of potential clients
Fire Cupid was developed by a core team of four people. They used an iPad development software called Corona to rapidly develop and launch the app after a month of focused effort.
Build New Revenue Streams
Since building the app, they have productized the interactive book development platform they used to build Fire Cupigfto offer other authors to publish their work to the app store. They created an off-shoot brand and company called Pixl Publishing to connect with their new-found target market of authors.
They have already begun to make money off this new revenue channel and user response has been positive. This iPad book development opportunity is just another example of effective startup intrapreneurship.
Have you run an experiment like this recently? How are you using mobile technology for your business?
Want to learn more about Fire Cupid and Pixl Publishing:
Whether or not you’re bound for Austin in March, you’re going to love this.
In less than a week, a simple idea materialized into a useful tool for tech geeks going to SXSW. After putting out a late-afternoon poll let Friday, the wheels started turning.
Through a collaboration between SmallBox Web, KA+A and Verge, we present to you: Indiana by South by Southwest, or “IN.SXSW,” a beautifully designed directory for all hoosiers interested in the Southby experience.
“You’ve been the founder of how many companies?” I asked.
“You know, I was thinking about that before this—technically it was six.”
That’s how I knew we were in for a good discussion.
I’ve known Christopher Day, or “Toph” as he likes to be called, for over a year now but I still learn something new and impressive about him each time we hang out.
His life growing up in a dirt-floor house in rural Indiana made Toph sure of one thing: his career path was going to be nothing like his childhood. And while his first career move was from slopping hogs to putting trash in a dumpster, it wasn’t long before he saw his window of opportunity—entrepreneurship.
As I sat with Toph onstage at the last Verge event, I couldn’t help but chuckle at his childhood dream of one day owning a Chevy Blazer and a bag phone (like his boss at his dumpster job). True to a youngest-child mentality, Toph is a joke maker as well as a risk taker. He recounts his early evolution in the first part of our talk:
From slopping hogs to serial entrepreneurship.
It was necessity that pushed Toph over that entrepreneurial edge. With his brother, he started a painting company to pay his way through college. It was far from the glamorous depictions of business ownership that you often see on TV and the big screen.
Toph up at 6 AM each morning and hustled their way through to their graduation from Purdue University. Despite all the effort, there was still a gap between where he was financially and where he wanted to be.
“When I was 25, I had a negative net worth,” he recalled.
It was in that year of 1997 that Toph launched StarCom Broadband. It was a cutting edge telecom business that was the first private company to leap over some of the technical hurdles that had stifled the industry for so long.
It was in capitalizing on this opportunity that Toph proactively went about building a valuable asset—a loyal list of subscribers—which eventually led to a lucrative sale of the company in 2001.
Here’s the story (in his own words) of how he ended up starting StarCom, which sold within 10 days of the initial offer:
After Starting Up: You’re not in Buck Creek slopping hogs anymore, Toph.
After a few more impressive companies and exits, Christopher Day has moved to focus a lot of his energy to the funding side of the equation as an investment banker.
With his investment banking firm, Navidar, Toph helps mentor entrepreneurs, executives, board members, and investors navigate through fund raises with even the most complex deal issues.
Having known Toph for a while now, It makes sense.
He’s really passionate about improving the investment banking infrastructure in the middle quarter of the United States, especially when it comes to technology companies. He’s seen billions of dollars exported outside his home state of Indiana. But Toph is looking for a better way and hopes to help create centralized pools of substantial capital for startups in the growth stage of the business lifecycle.
“That’s where wealth is created,” Toph says.
He’s dead serious about creating a better investment environment for entrepreneurs in the Midwest. It’s why he and his partners founded Navidar and why he is so passionate in the last few minutes of his talk:
More on fund raising:
We had some fantastic questions and answers in our fireside chat that evening. Toph obviously has developed killer entrepreneurial instincts through starting and exiting six companies.
What questions do you have for serial entrepreneurs and investment bankers like Toph?
Geeks from around the world are gearing up for the biggest startup event in the U.S. — South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. Southby madness takes over Austin, Texas once each year and the event continues to grow. It’s an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what’s new and exciting while sharing a beer with some of the tech world’s most influential people.
I don’t have enough capital. I don’t have that perfect idea yet. I don’t know enough about the market.
We’ve all heard excuses like these. But there’s one thing that truly holds us all back from launching our next big thing.
It holds us back because it’s the only resource we have that is not renewable. It’s the same for you as it is for me and for everybody else.
It’s time. And we all have 24 hours of it each day.
Startup Weekend looks to make the most of our days by creating an environment of action and by setting constraints on time—54 hours to be exact. Armed only with creativity and professional skills, participants at Startup Weekend are challenged to take their ideas from pitch to product in less than three days.
You’ll find these events all around the world but the most recent Startup Weekend was held up in the college community of Greater Lafayette, Indiana. As with all Startup Weekends, a panel of judges collaborated on the last day to pick a winning startup team. Last weekend’s start-up-a-thon spawned the event’s winning idea, Next Round—a novelty app for drink selection, toasts, and beer runs.
Team spokesperson, Andrew Gouty, gave us a glimpse of a successful Startup Weekend launch in this video interview:
1.) Nail the basics.
Pick a space that’s open for collaboration, maintains a comfortable climate, and pumps in blazing-fast Wi-Fi. Lafayette chose a new co-working space called the Lafayettech HUB, and it was not only packed with start-uppers last weekend but was also filled with plenty of food and water—essential for keeping the work sessions going late into the evening.
2.) Define your problem.
Before you go building things, you have to know what you’re trying to solve. Next Round picked something they knew they would have fun developing and designing over the weekend. If you’re in need of inspiration, Startup Weekend provides interactive brainstorming games with random word pairings. Just don’t forget to ask your potential audience if this is something they really want. In other words—get customer feedback and initial validation!
3.) Force yourself to refine.
You’re an entrepreneur. So, it’s your job to come up with all kinds of great ways to create value for your user and wow the customer. But it’s also your job to narrow down your ideas and pick the few that you’re confident will make the most impact. Remember that, in this exercise, you only have two and a half days to come up with a functioning product. It’s better to have 2 well-functioning features that your customers love than having 5 buggy features that prompt shoulder shrugs from your users.
4.) Create a cohesive team.
You can’t do it alone. So, seek out people with skillsets that are complementary to your own. Above all, make sure you have the bigger bases covered: graphic design, software development (front and back end), copywriting and marketing, and project management. Let people select their own roles because no one’s getting paid for this (at least not until you’ve all worked together to build something worth charging for). You’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so get this step right.
5.) Go all in.
Once you have your big pieces in place, lay out a basic plan. Then, slam your foot on the gas. You don’t have time to write a full-blown business plan, so just jot a few quick goals down—along with a couple of key benchmarks—and go! You can rip, pivot, and refine further on the original idea, but avoid calling a complete audible. Make something happen in the direction of your initial inertia. If you got steps 1 through 4 right, I think you’ll be pleased with the outcome.
In the end, we’ve all built things and hit goals on limited timelines. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.
If you close yourself off from a stream of information, you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice. All people have blind spots, and customers are great at pointing them out.
But if you quickly acknowledge and repair your blind spots, then you not only make those customers happier, but you also increase the overall value of your business. Besides, it’s a part of customer development and it will make your product better in the long run.
Here are five customer feedback systems — and some suggested tools for setting up each — for your startup:
These tools are pretty robust and sometimes it can be easy to get lost in the data, so grab this free Google Analytics Guide from Slingshot SEO. If you can’t make the time to set up GA and find the data you’re looking for, check out a simpler tool for SAAS analytics — StatRaptor. Presto!
Monitor Social Media
Hopefully, there’s a whole conversation going on about your brand online. So, you’d better be a part of it.
At Verge, we use SEOmoz Pro tools (referral link) to monitor social media. It’s $99/month, but you get a whole lot of other functionality with their suite of social and SEO tools. If you’re just looking for social media monitoring, Trackur has a great reputation and at just 18 bucks a month for their basic package, the price is right for startups.
Engage with Customer Support
If you have a SAAS product, you’d better have a good customer support. Using tools like ZenDesk can help you manage requests and improve response times. That means happier customers.
Then, you can use bug tracking software like PivotalTracker or Jira to plan out work and track progress on your bug fixes. Pretty sweet, huh?
Ask Your Community and Customers for Ideas
Want actionable feedback? Well, have you tried asking?
Sending out a simple survey gives your community and user base a voice. And it’s from that voice that you’ll find some of your most valuable nuggets of information. Use an online form builder like Formstack to create a short, engaging survey that encourages your community to share their ideas and feedback.
Set Up a “Suggestion Box”
Let your community know you care by giving them a place to drop you a line.
Of course, you can use tools like User Voice and Get Satisfaction to create really cool website widgets that prompt your user. But, if you’re still nimble enough to do it, sometimes it’s better to just remind your community that you’re always interested in hearing from them. That can be by phone or by email (mine is matt [at] vergeindy [dot] com, and I always love herding from you).
What are some ways that you listen to your community of users? Have you received any good ideas or insight as a result?