A Thank You to the People Who Built the Powder Keg

Last month, I was in the middle of one of the biggest project of my life. And if not for a few remarkable people, I’m not sure I’d be here now on other side.

I can still put myself in that moment…

I hit send on an email response #247 of the evening as I glimpse the hour on the clock tick past 3:00 AM. I swear I distinctly heard that “tick.” Less than two weeks out from the first day of the Powder Keg; conference for startups I had announced just 2 months earlier.

Powder Keg Logo

Our team had built impressive momentum including early Powder Keg press coverage, hundreds of new email subscribers, and six figures in new sponsorships. Yet there are months of work to complete (in a two-week period) before the first day of our three-day event that was to fill more than six venues.

In moments like these, doubt can start to creep in.

Lucky for me, I had something bigger than myself as the driving force. That’s why I have something important to say to the people who helped us build this first year of the Powder Keg:

Thank you.

You showed me we could do it. Then you helped find a way for us to create it together.

Powder Keg Presenters

You helped build the vision.

Thousands of Verge members raised their hands and said we should build something like the Powder Keg in Indianapolis. The emails, tweets, and comments built the scaffolding of Indiana’s first national startup conference.

Other regional startup conferences like The Combine, Chicago Tech Week, and Big Omaha inspired the Powder Keg experience. They showed us how we could develop our own voice and plant our own flag. Industry thought leaders, like best-selling author and Powder Keg presenter Julien Smith, helped us refine our vision into something with a platform that could be articulated.

You lay the foundation.

Exact Target is one of Indy’s most successful software companies and they are the leader in the email marketing space. They are also fire starters who still flex their entrepreneurial muscle by supporting grass-roots efforts like the Powder Keg.

Scott Dorsey at Powder Keg 2012

With the help of Exact Target CMO Tim Kopp and Vice President Mike Fitzgerald, we were able to bridge the gap between an established enterprise company and the startup community growing nationwide. Exact Target Marketing Director Amanda Leet and Senior Director Scott Roth collaborated with the Powder Keg to integrate our entrepreneurial energy into their global user conference, Connections.

Support came all the way from the top, with Exact Target founders Scott Dorsey and Chris Baggott, who candidly shared their entrepreneurial insight on the final day of the Powder Keg. They helped engage the regional software community to rally around our startup movement in a way that was nothing short of magical.

Powder Keg Startup Bowl Judges

You showed that you care.

I was blown away. We had a legion of people who stepped forward to enroll in the Powder Keg experience as volunteers. These teammates built the Powder Keg brick by brick and their fingerprints are all over the best parts of the event.

Early support from sponsors like Ice Miller, Compendium, and Barnes and Thornburg poured fuel on the fire. Meeting requests and phone calls to discuss Powder Keg with these organizations were met with, “How can I help?”

Dozens of other local organizations, who consistently breathe life into the startup community, came out to support the Powder Keg. People supported through sponsorship, PR, media production, venue location, event management, and event experiences like Wi-Fi, food and beverage, and photo booths. That’s how people knew that the Powder Keg was going to be exceptional.

Within 24 hours of announcing the event, we had more than 500 people sign up for updates through the email list. The social networks exploded with conversation from Verge members and friends of our group. This momentum built into incredible movement.

Powder Keg Performer Kishi Bashi

You brought it to life.

We found our name and defined the Powder Keg look thanks to KA+A, one of the best brand design agencies in the world. I put KA+A president Kristian Andersen on speed dial for brand discussions and event input. This must have driven Kristian nuts, but the hundreds of founders, builders, and investors who attended the Powder Keg experienced the impact of those conversations.

Local web design and marketing agency, SmallBox, helped build and maintain the Powder Keg website and get the word out about the event. Founder Jeb Banner went out of his way to support the event through shared resources, personal invitations, and dozens of other moments of assistance.

Without this strong local support, Powder Keg would have never made the connections to our national partners like Startup America, the YEC, Microsoft, Tech Cocktail, Fortify VC, Tech Zulu, and App Developers Alliance. They erected the platform from which Powder Keg participants could work their magic.

Powder Keg Startup Bowl Pitch

You shared the experience.

We had 12 startups bring their A-game to the Startup Bowl pitch competition at Lucas Oil Stadium. Their skill and ambition engaged our judges from Navidar, Microsoft, Elevate Ventures, and Fortify VC. Investors and other attendees in the audience gave their time and attention to get a taste of what is growing out of the Midwest startup scene.

By showing up with energy, ideas, and questions, attendees and participants set the tone for the Powder Keg. Even now, you still share the follow up articles and news. You fanned the flame as the stories came out in Forbes, the Indy Star, IBJ, Tech Cocktail, Tech Zulu and other blogs.

Powder Keg David Blaine

I hope that you enjoyed Powder Keg as much as I did. And if you couldn’t make it this year, I hope that you’ll be able to join us for some of the magic in the future.

Without you we couldn’t have done it. So, I’d love to know what you liked and, even more, what you’d like to see if we do another Powder Keg event next year.


The Lemonade Day Seed Fund: I Wish I Had This When I Was a Kid

Life didn’t give me lemons. I grew up in a lower-middle class home and never once worried if I’d have food to eat or clothes to wear to school. But we never had an excess of cash loads of toys or exotic vacations.

So how’s a wide-eyed, enterprising kid supposed to get a new Game Boy? (yes, I’m dating myself here)

Seems as though there wasn’t a business model I didn’t try:

  • Holiday wreaths (every winter)
  • Car wash (every summer)
  • Magic store (failed weekend project)
  • Paper route (every morning for 6 years)

The one I always wish I’d figured out: lemonade stand.

My cul-de-sac didn’t exactly have a parade of foot traffic. Picture me at my lemonade stand whilst a tumble weed breezes by. But don’t feel sorry for me.

I should have realized that, for my business, I hadn’t picked the right place (one of the four P’s: Price, Product, Place, Profit). That’s a lesson I didn’t learn until business school. What a shame. Did I really have to wait so long to understand the concept of “location, location, location?”

Hell no.

There’s all kinds of ways to help out a first-time entrepreneur, even if they’re just nine years old. With all the tech and startup blog advice out on the web, I sometimes forget that grade-schoolers need business mentors too. That’s why one amazing organization is helping thousands of young lemonade stand entrepreneurs startup and run profitable businesses with this nation-wide movement.

It’s called Lemonade Day, and there’s probably one in or near the city where you live.

Lemonade Day has two components:

  1. A month-long learning experience when each kid is paired with an adult mentor and coached through a step-by-step business-building process.
  2. The actual day of Lemonade Day, when each participant opens shop to sell lemonade at stands across the country. Over 65,000 kids in over 30 U.S. cities participated last year.

For those of you in the Midwest, near Indianapolis, you can come see what it’s all about next week. There’s a Seed Fund event being held at the Speak Easy on November 12 where all proceeds will be given to help kids start and grow their lemonade stand businesses. Local food and beer sponsors are making the event tasty, and Pete the Planner is hosting, so you know it’s going to be a blast.

Even if you can’t attend, there’s an option to donate to the cause on the event info page. Life may not give you lemons, but why not give a young, enterprising kid 20 bucks to start their lemonade stand?

Lemonade Day

How Indianapolis Is Mapping Their Startup Ecosystem

Have you ever needed to hire a developer or a designer? Or how about a funding source for a new venture?

Indy Made

Yeah, me too. We all need something at one time or another and it isn’t always simple to pull the pieces together. But with new tools and resources, connecting and navigating those waters is getting easier.

Indy Made is a new startup community platform that makes it simple for founders, investors, venture funds, and support organizations to register themselves and create a personal and organizational profile. Designed specifically for the Indianapolis and central Indiana startup community, Indy Made measures and maps the hoosier startup ecosystem.

Indianapolis Startup Community

Other cities have created their own solutions to this problem and many of them look very similar. Represent LA launched on “Silicon Beach” and then made the code free and available for other communities to replicate. Innovate SF sought to do something similar in the startup-laden San Francisco Bay area.

Tools like these become more valuable to it attracts more users. So, only time will tell how quickly Indy Made can gain mass adoption. At the time of this writing, there are already over 75 startups registered and over 150 individual user profiles on Indy Made. Will you sign up and spread the word?

What else do you think startup community tools like these should do?


The Magic Inside the Powder Keg

With so many variables, we could have never predicted that the Powder Keg conference would turn out the way it did.

You welcomed our speakers with enthusiasm and our Midwest hospitality. From national superstars like David Blaine and Julien Smith, to our local heroes like Chris Baggott and Scott Dorsey, your energy filled each venue with enthusiastic curiosity and passion.

You connected in person and online. Hundreds downloaded the Powder Keg iphone app and chatted in our private Bonfyre network. The questions and comments were just as good in person as they were in our thousands of #PowderKeg hashtag uses.

You supported through sponsorship and by showing up. We had over 350 attendees and more than 30 organizations sign on to support this inaugural year. Just take a look at everyone who turned out:

Scott Dorsey at Power Keg

Headline Sponsor

ExactTarget collaborated with us through a tight partnership with Connections, allowing our whole Powder Keg crew to bring our passion to the JW Marriott for the first half day of our conference. We caught presentations from leaders at LinkedIn, Foursquare and reddit, and David Blaine come into our section to perform magic for our Powder Keg crew.

ExactTarget CEO Scott Dorsey and Startup America CEO Scott Case lit the Powder Keg fuse in front of all 4,ooo Connections attendees during the Entrepreneurs Unleashed panel. Our section at Connections erupted when they called us out and invited the rest of Connections to join us at Lucas Oil Stadium for our Startup Bowl.

Premier Sponsors

  • Kishi Bashi at Powder KegIce Miller threw an awesome welcome party that filled the first floor of Sensu Nightclub. Sensu owner Jeffrey Mark welcomed our Powder Keg group with Ice Miller partner, Dustin Dubois.
  • Barnes and Thornburg hosted our second party at the Crane Bay. It was an intimate evening in the perfect venue with an inspiring performance by Kishi Bashi, introduced by Barnes and Thornburg partner David Wong.
  • SmallBox built and designed our killer fully-responsive Powder Keg website. Their whole team supported the Powder Keg initiative through promotion, volunteer efforts, and strategic leadership on our Powder Keg core team.
  • KA+A designed our brand and sponsorship information while providing strategic input on the conference throughout the entire planning process. These long-time friends helped us hone our vision and find our voice as a Midwest movement.
  • Compendium closed down the Powder Keg right with an awesome celebration at the Speak Easy and DeveloperTown. Action Jackson spun awesome tunes while Powder Keg attendees grabbed fresh brew from Upland, hot coney dogs from Dog ‘n’ Suds, and awesome West Coast Tacos.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of our sponsorship support and we’ll tell you more about our other sponsors in future Powder Keg posts. You can see many of them here.

Our volunteer team was massive and deserves all the credit for making this two-and-a-half day conference possible. With the support from our sponsors, they were able to create our magical Powder Keg experience. It was an experience and feeling that’s hard to describe.

But keynote speaker Scott Dorsey put it best in his #powderkeg tweet following his time on stage. Powder Keg was an “Inspirational group of entrepreneurs.” And we’re looking forward to channeling that inspiration into what comes next with Verge.

What were your favorite Powder Keg moments? Which videos and photos are you most excited to see?

VIDEO Interview with Jonathon Perrelli, Founding Partner at Fortify VC

jonathon perrelliJonathon Perrelli founded numerous companies and has been involved with tech and telecomm startups since 1996. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that Perrelli zeroed in on what brings him alive and co-founded Fortify.vc.

Fortify is a DC-based tech fund that leverages the proven experience of their network to give our portfolio companies the connections and guidance needed to succeed. It’s become a critical ingredient to the DC startup community and helped dozens of entrepreneurs start and grow their companies.

Here’s the full interview:

Jonathon Perrelli of Fortify.vc shares some startup lessons learned:

  • The jump from telecommunications to software
  • Sales role as a starting place in startups
  • Connect early with good mentorship
  • Why culture is one of the most important things in any business
  • Find what you’re good at and do that
  • The importance of startup events like Distilled Intelligence

You can catch Jonathon at Distilled Intelligence in Washington DC, or connect with him at the Powder Keg, in Indianapolis next week. Will you be there?


A Letter to the Indianapolis Startup Community: What’s Our Bowling Pin Strategy?

I shared this email with our Verge Indianapolis hub earlier today. I had a couple of people request that I repost it here on the Verge blog. Enter Matt Hunckler (circa 12 hours ago)…


Three years ago, there was nothing.

No co-working space, no startup accelerators, no meetup groups, no early-stage funding. And no, I’m not talking about Indianapolis.

I just got off a Skype call with Dave Knox, the man behind The Brandery startup accelerator. He’d never tell you this, but he’s responsible for building a lot of the entrepreneurial momentum in Cincinnati (you know, the Midwest city just a couple of hours down I-74). What they’ve built is incredible.

Starting from a near standstill, they have graduated more than 25 software startups from their Brandery program in the past 3 years since their launch. But they didn’t do it alone.

Entrepreneurs, services providers, and the more established companies (like P&G and Kroger) consistently show up in many, many ways. Like our Indiana-based Verge community, they have a passionate circle of influencers and people who get shit done. They pull out the big guns and go for it. Dave calls it a “Bowling Pin Strategy.”

“If you hit that one pin just right, the others will fall,” Knox says. That’s exactly what our SWAT team set out to accomplish with this month’s Powder Keg conference for our Midwest startups and entrepreneurial thinkers. That’s why Dave is joining us in Indianapolis October 17-19 and why he fits perfectly in our expanding lineup of killer keynote presenters.

Dave gets it. I know you do, too. Because, you know what?

A few years years ago, there wasn’t much of a startup community in Indiana either. No Speak Easy, Indy CoZ, or Launch Fishers. No Developer Town, Gravity Ventures, or SproutBox. No Verge, Indy Hackers, or Lean Startup Circle. Nada.

You show up. We built this together.

I’m excited to see so many of you at the Powder Keg in a couple of weeks. We still have a few Early-Bird passes available. And I’d prefer that they go to you, because you’re the reason we built this conference.

If use the code “VERGELOVE” we’ll give you $50 off your Powder Keg pass when you register today. If we run out of passes, just email me this evening and I’ll make sure we take care of you.

If you’re already all registered, check out the full interview with Dave Knox from The Brandery. I’m going down to their Demo Day tomorrow in Cincinnati and I’m excited to bring their best startups on stage to compete in the Startup Bowl at Lucas Oil Stadium as part of the Powder Keg.

I know Dave is looking forward to meeting you when he comes to speak at the Powder Keg. I’m confident we’ll show him exactly what our Indy startup community is all about.

How about you? What’s your Bowling Pin Strategy?

With Gratitude,



How Dave Knox and the Brandery Launched 25+ Companies in 3 Years

San Francisco, Boulder, New York City. These are the kinds of cities you expect to hear in a lineup of top cities with startup activity. But there’s something in the water in an old industrial Midwest city.

Dave Knox The BranderyDave Knox called Cincinnati his home for years and worked with one of the largest companies, Procter & Gamble, for nearly a decade. The marketing skills he gained during his work for a Fortune 50 company set him up to co-found The Brandery, a startup accelerator focused on businesses where branding and strategic marketing are some of their most differentiating value propositions.

Knox will join a founder-fueled lineup of keynotes for this October’s Powder Keg conference, and The Brandery’s Demo Day is this week. With so much going on, we figured it would be the perfect opportunity to get to know Dave Knox a bit better. Here’s the interview:

Dave Knox and The Brandery Accelerate Entrepreneurship in the Midwest

Themes in this video:

  • Serendipity is a good thing.
  • Figure out what you want to learn and find the best place in the world to go learn it.
  • Know your audience and find innovative ways to reach them.
  • Find your “Bowling Pin Strategy.”
  • Embrace tenacity and a proactive drive.
  • Support the community and pay it forward.

Watch the interview with Dave Knox to learn these entrepreneurial lessons and startup strategies from The Brandery. You can also find more lessons in entrepreneurship and startup marketing by following Dave on twitter and his personal blog, Hard Knox Life.

Powder Keg Conference Adds 5 More Entrepreneurial Speakers to Lineup

Attendees of the upcoming Powder Keg conference have reason to rejoice. The two-and-a-half day entrepreneurship conference, to be held in downtown Indianapolis, has added five more high-impact presenters to its already-stacked keynote lineup.

Only a few hundred people will be able to catch these presenters live, since attendance will be limited to this year’s Powder Keg. But there are still some tickets available, so let’s get to know the new headliners:

Julien SmithJulien Smith

New York Times Best-Selling Author

Julien is a bestselling author of two books: the first, Trust Agents, was a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. His most recent bestseller, The Flinch, has over 100,000 copies distributed. Julien’s upcoming book, The Impact Equation, is due to release October 25, 2012, and you can read more about it on his popular blog, In Over Your Head.


Kate EndressKate Endress

Co-founder and CEO at Ditto

After graduating from Stanford Business School Endress teamed up with two engineers from Google and Nokia to start Ditto, an ecommerce site for designer eyewear with proprietary 3D virtual fitting technology. Earlier this year, Kate and the team at Ditto raised $3 million in a round led by August Capital to further enhance the technology behind the service, and to grow the company’s own eye wear business.


Scott DorseyScott Dorsey

Co-Founder and CEO at ExactTarget

Dorsey Co-Founded ExactTarget, Inc. in December 2000 and has been its Chief Executive Officer and President since December 2000. He is responsible for the overall leadership and direction of ExactTarget and Director of BidPal, Inc. He serves as a Member of Executive Committee at Indy Partnership, Inc.


Sarah Kathleen PeckSarah K. Peck

Founder at Landscape Urbanism

Sarah Kathleen Peck is a writer, designer, storyteller and mover. She is the founder of the award-winning Landscape Urbanism website and leads the communications team for SWA Group, an international landscape architecture and urban design firm. Based in San Francisco, Sarah finds herself constantly moving: she is a 20-time NCAA All-American swimmer who has successfully swam from Alcatraz 9 times, most recently raising $29,000 for Charity: Water and swimming from Alcatraz in her birthday suit as part of the campaign.


Chris BaggottChris Baggott

Co-Founder of ExactTarget and Compendium

Chris is a Co-Founder and former-CMO at ExactTarget, which started as a family dry-cleaning business. He also o-authored the book Email Marketing by the Numbers, one of the most definitive books on email marketing. Chris left Exact Target to start Compendium, a content marketing platform that helps organizations capture and create original content. After a long career as a SaaS entrepreneur, Chris committed himself to making a difference. He bought Tyner Pond Farm, and has immersed himself in learning about “alternative” farming methods.

Get Powder Keg Ticket Info >>

Powder Keg is a Verge production, supported by a passionate, growing startup technology community, including our wonderful sponsors. Learn more about our sponsors, speakers, and conference passes at powderkeg.org

Powder Keg Conference Announces First 7 Speakers

Before we show you what we’ve got up our sleeve, let me give you an idea of how we pulled this off.

Through the awesome support of people like like you, and our close partnership with Exact Target, we’ve been able to bring you some awesome speakers in this inaugural year of the Powder Keg. Since Powder Keg attendees will be joining the Connections 2012 crew for a half day on the first full day of the Powder Keg, we’ll experience some astonishing presentations as well as some of our own…

Scott Case, Startup America

Scott Case

Startup America CEO

Scott is a technologist, entrepreneur and inventor and was a founding CTO of priceline.com. As the CEO of Startup America, Scott now helps build enterprises that use technology, commercial processes, and incentives to create sustainable, scalable solutions to improve people’s lives.

david blaine magic

David Blaine

Professional Illusionist

For more than a decade, David Blaine has been attracting the world’s attention with his high-profile endurance stunts—from being buried alive in New York City for a week to being encased in a six-ton block of ice for three days and three nights, among other amazing feats.


jonathon perrelliJonathon Perrelli

Founding Partner at Fortify.vc

Founder at Plesk, The Shadow Group, eTantrum, SecureSoftware, and SecureForce. he then became an Angel investor in companies like Plaxo, FormSpring, FormStack, and Blackridge. He founded Fortify.vc, a DC-based investment fund and their accelerator, The Fort.



Learn more about Powder Keg >>


zach maier

Zach Maier

Product Manager at foursquare

Zach is the Product Manager at foursquare, where he is building an entirely new way for businesses to connect with local customers. Prior to foursquare, he spent 2.5 years at Google, where he worked to kickstart Google’s social business platform and social search ads teams, as well as a complete redesign of Google’s API.


dave knoxDave Knox

Co-Founder at The Brandery

Dave Co-Founded The Brandery, a Cincinnati-based startup accelerator that was recently named as one of the top programs in the country. Knox has a knack for identifying emerging trends in the digital space and leading innovation. He leads as the the CMO at Rockfish Interactive and Rockfish Brand Ventures.


erik martinErik Martin

General Manager at reddit

Erik has a passion for community and crowdsourced content. At reddit, he leads as the General Manager and helps make online advertising suck less. Erik was also recently named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.


tom searcyTom Searcy

Author and Sales Expert

Tom Searcy is a nationally recognized author and expert in key account sales. His methods of unlocking explosive growth were developed through years of real-world success. By the age of 40, Searcy has led four corporations, transforming annual revenues of less than $15 million to as much as $200 million in each case.


We just released 50 Early-Bird tickets available for purchase now. If you can’t grab one now, don’t sweat it. We’ll make more tickets available at different price tiers later.

Get Ticket Info >>

Powder Keg is a Verge production, supported by a passionate, growing startup technology community, including our wonderful sponsors. Learn more about our sponsors, speakers, and conference passes at powderkeg.org

Are You Getting These Benefits from Mentorship?

I was sitting at my laptop late last night, staring blankly at the screen as the cursor blinked back at me. I’d been here before—sitting with a challenge in front of me without knowing how to even approach getting started.

Maybe you’ve been here before too. I hope you have, because it’s one of the best ways to learn. It’s times like these that remind me why it’s important to frequently rely on others for help. Are you realizing the benefits of building relationships with the right mentors?

Benefits of Mentorship

The Benefits of Mentorship

Get perspective.

That big roadblock you’re facing? Someone has been there before. And that means they have something that could be extremely valuable to you.

It doesn’t matter how challenging or unique your problem feels. If you talk to enough people, I can almost guarantee that you will find someone who can tell you how they tackled that same issue or at least make your problem feel a little smaller. To get this benefit, you have to be open and willing to share a bit of the things that make you uncomfortable and vulnerable. That can be tough, but it’s worth it.

Find opportunity.

I know you’re smart as hell, but sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Give yourself a gut check and find someone who has seen more of the field.

The great thing about mentors with perspective is that their unique experiences have equipped them with tools you don’t yet have. But, just like borrowing a tool from your neighbor, you have to be willing to ask.

Gain expertise.

You’re really good as some things. But we all could benefit from filling in some of the gaps with outside insight.

If you’re an enterprising individual (which you probably are, since you’re reading this blog), you’ve fallen on your face more than a few times. The great this is that there are others who have gone before us who have already bloodied their noses with similar face plants. Give yourself the opportunity to learn from those mistakes by watching, reading and listening. Even if you still fail, you’ll fast-track your learning process by giving yourself context to help process what happened.

Establish credibility.

Someone out there is better than you at what you do (or at least perceived that way). Borrow a little brand equity in a way that makes you both look good.

Your customers, investors, and partners size you up before they do business with you. Do yourself a favor and use social proof to help legitimize your position. By surrounding yourself with experienced mentors—whether that’s casually or on a formal board—you not only reassure outsiders, but also reinforce to yourself that your logic is sound.

Learn by example.

Learn by proximity. We humans are adaptive creatures and have some built-in tools that can benefit us greatly if we know how to use them right.

I’m no scientist, but I do remember from basic psychology that our brains are equipped with what are called “mirror neurons.” These neurons fire when we act and observe the act performed by another person. Basically, it causes a logical and emotional response that mimics what we see in others. By spending more time with people who have skills and ability you want to acquire, you’re allowing more neural firings to occur, which strengthens your neural pathways. In short, you learn more.

Here’s your assignment (do this now):

  • What are the top 3 hurdles you’re currently facing in your business?
  • For each of your hurdles, write down 3 names of people who may have faced similar challenges in the past (hint: you should now have 9 names total).
  • Pick one of these names right now and send them a short email asking their advice on a specific subject. They should be able to answer in a sentence or two.

I challenge you (and myself) to be a little more intentional about who you attract as friends and mentors. Because, now is the time to build your support team. And as the famous author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn put it, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”