How Monthly Investor Updates Scored $10 Million in Funding for WedPics

Before Justin Miller’s mobile company had 2.5+ million users, he was working out of a basement, searching for an industry where his tech company could thrive.

Miller has since been kicked out of that basement office, threatened by large-scale companies, and faced several funding crunches. But Miller’s startup, WedPics now powers personalized photo-sharing for 10,000 weddings per weekend, with monthly uploads in the millions. Watch Justin Miller’s candid interview from Verge North Carolina and learn the real story behind how he grew WedPics (and exactly WHY monthly investor updates are so important):

WedPics CEO and Co-founder Justin Miller didn’t have prior expertise or experience in launching or growing a tech startup. But the team’s resourcefulness made creative use of the resources available in the growing tech hub of the Triangle area of North Carolina (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel-Hill).

justin-miller-monthly-investor-updates“This was everybody’s first startup,” says Miller. “But we were just driven and had the determination to figure out how to make things happen.”

Miller believes in his team and the startup community in North Carolina. He is a graduate of North Carolina State (NC State) University and veteran of IBM, where he spent 7 years honing his skills before launching WedPics (then named deja mi, inc) in 2011.

WedPics has $9.9 million in 5 rounds of funding, according to CrunchBase. Investors include the likes of well-known thought leader and investor Brad Feld and “Shark Tank” star Barbara Corcoran.

“None of us knew anything about the wedding space,” said Miller. But the team has prevailed through effective user acquisition, tech development, and communication. The co-founder attributes the WedPics investment success to one key CEO habit:

Write Monthly Investor Updates

“I needed to figure out a way to stay at the top of everybody’s radar,” said Miller. “[Doing monthly investor updates] is one of the best things I’ve ever done.” Here’s what Miller did with his WedPics investor and partner updates:

  • Send at the beginning of every month
  • Give overview of how we did the previous month
  • Provide cumulative overview of how we’ve been performing to date

“That is one of the best things we’ve ever done,” says Miller. Several investors and investor groups have explained why monthly investor reports are important and have even provided investor update templates for founders to use. But Miller shares which qualities made the WedPics updates so valuable:

5 Keys to Effective Investor Updates

  1. WedPics-investor-updateStay relevant (share only the information relevant to company’s current direction).
  2. Show traction.
  3. Make it a quick read (Pro Tip: use charts where it’s helpful).
  4. Be transparent.
  5. Don’t expect responses (people are busy, so be consistent even if updates don’t immediately spark a dialogue).

Even if your tech company doesn’t have investors, you can use monthly investor updates to form and direct your thinking, keep your team on the same page, and facilitate partner opportunities. WedPics not only shared with investors and potential investors, but used the monthly investors reports to keep potential partners, acquirers, and acquisition targets updated on their team’s progress.

Side note: social sharing app Buffer does a great job of sharing their monthly investor updates. Read through their past updates here. I also really like the notes on investor updates from Groove CEO Alex Turnbull: read his advice here.

Watch the Full WedPics Interview to Learn More About Investor Updates AND:

  • WedPics User Growth Strategy
  • Why Sharing Personally is Important for Founders
  • Why WedPics is Still Taking Risks
  • How North Carolina is Supporting Startup Growth

Watch the WedPics interview …or…. leave a comment below! Are you currently sending regular investor updates? What benefits (or even negative side effects) have you experienced as a result?

Why Learn Coding? w/ Scott Voicemail Inventor Scott Jones [VIDEO]

I sat down into the red velvet seats of one of the greatest home theaters in the world. But I wasn’t in New York or Los Angeles.

Voicemail inventor Scott Jones recently made his home (read: mansion) into one of the most ambitious undertakings in the field of education. With the unveiling of Eleven Fifty coding academy, Jones launched a new approach to learning to code software. Full disclosure: Eleven Fifty is a sponsor of Verge. And there are very good reasons why we decided to partner up…

Watch the video below to see Scott’s answer to the question “Why learn coding?” and maybe even more intriguingly… Why Indiana?

So, why learn coding?

C’mon! Are you living under a rock?

I know I’m not the only one getting hit up dozens of times a week asking if I know anyone who “knows how to build iPhone apps” or someone in search of a “technical co-founder.” Coding skills are in high demand.

It doesn’t matter if you know the latest language or not, it’s the underlying principles and thinking strategies of software development that lay the foundation to build great software–whether you want to build the next enterprisey software death star… or just annoy your friends with a new app that will be hotter than Flappy Bird.

Why learn coding in Indiana?

scott-jonesWell, besides the fact that the Indiana startup community’s got it going on, there’s one critical aspect that sets Indiana apart. . .

Immersion.

By hosting their intensive coding courses in the home of voicemail inventor Scott Jones, Eleven Fifty has crafted an immersive approach to learning to code. Walking through the halls (and the sick home theater, and indoor basketball court, and commercial kitchen…), you can feel the knowledge being pumped into the brains of students as they develop real-life apps with hands-on guidance from some of the most talented trainers in software.

There are also several great developer communities and new organizations that are working relentlessly to help more people become more technically proficient.

Why learn coding now?

It seriously has never been easier. If you want to learn to code but haven’t written your first line yet, it’s just because you’re lazy.

Hey, I won’t hold it against you. Just get started. Like… now.

If you want to get a taste of this immersive approach to learning to code, we’ve got something special for you. . .

Use the discount code below for 40% off the Security course

May 28th and 29th. Get the deets and get registered for the course here:

https://elevenfifty.com/course/security/

Code: verge@efa
The code can be entered at the checkout! So… check. it. out. (sorry, I had to)

If you’re within driving distance of the academy, I hope you’ll join us for our May 28th Evolution of Code event at Eleven Fifty. You can register here (while tickets are still available):

evolution-of-code.eventbrite.com

So, let me know where you’re at. . . Are you learning some coding basics? Or wanting to take your technical game to the next level? Let me know in the comments below or shoot me a tweet!

Entrepreneurial Tips from a CPA CEO: Neil Berman on Founding, Leaving, Returning to and Growing Delivra

When the stereotypical entrepreneur is a 20-something with a sales or marketing background shooting for the moon, Neil Berman stands apart. He had a career in accounting before founding Delivra, an email marketing service provider that’s a “unicorn” in its own way.
The company itself is a rarity in the software world: it’s profitable. I spoke with the CEO about the advantages his accounting background gave him and what’s in store for Delivra.

Watch the full interview with Neil Berman here:

Dot-com Boom Beginnings

The year was 1999. Adoption of the Internet was rising rapidly, and Berman wanted in on “what I felt was a really big thing.” A former employer had once told him that if he could find a business that met three criteria – faster, better, and cheaper – he should go for it. Berman’s wife was working for the postal service at that time, and when he compared email communication to regular mail, Berman felt it met all three: “I stuck my stake in the ground and went from there.”

Entrepreneurship, CPA-Style.

Until then, Berman was an accountant: “I still belong to the Indiana CPA Society.” Working on the public side of accounting, he gained an inner look at many companies and what made them successful… or not. When starting his own company, Berman just didn’t buy into the classic entrepreneurial model of raising money, growing as fast as possible, and selling out. Between his conservative mindset and desire for independence, he opted to not seek investors and instead grew organically, initially starting Delivra out of his own home.

“I’ve seen entrepreneurs with great ideas, but the faster they grow, the more money they lose. Then their business collapses, and they don’t really understand why.”

-Neil Berman, Founder and CEO of Delivra

To this day, the company is opening a new regional office every three months without having to raise money or get a bank loan. When mentoring others about entrepreneurial finances, Berman said, “I find that either their eyes glaze over or they’re afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to appear stupid.” He emphasized that it’s vital to understand your business’s key performance indicators, especially what you have to do to break even. “If you’re in school today, take some of those accounting classes that you hate,” he advised wryly. “I didn’t like them either, but it’ll be useful information someday.”

On Walking Away…

NeilBermanLike fellow CEOs Steve Jobs and Howard Schultz, Berman left his own company and returned, but for a very different reason. Six years ago, Berman’s wife became ill and passed away very suddenly. Devastated, he hired a team of five to run the company’s functional departments in his stead and traveled the world: “I didn’t know if Delivra was going to be my future. I had to get grounded again.”

…And Coming Back.

Two years ago, Berman did return: “Coming back home to email software felt comfortable for me. I loved the software business and wanted to take it to the next level.” However, while the company was still profitable, competition had considerably heated up during his absence, and sales had flattened: “What we were doing previously had stopped working.” Berman jumped back into the saddle and set about determining Delivra’s future.

On Consultants and Dirty Laundry.

Since he knew the business, the market, and the competition, Berman had a vision for Delivra’s path forward but hired consultants to help him make a more informed decision. After “doing what consultants do” – surveying and interviewing customers, staff, and people both inside and outside of the industry – they presented a recommendation that aligned with Berman’s hunch but was better defined and more actionable. When working with consultants, Berman stressed transparency: “You need to be communicative about everything. Air the dirty laundry.”

“The Magic Differentiator.”

DelivraToday’s email marketing industry is competitive, but Delivra is investing a lot of money in product development to offer clients a robust marketing solution. But perhaps its biggest differentiator is its focus on building relationships with clients via its expanding network of regional offices and offering them product enablement help up front: “We find that to be a magic differentiator. Although it costs more, we’re going to close more sales, and that’s how we’re going to grow the business.”

A Crash Course on Email Deliverability.

Delivra takes pride in helping its customers’ emails reach inboxes the right way: “Today, delivering email with the blizzard of spam that’s out there is challenging. It’s part science and it’s part art.” Watch Berman’s crash course on email deliverability and list hygiene →

How do you try to apply a financial mindset to your entrepreneurial venture? Comment below!

See Delivra for Yourself on May 14th!

It’s pretty awesome to see what Delivra has built in Indianapolis, Indiana. We use Delivra at Verge and I’m blown away by the people at this company. Come meet them for yourself at Delivra’s open house on May 14th. Hope to see you there! Click here to RSVP →

Transcript: show

How to Steal the Best Digital Marketing Ideas

Eric Clapton MasteryEric Clapton became a guitar god by first practicing riffs created by blues guitar legend Robert Johnson. Clapton developed his own style as he listened to other artists, played with new bands, and found the guitar licks that he grew to love.

Becoming a master of digital marketing is no different.

But first, you’ve got to get the right stuff into your brain (Clapton wouldn’t have become Clapton if he’d imitated amateurs). If you want to master digital marketing idea generation, you have to first get comfortable with borrowing things that work elsewhere.

Use this 20-minute daily practice to steal the best digital marketing ideas for your start up or growing company.

Become a magnet for digital marketing strategy ideas.

Set aside 20 minutes a day. Go ahead and block it out on your calendar so you commit to it. Then use the time as follows:

First 5 minutes: Choose the 10 best growth articles of the day.

Skim through the 3 best marketing ideas bubbling up on the internet that day. You can subscribe to company emails that you like to find fresh digital marketing ideas. But I like to use Q&A and user-submission tools to help me identify what’s worth reading and what isn’t. I highly recommend:

During this first 5 minutes, you should simply identify the 5-10 most compelling articles. Identify these by finding the submissions that have the most upvotes, comments, or keywords in the title that indicate the article might be particularly relevant to your business.

Pro Tip: You can do this process even more quickly by hold shift while you click each tab. This will open the article in a new tab without changing windows and allow you to complete this first part of discovery quickly.

Second 5 minutes: Identify the best digital marketing ideas.

Is it worth reading every word of every article that catches your attention online? (hint: probably not)

digital marketing ideas

Get in the habit of good skimming technique by taking the 5-10 articles identified in your first 5 minutes of discovery and forcing yourself to review the article in 30 seconds or less. Do this by reading through the headlines and subheads, bolded words, and key phrases (which generally appear in the first and last sentences of paragraphs).

Your goal here should be to find the best 3 articles for you to dig into and really comprehend. These should be articles that challenge you to think in a new way or learn something new.

Third 5 minutes: Dig in.

Now that you’ve figured out where the gold is hidden, it’s time to put on your headlamp and headlamp. Because, we’re going mining!

In each of your final three digital marketing ideas, look for explicit tactics that are tied to measurable outcomes. As you identify clear tactics, jot some notes on how you might apply those same marketing tactics to your business. Here’s an example of a digital marketing concept:

“Add a live chat function on product pages”

Keep it brief, but descriptive. If necessary, add a couple of extra thoughts on how you could make this marketing idea work for your business. We’ll need that for the final step.

Final 5 minutes: Build out one digital marketing idea.

You should have about 7-10 concepts from three articles at this point. Now it’s time to identify and dig in once again.

Rank your marketing concepts by potential impact to your business or ease of implementation, depending on your current work capacity. Write a number to the left of each concept statement indicating which should be top priority (number 1).

Then, take your number one idea and bullet out a few more notes on that concept:

  • What existing campaign or marketing strength would this concept leverage?
  • Given your existing marketing strategies, what kind of impact could you expect to your key metrics? Write these down as rough goals.
  • How quickly could you expect to implement? Jot down what you think might be a good goal.

Save these notes to review at the end of each week. This is an important step for getting your marketing ideas implemented

Make your digital marketing idea your own.

Using this 20-minute daily practice with allow you to see enough digital marketing ideas to come up with your own ideas. By giving yourself some time between initial idea generation and review at the end of each week, you’ll give your subconscious the space it needs to gestate.

By making this a daily habit, your brain will begin to see patterns in digital marketing ideas. This discipline will help you steal and implement the best ideas, and give our business the biggest opportunities by making them your own.

BONUS: How to Get the Best Marketing Ideas before they hit the Internet

Pssst… here’s a little secret that the best entrepreneurs and marketers don’t want you to know…

The very best marketing ideas are usually shared at industry conferences months before the case studies get shared publically on the internet. This gives you time to capture the market and refine before others start stealing the same marketing ideas.

Join the MBO Digital Marketing Conference and Ideate Like a Boss

Verge HQ teamed up with one of the Midwest’s best digital marketing conferences, MBO. We’re hosting our pitch night this Wednesday, April 29th. We’ll have a panel of marketing tech thought leaders, as well as some of the most innovative software companies presenting their tech and marketing.

But just for you, you can attend the entire MBO conference and get more than $60 off your registration with the code VERGE15.

Register now >>

MBO Indy

 

 

 

It’s no secret that Indianapolis is a leader in Marketing and Tech. I hope you’ll join us!

 

From Open Waters to Red Oceans: T.A. McCann’s Adventure as a Successful Sailor and Entrepreneur

T.A. McCann is one of the few people on the planet who can claim astronomical success in not one but two areas; in his case, sailing AND entrepreneurship. But are they that different? I sat down with the tech company founder and America’s Cup winner about both bouncing back from failure and tips for achieving success.

Watch the full interview with T.A. McCann here:

Adventures in Entrepreneurship and Sailing with T.A. McCann

sailing and entrepreneurshipMcCann got the entrepreneurial bug around the tender age of 12 when he started a lawn care business: “The feeling of independence and being able to control my own destiny has always been important to me.” Perhaps that’s why, after graduating from Purdue (which is still going strong when it comes to shaping entrepreneurs!) and becoming a mechanical engineer, he quit to pursue the freedom of the open waters. An accomplished professional sailor, he won the America’s Cup in 1992.

What do Sailing and Entrepreneurship Have in Common?

Quite a lot, in fact! In his blog post on the subject, McCann observes that the skill, engineering excellence and perseverance shown by Larry Ellison and his victorious Oracle Team USA are “all things that go into a building a successful startup.” From finding a competitive advantage to working under a deadline, watch McCann draw all the parallels →

“If you’re only achieving at 20%, the goal is too hard. If you’re achieving at 100%, then the goal is too easy.”

-T.A. McCann, Sailor / Entrepreneur / Investor

Resetting the Goal Posts.

TA MccannMcCann’s sailing career was not without some setbacks. When competing in the Whitbread Round the World Race (now called the Volvo Ocean Race), his team was closing in on victory when suddenly, the mast fell down. Bitterly disappointed, almost everyone on the team wanted to quit. But in the three days it took to get back to land, a transformation from despair to hope took place: “We tried to find what we could salvage. Could we still win the last leg? Could we actually complete the race?” After resetting the goal posts, the team did in fact win the last leg handily and achieved a lot of reset goals.

“We just showed up at the wrong time.”

Not every entrepreneurial venture was a success, either. McCann returned to the tech world from sailing in the late 90s – in the midst of the dot-com bubble – with a startup called Helpshare: “It was a reasonably good idea, and we had built the company properly, but right when we were planning to go raise money, the crash happened.”

The Case For Corporate Experience.

ta-mccann-americas-cupThe loss was devastating, and McCann ended up joining Microsoft. During his three years there, he financially and emotionally recharged while still innovating and learning skills on the scale of a large company, “things that are different than what you need to learn for a startup,” like how to build software for hundreds of millions of customers in 123 languages. Eventually, a venture capitalist McCann had worked with through the product he had built for Microsoft Exchange invited him to become an entrepreneur-in-residence.

Entering a Red Ocean.

In 2008, McCann launched Gist amid several competitors already in the content discovery space. It started with the goal bringing users relevant news but evolved, using integrations with Google’s and Twitter’s APIs, into a social address book: “If I have all of my contacts in one place, and the system can give me news both about them and by them, then I can use to better understand them, and by understanding them I can build better relationships with them.” Through consistent customer feedback, Gist evolved into a relationship manager and caught RIM’s eye, which acquired the company in 2011.

The Importance of Building Relationships.

rival iq ta mccannWhen I asked him for advice he would give to entrepreneurs, McCann underscored the importance of building relationships for recruiting, reaching thought leaders, courting investors, and finding customers: “The stronger a relationship is, the more likely someone is going to do something for you or recommend you or your product to somebody else.” His most recent tech venture, Rival IQ (which we use at Verge, and I highly recommend), can help you learn how to best build relationships with customers through data-driven marketing. McCann also shared his 5-3-2 Rule for building relationships on social media. Watch him explain the strategy →

Want to learn even more from T.A. McCann?

Join 1,000 founders, investors, and builders at this year’s Innovation Showcase in July! A limited number of Early-Bird tickets are available for the full conference with more than 70 fundable companies. Reserve your spot here →

Raw notes/timestamps:  show

Big News from Tesla and Amazon, and Other Stories in Verge’s Week-in-Review

The World Cup is in full swing, it’s almost officially summer, and the Innovation Showcase is just a few weeks away. Check out the best innovation and tech stories from this past week…

Tesla Charges (and Recharges) Ahead

TeslaOkay, this technically happened last week, but Tesla made headlines with CEO Elon Musk’s recent announcement that the company would open up access to its patents. Though a bold step, it echoes recent moves towards encouraging innovation from Twitter, Pixar, and other technology leaders. Bringing in more competitors will also help bolster the size of the electric car market. The company’s stock price has already climbed. Time will tell, but maybe nice guys – or at least nice, strategic innovators – can finish first.

Amazon Heats Up Smartphone Competition

Confirming rumors, Amazon revealed its long-awaited smartphone, the Fire Phone, this past Wednesday. Though a latecomer to the game, Amazon’s entrant brings some unique features, such as “dynamic perspective,” which uses front-mounted cameras to render 3D graphics in relation users’ head movements. Another feature, called Firefly, can recognize over 100 million items like books, songs and kitchen products and help you find more information on them or – not surprisingly – buy them on Amazon. What do you think: will the Fire Phone be a success, or even steal market share from Apple and Samsung?

For your regular old iPhone or Android, check out our “Top Productivity Apps for Entrepreneurs.”

Stand-up Meetings. Literally.

the anvilYou’ve probably heard about how unhealthy it is to sit for too long, but a new study shows a new reason to stand tall. According to Washington University business professor Andrew Knight, standing during meetings encourages teamwork and creativity. Participants in two teams, one standing and one sitting, were asked to work together on a project. Wrist sensors showed that the standing team had greater “physiological arousal” – the way the body get energized when creative juices are flowing, and were less protective of their ideas.

It’s no wonder that the new coworking space of the Anvil, where Verge holds meetups in West Lafayette, will include plenty of options for taking a stand.

A Tech Victory at the World Cup

An invisible but crucial player during the World Cup is the new goal-line technology, GoalControl, German-engineered to avoid a repeat of 2010 controversies over incorrect goal rulings. Claimed to be 100% accurate, GoalControl can detect goals in real time and take 500 photos per second. As far as France’s victory over Honduras, the technology might as well be an MVP. When confusion arose after the ball bounced off the Honduran goalie’s hand near the goal line, the goal-line technology came to the rescue with an accurate ruling of “GOOOOAAAL.”

And now I’m imagining what a pitch for GoalContol at a Verge Innovation Showcase would have been like!

Eyes on the Prize

the innovation showcaseSpeaking of the Innovation Showcase, we recently revealed the 81 exhibiting companies. There’s no doubt they’re working hard on their pitches, but a recent study involving cartoon cereal mascots (no, we’re not making this up) underscores the importance of making eye contact.

Cornell University researchers manipulated the gaze of the Trix Rabbit on cereal boxes to look at the viewer or look down. They found that adult subjects preferred Trix over competing cereals and felt more brand trust if the rabbit was looking at them rather than away.

Not convinced the eyes have it? Check out 10 reasons why presenters should make purposeful eye contact with their audiences. Then, check out our quick-start guide on how to get seed funding.

And don’t miss these presentation tips from our interview with the legendary Thaddeus Rex.

Or come hear from Thaddeus for yourself at this Thursday’s Verge pitch night at DeveloperTown! There’s still time to RSVP. Register here >>

How about you? What’s coming up in your week ahead?

What Can We Learn from 500 Leaders and Their Four Days in Downtown Las Vegas?

Last week I let all of my calls go to voicemail and checked my inbox at a record-low once per day.

That’s how I got myself free to have a series of freak experiences at the largest gathering of startup community leaders on the planet—the UP Summit, presented by UP Global. With more than 500 leaders from 75 countries around the world, I would have been paralyzed by the magnitude if I hadn’t found a 1-2 combo that unlocked the event’s full potential.

1. Go Up

google-at-up-summit

I woke up each day and promptly punched my inner wuss in the face. Rolling out of bed in Vegas is hard enough on it’s own, but when you put yourself out there to learn something or meet someone new, your first instinct is to flinch.

It’s totally rational. As founders and instigators, we’re probably already balancing more projects than is healthy for a human being. The prospect of adding more action items and followups to the ever-growing to-do lists doesn’t get most entrepreneurs giddy. And breaking ground on a conversation with someone new can be a little scary.

Luckily, the UP Summit organizers facilitated in a few of the conference tracks that helped give some conversations a push. And Downtown Las Vegas delivered on its mission to foster connectedness, collisions, and co-learning.

It almost seems counter intuitive.

Sometimes, you just have to get the courage to walk up and ask, “Um… excuse me, sir, but I noticed you’re dressed as a banana. Why is that?”

OK, most times you won’t have an alley-oop approach like that. So, don’t give yourself any more than 2 seconds to think about whether or not you should talk to someone new. Make like an overused advertising slogan and just do it, because it’s the collisions that make the difference in building a community or a business.

Pro Tip: If you’re as exhausted by the “So what do you do?” line of questioning as 99.99% of the world (that’s a true stat I just made up), go for something relevant like the speaker in the previous session or the funky socks that your new friend is rocking.

2. Go Deep

up-summit-closing

Photo credit: @FrankGruber

There’s no value or meaning to creating small talk or collecting business cards. If you’re going to go up to someone new, go deep.

This one’s tough because every brain cell between our ears screams at us to stay in our happy place—that grotesquely mediocre zone of comfort.

The real happiness can be found in the quality beneath the surface.

At the UP Summit, the leaders in attendance converged upon Vegas from such a variety of cultures that we didn’t have as many how-about-the-weather, or did-you-see-that-game discussions. Without the crutch, we had to lean in (boom, Sheryl Sandberg reference).

up-summit-friendsThe quality-over-quantity theme was threaded through every minute of time with the UP Global crew. Strong relationships sprouted from each event that catered to serendipitous connections. The deepest growth was rooted in scheduled blocks of time that allowed for potential collaboration.

If I hadn’t taken a swing at going up to new people at the UP Summit, I never would have met the dozen new friends from around the world. I wouldn’t have learned about new programs that I’m now planning on bringing back to my hometown. And I wouldn’t have found those new partnerships that will more deeply connect my startup community with what’s happening around the world.

If I hadn’t dared to go deep in my conversations I wouldn’t have learned from the best conversation I’ve ever had about how to grow a successful relationship while running startup. I wouldn’t have a startup friend to visit when I go to the Philippines this summer. And, most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned about what all of the inspiring people in the UP community are building.

So, my question is, why don’t we build intention around creating these kinds of experiences back at home? How can we keep the momentum going by going up and going deep?

 

 

An Unforgettable Lesson from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh in Downtown Las Vegas [Video]

The first time I visited downtown Las Vegas was in 2011. And I didn’t go there for the gambling.

A fortunate friend was building something that pulled me from Indianapolis to see “Old Vegas” in person. Such is the magnetic magic of Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh and His Recipe for Building Community

It was Tony’s birthday, and we joked around as we drank digestifs in his condominium at The Ogden. Back then, most of the condos in the building were still waiting for tenants to take a chance on downtown Las Vegas. But a lot has changed since then.

The Downtown Project that Tony Hsieh and his team started years ago has built its own momentum and grown a thriving community. Dozens of startups and small businesses have taken root amidst the flashing lights and excitement of Vegas. Unlike the Strip, downtown has sprouted a series of successes over the past few years.

Tony Hsieh Downtown Project

Looking back on that night at Tony’s, it’s now clear that master chef Hsieh had the right recipe from the start. We connected through Skype that evening with another friend, Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness and co-author of the same book penned by her and Hsieh. They’ve each gone on to take their mastery of company culture to build community on a bigger scale.

It all builds from getting the right ingredients.

Collisions

I’ve since been back to visit downtown Vegas a few times. And I can tell you that only one thing is constant…

You’re going to connect with a lot of people.

We once piled out of Tony’s Delivering Happiness bus into a reggae festival; Hsieh leading the way and handing out wristbands to us as we entered the gates. Not more than two seconds after ensuring that my wristband was securely fastened did I meet the outstretched hand of the mayor of Las Vegas. I still have her business card, which is not a card at all, but rather contact information printed on a poker chip.

And that’s one of the more “normal” collisions I’ve had in the community Hsieh helped construct.

It’s a magical experience to find yourself in a pocket of people who are passionate about what their building. But that’s the essence of community and Hsieh isn’t the only one who’s made the observation.

Kristian Andersen helped create The Speak Easy co-working space in Indianapolis to “foster serendipity.” That building has since become a place for a unique community to connect and build new companies. And they’re not the only ones.

Community Space

Other communities have created similar spaces, where something interesting is waxing within.

Co-learning

In case you might be thinking about making a visit to downtown Vegas, I’ll let you in on a secret that is, more and more, becoming known. The best place to grab coffee is the Beat. But it’s not just because they make a good cup of Joe.

At the Beat, there’s something to be learned in each new interaction. This is especially true when there’s a culture of curiosity and sharing. And in Vegas, you couldn’t escape it if you tried.

Who would want to?

“It’s the enthusiasm, the passion, the time, and the energy,” said Tony, that’s at the core of a co-learning community.

The charge of learning something new can spark new momentum and carry you through the toughest challenges. It’s the same energy you can get at a Verge pitch night when a founder shares their new technology or a fireside chat blows open a whole new way of thinking about an entrepreneurial issue.

Connected Community

Growing communities understand that they have to learn together if they want to evolve. And that gives them a powerful and underlying quality.

Connectedness

“Outside of this downtown area, Las Vegas is the last place you’d expect to find a community feel,” said Hsieh. Most times, this community feeling of connectedness is catalyzed by a handful of leaders.

“Don’t underestimate the power that one or two people can have,” Tony encourages.

In downtown Vegas, there are many people running enormous projects. Zach Ware is an energetic guy, and has been Tony’s right-hand man on the Downtown Project from the start. He’s since become a partner in the VegasTech Fund and started a business of his own, Project 100.

But even though Zach stays busy, he stays connected as he continues to link up potential business partners, mentors and mentees, and friends.

Brad Feld is the author of Startup Communities and often points out that the fastest growing communities are the ones where visitors and new residents can quickly get connected to resources, events, and people.

Verge Community

As I prepare for trip to Vegas next week, I’m thinking a lot about how downtown will feel.  And I’m re-reading a book that Tony gave to me back in 2011. I keep pondering community as I re-read one of my favorite truths in Triumph of the City:

“You need to walk a city’s streets to see its soul.”

I’m excited to take that first step into downtown Vegas again. Because its also the first step to building community with collisions, co-learning, and connectedness. And I can’t wait to bring some of it back to Indianapolis.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there.

What other elements do you think a community needs for it to thrive?