Who’s Got Your Back? Using Kickstarter as a Validation Tool

jayson manship on stage at the hi-fi indyHow do you validate your idea? This is a common question asked by entrepreneurs and demanded by investors. You think you have a good idea for an app? Prove it, knucklehead. Maybe you survey potential clients or customers. Maybe you build an MVP and go to market. Maybe you get a Kickstarter… Wait, that doesn’t sound right… Or does it?

Upping the Auntie on Idea Validation

Last week, we heard from Jayson Manship, Founder and “Lead Nerd” at inSourceCode, an Indianapolis-based WordPress development company that has built bad ass websites for companies of all shapes and sizes. In addition to being incredible at WordPress development, Jayson and his team are also wildly passionate about building small businesses. We saw this passion first-hand at the #FightForSmall Launch that we co-hosted with them and it was on display again last Thursday night. This time, the idea was bigger and smaller all at the same time. What if you could build an online community for your local community that would provide extremely high visibility to small businesses while rewarding bloggers and content contributors with gift cards to those businesses? The idea is a little out there, even by Jayson’s standards, but he doesn’t believe it’s up to him to decide…


Jayson is entrusting his community with this decision in the form of a Kickstarter. If you like the idea, donate. If you don’t, leave it alone. It’s the simplest form of idea validation we have at our disposal, so why don’t more entrepreneurs use it?

Advantages of Using Kickstarter to Validate Your Idea

The secret no one really wants to tell you: Kickstarter doesn’t have to net you a dime for it to be worthwhile if you’re an entrepreneur. If you’re using the medium solely for idea validation, you could offer swag such as T-Shirts at cost in exchange for the vote of confidence. Many entrepreneurs talk about selling two to three times before you build something. Why not sell a few dozen times instead and use T-Shirts as collateral?  You can also use Kickstarter to offer early-adopter benefits. This is most common with video game developers who offer backers the ability to get themselves actually built into the game as a character. While Kickstarter touts itself as a funding mechanism, it’s really an  online marketplace for ideas.  “I like this idea, so I’m going to vote with my wallet.”  If that’s not customer validation, I’m not sure what is.

Issues With Kickstarter

Kickstarter could be a great source of validation, it could also be a nightmare. With most forms of idea validation the worse case scenario is that your idea doesn’t hold water and you move on to something else. Do to the public nature of Kickstarter, if you hit your goal and you don’t deliver a solid product, you could face massive consumer backlash. Additionally, when people back a Kickstarter, they feel a sense of ownership to that brand. That sounds like an awesome perk, right? Well, not if you want independent control of your company. What happens if you make an unpopular decision like Oculus Rift selling to Facebook? You face no legal ramifications, but you could have a serious PR issue to manage. 

Whether a Kickstarter is a good idea for your company or not, I’m curious…

How Did You Validate Your Idea?

When you were starting your company, what did you do to validate your idea? Who did you consult? How did you test the market? When in the process did idea validation come in? What advice do you have for someone looking to validate their own idea? Drop a comment, we’ll be sharing the best answers! Thanks for coming out last Thursday! We had an awesome event in an awesome venue in Fountain Square called the Hi-Fi. If you’re in that part of town, they’re definitely worth a look. To learn more about the Fight For Small initiative or to donate to the Kickstarter, click here!

Innovation Showcase announces next 9 Exhibiting Companies for 2014

The Innovation Showcase is breaking records left and right! This year features:

- A record number of exhibiting companies applying
- A record amount of cash/services given away ($123,000)
- A record number of tickets sold (to date).  
- A record number of sponsors/sponsorship
- An incredible contingent of universities and funding organizations collaborating to create our best Innovation Showcase yet.

In the past few weeks we recently announced the first 9 companies accepted to showcase: 

Lesson.ly

DCODIA

Mimir

Adproval

Bookacoach

BoxFox

Gusto

PactSafe

YC BioElectric

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Today, we’re announcing 9 more companies that have been accepted into the 2014 Innovation Showcase on July 10!

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AlGalCo is creating the hydrogen economy by reducing the need for oil with a renewable fuel that burns clean.  This second year exhibitor is now creating revenue with its first product: a hydrogen on-tap system already deployed by the city of Carmel, showing a 15% improvement in gas mileage, reduced emissions and a renewable feedstock of hydrogen. 

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Reward Dragon is referral marketing software for local businesses to drive word-of-mouth sales by uniquely combining testimonials, social endorsements, and referral rewards. Reward Dragon is currently in its Seed Round.

 

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PorchLight uses public, collected and inferred data to predict the needs of homeowners. With a working product able to learn and predict what a home will need before the need arises, PorchLight is breaking some serious ground.

 

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Animated Dynamics helps doctors choose the best chemotherapy for individual cancer patients.  If you’re into innovations in the biotechnology space, you’ll want to check out this company.

 

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iCan is an intelligent waste management solution building economic, social & environmental sustainability.   Currently undergoing a rebrand, you’ll soon know this company as eCeptacle.  This will be their 1st year at Innovation Showcase. 

 

 

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Bearface Instructional Technologies is an academic publisher of innovative wellness learning and assessment for higher ed.   Bearface is bringing technological advancement where it’s needed most: the classroom.

 

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GearBrake is an intelligent brake light module that can reduce rear-end collisions by up to 90%.  An awesome hardware company with an innovative working product.

 

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3D Parts Mfg. is Indy’s only 3D Printing Service Bureau with all four 3D printing platforms: DMLS, SLA, PolyJet, FDM.  See the future of manufacturing at 3D Parts Mfg’s booth!

 

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7PSolutions Featuring unique GPS-GSM monitoring providing security and environmental monitoring within the supply chain, this company is in its 2nd year at the Innovation Showcase.

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So, what do you think of these selections? 18 companies down, many more to come!

Individuals interested in attending Innovation Showcase 2014 can purchase Early Bird tickets here.

How To Win During the Investment Gold Rush of the Wild Wild Midwest [VIDEO]

Back in the days of cowboys and six shooters, people started using the phrase “chomping at the bit” to describe rampant anticipation.  Sometimes a cowboy’s horse would get so excited about something that it would chew at the metallic bit in its mouth, unable to contain himself as he looked toward his next goal.

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Now, we’re not comparing anyone to a horse, but it’s this level of eagerness that we’re seeing from investors and exhibitors for the 2014 Innovation showcase, and today we look to 2013 to see why.

Midwest investors are feeling green.

“The landscape for seed capital in the Midwest has totally changed…there’s no question that it’s a good time to an early stage entrepreneur in the Midwest.”

So began Jake Cohen of Detroit Venture Partners in a 2013 Innovation Showcase panel that included Kristian Andersen of Gravity Ventures, Jonathon Perrelli of Fortify VC and Dave Knox of Cincinnati’s Brandery.  These guys are excited to find growing early-stage companies in which to invest their cold hard cash, and they’re feeling bullish at the prospect.

Knox noted, “…there’s a lot of capital being unlocked that actually wasn’t there for an early stage…we’ve got some real people getting involved as angel [investors].”  Indeed, it’s an exciting time to be an investor in Silicon Prairie.  With the acquisitions of Exact Target and Compendium both happening since this discussion, we’re excited to hear what this year’s panel has to say about the investing landscape in Indiana.

Innovation Showcase 2013We’re breaking records left and right.

Investors aren’t the only ones showing their anticipation.  We’ve had a record number of exhibitors apply to the Innovation Showcase.  Super Early Bird tickets sold out quickly, and perhaps most exciting of all:

We’re giving away a record $120,000+

in services and investment at this year’s Innovation Showcase.

That’s why we’re releasing a batch of Early Bird tickets this Thursday morning!  Be sure to set your calendar for 9:30 am, because tickets will go quickly and the price only goes up the closer we get to Innovation Showcase 2014.

We agree with Jake Cohen: it’s a good time to be an early stage entrepreneur in the Wild, Wild Midwest.

So what’s exciting you about the funding landscape in Indiana?

6 High-Growth Companies Announced for Innovation Showcase

The Innovation Showcase is heating up, with more than $123,000 we’ll be awarding to this year’s winner. We already announced the first 3 companies accepted to showcase, Lesson.ly, DCODIA, and Mimir, who pitched at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week.

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Today, we’re announcing 6 more companies that have been accepted into the 2014 Innovation Showcase on July 10…

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matthew-anderson-adprovalAdproval is connecting advertisers to their online influencers.  An exciting first round company, this is Adproval’s third year at the Innovation Showcase.

Want to see Adproval founder Matthew Anderson’s original pitch on the Verge stage? Watch it here >>

 

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Bookacoach is an online marketplace that connects parents and athletes with qualified sports coaches.  In its second year presenting at the Innovation Showcase, Bookacoach is a second round company in the process of scaling and looking for working capital.

 

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BoxFox is a B2B marketplace for small U.S. retailers to appraise and sell their excess inventory.  This fascinating startup is currently seeking $250,000 to $1,000,000 in funding.

Take a look at BoxFox’s 2013 pitch profile.

 

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Gusto provides a single view of your emails, files, and photos across multiple accounts.  Launched at Verge in February, 2014, this is Gusto’s first year at the Innovation Showcase.

Want to learn more about Gusto? Check out the review of their first-version app launch here.

 

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PactSafe is a web application to track, manage and increase the enforceability of website legal agreements.  A brand new startup, this is also PactSafe’s first year exhibiting at the Innovation Showcase.

 

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YC Bioelectric is pioneering an analytical device to simultaneously detect and analyze proteins.  This innovative company is in the seed stage and looking to connect with angel investors.

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Which company do you want to talk with? What other companies do you want to see in the Innovation Showcase?

Companies interested in exhibiting at the 2014 Innovation Showcase have until midnight on May 18th to do so.  You can apply here.

Two Companies to Watch: DCODIA and Social Sweepster

2 Companies to watchCamera and image-based technologies are at the core of two Verge startup companies. And, while their businesses couldn’t be more different, both founders draw from close personal experiences to focus on a problem they know well. Both are pitching at Verge on April 24th.

These startups approach interesting problems with novel solutions that are well worth keeping your eye on.

Picture This: Two Image-based Startups to Watch

DCODIA Decodes Dyslexia

Co-founder and CEO Kris Parmelee recently said, “Necessity is the mother of invention and I’m the mother of a dyslexic child.”

Kris at DCODIA

 

Frustrated with the lack of assistive technology for her son’s needs, Parmelee decided to solve the problem herself.

DCODIA is a discreet mobile solution designed to help dyslexic students read without the assistance of a parent, teacher or tutor. With it, readers who get stuck on a tricky word can un-stick themselves—which means greater freedom and independence for dyslexic students everywhere.

And, thanks to the unique data tracking features baked into DCODIA, dyslexic students will soon have better insight into precisely where their challenges are and how to overcome them.

Social Sweepster Cleans up Your Act

As a recent college graduate, Tom McGrath wanted to make sure that he continued to carry the lessons he picked up at Indiana University with him. He didn’t so much want to carry every beer he’d had at school with him, though. But with the proliferation of social media into so many aspects of our lives, Tom (and countless grads like

Tom at Social Sweepster

him) discovered that it’s not so easy to leave your digital footprints behind.

Enter Social Sweepster, the image recognition platform that promises to simplify putting your best foot forward online. The tool scans users’ social profiles and flags unbecoming photos (how many solo cup photos do you have on Facebook?) so graduates can be confident stepping into the “real world.”

Social Sweepster isn’t alone in the image recognition market—but as Facebook, Google and Apple are already snatching their competitors up, the future looks bright for this young company.

Continue reading

The Music Marketing and Technology Festival that isn’t for Jerks

If you’re familiar with the Indiana technology and marketing crowd,  you may already know Douglas Karr. He’s worked for over a decade in  Indianapolis to drive innovation and growth through the doors of some of Indy’s most exciting startups.

For those who haven’t met Doug, well, he’s outspoken. And his voice carries. He’s been called arrogant and a jerk before, especially the occasional target of one of Doug’s spectacularly sarcastic tweets or Facebook debates.

But for those of us that do know him, he’s humorous, kind-hearted and has helped many individuals find employment, many companies find customers, many technologists find solutions and he continues to open his door to anyone in need.

Case in point is the upcoming Music Marketing Tech Midwest (MTMW) event that Doug is leading.

MTMW

Musicians, Marketers and Technologists Rally for Blood Cancers

What is #MTMW? Well, in a nutshell – it’s a music and technology festival with a charitable twist.

This musical and tech jamboree will mesh together live music performed by today’s hottest local bands, duets and singers (Kaleidostars, Bleedingkeys and The Whipstitch Sallies), while showcasing the city’s most promising marketing and technology companies.

It’s even rallied support from PERQ, Right On Interactive, Digital Relevance,  TechPoint,  Angies List and Tinder Box. Packed with all the essentials every memorable party requires, hundreds of Hoosiers will drink, eat and dance to the groovin’ musical styles of small town favorite bands. And it’s all happening on Sunday, April 27 at The Rathskeller.

And every dollar raised from ticketing, sponsorships, sales and donations will go directly to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Indiana to support blood cancer research.Leukemia Lymphonma Society

You see, our city possesses this amazing relentless ability to create change in society. Sometimes it takes just one man (maybe Doug Karr) to put a little plan into action. And since Doug has spent years examining the drive and potential Indianapolis possesses, he wanted to create a city-wide movement towards forever impacting the way blood cancer is viewed.

He doesn’t seem like a jerk now, right?

So, unless you’ve worked or partied with Douglas, you probably don’t know him. It’s time to party with Douglas. And there’s no better place to do that than at #MTMW.

Because when you support MTMW, you’re not just supporting Doug. And you’re not just supporting the Indianapolis Music, Technology and Marketing communities, too. When you support MTMW, you support Hoosiers in need – which means you’re not a jerk, either.

Eager to get involved with #MTMW? For up-to-the-minute updates on MTinMW, like the event on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.


 

4 Reasons Every Hoosier Entrepreneur Should Attend the Combine

bloomington-indiana-startup-combineIn its fourth year, the Combine brings speakers and attendees from across the country (and in this year’s case, the world!) to celebrate community, culture, capital and code in Bloomington. The event draws hundreds of participants from across the Midwest for an extended weekend of workshops, speakers, presentations, networking, parties and tours. Bloomington’s favorite event for startups and technology workers returns to the city April 11th-13th. If you haven’t bought your ticket yet, here are some compelling reasons to get your ticket before they’re gone! (Vergers can use this code for a discount!)

1. The Schedule

The Combine will feature a main speaker stage, a workshop series for starting and growing business, an Ignite Bloomington event, startup pitches, and new this year – LobbyCon – a mini-convention showcasing local startups, demos, games, and tech business support opportunities. The main speaker event will conclude with an after-party featuring the Star Trek themed rock band Five Year Mission. An added bonus: If you arrive a day early, you can join Verge Bloomington for a special edition of our monthly pitch night.

2. The Speakers

This year’s speaker lineup will include a diverse range of speakers including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Markerly CEO Sarah Ware, celebrity cat Lil Bub and her owner Mike Bridavsky, Frank Gruber of Tech Cocktail, Murder By Death frontman and Kickstarter success story Adam Turla, design strategist Roshelle Ritzenthaler and renowned marketing blogger Jay Baer. It’s the most diverse lineup in the Combine’s history, and…

3. The Setting

Nothing beats Bloomington in the springtime! Take a walk downtown with any of the local attendees for local beer, music and everything else that makes us fall in love with the city. Stick around on Sunday for a tour of the downtown Bloomington Certified Technology Park, future home of Bloomington’s tech and startup scene.

4. The Socializing

The Combine provides attendees with opportunities to rub elbows with like-minded entrepreneurs and tech folk from across the Midwest. The connections made at the event and the ideas generated from the community make it worth the trip from out of town. Locally, the Combine brings students and faculty of IU and Ivy Tech together with some of Bloomington’s most impressive startups and businesses, and it’s a great chance to see what’s happening in our part of the Hoosier State.

Check out the website for more information and a schedule. Group rates are available, and sponsorships are still being accepted. Contact mat@thecombine.org for more information, or follow @thecombineorg on Twitter.

Winning Startup Trade Show Ideas from The Innovation Showcase

It’s been a big year for Santiago Jaramillo and the BlueBridge Digital team. The kind of year that landed him on the Inc. 30 under 30 list.

Startup Conference Tips to Win

Santiago Jaramillo, Founder and CEO of BlueBridge Digital.

A year ago, BlueBridge had fifteen clients and three employees. They now have over 110 clients and more than fifteen employees, but that’s only the beginning–with plans to add 199 jobs over the next nine years, Santiago and BlueBridge are only going to continue accelerating.

And when Santiago pitched at The Innovation Showcase in July 2013, the team was already well on their way to growth mode: they took home 1st place in the Early Stage Startup category, attracted lots of attention from the startup community in Indiana (and around the country), and have continued to innovate in the mobile space.

So when Santiago shared with me how he and the BlueBridge team prepared for The Innovation Showcase, I knew it was advice worth heeding.

Santiago explained that three things take the most effort and time to prepare for startup conference and events: the exhibit, the team, and the pitch. Catch the full interview and my takeaways below.

Winning Startup Trade Show Ideas

Startup Trade Show Idea #1: Be Intentional with Your Exhibit

Attendees at most conferences won’t have any clue what your company does when they walk through the door, so start with the pain or problem you solve. Try to avoid industry jargon. Your goal is to be understood–to create an “Ah, yes, I see!” moment–not to speak over attendee’s heads.

BlueBridge delivers Mobile Apps as a Service (MaaaS?). Which may or may not come across clearly, even to a techno-literate audience.

Keep your exhibit simple, like your pitch, Santiago said. Put a lot of thought into the few items you will bring, and keep attendees laser-focused on the real value you provide–not the chintzy usb drive the booth next to you is giving away.

Startup Trade Show Idea #2: Be Intentional with Your Exhibit

Startup teams are tight-knit, but that doesn’t always mean that everybody is on the same page going into scrutinous environments like The Innovation Showcase. Prep your team with finely-tuned talking points to make sure the message is consistent. Rehearse.

“When you start describing what you do,” said Santiago, “There are just so many solutions out there that people wonder why you should even exist.”

So why does BlueBridge exist?

“There are more smartphones sold than babies born in the world,” said Santiago, chuckling. “It makes you laugh, but it captures their attention…and they’re willing to listen to how we’re solving that issue.”

Key Startup Trade Show Idea: Ask yourself what key metrics you can share, and how you can create buy-in from attendees with your reason for being.

Startup Trade Show Idea #3: Perfect the 60 Second Pitch

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Santiago Jaramillo and his partner Adam Weber delivered a conversational, easy to understand pitch that really resonated with the judges.

At The Innovation Showcase, companies only have 60 seconds to pitch–but since founders really only have about a minute to get the point across any time they pitch, the lightning-fast 1-minute pitch gets a lot more use than you might think.

“Put yourself in the shoes of your audience,” said Santiago. “You have to really simplify and condense.”

Key Startup Trade Show Idea: Keep your pitch simple. Really simple. Questions afterward do not always mean the pitch was unclear–often, they demonstrate real interest.

Santiago’s pitch style earned him a win at The Innovation Showcase–and if you’re thinking of applying for the 2014 Showcase, his advice is certainly worth incorporating into your pitch: “Be very specific, clear, and simple. Those people don’t know the industry and buzzwords like you do.”

“You want to be either loved or hated, but not ignored or confused!”

The Innovation Showcase is accepting exhibitor applications until April 30, 2014. Get your application in now for a chance to secure one of the first 15 spots!

Your Marketing and YOUtility: Jay Baer Tackles How to Help, Not Hype

YOUtilityMy first encounter with Jay Baer came when I was introduced to his book as required reading for my employee onboarding at Compendium (acquired by Oracle in October).  Little did I know then, I would not only go on to meet the New York Times best selling author but I would become regular acquaintances with him throughout the fall.

My experiences with the All Help NO Hype Marketer

My experiences with Jay have been all over the board, ranging from grabbing beers at a little hole in the wall spot in Louisville to hearing him address agricultural executives at a farming conference in Minnesota – random I know.  One overwhelming trait that stands out to me about Jay is that regardless of the situation or the audience that he’s addressing, his message is ALWAYS helpful and useful.  His advice, techniques and principles regarding marketing are timelessly relevant to any company regardless of size or industry.

Taking Something With You

When you come out on the 13th to hear Jay speak you will undoubtedly leave with information that will be valuable to YOU.  You can expect to hear stories ranging from his experiences working with Fortune 500 companies all the way through to personal experiences from his living room.  His stories will more than likely be strikingly relevant as that has been my experience.  The same breadth of ideas and topics you get from hearing him speak, you will surely get from his book Youtility if you haven’t read it already.

What exactly is Youtility?

I’ll let you hear from the originator of Youtility about what it is exactly but I will say the two main quotes on the book are – “Why Smart Marketing is about Help not Hype” and “The difference between helping & selling is just two letters” and it doesn’t disappoint in providing helpful examples for any business.  The themes presented in this book are particularly critical for entrepreneurs & software startups to understand and I’ll tell you why:

The digital landscape has shifted from Outbound -> Inbound SO GET WITH IT!

Don’t know if you’ve heard of this company out of Massachusetts called Hubspot??  If you haven’t then you’ve seriously been living in a cave…  The company now has over 10,000 customers & 374,000 followers on Twitter – Incredible.  They managed to create this cult like following by employing inbound marketing and by simply being HELPFUL, which is what Youtility is aiming to teach you.  The companies rising above the noise in the marketplace have switched their marketing tactics from pushing -> pulling and from selling -> helping. Inbound Marketing & Youtility go hand in hand and in order to truly thrive in today’s marketplace you CANNOT have one without the other. IMPO a company that is doing an amazing job of this right now is Buffer because they’re the most helpful & transparent company out there.  Have you seen their post about Open Salaries? Amazing stuff.  Jay is an investor in Buffer– no coincidence here folks, his techniques work!

SEE YOU THURSDAY!

We’re excited to have another big name speaking to the Indianapolis startup community. Just weeks after we played host to the founder of Reddit and another big tech launch, Indy is at it again. See you at the Speakeasy!

Why Launch a Tech Company in Indianapolis? Verge Does it #WithGusto

The question has been asked of Shawn Schwegman too many times. The founder of Gusto, an email app about to launch, had entertained the idea of launching at South by Southwest (SXSW), but declined. Instead, he decided to launch his company from the Verge stage here in Indianapolis. The result? The largest launch in Verge history.

So if you were a tech startup, why would you want to launch in Indy? Keep your eye on these three trends in Indy that set it apart from other tech scenes throughout the nation.

1. Community

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Personally, I have been involved with Verge for about 8 months and I’ve heard this community receive high praise from everyone who comes to know us–from IEDC President Eric Doden last night, to reddit.com co-founder & best-selling author Alexis Ohanian just a few weeks ago. And what we have in Indianapolis is special for many reasons beyond our tech talent. Yes, Indianapolis is the Marketing Technology Capital of the World. Yes, Indiana is second in the nation at attracting out-of-state talent to our Universities. Yes, Indianapolis is positioned to launch some of the nation’s coolest tech startups, but that alone isn’t what makes Indy great.

Our community came out in a big way last night. 500 techies joined to help launch a new brand that is in a position to revolutionize the way we view email and personal storage, and that’s what this community is best at. Supporting one another and lifting each other up.

 

2. Access to Talent

A common refrain for Shawn throughout the process of building Gusto was “Go Big or Go Home.” He wasn’t going to half ass this app, so he found five of the best developers in the state, grabbed the best branding agency and PR firms he could find, and shelled out some serious dough.

Well, one of those is a lie.

Shawn talked last night about how the talent we have here in Indianapolis is as good as anyone in the world, but here you don’t have to pay the premium. You can get world class work done for half the price of Silicon Valley or New York.

3. Analytic and Marketing Capacity

Indianapolis is uniquely positioned as the Marketing Tech Capital of the World, and Shawn used every bit of that capacity he could find. As an analytically-driven person, he’s running thousands of marketing campaigns with this launch, micro-targeting every single one with the ultimate goal of making the advertising as personalized as possible.

This highly-analytic, yet creative, approach is a quintessential Indianapolis move that takes advantage of technologies that didn’t exist until recently. While this is definitely the more difficult path, Shawn doesn’t flinch at the task. He understands that this is what you have to do if you want to tango with big data.

I was extremely proud of the Verge community last night. It was incredible to see such a large group of people come out and support Shawn and the Gusto team. This community is why people like Shawn are choosing to launch in Indy as opposed to at SXSW, and it’s why so many new Indy-made companies have so much forward momentum right now.

And we aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.

What else makes Indy a great place to build and launch tech? What opportunities do we have to step our game up to the next level? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!