How to Invest In Your Talents, Build Your SaaS Team, and Tell Your Startup Story w/ Kristian Andersen

Powderkeg Podcast with Kristian Andersen, Partner at High Alpha

In this episode you’ll learn from Kristian Andersen, serial entrepreneur, investor, and Partner at Venture Studio High Alpha:

  • Kristian Andersen SaaS LeadershipWhy geography is not a factor in the success of your start up. (6:30)
  • Why developing your narrative can mean the difference between success and failure. (22:00)
  • What separates the winners from the losers in terms of mindset.  (27:30)
  • The importance of gratitude. (32:00)
  • How to hire A players into your company. (37:00)


Show notes for this episode are also available on the Powder Keg Podcast Website Here >>

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

Key Business Leaders:

Startup Books:

Key Entrepreneurship and Leadership Quotes:

“Really, really good entrepreneurs are fundamentally really, really good story tellers.”

“Investing in people is a really, really quick way to effectively build your own brand.”

“Talent is the atomic unit of success.”

Powderkeg Podcast Transcript:

KRISTIAN ANDERSEN and MATT HUNCKLER

 

Matt: You have been very integral in helping several different start up and technology communities connect, grow and nurture that progress along the way; and much of that has been through your work with Studio Science – formerly KA+A. And I have been lucky enough to work with you on a handful of projects, several projects, over the years, with different tech companies and fast-growing agencies; and I remember… do you remember the first time we met?

Kristian: I’m embarrassed to tell you that I don’t recall the first time we met. We’ve known each other a long time.

Matt: We have known each other a long time.

Kristian: So I can certainly cite some more pivotal interactions, but tell me: what was the first time we met?

Matt: So I mean obviously I remember this better because I was a nobody at the time.

Kristian: Well, we were almost certainly both nobodies at the time.

Matt: Definitely not true. You still had the same swagger that you have today, and it was clear that you knew your stuff; and I definitely remember that, because I had just sold my company down in Bloomington doing what you do on a large scale, on a very small scale for small companies. And so I listened very intently when I first met you.

Kristian: Was it BlueLock?

Matt: It was with Brian Wolff.

Kristian: Brian Wolff, yeah, right.

Matt: So Brian, who’s an investor in Gravity Ventures with you, was my mentor; and we were able to meet up with you at your old Broad Ripple office, in the corner office.

Kristian: Back in the hood, yeah.

Matt: Yeah. Max Yoder welcomed me as the intern.

Kristian: That’s a pretty good person to have meet you for sure.

Matt: Absolutely; who of course we hired in to do Orr Fellowship a year later. So a lot of connections happened in KA+A.

Kristian: Yeah. He was the big one though. That was a coo for the Orr Fellowship…

Matt: Absolutely.

Kristian: To get Max, and it was a coo for us to get him. He walked in as a wet-behind-the-year, kind of junior. It was interesting; he applied for a design internship position, and was not studying design. We actually couldn’t find any relevant skills that he had that were applicable to our business, but you know, some people just make that big an impact; and he walked out and I said we’ve got to figure out a way to make a place for him.

Matt: Yeah? Absolutely.

Kristian: It was a good decision too.

Matt: I’m glad you did. I don’t think I would have… I wouldn’t have known him prior to the Orr Fellowship hiring process if that wasn’t the case. Same with Cruse

Kristian: Yeah?

Matt: Cruise was an Orr Fellow of that class.

Kristian: Yeah, that was an exceptional vintage.

Matt: Yes.

Kristian: Yeah.

Matt: But that was the year that I met you, and you certainly made an impression on me at that meeting and in the following meeting, which of course was over oysters at Bruges; which is kind of your… it will always stick out in my mind. It was the first time I ever had oysters.

Kristian: Were they mussels or oysters?

Matt: Mussels, of course they were mussels.

Kristian: I just want to represent the brand.

Matt: Way to represent the brand. All right, that’s good. That’s good. Well, you know, one of the things that I immediately noticed about you was what a passion for entrepreneurship you have; and not just here in Indianapolis, but all over the country and all over the world – which is where a lot of your clients are now, is pretty much all over the place. So you’ve built up over the last – what, 11, 12 years with Studio Science?

Kristian: I’m kind of like an ageing movie star at this point. The foreigners, right? We’re not, there’s conflicting reports on when the actual launch date was, but yeah, we’ve been at this for really over 13 years.

Matt: So why is it important, or why do you have such a passion for entrepreneurship and people starting companies outside of Silicon Valley, and outside of New York?

Kristian: Yeah, I mean my passion really isn’t limited to folks that are doing it outside of those geographies, right?

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: I happen to have a deep affection and a lot of respect for folks that are doing it in those geographies as well. I think what I find interesting about entrepreneurship in kind of less visible locales, is that it’s a slightly different game, right? And I’ve always had a penchant for the underdog, I guess. It might stem from a diminutive stature; that’s what my mom says. I’m not sure, but it’s… growing up in Arkansas, which is a really kind of unbalanced, pretty economically repressed and depressed state, right? So it comes in as a solid 49 typically on most meaningful measures of economic vitality. Yet even in a state that, you know, is much maligned for being kind of behind the times, you look at certain pockets of a place like that – and it’s certainly not unique to Arkansas. How you explain the rise of, you know, the largest retailer in the world, right? How do you explain the rise of one of the largest transportation logistics companies?

Matt: Which is Walmart and…?

Kristian: Walmart, JD Hines, Tyson Chicken.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, and Dillard’s Department Stores, Acxiom, which was really kind of the original big data company, right?

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: Came out of Little Rock. And out of really, kind of the most unlikely places – and actually you obviously see that around the world – that necessity is the mother of invention, right? And that success is not limited to zip code, right? But I think most people, specifically kind of aspiring entrepreneurs and people who are still kind of trying to feel their way through kind of their personal ambition levels, feel that they have to move, they have to go somewhere else, they have to locate to what has historically been thought of as the center of power, in order to build a big, meaningful business; and the truth of the matter is that’s not true, and I would argue that it’s never been true. I would say it’s less true today than ever. You know, technology has been such a great democratizer in terms of locale; but kind of observing this and being kind of an amateur student of economic development – specifically outside of kind of tier one cities – it dawned on me that there are really, really big opportunities. I mean in the finance world they would call maybe arbitrage opportunities, right?

Matt: Yes.

Kristian: And rather it be Indiana, or parts of Ohio, or Kentucky, or Oregon; I mean pick your state, right? Not all of California is Northern California, right?

Matt: Absolutely.

Kristian: There’s a lot of areas in the rest of that state that this is true for as well. I really wanted to help carry the torch and tell the story about the power of entrepreneurship, and how it can transform communities, and the economic development prospects of kind of historically depressed economies.

Matt: Well, you’re doing a really good job of carrying the torch here in Indianapolis; and one of the recent articles that you’re quoted in quoted you as saying: ‘We used to feel like we had to apologize for being located in Indianapolis, and that’s not the case anymore.’

Kristian: Yeah.

Matt: Do you talk a little bit about that?

Kristian: Yeah, we say now we think of it as a competitive advantage, right?

Matt: Absolutely.

Kristian: And you know, it’s important to kind of separation the kind of ra ra cheerleading from fact, right? Because there is a dynamic where you do have to kind of fake it till you make it a little bit. You have to do that as a person. My dad used to always say, you know, ‘act as if’. Right? You know, dress for the job you want, right? And there is some of that that is true for individuals, cities, states, and you know, countries, right?

Matt: Is there an entrepreneur that has done that well, that you can think of?

Kristian: Uh, probably all of them. You know what I mean?

Matt: Yeah. Absolutely.

Kristian: Because really, really good entrepreneurs – and I’ve strayed away from your initial question – but really, really good entrepreneurs are fundamentally really, really good story tellers.

Matt: Yes.

Kristian: Right? And it doesn’t mean that they’re telling stories that aren’t true, it means that they are telling the most interesting, most compelling, most articulate story possible. So is there an example of an entrepreneur who faked it till they made it?

Matt: That really stands out to you?

Kristian: Well, the question would be give me an example of a really successful entrepreneur that did not do that? And that’s when I’d have to go do some homework.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: Right? You know, as a general rule, they’re phenomenal story tellers, and they’re having to make a silk purse out of sows ears in most cases, right? They don’t have enough money, they didn’t necessarily go to the right school, or have the right degree. They’re trying to sell a vision for a product that doesn’t exist yet to customers they haven’t found yet. Right? So, no, I think that is actually a critical – and I’m making a very clear distinction between lying and being a good story teller, and being able to cast vision, and being able to get people to follow you. Lying I have zero tolerance for; but telling a good story, being able to craft a vision and articulate that well, and get potential customers or employees or investors excited is an absolutely critical skill. And at the state level – if you look at a state like Indiana – you can’t literally start with nothing. Right? You have to have some raw material, whether it be your brain or deep pocketbooks, or as, you know, Peter Thiel talks about, you’ve got to know a secret that very few other people know. You’ve got to have one or more of those things to really spin things up, and in Indiana we were really blessed by having all the normal stuff; highly educated, you know, workforce, the good old-fashioned – not myth – but kind of fact of the Midwestern work ethic.

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: And a number of businesses that had created kind of micro clusters for us to take advantage of from an entrepreneurial perspective, and that’s why when today I say we used to have to kind of explain away why we’re based in Indi, today we lead with that because in so many parts of the country now this particular city is recognized certainly as being a hotbed of marketing technology. Right? And it’s not limited purely to marketing tech, but certainly that’s kind of the sharp end of the spear.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: We’ve had a lot of success. Certainly a lot of that owed to ExactTarget, but it really transcends ExactTarget, as you know. Many companies before put a dent in the universe here, including Interactive Intelligence and Software Artistry.

Matt: Aprimo.

Kristian: Aprimo, and so on and so forth. And through that we’ve built such a dynamic base of talent, managerial expertise, a large hiring base; it’s why just over the course of the past few months a number of companies that are headquartered out of state have begun opening offices – a pretty rapid clip here, right? To take advantage of that arbitrage.

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it kind of goes to the point of sort of branding your city, and being able to get everyone behind a single message. And sort of that vision casting aspect of entrepreneurship – you’re going to probably cringe when I say this word – is a little bit of developing a personal brand.

Kristian: Yeah. I do cringe a little bit when you say it, yeah. I know exactly what you mean.

Matt: I knew it would, but you know, I don’t know what other phrase… Until you come up with a better phrase than personal branding, you know, I do think that the personal brand of an entrepreneur is very important, and clearly impacts the way the company is branded. Can you talk a little bit about what you coach entrepreneurs – whether they’re young or not – but first time entrepreneurs, as they’re going about vision casting and building their pitch deck, and going out there raising money or building prototypes; what are some of the things that you frequently encourage entrepreneurs, or course correct with entrepreneurs, around branding their start up?

Kristian: Yeah. Well you know, the irony is one of the things that will kind of damage your career early on – if you’re wanting to position yourself as an entrepreneur company building – is to spend too much time and effort trying to figure out how to brand yourself as an entrepreneur or a company building. Right? It’s always… used to be a turn off. Now, the older I get the more empathy I have; but it always struck me as interesting or odd when a 22-year old walk handed me their business card and it would say kind of ‘serial entrepreneur’ or something like that on it. Right? I’m sure there are 22-year olds who are legitimately serial entrepreneurs – there’s not a lot of them. You know, at the end of the day the best marketing is a great product. Right? So this is true for software companies. This is true for automobiles. This is true for cities that are trying to figure out municipal branding. And it’s also true for people.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? So those who are focused on kind of the traditional approach to personal branding, which is all about building your own mission statement and relentlessly being present and visible on social media, and showing up to every conference, and trying to get on the panel…

Matt: Right.

Kristian: And so on, and so forth. If all of that energy was being funneled toward building a product – and I mean in some cases the product being a person. Right?

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: How you create value in the world. Right? I think you would see a lot more success. And I’ll give you just a finite example, right? The way to build a great personal brand is to help people. Right? So that may be the people you work with, it may be the person you work for today, it may be the people who you are trying to hire or attract into your company, it could be people in a non-profit space, people at your church. Whatever the case might be, right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Investing in people is a really, really quick way to effectively build your own brand. If you have a reputation for being somebody who gets stuff done, who when people ask for help delivers that help, that is so much more effective in establishing credibility and boosting your visibility, rather than just being noticed. Right? And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t blog and be active on Twitter and… of course you should, right? But all of that should be, I believe, done through the lens of ‘How am I helping? How am I creating value?’ Right? ‘How am I making the world a better place? How am I advancing the agenda of my organization or the city I live in?’ And I think that’s where people most often go wrong; and I can cite a whole lot of examples – and I won’t bore you with the details – but it seems like a simple truth, but it’s one that people have a hard time grasping.

Matt: Well, lets get a little specific there, because I really like that idea of entrepreneur as a product. Right? Before maybe they even have a product built, and an entrepreneur viewing themselves as a product. So if entrepreneurs out there are viewing themselves as a product, what do you see – at this point in time, 2015 – what are people out there hungry for in terms of a product as it pertains to an entrepreneur as a product? What kind of entrepreneurs does the world need right now?

Kristian: You know, unfortunately what the world needs and what people are hungry for are rarely the same thing.

Matt: That’s a good point.

Kristian: People are not particularly rational, as you know, and have a hard time kind of playing the long game, right? So you know, I fear my answer will be kind of unsatisfactory because it’s so banal and obvious; but the simple version is we need more people doing, and less people pontificating. Right? So, I mean we see this, you know, everywhere; in our business and the companies that we work with and the companies that we’re talking to from an investment perspective. Execution trumps everything, right? Ideas are cheap. You and I meet with people every day that have ideas. I’ve never met anyone that didn’t have at least one hundred million-dollar idea rattling around in their brain.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? Ideas are cheap. You know, in terms of currency, it’s people that actually kind of advance, move the ball forward; and that means rolling up your sleeves and being prepared to face a whole lot of rejection and casting aside any sense of entitlement one might have about what the world owes them, or what they deserve.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Once again, that’s human nature, right? I mean, we are kind of broken people innately, right? And we constantly have to battle selfishness. Right? I want. I deserve. Why me?

Matt: Sure, sure.

Kristian: So on and so forth, and I think the people who end up being most successful are folks that get to work building something that has value that transcends themselves. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: And once again this goes back to how you do personal branding well. I can tell you how to do it wrong. Right? If it’s focused purely on you building your CV, making sure you’re the most visible, brightest light in the room….

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Over time that pays; you may get some pops from it, but it pays diminishing returns over time. Humility is so underrated.

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: It is unbelievable, and people talk about it all the time as if it’s like this core value that everyone shares; and I’ll tell you, true humility is in extraordinarily short supply.

Matt: It’s hard to come by. Hopefully a little less hard to come by here in the Midwest.

Kristian: Yeah. You know what, there’s even this perverse arrogance in the Midwest about their humility; they love to talk about how humble they are.

Matt: It’s true. It’s true.

Kristian: Right?

Matt: Guilty right now.

Kristian: Yeah. Well no, it’s interesting; I was on a road trip with someone the other day and we were kind of comparing the different geographies and what’s true about them, and I was making this case for Midwestern humility, and he was like, ‘You know, even in the Midwest you see humility perverted into vanity, where it becomes this bad…’

Matt: Look how humble I am.

Kristian: Look how humble I am. It’s a little bit like when somebody gets their Oscar and they, you know, any time somebody says, ‘I’m so humbled by…’ they actually mean the exact opposite of that. Right? So it’s another word that is slowly losing its meaning.

Matt: Yeah. That’s true. Well, let’s say that founders out there watching this right now are working on building great product, and they’re building a great team – as best a team they can with whatever money they’re bringing in from their product. There’s still some amount of communication that they need to do in order to continued to attract the right talent, potentially attract investors, and market to clients. What are kind of like – especially in the early stages – what are some of those things, as let’s say a founder’s going out to start the fundraising process; how can they communicate who they are and what they’re about effectively with their brand, or what is to become their brand?

Kristian: I mean once again, I think it goes back to story telling; and I really don’t make a distinction, so I talk about…

Matt: Should there be one story? Should there be many stories?

Kristian: Oh no, there needs to be one story. It certainly can be contextualized for the audience.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: But no, there needs to be, there should only be one story; and that story needs to live in the product.

Matt: Okay.

Kristian: Not exclusively, but I’m not… we tend to fall into this way of thinking where there’s marketing and there’s product; and those are different things. Right? One is, you know, how you fulfil demand, and the other is how you generate demand; and I tend to think that those are not the same thing. Increasingly, as people purchase experiences – not products – you have to think along the lines that the continuum is different. Right?

Matt: Yep.

Kristian: So the retail experience if there is one, the advertising experience if there is one, the product experience – so actually interacting with what I’m paying money for, the services experience that I’m dealing with; if I have a problem or I need to return it, or something broke. I mean, that’s all the product.

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: And really the most successful products are stores, right? And I mean, if I said: ‘Hey, name the three most interesting dynamic products on the planet?’ Right? Whether you said the Nest thermostat, or Tesla, or a MacBook Pro, or whatever – those are really kind of like living narratives. Right?

Matt: Yeah. Absolutely.

Kristian: I mean literally. It’s a story, and it’s a story that’s constantly being tuned, and it’s constantly being tweaked. So my first point would be that you need to view your product and that experience of consuming it – buying it, consuming it – as part of that narrative. More specifically, in the fundraising process I like to think of the pitch deck as it’s a novel, right? It is hopefully not a work of fiction, but it’s a book. It’s a story; and it has a plotline. Right?

Matt: Okay.

Kristian: That should be clearly articulated. It has a protagonist.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Right? You’re a product coming to save the day. It has an antagonist; what’s the problem that’s being addressed?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: What’s the great wrong that has to be righted? It has a de noir, it has a climax, right? The climax may be when that problem gets solved for a particular customer. If you’re talking to investors it might be when there’s liquidity in there, that puts money back in the investors pockets; but I think if entrepreneurs would force themselves to think in terms of the narrative, constantly the narrative. Who’s our hero?

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Who’s are enemy? Right? What’s the great quest or challenge that’s been put in front of us? Right? Kind of the hero’s journey.

Matt: Yeah. I like that.

Kristian:  That goes a really, really long way. And that way when you get nervous, or you need other people to help carry the water and tell the story, you know… We might all give slightly different versions of what happened in Star Wars, but in general we’d be able to tell the same story. Right? And it’s the same thing when you’re raising money, and you’ve got a COO, or if you’ve got a co-founder and you’re split up, or you’re in different planes and your pitching different groups. You want to be singing out of the same hymn book. The same things true when you’re selling to customers. The same things true when you’re recruiting. And this is why the idea of story, living inside of the product, living inside your organization, being a culture, is so critical; because if you’ve got a story that’s properly articulated and codified then it’s not just up to you to be able to tell that story.

Matt: Yeah. Let’s get a little more brass tacks; how long should that story be?

Kristian: Once again, I think you’ve got to contextualize it, right? So, if you’re at a launch festival you’ve got two minutes. It should be two minutes long. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, if you’re sitting down, recruiting a VP of Sales, you can take a lot longer to tell that story; but you know, if you want to think of it through the kind of rubric of the investor pitch, right? Obviously, less is more. And you know, 10 to 15 slides, following that plot line of who we are, what we do, here’s the problem, here’s how big the problem is – which is a really critical thing that many entrepreneurs get wrong. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: There are a lot of terrific problems out there, that are real and no one’s going to argue with the fact that they’re real; but if you’re successful in addressing it, in a vacuum it may not be sufficient to build a venture scale business around. One thing, because the one thing that – I’m really on a Peter Thiel kick now, so forgive me – but the one…

Matt: I read Zero to One based on your recommendation.

Kristian: One of the things he points out in that book that I think is critical is that most really, really big ideas, A. seem dumb. Right? Initially.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: And, B. appear to be attacking a problem that’s too small. Right? So you really need to understand how big the opportunity could be. The flip side of that is, folks that are only targeting ten billion dollar minimum total addressable markets I think are missing the boat, because many, many great ideas are great because they actually change consumption habits; they change the way people behave. So trying to size that market before you’ve disrupted it can be an impossibility, and I think if people are too fixated on that it means we’re going to miss out on a lot of great ideas.

Matt: That’s a really good point, and I think that if you can kind of shape that in your story, right? And show… who was it? I don’t remember who was talking about how they did this effectively, but it was literally; in this industry this company did this. In this industry, this company did this. In this industry, no ones done it yet; that’s because we’re doing it. Are there other things that you see that kind of escalate that story to the climax, or sort of the apex moment of the story?

Kristian: Yeah. I mean once again a lot of this is conventional wisdom, but I think we hear it so much that it loses its efficacy.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, another big deal in the story telling process is you really have to… people have to care about you, the individual.

Matt: Right.

Kristian: Before they can care about your product, right? Or even care about the problem that you’re trying to solve.

Matt: How do you make someone care about you.

Kristian: Yeah. That’s a good question. A number of the things that we’ve already touched on, right?

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: So it really comes down to, who do you want to invest in? What are the character traits that exist – and this differs from investor to investor for sure, but there’s some commonality, right? By and large people want to invest in winners, right? Now that seems kind of crass.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: But it’s the absolute fact, and winners have kind of one defining characteristic.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Are you ready for this?

Matt: I’m ready.

Kristian: Okay. Winners believe that they are going to win.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? So losers think they might win if everything goes according to plan and nothing happens, you know? Nobody screws with them from the outside and the market doesn’t get disrupted by a third party. Winners don’t think about that that stuff.

Matt: They don’t have a Plan B, C, D…

Kristian: As soon as the shoes are laced up, they’re out there. They’re not just trying to win; they believe that they are going to win. Right? I mean Ali is like the greatest example, right?

Matt: Sure. There is an example of humility.

Kristian: Yeah. Well you know what’s interesting, there was lots of things that he knew he wasn’t good at.

Matt: It’s very true.

Kristian: Lots of stuff. Right? He happened to be right about the one thing he believed he was good at. Right? And that was whipping people. So don’t confuse humility with fake self-deprecation, or self-flagellation. That’s not what I mean. You can know you’re really good at something…

Matt: Right.

Kristian: And still manage to be humble in the process. And also baked into that is people want to invest in winners, they want to invest in people who they believe are teachable – because nobody knows it all, right? So coming across, somehow striking that balance where you are confident and self-assured is critical, but also that you are flexible, because we know that you are going to need to be, coachable, teachable. And I’ll tell you, you know you can’t read a book on it, in terms of that person. Right? I mean, it’s like everything else; you’ve got to practice those things. You’ve got to practice being confident.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know, it’s all about like, at bats. Right? And that’s why constantly pitching, working on a story, interacting with people, refining your method – in many ways talking yourself into what it is you’re trying to talk other people into.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Is so critical. I do believe that there are probably some entrepreneurial genes that are passed along from mother to daughter, or father to son; but as a general rule, most of that is a function of training and learning.

Matt: Well if you’re in America the chances are you have some of those genes in you.

Kristian: Yeah. That’s right, that’s right.

Matt: Well so, those are really good pieces, you know, in terms of the character and bringing out that character in telling that story; your own entrepreneurial character as well as the protagonist and antagonist in your story. You know, as you’re going through and developing a relationship, you know one of the things that I’ve always admired about Studio Science is even though I haven’t always been your biggest client – nor have I probably ever been your biggest client – the care that you take in developing that relationship with just little things, you know; like sending gifts. You know, when I was on the front page of the IBJ, you guys were the first people to send a thank you note. Talk to me a little bit about, 1). Where did you get that trait? Because I know it’s not you writing every card, but it comes from you, the founder of the company.

Kristian: Yeah.

Matt: And can you maybe tell me a little bit about why that’s important?

Kristian: Yeah. Well certainly it’s not – as you noted – that’s the culture of Studio Science, and the culture of gratitude is really strong here; some gratefulness, being grateful. And I think we are all, I know we are all really grateful to have the opportunity to do what we do for a living. I mean it’s a really dreamy job.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: You know? And we’ve been successful at it, and we’ve been rewarded along those lines, which has been terrific; but that – at the risk of sounding trite – that’s definitely not why we do it, because there are easier ways to make money.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: As they say. I think everyone here is really grateful, and so it’s… when you are yourself satisfied and content and grateful, and acknowledge the fact that you have a lot of stuff that you may not deserve, it makes it really easier… it makes it a lot easier to be happy for other people.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? Gratefulness is the exact opposite of resentfulness. Right?

Matt: Sure.

Kristian: And so what that leads to, is it leads to a culture of celebration, where you not only want to celebrate kind of your own successes, but you naturally just want to celebrate other people’s as well.

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? I think it’s one of the reason why we’ve been such an active and prolific cheerleader of this community, is that we’re proud to have played some role in its ascension; but more than anything we’re just happy. We’re happy for the people who live here and work here, we’re happy for the people that have those successes. And you ask where it comes from and, you know, I think that in my case – it certainly doesn’t all come from me here – but in my case I was certainly raised in an environment where I was reminded to be grateful. Right? Where that was part of the culture of my family, to give thanks, and to give thanks religiously – if you’ll pardon the pun. And that spills over into every aspect of your life, right? It does not mean that I am never resentful, it doesn’t mean that I never look at somebody and go, ‘I sure would like a car like that someday.’ But I think it’s sincere, and I think interesting, it’s gratifying to hear you say that about Studio Science. I think that’s something that this team owns, and spends a lot of time trying to be really intentional about.

Matt: Mm hm. What – you know in terms of that being a core value for Studio Science – 1). Do you think that that needs to be a core value for all companies? And then the follow up question is, do all companies need to define what their core values are?

Kristian: I mean the second, the last question is simple. Yes. I mean at some point there needs to be some shared understanding about what’s important.

Matt: At what point is that important? Do you think that’s before you hit the road pitching?

Kristian: Yeah. I think in the beginning, right? I mean – and once again, you know, I’m certainly not saying we’ve always been good at that, and that’s always a process… I believe values can change by the way. Right? And most people would say, ‘No, you set those in stone and those become your guiding lights.’ No. I think things change, people change, and what may be important ten years ago, may not be as important to you. Maybe you achieved that, or maybe you thought that was important to you and you realized over time that it wasn’t; but no, I think you absolutely have to be really proactively engaged in evaluating what’s important.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Documenting that somehow. And this is the role of CEO. Right? Is to establish what is important for that business, and then relentlessly communicate that down to the organization until people are sick and tired of hearing it. In terms of should gratefulness be a core value for all businesses? I mean, I have no idea. Far be it for me to say what should be important to them. So no. It has been important for us; it has served us well. It’s been something that we can galvanize around and rally around, and it’s certainly paid dividends. It’s the kind of quintessential ‘what goes around comes around’ scenario.

Matt: That’s good. We talked a lot about what companies can do to communicate well, and to grow; specifically focusing on product and developing the right messaging around that, at the right times. What are the things that companies… what are those things that growing companies need to avoid? And you know, we obviously touched on some of that too; focusing all of your time and attention on doing the ‘look at me’ side of things. But what are some of the pitfalls you see, especially in fast-growing companies, which you work almost exclusively with fast growing companies?

Kristian: Yeah. I think the biggest thing – I think this is a pretty easy question actually… As we like to say, talent is the atomic unit of success. Right? So that’s kind of the irreducible complexity of success, is who are you working with? You know, you’ve got a crappy product? If you hire the best team they will fix your crappy product. Right? You’ve got bad customer service? You hire the right team; they will fix your bad customer service. Talent can fix anything.

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Right? It can fix a bad product. Literally. Right? It can fix a broken sales model. Literally. And so getting the right people on board is so critical; and everyone pays lip service to that, right? Everyone, ‘talent’s our most valuable resource’, or whatever. The reality is that when you’re a hyper growth company, and you’re hiring 50 people a month, or 50 people a week…

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Right? It can be really difficult, almost impossible, to hire well across the board. Right? So when you’re the size of Studio Science, it’s not easy, but it’s manageable. Right? If we need to slow our role to make sure we’ve got the right folks on the team, we’ll just slow down. Right? If you’re a hyper growth venture backed company that, you know, the wolves are at the door and the competitors are circling and IBM decides to get into the business, you can’t take your foot off the accelerator. So hiring is so critical, and getting that right is so critical, and so difficult; and so knowing that at scale it’s going to be almost impossible to continue to hire A players, building the right type of culture with the right type of values, that are rigorously and religiously conveyed to those inside of the organization, can help smooth out a lot of those rough patches; because the second best thing you can do next to hiring the right person, is firing the wrong person quickly. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: And if you’ve got the right culture in place, and the right values in place, and the right people in place, the host organism will reject. Right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: Folks that are not good fits, folks that are either toxic or not up to the task. It’s not always up to bad people, sometimes they just don’t have the horsepower. Right? And when you’re into the hyper growth curb, especially early on, a couple of bad apples can really muck up the works, you know? I mean this is – once again, this is kind of conventional wisdom – but the interesting thing about A players is A players will hire, and subsequently inspire other A players.

Matt: Right.

Kristian: The problem with letting just one B+ person in the door – and that’s tricky, because B+ people walk like A+ people, and they talk like A+ people; it can be very, very hard to understand the nuance. The minute one of those folks come in the door, the wheels gonna fall off the wagon; because B player hire and inspire C players, and C players hire and inspire D players, and it’s like a virus. Right? A players are so unique in that regard. And I’ll tell you, if you want to know the secret to divining the difference…

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: How do you know an A from a B in the interview process? It’s pretty simple, I think I’ve got it down.

Matt: Let’s hear it.

Kristian: When you ask them the kind of perfunctory question about, ‘Tell me about one of your greatest failures. Like when a project went wrong?’ You know, this is kind of standard interview 101. What you’ll find is that the A player and the B player will both tell you about the failure, and then you’ll say to the A person, ‘Why did that happen?’ Here’s what the A person will say: ‘I failed to do X and then recognize that until two weeks later, and by that point it was too late.’ Or, ‘My manager told me to do X, but I decided to do Y and it failed.’ Or, ‘I slept through my alarm.’ Or whatever the case may be. A B player – the cause will be external. Right? ’Well my boss insisted that we use an offshore development firm, and they didn’t really understand what we were trying to do, and they…’ Or, ‘We had this new sales guy came in, and he sold a bunch of vapor that doesn’t even exist in the product yet. There was no way for me to…’ Right? It’s always going to be some external event, or individual, or set of circumstances, that drove the failure. And I mean to me that has proven itself to be the clearest, cleanest, crispest way to distinguish two parties that on paper look almost identical. How do you know who’s really… who’s got the bandwidth and intellectual horsepower and humility, the leadership to move to the next level? That simple test usually will render that out.

Matt: Do you ask that question too, to entrepreneurs who pitch to you? Or do you have a similar kind of litmus test around character?

Kristian: You know, it’s interesting. The way we deal with someone who’s coming and asking for money, and the way we deal with somebody who is gracious enough to consider coming and joining us – we manage that a little differently. Right? So those are two different… It’s an interesting question, I’ve never thought of it that way; but those are two very different processes. There’s a different set of patterns that I personally am looking for in an entrepreneur. Right? And once again, a lot of this is kind of intuitive, or intuition driven. Some of it is a little more practical and linear. You can ask some questions. And the first thing is to be a great entrepreneur you have to be oriented toward entrepreneurship, right?

Matt: Yeah.

Kristian: And one of the simplest ways to find out the answer to that question is to ask them about their entrepreneurial background. I mean it is shocking… I mean it is really, really shocking how similar the backgrounds of most successful entrepreneurs are. I mean there are a series of very similar… You know, I always ask, ‘Tell me about the first time you remember making money on your own.’ Right? And I mean like clockwork, it’s the same answer. I mean, contextualized a little differently, but they were selling cinnamon toothpicks on the playground, or they were having their mom drop them off at 7-11 and buying lemonheads, and then crossing the street to the elementary school and marking them up 50 percent, or they were selling T-shirts to the sorority girls when they were in college, or they were mowing lawns at the beginning of Summer and by the end of the Summer they were running a crew of five of their friends mowing lawns and they were just counting checks. I mean that cadence of being a starter; being able to execute, being able to build teams – whether it was in third grade selling cinnamon toothpicks, or you know, brokering T-shirt printing to college kids – it’s really, really similar, and as you… Just because you did that does not mean you will be successful. That’s not my point. But those who are successful, by and large, a disproportionate number of them have similar experiences. As a matter of fact, a disproportionate number of them never even had real jobs.

Matt: For those with real jobs, who haven’t already started an entrepreneurial venture; should they stay away from starting something?

Kristian: That’s a good question. So if you have not exhibited the gene historically; are you saying is that enough of a reason to not move into entrepreneurship? I don’t know. That’s a good question.

Matt: It probably doesn’t matter what you say, because the person that’s the right person would start no matter what you said.

Kristian: That is an excellent point. So yeah, for anyone who that would dissuade them – they’re ignoring what I’m saying anyway. So that’s good. And I think the answer is no, because I think that you can come to things late in life. And really that’s certainly… yeah, absolutely. And I also think that the – I’ve used this word several times today, it’s an important one – I think the context of entrepreneurship has changed dramatically, and will continue to change as well. Right? So as we largely continue to move into this kind of free agent nation idea…

Matt: Mm hm.

Kristian: Right? The idea of, ‘Well, I’ve been at the same job for 28-years, I don’t know if I…’ We’re not going to have one of those conversations in the future. Right? So I think that one of the things that’s happening is everybody is having to become, at least at a micro level, entrepreneurial even in their day-to-day jobs. So I don’t know that the cinnamon toothpick test will be as meaningful five years from now as it was five years in the past.

Matt: That’s a good point. Well, Kristian I could probably ask you questions all afternoon if you’d let me.

Kristian: Yeah, we’ll save some.

Matt: But I know you’ve got a lot of stuff to do, and we’ve got another conversation coming up in a couple of days. So, anything else you want to touch on? Or something that you just really wanted to expand on but I cut you off?

Kristian: No. I got it all out of my system.

Matt: Awesome man. Thank you so much.

Kristian: Hey, thank you. A please.

Matt: Likewise.

From Powder Keg to Silicon Valley

As Indy prepares to pitch for Super Bowl 2018, it seems fitting to reflect on the Powder Keg Startup Bowl of 2012. Just 18 months ago Marc Kleinman and I took the stage at the inaugural PowderKeg to pitch Diagnotes, a health IT venture based in Indianapolis.

diagnotes at powder keg
Please vote here to support Diagnotes, an Indiana HIT venture!

Verge put together a great event, with the Startup Bowl just one of many awesome activities that gained national attention. We joined 10 other finalists in a competition fitting the location, Lucas Oil Stadium.

It was an honor to share the stage with up and coming entrepreneurs like Max Yoder of Lesson.ly and Santiago Jaramillo of BlueBridge Digital, ventures that have themselves gone on to accomplish great things. While billed as a competition, from a great MC in Pete the Planner to an outstanding judge panel the event truly reflected the passion and cooperative spirit that embodies the Indiana venture community. Of course, it was even more special to me personally given that my daughter Lindsey, a new addition to the local venture scene after graduating from Rose-Hulman in 2012, helped organize (and write about) the event.

Diagnotes Pitches at Powder Keg

The Startup Bowl marked a key transition for Diagnotes. For over two years technical founder Bharath Bynagari had led development of the core technology in conjunction with partner Community Health Network to sow the seeds of what is now Diagnotes. Following a successful pilot project, we were able to lure Dave Wortman, serial entrepreneur and longtime IT visionary, to lead Diagnotes startup team as CEO in the transition from a cool project to a high-potential venture.

We engaged DeveloperTown as a partner to develop a kick-ass interface and a scalable technology platform.  Marc joined the team, and we enjoyed a series of wins in 2012 including the Hoosier Healthcare Innovation Challenge and Biocrossroads venture competition. All the accolades culminated in raising over $1.5 million in funding in 2013, allowing Diagnotes to build a team and begin to scale. In 2014, Diagnotes has a core group of paying customers with hundreds of doctors using the system.

Today, Diagnotes is a finalist in a global venture competition called Launch: Silicon Valley World Cup Tech Challenge being held on May 20 at Microsoft’s campus in Mountain View, CAWe are neck-in- neck with an Israeli venture in the HealthTech category as well as several other strong contenders. 

Please follow this link to vote: http://www.launchsiliconvalley.org/healthTech. You can vote on every device you own, so don’t be shy!

This competition in and of itself won’t create further success for Diagnotes—but just as  being a finalist in the Startup Bowl, it could be another key milestone in a journey bringing national recognition, jobs, and investor returns to the Indiana venture scene. You can view some of the original pitch in an Indianapolis Business Journal article here.

Thanks for your help and support! And please plan to join the next pitch fest at the Innovation Showcase in July (see www.theinnovationshowcase.com).

How to Get the Most out of This Month’s Tech Conferences

Tech Conference GuideThere you are, sitting by yourself with a stale poppy seed bagel and kid-sized cup of conference coffee. The first presenter is only five minutes into their presentation, and they’re already reading from their slides.

We’ve all been there–trapped at a bad conference. Maybe it looked good on paper, or maybe someone you respect recommended it to you. But you’re there, and your work is back at the office where it will stay until you can escape.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Yes, conferences can stink. But the good ones–the really good ones–can shift the trajectory of your business and personal growth. You just have to know where to look and how to get the most out of the experience.

Below are some of the best startup conferences this month and how you can participate (even if you’re not attending). At the end of the article, I’ve included some strategies for how to get the most out of any event you decide to invest in.

TechFestNW

Overview

Based out of Portland, Oregon, TechFestNW is the little sister conference to MusicFestNW. Despite being a fledgeling conference, only in its second year, TechFestNW is quickly becoming a hot conference to watch. Featuring great speakers, compelling topics, and bumping after parties, the schedule at TechFestNW can compete with anyone in the nation. What really sets this conference apart, however, is their last day.

The most unique aspect of the TechFest lineup is also the most attractive. On their final day, they are hosting the “PDXDrones Challenge.” First, at 11, a team of experts will take a hodge-podge of disparate parts and put together a fully functional, completely flyable drone in under an hour. At 1, they’ll be bringing PDX’s best drone pilots together in the “drone cage” to battle head to head in an obstacle course.

If you’re interested in robotics, startups, or just want to party with the north west’s best and brightest, you have to make it to TechFestNW 2013, September 6-8.

Top Speakers

Alan Webber

Co-Founder of Fast Company, Editorial Director of the Harvard Business Review, and author of Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self, Webber’s wealth of knowledge is invaluable to business leaders everywhere. He will be giving the Saturday evening keynote entitled “Creating the Next Version of Portland.”

This keynote is a very apt topic for Webber. While many recognize his work in the business world, few realize that he has been extremely active politically at the local, state, and national level, fighting for Portland every step of the way. His passion and vision for the city will make this a must-see keynote for all Oregonians in attendance.

Alan Schaaf

As the founder and CEO of imgur.com, Schaaf’s name and reputation are easily recognizable to many in the tech world. As the founder of one of the largest (and certainly the easiest) image sharing services in the world, he brings an heir of techie-ism to TechFestNW, but his biggest contribution to the festival comes in his knowledge of the startup space.

Giving the Sunday keynote address, “Pros and Cons of Bootstrapping: Imgur’s Experience,” Schaaf will be touching on his experience starting a company from his dorm room. As an organization who takes bootstrapping seriously, this talk stood out to us. While there is a sexy side to the tech end of Imgur, the less sexy side will prove to be far more beneficial for budding northwest entrepreneurs looking to learn from the conference. If you’re starting a business, you’re going to want to take good notes during this keynote.

Saul Colt

I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that Saul Colt is by far the most interesting speaker in the TechFestNW lineup. He was recently named as one of the iMEDIA 25: Internet Marketing Leaders & Innovators and is the “Head of Magic” at SAUL! The Idea Integration Company. He has an extensive bio, featuring many different endeavors, but today he finds himself specializing in Social Media, Customer Service, Community Building and Word of Mouth Marketing.

Colt will be featured during the Saturday morning speaking sessions, giving a talk entitled “Insights from the Smartest Man in the World.” While I can’t attest to that claim, I can definitively say that his presentation is bound to be one of the most entertaining of the conference and a must see for those interested in online influence and marketing.

Social Media Buzz

First and foremost, whether you can attend or not, this is a great list to follow.

Disrupt SF

Overview

The Disrupt conference is put on by TechCrunch and is the leading conference in the world for tech startups. This year’s DisruptSF Conference is being held from September 7th to the 11th and features the staples that made Disrupt famous. From an all night hackathon to the Startup Battlefield, where tech entrepreneurs from all over the world will compete for the Disrupt Cup, this event is sure to be a great experience for everyone in attendance.

Top Speakers

Jeff Weiner

As the CEO of LinkedIn, Weiner is responsible for much of the growth that the professional network has experienced over the last five years. In addition to LinkedIn, Jeff serves on the board of directors for Intuit Inc., DonorsChoose.org and Malaria No More. Jeff will be doing a fireside chat at noon on Monday which will be extremely beneficial for anyone looking to learn about leadership and growth.

Marc Benioff

Marc Benioff is the founder and CEO of Salesforce.com and is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of cloud computing. From groundbreaking idea to publicly traded company, Salesforce has become one of the most popular and influential companies in B2B software. Benioff’s knowledge, vision, and influence are invaluable, and his fireside chat at Disrupt will be one of the most informative presentations given all month.

He will be doing a fireside on Tuesday at 10:45. You won’t want to miss it.

Dick Costolo

Costolo has been the CEO of Twitter since 2010 and has been instrumental in the network’s growth. Before Twitter, Costolo was co-founder and CEO of FeedBurner, a digital content syndication platform that was acquired by Google in 2007.

He will be giving a presentation Monday at 12:20, immediately following the fireside chat with Jeff Weiner, entitled “How To Lead,” Making the noon hour on Monday an irresistable time slot for attendees.

Social Media Buzz

As a leading conference in the tech space, there is bound to be a ton of activity on Twitter surrounding this year’s event. Here’s some of the activity we’ve seen for #DisruptSF.

Connections

Overview

Named best Convention in America by the American Business Awards, the Connections conference put on by ExactTarget is not one to miss. Located in Indianapolis, Indiana, Connections is one of the largest gatherings of marketers in the world. This conference focuses on the intersection of marketing and technology, a niche that Indianapolis has cornered extremely well.

In addition to the top-shelf keynotes, “Cloud Crawl,” ExactTarget Academy, and music festival at Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the 2012 Super Bowl), a new feature of this year will be the M-TECH Conference happening in conjunction with the final day of Connections. This conference, put on by Techpoint for marketing technology users, buyers, producers and investors, will backup the growing consensus that Indianapolis, with innovators like Exact Target, iGoDigital, Tinderbox, Angie’s List and more, is the marketing tech capital of the world.

Top Speakers

Jim Collins

Tuesday’s 2:30 keynote is brought to you by Jim Collins, author of New York Times bestsellers Good to Great and Built to Last. His presentations are built to challenge with a practical blueprint for sustaining enduring growth and sustained superior performance. Collins has a passion for understanding and advising how companies grow, perform, and become great.

As someone who has served as a teacher to senior executives and CEOs at over a hundred corporations, Collins’ keynote definitely ranks as one of the best talks for executives of any company to see this month.

Walter Isaacson

Isaacson previously served as Chairman and CEO of CNN and Editor of TIME magazine. Additionally, he has authored five biographies including Steve Jobs. Today, Isaacson is the President and CEO of Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization.

As one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012, Walter Isaacson is sure to generate a lot of buzz. His keynote on Tuesday at 4:45 is a must hit for anyone attending the conference.

Condoleeza Rice

Thursday’s keynote speaker needs no introduction, but that’s never stopped us before. Condoleeza Rice is known as one of the most knowledgeable women in the world in the realm of politics and foreign relations. Rice served as the 66th United States Secretary of State (2005-2009) and National Security Advisor (2001-2005).

Today, Rice is the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and is a founding partner of RiceHandleyGates LLC., an international strategic consulting firm. Her keynote address at noon on Thursday is the headlining event of this year’s Connections conference and a great way to close an event.

Social Media Buzz

As the “Marketing Tech Capital of the World,” Indianapolis will be abuzz with social content for Connections. Here’s some of the early buzz surrounding #ET13

 

Tech Conference Tips and Tricks

As you lace up for these or other conferences, take it a step further and learn the basic moves of the the startup event dance:

  • Know what you want to get out of attending an event. Hell, I’ll take it a step further and say that you should go Tony Robbins on it and write your goals down ahead of time.
  • Find the people who can help get your business where you want it to be. Twitter is great for this and you should use lists and hashtags to organize your connecting. Pair up this effort with another conference tools like an attendee directory or Lanyrd and you’ll start to feel like a conference Jedi. Just make sure you put others first. Figure out what makes them tick, what they do, and how you might be able to help.
  • Schedule your time. If you already know people who are going to be there, set up a meeting in advance. Find the can’t-miss sessions and lock them in on your calendar. But don’t over schedule yourself. Give yourself room to absorb what’s going on and to allow serendipity to run its course.
  • Get out there and keep getting better. Getting the most value from a conference takes some attention to detail, but you’ll improve with practice. So don’t just stand there, bust a move.

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.

Thanks!

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?