It's been nearly a week since the ThinkBIGArkansas event and it's still on my mind.
On Friday, March 1st, many in the tech/entrepreneur scene in Arkansas gathered at Hendrix University in Conway, AR for the launch of Startup Arkansas. Arkansas is the 32nd state to be included in the Startup America platform.
The day started off focusing on suggested ideas from people around Arkansas. A few of the champions welcomed them on stage to talk about their ideas to get it on everyone's mind to be discussed further in the day. After this individuals were welcomed on stage to discuss events and organizations that are occurring in the state. This included the annual BarCamp conference, Made By Few, Startup Weekend, and some new announcements including a co-working space coming to the Argenta community in North Little Rock and the Arkansas Fellowship program that is started by Kristian Anderson.
Following this was a fireside chat with entrepreneur John James of Acumen Brands. John started his career path with the launch of Grill Stuff. At the end of 2002 he had a $30,000 day. He started this at a time when he could buy Google Adwords such as BBQ that helped him scale the business. By the end of 2008 he had exited out of all his startups. He then decided to launch Acumen Brands. Acumen made $3 million by the first year, $5 million by the second, and $9 million in it's third year! Here are some great key points he focused on:
- Build something sustainable and get there fast.
- Throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks, then keep moving
- Country Outfitter was the 8th project he threw against the wall. It made $1.5 million on it's second day!
- You only need to pivot when you find something better or you are not having any success
- Before Acumen, his 4th startup project did not make a dime. It burned through a quarter of a million dollars.
- Surround yourself with different people
- You need a business guy and a hacker. That's all you need to start a business today.
- You don't need capital unless you get to a point where it becomes a necessity, to fuel the fire that is already burning.
Scott Case is the CEO of Startup Arkansas and former technical co-founder of Priceline.com. Startup America helps Startup communities get stronger and scale. Scott put an emphasis that the founder mentality has the be at the center of everything. We need to know who the Startups are and build a quality networking solution. After his talk we then broke down the issues we wanted to address and the possible solutions. The room then split into multiple groups in a breakout session where each group focused on a single problem and a solution for it. Each group then pitched the issue and solution. Surprisingly, each set of three teams came up with the same ideas. This is huge because we now know where we need to start working to move towards a better ecosystem.
After this we got to hear from selected Startups in Arkansas in a 60 second pitch event.
The closing keynote session was from Brad Feld. Brad is a managing director in Foundry Group, best selling author, and was voted the top investor in the U.S. last year. A few Startups had 5 minutes with Brad for a Q&A, business hour session. Following this Brad started his keynote and did his own Q&A. The highlight of this was the Boulder Thesis, or 4 principles to apply to build a vibrant ecosystem. They are:
1) The Startup community has to be lead by entrepreneurs. There are leaders and feeders. Leaders are the entrepreneurs. Feeders are everyone else. Feeders have an important role. Members of feeders can play a leadership role, but they can not be THE leaders. Feeders can be anyone from a University to a non-profit.
2) Those leaders have to take a very long term view, at least 20 years. Too short a view and you'll make no real progress. Most feeder organizations run in very short time frames.
3) Be inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in the Startup community at any level. It has to be easy for them to engage at any level. They don't have to ask permission, just start doing.
4) Have activities and events that attract the entrepreneurs on a regular basis. Have events where you are doing stuff together and creating stuff together. Startup Weekend is a great example. There is no peak at this. Entrepreneurs will participate in the things they want to.
Brad's Q&A session was incredible. He was quickly able to help address a need for college students looking for experience and Startups looking for the right help. He pitched the idea that college students should do a reverse recruiting system where they interview the Startups to learn what they are looking for in order for them to find the right fit.
The whole day was a huge success. Many ideas where announced and discussed and the entrepreneurs have a better understanding of what needs to be done to start moving our ecosystem in the right direction. All we have to do now is execute on this.