Posts Tagged ‘Joe Procopio’
Tuesday, November 20th, 2012
By Joe Procopio
Two weeks ago, I moderated a panel on Internet Entrepreneurship at Raleigh’s Internet Summit. It was an intimidating experience as, although I’ve been on panels of all kinds, this was my first time moderating.
My panel was comprised of two founders – CEO Andy Beal from Trackur, a social media monitoring solution company in Raleigh, and COO Alexandre Douzet from The Ladders, the well-known online job matching service.
There were also two investors – Co-Founder/General Partner Brian Rich from New York-based Calatyst Investors and Co-Founder/General Partner Jason Caplain from Raleigh’s Southern Capitol Ventures.
Not to say that entrepreneurs and investors disagree all the time, but this panel agreed on quite a lot. Now, if you’ve ever seen a conference panel where all the panelists agree on everything, you know that can be the dead boring. But in this case it was actually helpful, because some really smart advice came out of it.
Regardless, I know what you want. Here’s where they disagreed
VC investment is down. Is this a hiccup or a trend?
The disagreement here was over the underlying causes of the downturn. Rich pointed to the ever-declining return on venture capital. Douzet noted the emergence of super angels, entrepreneurs who successfully exit their startup and use the proceeds to begin investing, have begun to replace early-stage, first-round VC money. Caplain offered that his firm has always made two new investments every year and is still doing that.
“Regardless of the overall trends,” Caplain said, “Great entrepreneurs always get capital.”
Everyone agreed with that. Aggressively.
Bootstrap or raise money?
Mostly there was agreement on why a startup should raise venture investment. Big, game-changing ideas in capital-intensive markets are obviously better candidates for VC money. Also, everyone agreed that an entrepreneur shouldn’t seek outside investment until they’ve determined that it’s absolutely necessary.
Andy Beal, a successful serial entrepreneur.
Andy Beal has built several companies without funding. He’s a big fan of keeping equity and control in his pocket, and noted that without investor backing, he’s been able to take on big ideas, work with new sciences and technologies, and make quicker decisions that he would have been able to otherwise.
Douzet stated that The Ladders raised its only outside money early on, and has been running on revenues for eight years. He didn’t see any negatives to using that initial funding as a launch pad.
Everyone agreed that it all depends on the investor. Choose wisely.
What sectors are hot in entrepreneurship?
Different investors have different theses – methodologies they use to determine which markets and which types of companies to invest in. Overall however, Rich noted that any company that can automate manual processes and compete on price was going to get attention.
Douzet spoke to his interest lying not so much in new sectors, but in applying new technologies to The Ladders, namely by making a big push into mobile.
Caplain and Beal felt that the sector didn’t matter much if the product and the company were solid. Talented entrepreneurs with great ideas who can execute on those ideas were the most important aspects of determining a successful company.
Everyone agreed with that. Including me.
Joe Procopio (@jproco) is a serial entrepreneur who currently heads up product engineering for startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com.
Thursday, October 25th, 2012
By Allan Maurer
It’s much easier to launch a startup company these days, but not nearly so easy to get venture or angel financing, says Joe Procopio.
New technologies such as cloud computing infrastructure, fairly easy to use website development and content management systems, and other advances make it a much simpler matter to get a company launched with very little capital.
But getting seed or venture funding these days is a different matter.
“It started with the Facebook hangover,” says Procopio. The number of financing deals and the dollars invested are down compared to last year. I think we’ll be seeing smaller deals with less game-changing technology behind them and a greater emphasis on revenues.”
In fact, he adds, “It’s not just about the idea any more. Financials are king. You really have to have customers and show good financials — or have a very clear path to them – to get funded these days.”
Get into the startup ecosystem
On the other hand, he says, “Often, getting funding is not the way to go.” Instead, he says, entrepreneurs should take advantage of the startup ecosystems popping up in many cities and regions.
Those include accelerators, incubators, competitions, universities, and crowd-sourced funding (such as Kickstarter).
For instance, he notes, via the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Carolina Challenge, “Students are getting into entrepreneurship while completing a bachelor’s degree. They’re coming out of school starting their own companies and get cashflow positive very quickly. It’s a trend that will continue.”
While there will still be some “home-run hitters” among startups and some great ideas that get tons of funding, most startups are probably better off “Letting customers fund them,” he says.
Procopio, a serial entrepreneur familiar to TechJournal readers for his columns about the startup scene in the Research Triangle in NC, where he is a familiar face at conferences and networking events for entrepreneurs, will participate in the upcoming Startup Summit in Raleigh, NC, Nov. 6-7.
Speakers from top brands
The Startup Summit is a new addition to the 2012 Internet Summit, which brings 120 thought-leaders to the Raleigh, NC, Convention Center Nov. 6-8, featuring speakers from AOL, Bing, Google, Klout, Mashable, comScore and many other top digital brands.
He’ll join speakers such as Angus Davis, founder and CEO at Swipely, Paul Singh, partner and “Master of the Hustle,” at 500 Startups, Sarah Lacy, founder and editor of Pando Daily, and venture capitalists from NextView Ventures, ABS Capital, True Ventures, Baltimore Angles and Nucleus Venture, Southern Capitol Ventures, Contender Capital, and North Bridge Venture Partners.
Among the other startup CEOs on the agenda is Procopio’s boss at Automated Insights, Robbie Allen, a former distinguished engineer at Cisco and author of ten books on a variety of technical topics.
Allen founded Automated Insights, which began by developing automated sports reporting, an idea that got a lot of press for its robot journalism angle. The firm landed a NC IDEA grant and raised a $4.3 million round of funding in October last year.
Procopio, who has been with the firm since 2010, says, “Our slogan is automate everything. “We joke that we want to automate our ping pong games,” he quips. Automated Insights has moved on from automated sports reporting – for which there is a limited market – to such things as recapping Fantasy Football games in a deal with Yahoo. Personally, here at the TechJournal, we think that is one clever idea.
Procopio, who also started and runs the ExitEvent startup network, has this advice for entrepreneurs:
First, “Chase sales and think customers first. Prove your idea before you seek money and consider whether you really need outside capital.”
Second, “Reach out to the startup ecosystem and get involved early. You’ll get so much return on very little investment connecting at educational events or just going out with other entrepreneurs for a beer. Later stage guys are open, helpful and willing to make connections for you.”
Ride the roller coaster
Finally: “Ride the roller coaster. If you’re having days with awesome highs followed by terrible lows, you’re doing it right.”
He sees a lot of entrepreneurs who go a month or two without gaining traction and get the 20th no, then quit.
But, he says, “That’s one of the best and worst things about being a startup. You’ll have days that are phenomenal and the next be crashing down and fighting fires. Doing that, you’re in the right place.”
On the other hand, he says, if you’re not having those highs and lows on the roller coaster, you may be growing complacent and “need to pivot.”
The easiest way to lose, he says, “Take your eye off the ball and get complacent.”
Tuesday, September 11th, 2012
By Joe Procopio
The first week of the 2012 NFL Football Season is in the books and at 4:30 a.m. this morning, me and the crew at Automated Insights began creating and delivering individual Fantasy Football matchup recaps to Yahoo! Fantasy Football.
By 7:30 a.m. this morning, Yahoo! had published several million of these recaps across their league pages and we were seeing tweets like these:
Dear Yahoo! Fantasy Football people. You have earned some serious respect with this awesome “Recap” feature for previous week matchups
By the end of the 2012 season, it will be the largest implementation of fully personalized automated content ever produced.
Each team got a unique, professional-sounding paragraph narrative plus four sets of game notes recapping their individual matchup. The recap is highly relevant and hyper-personalized, even entertaining, highlighting not only what did happen, but how it happened, what could have happened, and even what should have happened.
The recaps were created at a rate of 500 articles per second, all machine-written, unmistakably human, and completely customized. The algorithms take into account all of the custom settings and scoring rules that the league commissioners can create.
The following is an actual (but condensed) Automated Insights generated recap using last year’s actual data from our own in-house league. The winning team in this example may have been mine. It’s hard to remember plus that’s not the point. OK, it’s mine.
Staats Battle Rallies to Beat Greased Up Deaf Guy for Fourth Consecutive Win
Staats Battle crushed Greased Up Deaf Guy, 154.44 – 117.50, for a second win in as many head-to-head matchups this season. Drew Brees was the difference, putting up 42.32 points this week, an upgrade on his 34.06 points the last time these teams met. To make matters worse, Greased Up Deaf Guy had a starter score zero points (Mario Manningham). This is the smallest margin of victory for Staats Battle in the series, as they defeated Greased Up Deaf Guy 121.18 – 69.66 back in Week 1. Finally, even with the loss, Greased Up Deaf Guy earned a spot in the playoffs.
Staats Battle Smooth Moves
- Drew Brees scored the most points of any player on Staats Battle this season.
- Benched RB Jackie Battle, who scored fewer points than any RB in the starting lineup with 2.00.
- Picked up Toby Gerhart, who beat his scoring projection by 46.6%, with 12.30 points against a projected 8.39.
Greased Up Deaf Guy Regret Tracker
- Left Jermaine Gresham on the bench, where he scored 12.80 points and surpassed his scoring projection by 179.5%, the highest percentage of any player on the team.
- With 1.00 point, the San Francisco 49ers Defense had their lowest output of the season and tallied just 8.9% of their 11.28 projected points, their lowest percentage of the year.
- Tony Gonzalez could not reach his projected point total, scoring only 72.9% of his 9.47-point projection with 6.90 points.
- Greased Up Deaf Guy would be 6-4 if they played the same schedule as Staats Battle.
- Staats Battle would have beaten eight other teams besides Greased Up Deaf Guy this week.
- If Staats Battle played Greased Up Deaf Guy every week, they would be 8-4 this season.
- Staats Battle has won four straight games, the longest current winning streak in the league.
- Greased Up Deaf Guy could not extend their six-game win streak.
- With the win, Staats Battle remains undefeated in comeback games this season, improving to 2-0.
This isn’t just a new toy for Fantasy Football nerds, it’s a huge step for automated content. Fantasy Football, at last count in 2008, included 29-million players, many who managed several teams, and those players spent an average of 5-6 hours a week and $493 a year on fantasy sports.
The only solution
This is an area where automated content is not just the best solution, it’s the only solution – a scenario that calls for millions of articles delivered immediately and frequently, something no amount of writers could ever accomplish. The audience is also very niche, but they’re passionate about the content, and in most cases that content is actionable, which makes it extremely valuable.
And that’s something that always gets misunderstood about what we’re doing at Automated Insights. Automated content isn’t designed to replace human writers (at least the good ones). Machine-driven content is best used in situations where human-driven content is impossible or the expense outweighs the benefit.
In this case, it’s a huge value-add for Yahoo’s Fantasy Football offering. In other cases, it has powered our StatSheet network of team sites, allowing us to cover every major college basketball and football program and the NFL, MLB, and NBA — with all of 14 people.
And it doesn’t end there – it’s also producing thousands of individual neighborhood market reports for real estate company startup Sawbuck, as well as niche content in finance and other verticals.
So instead of reading a customized article about which running back would best fit into your specific fantasy lineup, imagine reading a customized article about which stock and how much of it would best fit your specific portfolio.
Now imagine we can do that for millions of people at once. That’s what automated content is designed to do, and that’s what we’re doing with it.
Joe Procopio (@jproco) heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights, which is also StatSheet. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent,. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com.
Thursday, September 6th, 2012
By Joe Procopio
What do you get when you put 100 geeks in a room with computers and tell them to create whatever they want? I’d go with a Weird Science reference, but today’s geek hadn’t been born when that movie hit the theaters.
Durham startups Adzerk and Shoeboxed have joined forces with the American Underground startup hub and the Durham Chamber of Commerce to put on Epic Hack Day, a full day of no-rules creative coding with no stated goal other than to build something cool.
It’s Saturday, September 8th in the American Underground, and will run from 10:00 a.m. until early the next morning. All the essential fuel will be provided, including beer from local startup-friendly brewery Fullsteam.
This Needs to Happen
The lead organizer is Adzerk founder and CEO James Avery, who has been an entrepreneur-fixture in the booming Durham startup ecosystem over the last few years. Participating in almost every value-add event in the Triangle (and some non-value-add, I mean, the guy has a life) from Tech Jobs Under the Big Top to Southern Capitol Venture’s eSeries, Avery decided this event needed to happen, and quickly put the foundation together.
The concept of the company Hackathon is not new. You’ll find it everywhere from local startups — Automated Insights and Shoeboxed were two that got some mention — to Fortune 500 corporations looking to gain a technical and creative edge by letting their employees improvise and innovate and then rewarding the best concept.
But this is a first for the Triangle. Epic Hack Day is not limited to a single entity like a company hackathon, it’s not centralized around a specific language like a user-group hackathon, nor is the ultimate goal to create a viable company like a Startup Weekend.
“The idea is simple,” says Avery. “Let’s get 100 coders and designers together for 12 hours of work on fun and interesting projects. Think of it like a Startup Weekend but without any of the structure or pressure to ‘create a company.’”
All of the Tech, Twice the Fun
I know Avery, and I know he likes to push the edges of a concept enough to make it fun. At the aforementioned Tech Jobs under the Big Top, his recruiting video was the only other one I considered funnier that our own, and at the second version, he went with a straightforward approach that combined technology with showmanship.
He also delivered one of the best lines of advice at eSeries when he told an entrepreneur who had been banging her head against the wall trying to find affordable tech talent to get online and learn enough code to get through her prototype.
He knows why it’s fun to be a startup employee, why it’s cool to be a coder, and why it’s important to embrace technology beyond the standard development lifecycle.
For Coders By Coders
Shoeboxed is also a player in the startup ecosystem, contributing to and being a part of several of the local community-building events. Their last hackathon was a multi-company affair, and they plan on staging another in the not-too-distant future.
Make no mistake, though, this is technology-based. Everyone will be there to get their hands dirty – well, as dirty as you can get on a keyboard. There will be snacks, so there you go.
If this sounds like your kind of thing and you have Saturday free, you can register for Epic Hack Day here. I’ll be super curious to see what comes out of this, how it can be used, and who will run with it.
Joe Procopio (@jproco) heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights, which is also StatSheet. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent,. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com.
Wednesday, July 11th, 2012
By Joe Procopio
The HTC Incredible
Make no mistake. This is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill, spec-heavy mobile handset review. Furthermore, this isn’t about slapping down 1000 words to earn geek cred.
Not that I don’t do that. On occasion.
This is about the phone that is going into my pocket for the next two years. That’s huge. I love my phone. I mean, I LOVE MY PHONE. So read every word with weight, because this decision wasn’t handled lightly.
We’re in a convergence period
We happen to be in a convergence period in which there are two distinct handsets vying for the title of Best Smartphone in the World. Apple’s iPhone 4s is nearing the end of its run, which has allowed Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich (and even more so Jellybean) on the Samsung S3 a window of opportunity in which to catch up and pass iOS.
And I know what you’re thinking, but the HTC Incredible is the only recent entry into the Android ICS market that isn’t bigger than my head. This is key and I’ll get to it.
In any case, I spent way more time with these three devices than any socially-adjusted person should. You get the fruits of that labor. Plus you get a nice story.
See, I was on vacation a couple weeks ago when I was reminded that I had 48 hours in which to upgrade my phone and my wife’s phone without losing unlimited data on Verizon. The pros and cons of that deadline are best left to another column that I don’t want to write, the point is I had to get to the closest Verizon store and drop some cash.
Quite honestly, it was time. My wife and I were both way out of contract and she was still rocking a feature phone.
So while I had the opportunity to experiment, knowing that I was going to get my hands on the S3 and the Incredible within the next two weeks, I opted for two gorgeous iPhones and walked out of the door with a newfound smugness.
Who Needs the iPhone 4s?
The iPhone performed exceptionally well for both of us in terms of routine use. Within about half-a-day of setting preferences, creating accounts, and downloading apps, we were pretty much back to normal.
But here’s the funny part. Initially, I couldn’t get home.
Remember, I was on vacation, and had used my old Android phone, which was now a brick, to get to the Verizon store in the first place. So walking out of the new store (still smug), I discovered that the iPhone was more than happy to tell me how to get back to the hotel, it just couldn’t navigate me there.
Yeah, I found MapQuest and eventually got back, but that was a microcosm of my issues with the iPhone. As a long-term Android user, I expected certain things to be there and some were (Bluetooth connectivity to the car), and some weren’t (turn-by-turn).
My wife kept the iPhone. She loves it. And she should. It’s an awesome phone.
Who Needs the Samsung S3?
If the iPhone was the only 5-star phone, it isn’t anymore, because the S3 is probably the first 5-star Android. For every plus Apple has packed into the design, Samsung has crafted the same into the power and usefulness.
It’s sleek and big. The screen looks great and it’s big. It’s easy to use and intuitive. And big.
Samsung S3 – the first 5-star Android phone?
The S3 and Android easily matched or surpassed the iPhone in terms of the screen, the user interface, the flexibility, the camera, and the speed. Further, Ice Cream Sandwich has come a long way in terms of making the mobile experience more mobile and less computer-on-a-phone, which was the main hang-up with Android.
Within 45 minutes, I was able to get the Samsung S3 exactly the way I needed it, everything from contacts to apps to preferences. It was the same experience I was used to, only better.
But it’s so damn big.
I’ve ranted about this before in previous reviews, but this time it really hit home. I just couldn’t USE the S3, not “use comfortably,” but use at all. I dropped it several times trying to manipulate my way around the interface with one hand (sorry Samsung!). I found I kept it out of my pocket because, while it is incredibly thin, it’s a lot of real estate in the pants.
Come on, you know I was going there eventually.
Who Needs the HTC Incredible 4G LTE?
The HTC Incredible 4G LTE phone.
This is the phone I ended up keeping. And it all comes down to the size. The Incredible was always implied as an iPhone copy, and this version, while packing almost all of the power of the S3, is just slightly bigger than the iPhone.
I love my phone. I’m that guy. But I’m giving up screen resolution. I’m giving up the great camera. I’m giving up some battery life. I’m giving up a lot of style and design.
But technology-wise, the playing field is nearly level, for now. So when it comes to the S3 vs. the Incredible, I’m not giving up a great camera for a crappy camera, I’m giving up a great camera for an average camera, so there’s a value-based decision to make.
Average camera vs. uncomfortable pants.
And it’s not that the iPhone is bad at the things that the S3 is good at, but there is a new user type to contend with. Apple had a huge advantage converting feature phone users, Blackberry users, and I’d even argue early Android users — but take a die-hard Android current and give him or her an iPhone and there are things they are going to miss.
Like the keyboard. Or widgets. And not that these are game-changers but they are things that we are already used to, and that, I believe, is going to be the determining factor is choosing a handset.
For the foreseeable future, these are the parameters of the decision-making process, not how awesome the streamed preview of 21 Jump Street looks or the quality vs. quantity argument of the apps. Or Siri. Or G-Noise or whatever the Android version is.
The Best Smartphone in the World is going to be the one that works for you.
Joe Procopio (@jproco) heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights, which is also StatSheet. He founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and writers network Intrepid Media. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com.
Thursday, March 15th, 2012
By Joe Procopio
Not every startup gets the lottery ticket launch. For every accelerator or grant program with a five-figure pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, there are hundreds of hungry startups vying for that same prize. Many of them will be better positioned and more savvy than you, and let’s face it, at least a few of them are more deserving.
You can’t win, but there are alternatives to fighting.
Last night, I attended three local events that allowed startups to make noise, get seen, and get introduced to people who can help them. Actually I attended two. They were all on the same night and even though I have thinking robots at my disposal, none of them are good conversationalists and, frankly, they’re all kind of lazy.
But if you have time and intestinal fortitude, here are three ways to get noticed.
1. The Public Introduction
Startup Madness was a day-long competition in Durham featuring students from all the schools in the ACC, from Boston College to Miami. Timed to kick off March Madness, the event culminated in a public pitch with one $5,000 check to the winner of the overall and another to the winner among the North Carolina schools.
Said overall winner was Miami’s Cohealo, with 2nd place going to Clemson’s Mushroom Mountain , 3rd place handed out to Mekong Greentech from Georgia Tech, and 4th going to TeeGee from Virginia .
Locally, Duke’s Neurospire edged UNC’s Gift Boogle. But that’s not the end of the story. I had seen Gift Boogle when I judged the Carolina Challenge last month, and I liked the team quite a bit. I introduced them to Scott Kelly and his Startup Madness program, which they applied for and obviously got into. During the Madness, I introduced them to a couple more people who might be able to open a couple more doors.
My point is, a loss isn’t always a loss (the Carolina Challenge is ongoing, by the way). Sometimes, even a loss is a win. These types of public introductions are becoming more and more popular and, even though the public pitch isn’t my favorite means of startup expression, it can’t hurt a fledgling company in their quest for connections.
2. The Private Introduction
When the madness had ended, a whole bunch of people joined a whole bunch of other people a few miles away at Fullsteam Brewery to partake in Startup Happy Hour, hosted by Zach Mansfield from Square Roots, the startup-focused program at Square 1 Bank.
I have some bias here, of course, but this is the best way to interface with the startup community and these types of socials aren’t hard to get into and aren’t hard to attend. If you’re willing to spend a couple hours with a beer in your hand and have the guts to walk up to a stranger or group of strangers, you have the opportunity to pitch without pitching.
You’re not going to land any seed money doing this. You’re probably not even going to land a meeting, but you will make connections, and there’s a time and a place to activate those connections.
Pro tip: That time and place is not at the social. It’s later.
3. The Online Introduction
The one I missed was the Innovate Raleigh meetup to introduce the TriangleWiki. This is another step in the waking up of the Raleigh area to entrepreneurial energy, and while it’s still very early, there are already pages dedicated to entrepreneurial efforts.
Again, bias here as I run ExitEvent, an online resource dedicated to startups, but this is a must for getting your startup into the public consciousness. This type of program is growing too. TechCrunch has had CrunchBase forever, and yesterday (another example of the West Coast following our lead), competitor PandoDaily announced a partnership with AngelList to create another database of startups.
If you’re not actively pursuing these kinds of introductions, then you can’t complain about a lack of attention. Yes, it would be hyper-awesome-wonderful to win a $50K grant or land in a $50K accelerator program, but the odds are long, and even then there is no guarantee of success.
I’m not saying it’s about the money, but it’s about the money. Just keep in mind it doesn’t happen overnight, but it will never happen if nobody knows who you are or what you do.
Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.
Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
By Joe Procopio
Sometime in May, you’re going to be walking down Main street in Downtown Durham and pass by a glass-encased habitat at the front of a well-known coffee shop where a single entrepreneur or team of entrepreneurs will be feverishly working for your enjoyment.
You may stop in for a delicious coffee, you may just watch for a few minutes while lines of code are slung at some business problem that needs fixing. But when you walk away and go about the rest of your day, you’ll be thinking, “I should have thought of that.”
You’ll be peering through the glass at The Smoffice, a so-crazy-it-has-to-work partnership between the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Durham Inc., Beyu Caffe, and a host of other local sponsors.
The idea is to give a single startup six months of free space in “the worlds smallest office” in downtown Durham, driving home the point that a startup doesn’t necessarily need big or fancy or cash or backing, but simply a great idea fostered in a stimulating and supportive environment.
It’s a rather artful statement on Durham as an up-and-coming startup ecosystem.
Of course, there are other bells and whistles, but these are grass roots bells and whistles, most importantly a nearby condo for potential out-of-town candidates, and also free custom office furniture, a tablet, assistance from experts in legal, accounting, and marketing, and finally connections to over 70 of the startups in downtown Durham.
The application process starts Wednesday, 2/29 (Leap Day, just to drive the quirkiness home), and more info can be found on http://www.thesmoffice.com
I’ll wait while you turn your world back rightside up.
So Who Did Think of That?
When people ask me how Durham has come from seemingly nowhere to emerge overnight as the most hypeworthy startup hub of the east coast, I give a varying array of reasons: The establishment of the American Tobacco Complex downtown, the low cost of space, the growing number of privately run support organizations, elves, etc. But usually I include one specific thing.
Or rather dude. Adam Klein at the Durham Chamber.
Klein is one of those guys you see at all the startup-related events in the area, from the smaller, street-level meetups to the big fancy conferences. Because he’s so much better looking than me, I tend to stay away from him, but I have gotten to know him, and I’m floored by the things he’s done, and the things he didn’t do, to contribute to the growth of Durham’s startup scene.
When people think of the Durham Chamber, which admittedly isn’t very often because of the fact that 90% of what they do is support behind the curtain, they think of things like Startup Stampede, a program that put a handful of budding startups into a downtown Durham space with infrastructure and mentoring – like an accelerator, but without the cash and investment components, although said investment was in Durham itself.
How to Start a Startup Stampede: Step 1 = Don’t Start a Startup Stampede
Klein now advises other chambers and government organizations from locals to regionals to the National Chamber on how to build a localized startup culture into a Stampede. His primary advice: Don’t do it, or rather, don’t start with the event, there’s a lot of prep work to do first.
For all the out-of-the-box thinking and risk taking that produced the Stampede, it was the months behind the scenes he and others spent talking to the local startup community and the greater business community.
This meant countless meetings with individual entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs, selling the benefits of Durham and listening, intently, to their needs and desires. This is not easy to do, since most of those lists of needs and desires usually start, ill-advisedly so, with “a boatload of working capital,” which of course the Durham Chamber does not have or have access to.
It also meant countless meetings with Durham companies, from giant corporations like HTC to establishments you wouldn’t expect to be a part of the ecosystem at all, like downtown’s Beyu Caffe. In these sessions, he’d sell the benefits of a sprouting startup community back to them, an equally difficult proposition when you’re talking about propping up a tax/customer base known for being broke and desperately seeking “a boatload of working capital.”
And finally, it meant getting out of the way — knowing what to provide, what to support, making it happen, and then letting it grow on its own, grass-roots, live or die.
I’m Looking at You, Every Other Startup Support Group
It took ages for all that to pay off in the form of Startup Stampede, and that, along with multiple other initiatives from both the public and private sectors, a metric ton of hard work from the startups themselves, a parsec of good press, and a half-dozen elves, is how the Durham startup ecosystem sprang up from “nowhere.”
With a couple of successful Startup Stampedes under their belt, Klein and frequent collaborator Matthew Coppedge from Downtown Durham Inc. knew that they had to evolve. They realized that in order to keep up with and properly serve Durham’s fledgling startup environment, they needed something new, something unique, and something bigger.
And because the Raleigh-Durham area has a reputation for being so vanilla that you can literally flavor your coffee with a few blades of grass taken from the finely manicured lawns of Cary, they knew it should push the boundaries a bit.
So they went small.
A Tiny Window Into Durham
Klein and Coppedge know that there isn’t nearly enough attention on Durham as a startup hub, certainly within the area and definitely outside of it. So they hope that there are several marketing aspects that can be ramped up through the lifecycle of The Smoffice.
It will start with the application process, which will be worldwide and centered around the uniqueness of the space. This is not only meant to attract outside entrepreneurs to the program, but also serve as an introduction to the location and the culture, a huge and very important task in keeping the Durham startup ecosystem growing.
The marketing will continue with the live nature of The Smoffice itself, offering locals and non-locals alike a peek into how entrepreneurs can succeed in Durham, with or without a Smoffice and all the sponsors and connections, but because of a culture that promotes risk, acceptance, help, sharing, and support. At one point there was talk of a documentary, but I don’t know where that went. It’s a great idea though
Wish I’d thought of it.
Joe’s last column offered “Five Reasons why you need to be at SEVC”
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012
By Joe Procopio
A week from today, I’ll be waking up with a hangover in a fabulously appointed room at the Ritz Carlton in Tyson’s Corner, wondering if I have enough time for a shower before the pre-networking-breakfast networking.
And I’ll view that as a success.
There are conferences and there are conferences. As someone who invented a social event based upon removing everything from a conference except the reception at the end (and lay off, I’ve got the patent), I can tell you that every conference has its place and time, but it’s usually what happens around the conference that’s worth the price of admission.
If you’re an entrepreneur or want to invest in, support, or provide services for entrepreneurs, next week’s Southeast Venture Conference is the one you’ll want to be around.
This year’s installment will be my fifth. Each time I’ve gone for a different reason, and usually, it winds up being a combination of the following:
Reason #1: Networking
People network in groups large and small at SEVC.
There are hundreds of ways to land investment in your startup but they all really come down to this: Find someone with a lot of money who believes in your idea and your team. This doesn’t come overnight. There isn’t a single introductory letter, business plan summary, elevator pitch, or quirky attached trinket that is going to produce a term sheet.
Although, while judging a startup competition last week, I was handed beef jerky, and let me tell you, that’s as close to a guaranteed vote as you’re going to get. Still, unless you’re starting a beef jerky company, that won’t get you seed money.
Relationships, or rather, previously cultivated relationships garnered through hustling, hard work, and a boatload of rejection, are the stepping-stones to getting funded. SEVC is one opportunity to create new relationships, nurture existing relationships, or evolve relationships into interest and eventual investment.
And yeah, there’s something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. But without the proper context, how the hell are you supposed to figure out where and when that is?
Reason #2: Networking
The phenomenon of startups helping startups in mutual partnership, or even as paying customers, is just starting to take hold as common practice. In other words, Startup A uses the eCommerce platform from Startup B, who uses the ad engine of Startup C, who uses the marketing services of Startup A. The symbiotic inclusion of other startups into a beta adds to the robustness of said beta, and usually the pricing is beneficial to both sides.
For every investor at SEVC there are probably three people who can also help you in other ways. And it’s not just the entrepreneurs that are good to know. I’ve made a hosting deal at a venture conference, a funding deal at a gaming conference, and hired a guy at a technology conference.
Wait, that last one totally made sense. My bad.
Reason #3: Networking
SEVC draws a sellout crowd every year.
Yeah, you’ve been to pitch parties and pitch contests and hopefully not pitch seminars, but maybe you’ve even pitched one or a hundred times privately.
This is the major leagues of pitching. And what I mean is it’s rampant with steroid use.
Of the 60 startups that will be publicly pitching at SEVC, all of them are asking for big time money and all of them are deserving of big time money (sure, at various levels of deserving, but you get the idea). Your time will not be wasted taking in as many of these pitches as possible and learning from them.
Even the bad ones.
Especially the bad ones.
But entrepreneurs are also usually very open to answering questions from other entrepreneurs. It’s one thing to watch a pitch, it’s another to have a conversation based around where that pitch came from, especially if you get them to remove the elevator-speak.
Reason #4: Networking
Startups remain on the cutting edge of technology, not just in terms of which technologies are in vogue, but also where the business of technology is heading. A lot of last year’s presentations and panels focused on discussing these possibilities, but it’s in the trenches, so to speak, where you’ll find the real conversations about adoption.
Example: No one had a Pinterest strategy last year, but everyone knew about them, and more than a few were talking about them. Now, under a year later, they’re old like Microsoft.
Yeah, the running Networking gag probably wasn’t an awesome joke.
But at the end of the day, literally, there’s a lot to be said for just meeting new people who share the same vision and passion as you. It may seem like these opportunities are out there all the time, but let’s face it, this is the Lollapalooza of startups. There’s an energy around the open bar that you’re not going to find at a meetup.
So on Thursday morning when I wake up in my suit on top of the blankets, I’ll know I got a lot done. And I’ll have a pocket full of business cards and a handful of new friends to prove it.
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
By Joe Procopio
Go big or go home.
I hear this phrase a lot lately. In some circles, it could be seen as a bubblicious mantra of a bunch of crazy kids looking to hit home runs by selling their social network startup to Facebook. In others, namely here in the RTP, it’s a battle cry for survival against the long odds of starting a company in this talent-rich, cash-strapped area.
But those odds just got a whole lot better.
Last night, longtime RTP startup ecosystem guru, former LaunchBox Director, and current TriangleTechTalk and TechJobs Under the Big Top founder Chris Heivly announced that a nice big bow had been put on a reboot of Triangle Startup Factory, the accelerator he merged into LaunchBox Digital when that accelerator swung south from DC back in 2010.
TSF will now host between five and seven startups twice a year, starting this spring, for intensive three-month programs chock full of capital, mentoring, connections, infrastructure, and, most importantly, a sizeable post-program runway.
That last one is the big news.
The Long Tail
I first met Chris back in 2009, looking for synergies between ExitEvent (at the idea stage) and the original TSF (pre-LaunchBox). We were both trying to solve the same problem: Baking a startup for three months, no matter how high the heat or how closely you watch it, was awesome, but didn’t account for the abrupt exit out into the real world of sustainability and customers. Especially not here, where the support structure was, at the time, non-existent, and even now, fledgling.
He had a much better handle on it, and talked about the creation of the long tail. In order for an accelerator to succeed here, there needs to be a much longer runway with a different-but-equal kind of support in place until the startup gets solidly onto its feet.
He’s still talking about it as of last night when we broke down the philosophy behind the new TSF. That long tail is what will differentiate the TSF program.
Going Big So They Don’t Go Home
Each startup gets the proper kickoff fuel: $50K in investment, access to a whole bunch of mentors and connections, space in Durham (TBD, by the way), and a big day at the end to show the world (and that’s the world, not just the RTP), what they’ve got.
But as a formal part of the program, TSF will offer a convertible note on the back end between $20K and $150K.
The sheer size of the initial investment figure and the convertible note puts TSF in the same stratosphere as TechStars and YCombinator. This will allow TSF to attract top-tier talent from around the country (maybe around the world) and, most importantly, keep them here.
And while the money is great, it’s up to us in the RTP to match that A-level program with the time, effort, and serious skills that make up the mentoring and the connections. In 2012, I believe we’re up for it. Finally.
Apart from the unique philosophy, another big difference will be the emphasis on a lean and agile methodology. In what Chris calls a 30% incremental difference from LaunchBox, the TSF program will run product focused, not business focused, and thus the messaging will be like very few accelerator programs as they are today.
Advice is what it is: Advice. I give it all the time, yet very few of my friends are rich enough to pay me back in Ferraris. Also, you don’t have to get too many mentors and entrepreneurs in a room before they start disagreeing about how to get to the next level. Usually these disagreements are solved on the ping pong table, but who has time for that?
The remedy for conflicting advice, repeats Heivly, is build, test, and iterate. It’s what the startup does with the advice that the startup can control and where TSF can assist. Chris feels like they did a good job of this with LaunchBox, but they need to do a great job of this with TSF.
Start Your Engines
Although there isn’t a focus on where the selected applicants will come from (although there is a limit on the type: no pharma, no medical devices, etc, we’re talking traditional tech plays), it’s certainly a boon for local entrepreneurs. It’s a huge incremental step forward for the area, and every single pre-funded startup should apply. It’s like you’re getting a head start on the rest of the country.
The application process is underway now at http://www.trianglestartupfactory.com and runs until they get their initial class, which begins on March 19th.
Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network (http://IntrepidMedia.com). You can read him athttp://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.
Thursday, December 8th, 2011
By Joe Procopio
Last Thursday, December 1st, I got the chance to be a judge at the Carolina Challenge, a startup pitch event for UNC students, faculty, and staff to present their startup ideas to local startup community vets.
The Pitch Party, as it was monikered (and “Party” is probably the reason I got invited, although I was told to leave my entourage back at the ranch), was hosted and run by Patrick Vernon, Associate Director at UNC’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.
The pitch party.
I’ve worked with Patrick a few times in the past, once at a startup, and once as a guest for a thoroughly enjoyable panel for one of his classes.
The judges were a diverse array. They included local VCs Jason Caplain from Southern Capitol Ventures and Lister Delgado from Idea Fund Partners, as well as other established entrepreneurs, mentors, startup-friendly service providers, and members of the faculty.
The startups themselves ranged from “we just thought of this a couple days ago” to full-blown active companies already dishing out a product or service to an established customer base. For example, YardSprout, the brainchild of former HomeTownRents.com founder and Triangle Startup Weekend winner Andrew Pearson, took home the grand prize of $1000. YardSprout is a service that connects growers with people who have land to grow on (like, your back yard), and thus promotes local food and urban farming.
I know Andrew because he’s a member of my startup network ExitEvent, and in fact, out of the 48 startup teams who presented at the Pitch Party, YardSprout is the only one in that network, which includes 150 startups from early companies like YardSprout all the way up to iContact, Appia, and Bronto.
Which means there were 47 companies at the event who aren’t even on my radar, which in turn means there is a healthy rookie league somewhere between MBA School (not everyone pitching was a student) and early-stage, waiting to feed the RTP startup ecosystem pipeline.
Yardsprout checks in.
Congrats to YardSprout, they got one of my ten allowed votes for the evening. Of course, not everyone can win, and not every finalist got my vote. So, like a Monday Morning Startup Quarterback, here are the other nine companies I voted for and would like to see move forward, in alphabetical order:
ActionClassroom.com: Artificial Intelligence for education content tells teachers which concepts to reinforce. With my background, I was into this one right away. Robot teachers? Brilliant! It’s got limitations, mainly around data collection and delivery costs, but it’s a solid plan.
Champion Charity: The goal here is to give local charities a national voice, or reach, thereby increasing the flow of funds. Currently still hashing out the business model, but I liked what I heard.
Eco Marker: A refillable and reusable dry erase marker. This one is appealing because of how far along they are. There’s a good chance they’ll land a major customer before they need to take any money.
iGuide: App for campus tours. Good team and the concept, if tweaked and expanded a little, could be viable.
Proximatas: App that uses a ranking algorithm to filter and connect patrons at large events. Sort of like a robot business matchmaker. How could I not like this?
Sanitation Creations: Environmentally-friendly, close-looped, odorless portable toilets. Boom. Porta-potties have “problem” written all over them, and the concept and team here have a very good chance of fixing a number of those issues.
Symbology: Fair trade clothing with a first world meets third world ethos. The team here is wildly enthusiastic and they’re also close to first customers. That alone should be enough to keep them viable.
Synco.tv: An app that allows multiple people in different locations to watch video content together and interact. There are bells and whistles with this one that make it intriguing.
Wallet Glucose: A solution for remembering and carrying glucose for people with diabetes. They’re far along in the patent process and an outstanding team.
Although I’ve highlighted teams where I was especially impressed with them, I should say that nearly every single team member I met was smart, passionate, and listened more than they talked. Very few questions went unanswered, even questions like “How are you different from the Envirolet, ‘the premium choice in composting toilets’, as endorsed by celebrity eco-warrior Ed Begley Jr.?”
The answer got my vote.
But the point is regardless of the idea or how far they are along, it’s exciting to see that there’s another wave behind the wave behind the wave of entrepreneurs who are very excited about getting their ideas off the ground and into reality.
Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for tech media startup Automated Insights (formerly StatSheet). He also owns consulting firm Intrepid Company and creative network Intrepid Media and runs the startup social ExitEvent. Joe can be reached via Twitter @jproco (http://www.twitter.com/jproco) and read at joeprocopio.com.