Startup School v2.0: Recap

January 30, 2009 at 10:08 pm (Uncategorized)

Startup School! This way!

Startup School! This way!

Last night I attended the second Startup School (a.k.a. v2.0) presented by Voodoo Ventures and Tulane Entrepreneurship AssociationChris Schultz and Will Donaldson did a great job (I particularly liked Will’s attention to detail with his signage: see left), and attendance was more than double the first Startup School.

Speakers included Robbie Vitrano of Trumpet Group, Chris Schultz of Voodoo Ventures, Kyle Berner of Feelgoodz, and Chris Reade of Carrollton Technology Partners.  These are some really talented guys, and it’s always a pleasure to hear them speak.  Chris (Schultz) had some great advice about building your company NOW instead of waiting for a visit from the funding fairy.  It’s more important to get customer #1 in the door than it is to do just about anything else.  In a wiki post about bootstrapping, Chris says “Raising capital is hard.  It’s distracting and time consuming.  What if you put that effort into getting customer number one?”

Very good advice, especially when you consider how much everything changes if your company accepts VC funding.  Another comment Chris made that resonated with me is this: charge more.  He says that young entrepreneurs often charge too little for their services, and tend to undervalue their time.  Though it’s probably true that when you start out you’ll be doing a lot of work for free, as Chris very wisely points out, you should continually raise your rates as you take on more work.  You only have so many hours in the day; how long can you afford to keep working without making any money?

Kyle’s presentation was quite entertaining, and if you ever happen to meet him be sure to ask about the hotdog vending business he took over (after learning that working in the corporate world really is just like Office Space).  This leads to a conversation wtih a world-travelling backpacker, who inspires Kyle to sell his car, buy a one-way ticket to Thailand and, well, the rest is history.  (You can actually read Kyle’s story here.)

Enter Feelgoodz, a fair-trade brand of flip-flops imported from Thailand, and a company that’s breaking ground with a brand new business model–one that didn’t exist until Kyle invented it.  I’m inspired by this story, because my own company is built upon a model I haven’t been able to find anywhere else, and until yesterday I believed this was not only a problem, but something I needed to fix.  Now I’m of the opinion that doing something entirely new is a good thing, even if it’s arguably more difficult than creating a company based on a business model that already exists.

While Kyle encouraged the audience to think about their 30 year plan–the grand, crazy vision you have that motivates you to keep working every day–Chris Reade brought us back into the present with “the nuts and bolts” of starting a business.  His presentation was a large part of the reason I came out for Startup School v2.0, because the first time I heard his talk I missed half of it, because I was determined to find the damn online LLC form that, as it turns out, is no longer available on the Secretary of State’s website.

Chris Reade has, as he puts it, “made every mistake you can possibly make” when it comes to starting a business.  In his first company, there were 8 partners, they leased exorbitantly expensive office space, and burned the $80K given to them by friends and family, putting them out of business within six months.  One way to learn things quickly is by screwing them up, and it sounds like he had a highly instructive crash course in “what not to do” when starting out in entrepreneurship.

If you ever get a chance to hear Chris Reade’s talk, I highly recommend it.  Especially if you’re in the beginning stages of starting your first business.  He’s funny, and smart, and knows a whole hell of a lot about what you need to be thinking about in the first few months of getting a venture up and running.  Hopefully I haven’t ruined the entertainment value of his talk by relating parts of the story above, but at the very least you should go hear him in order to learn all the “relevant to your business” pieces I seem to have left out.

All the presenters were great, but I’d have to say the best part about Startup School v2.0 was the last half of the evening, when everybody got up to pitch their business.  There were some really great ideas and smart people in that room, including companies like The Deltree, Cool Hand Nuke and PolicyPitch.com.  My own presentation was something of a nightmare, but everybody was really nice (thanks for that, guys), and somehow figured out what the f-ck I was talking about, which gave me a lot of encouragement.  I’m glad I had the opportunity to make a badly mangled pitch–the more times I do it, the better it will (hopefully) get–and I appreciate everyone’s encouragement and feedback.

Speaking of feedback, Will Scott was really, really helpful and had tons of great suggestions for virtually every idea that was pitched.  Listening to him was one of the best and most instructive parts of the entire evening, and if you want to experience this for yourself you should follow him on twitter.

Overall, I was really impressed with Startup School, in spite of the tragic lack of beer.  (I blame lack of beer for my awful, largely incoherent pitch, which was only slightly more useful than the VoodooTEQ website that exists but is entirely devoid of content.)  Don’t forget to register for the Startup School v2.0 workshop on February 7th, and you might want to check out TEA’s website for details about the Tulane Business Plan competition.  Pictures from last night are up on Facebook, and I hear there’s a video of the entire event, which I hope never to have to see in the name of maintaining my self respect.  Toastmasters, here I come.

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1 Comment

  1. Will Scott said,

    Hey Jess,

    Thanks for the mention. It was a lot of fun. I was late so missed the early stuff, but it was so cool to see so many young entrepreneurs with such great ideas.

    And I so appreciate your perception that my contribution was positive. It was a great exchange and I was pleased to give from my experience. Just goes to show, hang around long enough and it looks like experience 😉

    Will

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