A Few Key People Really Can Make a Huge Difference

Posted on May 5, 2011 | 30 comments


This article originally ran on TechCrunch.  I’m in Seattle this week.

People keep asking me if I’ve “seen anything interesting.” Of course I have. I’m an entrepreneur at heart so I’m always inspired when I hear stories about innovation.

I really liked BigDoor, MediaPiston, OpsCode, BuddyTV, SEOMoz and much more. Can’t list them all.

But I’m not here trolling for deals. I’m here to build long-term, stable relationships that I hope will pay off over a decade, not a week.  I’m looking to turn dots into lines over time.

I’m inspired by the enthusiasm of the young, emerging startup ecosystem that is here. It has all of the components for success: a steady inflow of smart, CS graduates from UW who prefer to stay local if they could, a smattering of local VCs & angels, some “patron” companies like Microsoft and Amazon who provide new talent as well as the opportunity for company-defining partnerships and it has “elder statesmen” like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

The ingredients are all here. Seattle should be the envy of any non Silicon Valley tech community in the country. Great lifestyle, great cost of living, motivated people and only the crap weather on the negative side. They have their successes; yet somehow all of the neurons don’t yet seem to be firing are powerfully as they need to be.

As I gear up to give a keynote at the annual Seattle 2.0 awards dinner on Thursday night I started reflected on what it would take to “change the trajectory” for Seattle or for any regional market, really. It really wouldn’t take much to turn a great technology ecosystem into a truly electric one.

And I think about the “Seattle issue” as a metaphor for startups and business in general. I’ve always been a big believer that just a couple of key individuals make all of the difference in a company’s success. It’s why my investment philosophy is called, “the entrepreneur thesis.”

I was meeting with a first-time CEO of a very promising young startup recently and offering my advice on what his priorities should be. He listed all of the product releases that were up coming, the customers that were in the pipeline and where he saw his competition moving. I gave him the same advice I give nearly all over-worked, control-freak, do-everything-yourself startup founders:

“Your number one priority isn’t any of these things. Your highest priority right now is hiring the 1 or 2 people that are going to join your company and make a difference. There’s you and your killer CTO co-founder. But who else is going to get out there and close your big biz dev deals with you? Who’s going to help you with improving your marketing / positioning to become a clear platform category leader like Twilio?

Are you going to do all of this? Evidence over the past year would suggest otherwise. You have too much on your plate.

A few key people really can make a huge difference.”

Him:

“I know, I know. I will start recruiting soon. But I need to get our next release out the door. I need to take some VC meetings. I just don’t have enough time to focus on it right now. It will be a bit easier when we have a little more progress to show.”

Me:

“Bullshit. It never gets easier. There are always the next 20 tasks. The reason you’re not getting to the next level is that you’re not prioritizing the precise thing that could take you to the next level. I would say recruiting at least one superstar would be your priorities 1,2 & 3.”

I don’t care if you’re a 10-person organization, a 1,000 person organization or a multinational corporation – often it is the few key players that change the dimensions. Imagine Apple without Steve Jobs. Or less obvious, imagine Facebook without Sheryl Sandberg.

So entrepreneurs need to think the same way some VCs do – because markets change, competition changes, innovation & technology cycles move so fast only having a few truly outstanding leaders in your company can you sustain any sort of advantage.

And that is precisely my thoughts for Seattle and what I plan to deliver on Thursday night: Which few key community leaders are going to step up and get those neurons properly firing and connected?

My recipe for Seattle or your community:

1. Community Leaders + Organizers
You need a good mixture of both.

Look at what Brad Feld has done for Boulder. I know it’s not single-handed as he has both fantastic partners at Foundry Group and many other community leaders. But he has helped put Boulder on the consciousness of so many young, aspiring entrepreneurs in search of somewhere other than the San Francisco Bay Area to work & live. It is possible and he’s showing people that.

David Cohen deserves much credit for building TechStars into an internationally recognized brand name for innovation. If you can attract people to Boulder for a session to be part of the magical mix of people at TechStars then some will naturally stay put afterward.  But it did take Brad as a public spokesman, consummate networker and successful VC to help create legitimacy to let David’s ideas flourish.

It takes both to build a community. The business leaders need to do their parts. The people with the time, energy & creativity to build organizations like TechStars need to bring their ideas to fruition.

I see this emerging in Seattle and the passion of “a few key individuals” who can help shift the game. Chris Devore & Andy Sack have created Founder’s Coop with the goal of funding, incubating & launching more early-stage ventures in Seattle. If you could convince a few young “wantrepreneurs” that there is a community that can support them & a safe landing if they’re not immediately successful you might have your next Amazon in the works. It’s a very cool vibe at Founder’s Coop. These two guys are part of the recipe for Seattle’s growth.

2. Passionate Entrepreneurs & Ambassadors
Stating the obvious but you can’t will a region into success. You need to have passionate tech entrepreneurs who want to build businesses locally. They have the same trade-off decisions that you do about packing up and moving to Silicon Valley vs. staying and building locally. The answer seems obvious (to move) but it’s not. When you account for competition for talent, the difficulty of retention, the cost of living and the difficulty of rising above the noise – there are many advantages of staying put. The advantages of moving are more obvious.

So you need Dave Schappell who is building an interesting business in Seattle called TeachStreet, a local-community initiative to connect teachers & students. Dave is ex-Amazon and is a tireless advocate for the Seattle community. He’s been steadily emailing me for the past 18 months with ideas for local entrepreneurs I “have to meet” and has been egging me on to spend more time in Seattle. He’s why I came this week.

Dave Schappell & Daryn Nakhuda rally the troops

He helped me organize a set of meetings with high-potential individuals and a dinner where we all debating how to increase entrepreneurial velocity. I re-connected with Andy Liu the founder & CEO of BuddyTV – the largest destination for social TV enthusiasts on the web. When I saw what BuddyTV is working on and how long they’ve been the market (since 2005) I realized that this has huge potential to help disrupt the television market. They haven’t launched their next gen product – watch this space. No Dave S. = no knowledge of what BuddyTV is up to for me.

Every community needs their “ambassadors” who build relationships with leaders from other communities, who convince these people to come visit the community, who help organize events with local teams to get the cross-city interactions and who create awareness for the local talent.

Dave is a potential key ingredient in the recipe for Seattle’s success.

3. Patron Companies
Seattle has something that many communities don’t have. It’s what I call “patron companies” and the local giants are Microsoft & Amazon. When you think about the success that is Silicon Valley, the unfair advantage is not just the huge amounts of available venture capital. When you start a company in the Bay Area you can often get your first biz dev deal done with Google, Facebook, Salesforce.com, eBay, Yahoo! or the countless other successful startup firms.

A key deal not only helps you raise venture capital but it can help attract employees, garner press attention, help with product focus & importantly drive customer adoption and/or revenue.

In Los Angeles we don’t have “patron technology companies” that are big enough to matter – we’re still hoping to see them emerge. But every time I talk with senior executives a the big studios or talent agencies I tell the same story,

“You know that your industry is being disrupted. What industry isn’t these days. You can be part of the creative destruction. You can help local entrepreneurs get their first deal done and the innovation ought to benefit you.

Sure, it might mean some of your employees or colleagues go to join the barbarians at the gate, but would you rather that innovation happen in your home town where you can play to your strengths or do you want your entire future industry to shift to Silicon Valley?”

This message is surprisingly well received. People do want to help. They just need a few key individuals who are willing to go out on a limb, take some actions and make things happen for them. They need somebody bending their ears. They can then direct staff, allocate budgets, talk to the press, connect you with politicians and attend events. A few key people really can make a difference.

And that is what is most disappointing about the feedback I’m getting about Seattle. It has the dual technology patrons and yet the consistent story I get is that they’re not actively out embracing the startup community, helping local successes emerge, getting comfortable with the symbiotic benefits of some employees going to startups that innovate at a different pace and then buying up local teams, talent & IP. They’re doing stuff – just not enough.

Seattle has its patrons. The neurons aren’t connecting to the startups. Somebody needs to make this happen.

4. Elder Statesmen
This is where I think the action on connecting neurons has to come from. Jeff Bezos (and executive team) have to recognize that it’s in their best interest to see the community thrive and the benefits to Amazon (not to mention Seattle) are far greater than any negatives of employee flow. Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates and other senior teams from Microsoft need to want to promote local startups. These kinds of connections seldom emerge from middle management who view the immediate threats more than the long-run benefits.

But Jeff, Bill, Steve as well as Howard Schultz, the executive team at CostCo, etc. are not likely to spearhead this movement. They’re too busy running their companies and literally changing the world. Who from Seattle has their ears? Who can get help get access to their capital? Who can get them to communicate the bigger picture message top-down to their teams to embrace the startup community and unleash local partnerships?

Without this – it’s a totally wasted patronage. Who will step up the way that Steve Case (founder of AOL) has done with Startup America to promote this initiative to politicians, business leaders and the press. Actually, who will get Steve Case to spend time in Seattle helping communicate the message to local leaders? It’s clear that America has a vested interest in promoting entrepreneurship in many regions in the country to stimulate innovation & job creation.

Who will be those key leaders who will step up and make a difference?

5. Playing to Your Advantages
Every region has its advantages and while not limiting innovation to local themes it seems to make sense to at least consider local advantages. It’s no big surprise that I spend a larger portion of my time in LA working on: disruption of television, performance-based marketing, games & mobile. We have unique skills, teams, experience and regional assets that give us a better chance of success than other regions.

In no expert in Seattle but when I look around I see: enterprise software (Microsoft), the market leader in cloud services (Amazon AWS), games (Xbox), some of the most innovative retailers in the country (CostCo, Starbucks, REI) and what is left of Boeing (HQ moved to Chicago). I’m sure there’s much more.

I’m not sure it makes too much sense to have check-in applications for restaurants here. That seems likely to be dominated by a more urban startup from NYC or from San Francisco. But who know? I’m just saying’ … what local assets do you have that load dice in your favor?

6. Marketing Muscle
It’s great to see an initiative like Seattle 2.0 because every community needs its local tech press to report on companies and run conference. Consider just how much exposure the Austin community gets every year due to SXSW. It’s awesome.

I’ve often talked about the NY advantage of having the NY Times, WSJ, Silicon Alley Insider, New York Magazine and even the editor of TechCrunch based there. Not to mention every major agency, many PR firms, etc. There is no question NY startups get disproportionate press.  That’s natural. Not to mention they have the highest profile VC / blogger Fred Wilson of AVC.

It was great to hear that in Seattle John Cook and company are solving this at GeekWire.  Every region needs its local media & events. In LA we have SoCalTech, for which I am grateful. It’s an awesome source of regional news. I’d LOVE to see it become more of a national vehicle. How do we make that happen?

I’m now getting about 400,000 views / month at BothSidesoftheTable. I don’t write about LA but I write from LA. It’s important. A few key people can really make a huge difference.

7. Local Angel Community / Recycled Capital
Fred Wilson wrote an eloquent piece on his blog about “recycling capital,” which every regional community should read. The magic that is Silicon Valley is that every tech entrepreneur who has made a bit of money chooses to “recycle” it by investing back into the startup community. There is a long tradition of these and it’s what formed the original angel network groups.

As I look at LA I see a lot of this reinvestment going on. There are great entrepreneurs like Evan Rifkin, Tom McInerney, Paige Craig, Diego Berdakin, Brett Brewer, Kamran Pourzanjani, Jarl Mohn and many, many more who have done several local Los Angeles tech investments. There are several “club deals” where you see the same sets of people “passing the hat” around on deals.

I know from all of my private conversation that they aren’t seeing this as a “get rich quick scheme” – they’re giving back to the community. And the truth is that they know $25-50k from them on a deal that they can help influence returns on is a lot better than handing it over to a money manager who is parking your cash in a vehicle you don’t understand.

I have done the same. I had the good fortune of doing one small deal that returned 6x in a year. So it was newfound capital I wasn’t expecting. I plowed it back into 9 deals. I prefer not to do any angel investments because I focus on my VC funds but it was gratifying to write some small checks to support local teams.

I know there’s tons of money in Seattle. Perhaps somebody needs to organize it a bit better to go into more angel deals. I know that Founder’s Coop has a fund as does TechStars Seattle. That’s one model. Perhaps some experienced tech entrepreneurs could formalize more of the Amazon / Microsoft money into a higher velocity of angel deals.

8. Venture Capital
And of course you need a mature venture capital industry. There are several local firms in Seattle like Madrona, Maveron, Ignition and others. But the consistent message I heard was “there’s not enough.” That’s why more VCs ought to be spending time in Seattle. It’s similar to LA in that there are a highly motivated cadre of tech savvy entrepreneurs wanting to create companies and a lack of funding. I’d bet if one is disciplined about investing here you’d see significantly better pricing than chasing deals in the overly competitive Bay Area corridors.

It’s not an either / or but both / and. But as I look at the GRP Partners returns we’ve made a lot of money investing in companies in New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Arizona and Seattle. We won’t rush into the market but we’re very open to finding teams with the ambition to build big businesses. We know it can be done.

9. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)
The other message I delivered to the room of entrepreneurs & investors at dinner the other night was that you need to think about equity from outside the region the same way that countries think about foreign direct investment. The inflow of capital can be transformative.

But what is often not talked about is that those investments lead to 8-10 board meetings every year of which it would be hoped that the “outside the region” VC would attend 6-8 of them in person. I think a series of brand ambassadors should find out when these VCs will be in town and organize evening events for them the night before so they don’t do a fly-in, fly-out visit.

Imagine if the ambassadors from Seattle organized a dinner with 8 entrepreneurs, the CTO of Amazon, the head of Xbox and the head of marketing for Starbucks. You mean to tell me that the VC wouldn’t fly in early for that?

With VC FDI the community gets more than money. They get time, commitment & attention. One deal begets more deals. If you’re already on a plane to Seattle 8 times a year picking up a second investment there is trivial. Get them over that first hurdle.

10. Time
And finally, it’s clear that to really build a regional community you need time. LA and Seattle are in the second (or third) major wave of technology innovation. We have all of the 2nd-time entrepreneurs from Overture, CitySearch, MySpace, etc. on to their next companies and that produced Demand Media, a public company who even with a slight recent reduction in share price is still trading at $1.3 billion.

Over the past 15 years Seattle has built one of the most interesting technology companies in the world. I’m still amazed at how forward thinking Amazon has been in cloud services – years ahead of Google, Salesforce.com, IBM, HP, Oracle or the countless other companies that should have been strong in this space.

It’s a shame that hasn’t translated into more local break-out successes, but if a few key people really wanted to put in the effort to make it happen I’m confident that Seattle could be a major force in the decade to come. That will be “the decade of the cloud” where it really starts to become a truly connect resource that continues to accelerate innovation.

Who’s in?

Top image courtesy of Fotolia

  • http://twitter.com/brianylim Brian Lim

    It might be as simple as the “few key people” building and maintaining great plumbing between entrepreneurs, investors, and advisors. The resulting startup ecosystem should generate a sustainable reinforcing feedback loop similar to the system dynamics working in Silicon Valley.

    I’ve noticed from building tech startups both in LA and Silicon Valley: there are many paths and loops between entrepreneurs, investors, and advisors in Silicon Valley. I live in LA, but I still go there several times a month to tap into that ecosystem. The pipes between entrepreneurs and investors in LA could benefit from a few great plumbers …

  • http://twitter.com/ChantalJanssen Chantal Janssen

    Mark this is an excellent post, I have spent some time now trying to find the right CTO/co-founder to join me. For me, it comes down to trust, delivery of skills, follow through on promises made and compatibility, not necessarily the things you can identify in an interview. In my opinion, finding the right partner is the difference between success and failure.

  • Joy Hughes

    I’d be interested in seeing a similar write-up on Denver/Boulder and the amazing cleantech cluster e’ve got going. Cleantech is like high tech, only with a 10x bigger sleeping market.

  • http://about.me/humphrey HumphreyPL

    Hi Mark,

    Great post again and this is a discussion that happens all the time in Australia comparing Sydney to Melbourne. Sydney as present has seen a huge amount of growth but some of the more successful startup in Aus and Internationally have recently come from Melb in terms of Sausage Software, Seek, 99designs, RetailMeNot, Firemint and others.The main difference between the two is that successfull entrepreneurs in Syd are out at events, they meet people, form investment group and public incubators (Public Applications).

    The Melbourne success stories normally have internal incubators in existing businesses, don’t really offer mentor services and are keen to just keep to themselves. It really is a sad situation but hopefully things are changing slowly. With Launch48 and StartupWeekend happening in Melb and a number of Mentorship programs starting in Syd then also including Melb there is hope but those top success stories seem to be too busy on their own businesses.

    Hopefully they when they retire they will reach out a bit more. :)

    Great talk on Thursday and I was interested in your 1 founder philosophy and hiring staff with equity. Really interesting. Naval and Paul but say 50/50 so you are both in it. What are you thoughts on motivation of people linked to their equity stake?

    Also a while ago you mentioned I should remind you about writing an article where startup use other IP in their business? Like for example Mint and Yodlee?

  • http://rigor.com Craig Hyde

    “The ingredients are all here. Seattle should be the envy of any non Silicon Valley tech community in the country. Great lifestyle, great cost of living, motivated people and only the crap weather on the negative side.”

    Seattle’s community sounds similar to Atlanta’s community, except without our great weather: http://davidcummings.org/2011/02/18/the-startup-community-in-atlanta/

  • http://www.alearningaday.com Rohan Rajiv

    Reminds me of ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’

    Hope you have a good event!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=689987025 Jebb Dykstra

    Mark — another great article. I personally love your willingness to call BS on the CEO and on Seattle as a whole (given that you have done the same to me in the past :)). Your lack of a filter and complete candor is one of your greatest assets. Not to mention your output of content, experience, and intelligence. What I am saying is — you have become that difference maker for LA. thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/cselland Chris Selland

    Terrific post Mark – so when are you coming to Boston?

  • http://www.brekiri.com/ Greg4

    Most of the other geography envy posts are too negative and not actionable enough. I love the few key people thesis because it’s so tangible. Wannabe European startup hubs need to start thinking along these lines, too.

  • Anonymous

    You could replace Seattle with Europe and it would be spot on. I recently wrote about why Europe has not been able to build a strong entrepreneurial culture despite years of heavy investment and the no 1 reason is because the EU is trying to be the engine. When bureaucrats want to be the engine of startups nothing good happens. Great post! I will use it in the future.

  • Anonymous

    Mark,

    I’ve been reading this your blogs for a while, but this is my first post. In addition to Silicon Valley, LA, Seattle, and Boulder, what other regions of the country do you see building startup “ecosystems” and how do you view their progress? The following immediately come to my mind: Boston, Austin, and New Jersey’s “Einstein’s Alley.” As a renewable energy entrepreneur, I’m most familiar with the NJ and Boston activity…

    NJ has the most generous state solar rebates in the country, the state EDA provides low-cost financing, and there are several angels operating between Philly, Princeton, and New York. There are several clean tech companies getting traction, including International Battery, Princeton Power Systems, and Petra Solar. The proximity to NY and Philly helps, especially in providing access to support services, like corporate law, IP law, accounting, and banking. Princeton U. is slowly growing its entrepreneurship activity, but is still leagues behind MIT and Stanford. There is a strong history of pharma (J&J, Merck, and others are based in the area) and telecom (AT&T Bell Labs, Lucent, Sarnoff/RCA). The main drawback is finding talent; I’ve found that most science and engineering graduates in the area jump onto the first train to NY Penn Station and get sucked into the black hole of investment banking.

    Boston seems to have a strong VC presence and MIT has a very active entrepreneurship program in addition to the strong engineering talent it produces. There are several emerging clean tech companies (Beacon Power, Satcon), but I don’t see any patron companies or successful local entrepreneurs recycling their capital.

    Anyways…I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on other regions that are showing a critical mass of entrepreneurial activity. Also, as much as entrepreneurs like to complain about lawyers and accountants (myself included), I think you also need to add legal and financial services to your list of necessary local ingredients to building a startup ecosystem.

    Best regards,
    Erik

  • http://twitter.com/spencerrascoff Spencer Rascoff

    Mark,
    Thanks for coming to Seattle, and for speaking last night. I’m sorry I missed it — I actually didn’t know about it until yesterday afternoon. (Where’s the love, @glennkelman @randfish:twitter and my other Seattle startup tweeps?)
    I’ve been following your blog and your videos for a while, and look forward to meeting you at some point.

    I’m bullish on Seattle, for sure. I moved up here in 2004 when we sold Hotwire to Expedia, and I’ve been impressed by the startup environment almost from day one. Unfortunately we haven’t had a lot of monster exits in Seattle, so the angel community of former operators hasn’t formed here (yet?) as much as I’d have hoped. But it will.

    One important person in the Seattle startup ecosystem that you left off is Rich Barton, founding CEO of Expedia, and co-founder and now Exec Chairman (and my boss) at Zillow. Rich has been very helpful to a lot of Seattle founders, and has funded several of them including Avvo, King of the Web and many others. (More here: http://www.geekwire.com/?s=rich+barton

  • Adrian Meli

    Interesting, I do not often see the “hire one more amazing person” advice in the top for start-ups. Curious if you have advice on the best ways to go about this or is it all network driven?

  • http://twitter.com/TilenKrivec Tilen Krivec

    Amazing, you just provided a complete blueprint of what someone needs if they want to turn their city or community into a tech-capital. Printed this out and put it on the cork-board, will definitely be referring back to this a lot. Thanks

  • Anonymous

    What I wouldn’t give to have a Sheryl Sandberg as my COO. WOW!!!

  • http://anyessays.com/ Essay writing

    Very nice post! Thanks!

    P.S: Funny First picture.
    ass closeup!! :)

  • http://www.dailygrommet.com Jules Pieri

    Mark, glad you gave photo love and a nice shout out to @daveschappell He has been very kind to me even as an entrepreneur he never even met–yet (I live in Boston). I can only imagine the energy he applies to help Seattle startups.

  • http://twitter.com/seattleseofirm Brandon Na

    I had to write simply because you’ve truly inspired me along with Marcelo to help Seattle literally shine on the International stage when it comes to starups. Thank you for your talk up here this past week.

    Personally, I thought we were o.k., but after your talk at 2.0, I realized I shouldn’t be simply focused on building my own little Microsoft, but also building other MSFTs here in Seattle (without the fat, obviously & misguidance; oops, did I say that Mr. Ballmer?). Seriously, this isn’t meant to be a anti-Carnegie principles post condemning the employer that takes care of many of my friends, but simply to applaud you on your efforts, your intelligent guidance of the VC world in whatever ways you’re doing it and a huge thanks from a guy who you may see on your radar here in as short as 6 months. Take care and keep building. Cheers.

  • http://declandunn.com Declan Dunn

    So many great points in this article, Mark, especially like the “prioritizing the precise thing that could take you to the next level.” Whether it’s an entrepreneur in a startup or a local community trying to build a tech sector, people get lost in their lists of things to do, and an imaginary sign of progress that will make other people notice them. Here’s how to get noticed, do it – take those lists and churn them down to 3 things you can take action in the next 3o days, and prioritize the rest, review them every 3 months at least.

    What I find is that most startups get lost in the to do’s and many of these things never get done because they are not possible. Reviewing and eliminating the insanity of choices we give ourselves is important, but really deciding to give it a go and not procrastinating to a future time when all things will be in place…they never are in place, it’s ever shifting, and that’s the best part of being an entrepreneur. And like a VC, you should think of your business, your time, and your life as the investment you evaluate each and every month at least.

  • http://twitter.com/wfjackson3 Willis F Jackson III

    Thanks for the ambassador idea. I am going to use that in KC.

  • Vmahillon

    Mark,

    This is a fantastic post and I could not agree with you more. As a VC recruiter at OpenView Venture Partners, I help out portfolio companies find the talent they need. CEO’s and CTO’s are always going to be up to their ears in work (product releases, meetings, etc). After an investment is made, our Labs team helps them find people in sales and marketing to help scale their business. This way, the company’s leaders can get back to … well… leading! Like you said, there will always be a million things to do and finding others to help out is absolutely critical. Can’t wait to read more!

    Victor

  • http://profiles.google.com/hakon.verespej Hakon Verespej

    Thanks for this awesome post Mark! Pointing out the strengths, weaknesses, and developmental needs of the entrepreneurial environment in Seattle is a great service to us.

    One other nice thing Seattle has (as I’m sure all good entrepreneurial communities do) is a number of local groups promoting entrepreneurialsm. NWEN, MITWA, and several others are providing the community with great resources.

    I work at Microsoft and am sure that at least a quarter of my friends and colleagues at Microsoft and Amazon are itching to start their own company or join a startup (of course, thinking about it and actually giving up great pay and benefits to do it are completely different things!).

    I can really feel the energy in this area and think tech entrepreneurialism will pick up speed with a possibility of exploding in the next couple of years. I hope we can make progress on the points you list here and make this a reality!

  • http://profiles.google.com/hakon.verespej Hakon Verespej

    Thanks for this awesome post Mark! Pointing out the strengths, weaknesses, and developmental needs of the entrepreneurial environment in Seattle is a great service to us.

    One other nice thing Seattle has (as I’m sure all good entrepreneurial communities do) is a number of local groups promoting entrepreneurialsm. NWEN, MITWA, and several others are providing the community with great resources.

    I work at Microsoft and am sure that at least a quarter of my friends and colleagues at Microsoft and Amazon are itching to start their own company or join a startup (of course, thinking about it and actually giving up great pay and benefits to do it are completely different things!).

    I can really feel the energy in this area and think tech entrepreneurialism will pick up speed with a possibility of exploding in the next couple of years. I hope we can make progress on the points you list here and make this a reality!

  • Dave W Baldwin

    Excellent post Mark.

    3) Patron Companies- Sort of like my giving advice to my 34 yr old son. When he was 31, found how no matter the merits of idea, no one listens because they think of you as a kid. He is seeing that transform over to people being worried when you enter mid 30′s.

    It is important for the start ups to help each other… in the case of West Coast, LA and Seattle can maybe help each other as far as start ups go… then build new patrons. It is all a matter of acceleration.

  • Dave W Baldwin

    Something for readers to think about… do not be so geographically focused.

    Mark has built a faithful readership all over the US. Over the past 6 months, I’ve observed comments on this blog (compared to others) are not so “everything has to happen in this community, or else”, and that is good.

    There is a lot of talent across the different regions. This decade will usher in true intergration of talent from the different disciplines and the categories each contain. If Kansas City can do something that helps Atlanta, then both hubs gain. You do not need permission from Nixon and/or Deal to make that happen.

    By doing this, we can truly improve the world which requires creative/original/innovative thought. Remember the patrons have a mindset from the time they did their ‘big’ thing. This turns into the ‘top-down’ scenario of today.

    The hubs pushing each other raise the chances of truly offering the tool enabling a ‘bottom-up’ scenario for a much more productive tomorrow.

  • Anonymous

     This is one of the reasons I love (and am so fortunate) to be in the greater Boston area. We just started working on our startup back in March, and in the past two weeks I have been to a handful of networking events and have met some of the brightest, most energetic, and downright determined people I have every known. Investors of the VC and Angel breed are completely open and talkative about their thoughts. CEO’s are encouraging and inspiring. And other startups play together nicely in what I think is a killer ecosystem. 

    I’ve yet to visit Silicon Valley or Boulder, but I really feel like the Boston area just kicks ass. When the time comes for us to launch our product later this summer, I know we are going to have a lot of support from the local community and the resources will continue to be available as we experience our successes and failures. And eventually when the time comes to raise money and make a hire or two, I know we have some of the most talented developers in the world. I actually had just written a blog post on how much I love the city (ha, ha) just a few days ago –> http://www.totaltab.com/2011/05/20/being-a-startup-in-boston-is-friggen-awesome/

  • Janis Machala

    I love the feedback and input from someone not in the region who sees what we could be. I worked in Boston and Bay area before moving here in 1992 and I keep thinking we’re going to break out “any month or year now.” The one factor here you didn’t consider is lifestyle region. The Pacific Northwest has a Scandinavian backdrop of “people shouldn’t be too showy or too successful.” We all support one another to help raise everyone up but it might  be that reduces the breakouts one sees elsewhere. I’d love to meet you next time you’re up here to discuss further!

  • http://hirethoughts.blogspot.com Donna Brewington White

    Great post, Mark.  A little late to the party but glad I found this.  

    Not to ignore the true focus of your post… I cherish your words about hiring/recruiting.  I sometimes wonder if I’m just biased given my profession, but then I realize that I chose this profession due to my passionate belief in the advice you gave that entrepreneur.

    Interestingly, it was on a visit to Seattle, that Richard Tait (Cranium co-founder) told me that he could take the same exact team with a completely different product and market and still be successful.  He believed that strongly in the team he had assembled.

  • http://twitter.com/vkbrennan Val B

    Hi Mark. Thanks for the article. It is so true that a few key people can really help the startup ecosystem.  My co-founder and I would not have moved so far along without the awesome help of Marketing Muscle, the Elderly Statesman, and Ambassadors.  It’s all about stacking your deck, and making sure that you give back to your tech community!!

  • http://twitter.com/eltonjain Elton Jain

    @msuster:twitter : Hi mark, I’m a bit confused while choosing a co-founder. I’m working on a product and also my startup company, and am alone right now doing mostly all things like planning, design, development, sales/mrkting (and I’m good in these too). Not just coz you said, but I am indeed in need of someone to help and distribute my work, so we can speed up. I’ve a friend (classmate) who’s ready to work with me with this, but he is not much perfect/professional, or so good in development, he is less interactive & outspoken, but a calm person. What should I be doing? Him or find someone else? I also need some guidance (atleast 1 time to clear few doubts rather then I take an invalid decision.)