A Month of Meeting Startups

I have been on the road for one month meeting with startups, software developers, and organizations dedicated to creating a greater entrepreneurial ecosystem in the United States.

Twenty percent of my time and cities are behind me. I have driven just over 2600 miles of my projected 10k+ miles according to my aggregated daily mileage totals. This post contains my initial thoughts and paints some broad themes from what I've seen firsthand so far.

During my time in DC, Charlottesville, Charlotte, New Orleans, Memphis, Dallas, and Austin I've met with sixteen organizations (see the "Who Have You Already Met With?" section) in addition to attending many meetups and hanging out with individual software developers.

Here are three themes consistently appearing so far:

  1. Startup communities are generous and open
  2. Intercity connections are ad hoc and arbitrary
  3. Startup entrepreneurship is a long way from being a "normal" thing to do

Startup Community Generosity

The startup communities for most of my destinations, particularly New Orleans, Memphis, Dallas, and Austin, have been very generous and open about their cities.

I'm amazed by the amount of time that startups, accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces, and independent developers have been willing to spend with me. We talk for hours about not only their own ventures but their cities in general. Everyone has also been extremely forthcoming about what weaknesses they perceive in their respective locations.

There are weaknesses to each location. Only by being open about them and learning from what other cities are doing well can we hope to improve. I will lay out in detail both the strengths and weaknesses in a future post.

Intercity Connections

Connections between entrepreneurs and software developers between cities are ad hoc and arbitrary. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge sharing that could benefit entrepreneurs and developers that is not currently taking place.

There's an opportunity here to do a better job of connecting entrepreneurs, and those running accelerators, incubators, and co-working spaces with their counterparts in other cities. Part of the lack of intercity connections are being addressed by Startup America and its regional champions and summits.

Publications like Nibletz and Tech Cocktail will help to spread knowledge. As will books such as Startup Communities by Brad Feld.

Conferences that work to be inclusive of other communities like the Everywhere Else Conference (organized by Nibletz) will allow organizers in each city to connect.

Entrepreneurship Normalcy

Entrepreneurship, even in the technology industry, is a long way from being the "normal" thing to do. We have a long uphill climb before a majority of software developers, designers, marketers, and others start their own companies or join early stage ventures.

I do not yet know how to make entrepreneurship open to a larger audience without dumbing it down. The answer may lie in education.

We must educate a wider audience to show that entrepreneurship is not born through crazy ideas that suddenly appear in the minds of brilliant, but rare individuals. Instead, entrepreneurship is a difficult but repeatable process. A process of solving other people's problems by listening to them and meeting their needs while working within your own vision.

Stripping the mystery from entrepreneurship while reinforcing the understanding that is a long, difficult road may help to make it "normal" to a wider audience.

Highs and Lows on the Road

I am often asked "what's been your favorite part of your trip?" I can't pick one specific high. In no particular order, my New Orleans favorite was working with the MBA teams at New Orleans Entrepreneurship Week, as well as and hanging around the IdeaVillage and 4.0 Schools spaces. My Memphis favorite was spending my first time in the city going out to dinner and drinks with Seed Hatchery. Speaking to a great group at MemPy and talking to Work for Pie is up there as well. Austin was just beyond any expectations for what I was hoping for. The time I spent at Continuum Analytics, CopperEgg, OpenCoffee, Capital Factory (blog posts for these coming soon) was fascinating. No wonder Austin is getting Google Fiber.

The biggest low so far was driving out of Austin on Sunday afternoon. That was a difficult day. But I made it to Lubbock and now I've had some time to reflect on my previous six cities. It's wild to think I have another four months of this ahead of me.

If you liked this post you should email me at matthew.makai@gmail.com. Let me know what topics I should elaborate on further or if you're interested in meeting up in any of the 23 cities I'm traveling to next.