Last year I spent several days and $1,500 of my own money to fly from Hong Kong to Silicon Valley to attend the Startup Grind global event with 1000 other “grinders,” who had come to hear top entrepreneurs and investors tell their stories. It was well worth it. This year, the Startup Grind global conference is taking it to an entirely different level. The event, to be held February 23-24 at the Fox Theater in Redwood City, looks likely to top out with more than 3,000 attendees who are coming to hear from established business voices including Marc Andreesen, Clayton Christensen, and Guy Kawasaki as well as younger entrepreneurs like Julia Hartz of Eventbrite, Stewart Butterfield of Slack, and Aaron Levie of Box. “This lineup is really incredible. Like nothing I've ever seen before,” said Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics, who will also be featured at the event.
To the World From a Garage In Silicon Valley
Startup Grind started as a simple idea--interview successful entrepreneurs and investors in front of a live audience, film it, and put the videos online. It started in 2011, with founder Derek Andersen interviewing a guest in front of 20 people crammed into a conference room. He kept the meetings going each month, and then a second chapter was added, and another, until today the organization has more than 185 operating chapters around the world.
Each chapter has the same purpose as Andersen’s original meetings of getting attendees excited about starting a business. “When you see these entrepreneurs in person and they tell their stories, unedited, it’s different than what you get from a magazine article,” Andersen says. “People leave our events excited because they get an intimate look at what it takes to be an entrepreneur and they realize ‘Hey, if that guy can make it happen, I can do it too.’”
The International "General Assembly" of Entrepreneurs
The Startup Grind global conference, held once a year, holds much to the same format as the local events. There is an audience, a guest, and an interviewer, and nobody knows exactly what is going to be said. At last year’s global conference, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone told a story about driving with Ev Williams, also a Twitter co-founder, to visit Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, ostensibly to receive a buyout offer from Zuckerberg. Williams and Stone didn’t intend to sell, so they came up with the “crazy number” of $500M, which Zuckerberg declined. Even though Twitter’s stock is trading at its lowest level since its IPO in 2013, the company still has a market cap of $11.55. For the full interview with Stone, see video here (the Facebook story starts around 28:40).
Although the focus of the global conference is the interviews, it also hosts activities that don’t happen at a local level. Startup Grind recently announced its Startup Program which helps startups connect with investors, partners, and customers at the global conference.
The conference is also an opportunity for announcements and training for local chapter directors. Over the past year the Startup Grind leadership team built a technology platform to manage all chapters around the world, providing a simpler interface for sponsors, invoicing, and publicity. Directors coming to special “Director Days” events prior to the public conference will learn about the new system, network with other directors, take tours of Silicon Valley startup headquarters, and receive other training.
A Grassroots Network of Entrepreneurs around the Globe
While over 250,000 individuals have attended Startup Grind events worldwide, perhaps the benefits are nowhere seen as distinctly as in the lives of chapter directors. “It has transformed my entire way of being, it has increased my capacities,” said Patrice Perkins of Albany, New York. “I think the whole set of values we have at Startup Grind, of giving first and helping others first, I’ve seen that make a difference not just in my own life, but in the lives of founders in Albany.”
At last year’s global event I met Neda Morrar who heads up the Startup Grind chapter in Ramallah, Palestine. Talking about being part of Startup Grind she said “I’m not just a member of our community in terms of what I do in my day job, but I really get to pass this on to other in terms of growing their business.” Many directors talk about how being part of Startup Grind is different than other organizations. “Startup Grind is an awesome group of people,” said Jonas Almeling of Stockholm, Sweden. “The Directors of Startup Grind are, from a professional point of view, as close to family as you can get.”