The Seattle chapter of Startup Grind has a rich history, hosting 30 innovative local leaders over 3 years. But the Startup Grind Seattle even this July saw something that had never been done before in the chapter’s history: hosting not one, but FIVE leaders of relatively unknown startups, as well as a jamming rooftop BBQ to kick the evening off.
Taking advantage of Startup Grind Seattle’s new home in the Galvanize coworking, the mixer brought out over 50 attendees who took to the space’s open rooftop deck to enjoy summer appetizers and bask in Seattle's 80-degree sunshine. After an hour of meet and greet action on the rooftop, the group relocated inside for an hour-long roundtable session with five Seattle startup leaders. Those chosen few were:
Chad Fisher, co-founder of Content Runner
, an online marketplace designed to bring together US-based writers with people in need of content.
Ed Windgate, CEO of Mosaic Track
, a smart recruiting solution that uses artificial intelligence to help businesses find the best talent.
Stacia Pache, founder of itBandz
, a therapeutic neoprene band that enhances recovery and decreases pain of knee issues.
Justin Gough, founder of Send
, your new on-demand personal assistant.
Nikki Piplani, founder of ThinkFiend
, a new platform for helping users find interesting, curated content without the noise.
Led by Startup Grind Seattle leader Mike Grabham, the Q&A session revealed many of the challenges faced by these up-and-coming startups, about half of which are not actively pursuing investment yet. What all five startups immediately had in common was the fact that most were first time founders, yet they all had previous professional work experience. As a result, none were quick to take on investment up front until they had a working prototype with a proven customer base. Justin Gough stated it best when he said, “it’s important to get objective responses from people who aren’t your friends and family…don’t build or invent anything until you have a proven product.”
On Identifying Your Customers
Stacia also echoed Justin’s sentiments by advising the audience to carefully and deliberately define your customer base, and to test your theories. Using an example from her company, itBandz, she initially was targeting an exclusively athletic female customer base, but recently adjusted her business plan when she realized that she also had interested customers of an older, more senior demographic. As a result, she now makes sure to not only have a presence at running race booths, but also at mall kiosks and even local drug stores and pharmacies.
On Getting Initial Traction
As many of the startups were bootstrapped from the start, each founder strongly advised starting with low-cost, highly effective strategies for acquiring new users or customers. Rather than worrying about staying 100% committed to your initial business idea, Ed recommends being open and flexible to change and doing whatever it takes to get started on your business idea right away to start getting traction. Justin’s company found lots of success in customer referrals and is currently offering incentives and bonuses for quality referrals. Meanwhile, Nikki found that email marketing was the key for boosting user signups for ThinkFiend. However, Chad wisely pointed out that it can be easy to get mass signups, but much harder to engage those users once you have them, so it’s important to focus on user engagement too.
On What Keeps Them Motivated
Running a startup full time is no easy task, and yet when Mike asked all founders if they would sell their startups today for a decent chunk of change (nothing exorbitant), all founders shook their heads. The reason is that each founder is very passionate about what they’re building, and feel the most motivated by seeing their passion and excitement resonate with others when they first hear about their startup ideas. Knowing there were other people out there besides family members who believed in the startup idea is hugely motivational.
On Work-Life Balance
Predictably, none of the founders admitted to having a great work-life balance. Justin admitted, “I’ve gotten really good at saying no [to socializing opportunities.” However, Ed was quick to advise the audience to not give everything in your life up for the sake of your startup. As Stacia mentioned, some of her greatest epiphanies and breakthroughs came while working out at the gym. Chad also pointed out that work-life balance has become so important to him that he insists in living close to his office so he can squeeze in a workout mid-day if that’s how his day is going. Nikki perhaps said it best when she stated, “I realized I didn’t accomplish that much more when I was giving up certain moments. That extra hour on the computer that I could have spent with my family didn’t add up to much of an output.”
On How to Approach Investors
While only a couple founders firmly stated that they were actively seeking investment, the other founders were on the brink of it. As a result, they had some good advice for other startups in similar positions. They stressed that it’s incredibly important to do your own research about who you’re approaching (or vice-versa) to make sure the investor aligns with your startup. Remember that investor meetings are as much of an opportunity for founders to interview investors as it is the other way around. Always make sure investment deals meet the needs and ideals of both parties before agreeing to any terms. Finally, always remember that solid, in-depth networking over time is so critically important. You never know which relationships will blossom into something more at different stages of your startup’s life.