Earlier this week I attended Sprout Up, a networking and learning event put on by the fine folks at Sprouter.com. It was advertised as a chance to meet like minded entrepreneurs while also learning a bit about the business of start ups. Let’s find out how they did.
I arrived about 5 minutes before the event was to begin and there was already a lineup in front of the building. The most interesting part was that at the front of the line was a bouncer. He was checking ID’s and holding people back. I had to check my phone, make sure it wasn’t Saturday night.
Once I got passed the bouncer with my charm and good looks we we’re handed a nametag. It had your name on it but also included a ‘looking for’ section that either said ‘investors,’ ‘business partners’ or ‘like minded entrepeneurs.’ Below that was the name of someone the Sprouter people thought you would be a good match for.
The event officially began with (overpriced) drinks and ‘networking.’ I put that word in quotations because if you didn’t already know a person or have a person on your name tag it was almost impossible to start a conversation with anyone. For some strange reason people stayed in little clusters and would never break away from them. This isn’t the fault of the organizers, maybe I’m just antisocial.
Before the main speaker they had three Toronto startups present. The first was Card Swap. Every one of us has gotten a terrible gift card before. Card Swap simply buys you’re gift card then sells it for cheap. You get cash in exchange for your card and someone that wants to save money on a TV at Best Buy can get a discounted gift card.
Next up was RateHub, a start up that focuses on the mortgage industry. They basically make it easy for you to find a mortgage. They simplify the entire process and take a small comission on every sale.
The final start up was Rocketr, a group note taking app that tries to simplify communication and idea generation. The app was created in 99 days and is incredibly feature rich while also being super easy to use.
Finally came the main speaker. Lane Becker, the cofounder of GetSatisfaction.
He started with a simple history of what he’s done including Measuremap, an analytics tool that later became the front end for Google Analytics. He also gave a fair warning to take his advice with a grain of salt. He was one of the very first people to join Twitter and at the time called it a ‘Stupid fucking idea!’
His advice was simple and to the point.
Start ups are hard. There is no such thing as instant success. All you hear about is how the company made billions, you don’t hear about the 5 years of hard work it took to get there. Some people (like himself) get a certain joy in that kind of self abuse.
Nobody knows anything. People will always want to give you advice, some of these people may even be experienced millionaires but because the landscape is always changing what worked a couple years ago may not work now. (so why should I listen to Lane?)
Tip #3 (this ones a secret):
Venture capitalists will always foot the bill. Whether you’re at a restaurant or coffee place they’ll cover the food. Don’t get the most expensive meal, shoot for the third most expensive.
Lane then went into a conversation about the 3 steps to starting a business. Founding, Funding and Failing.
Having a partner helps a lot. Make sure to choose someone that has a different point of view from you. It may cause arguments but it makes for a stronger business and a better relationship. Though you have different view points make sure you share the same goals. Does your partner want to sell the company for a few million dollars 5 years from now or does he want to change the world? Remember, when you start a business it never gets better, it only gets worse.
Just how big do you want the company to get? Does the venture capitalist have the same goals as you? When you’re in negotiations try to stay emotionally neutral if you can. To Lane making something is work, raising money is not.
Chances are you’re going to fail. Make sure to do it at your own pace and on your own terms. Always try, never be afraid to fail. Failing is the only way to get somewhere. Once you finally do get lucky that luck will lead to more luck.
(At this point the crowd was getting loud so he shouted “shut the fuck up!” it was quite the moment.)
His final words were to think big, then think bigger and finally think biggest. Never think small.
The night ended with more drinks and networking but I opted to leave at that point. There we’re over 600 people RSVP’d and it looked like most of them we’re there so it was getting hard to breath, not to mention incredibly hot.
All in all it was a fun event and I had a good time. There we’re a few quirks here and there that could be fixed up but the Sprouter team seems to know what they are doing. Lets see what they do with their next event.