As the curtain closes on 2012, I wanted to reflect on all of the traction the last year across the multiple projects and initiatives that we, collectively, tackled. This is sort of the 'end of the chapter summary' literary device for me, to recap the story so far in preparation for the next act.
I think we made serious progress across the Midwest, especially in Iowa, in 2012. A number of startups were launched in 2012, and many more that were launched in 2011 made tangible, measurable progress. Iowa is nationally 'on the map' for it's startup activity. Unfortunately, much of the national visibility is still characterized with 'If they can do it in Iowa...' (emphasis added) tongue-in-cheek condescension, as evidenced in the Kauffman paper and the New Republic article. The first one or two high-value exits will inevitably quell the condescension.
We also have begun some very promising multi-state collaboration projects that look to tie together a larger population of Midwest entrepreneurs and angel investors into a more cohesive network.
Throughout 2012, the original startup cohort in StartupCity were heads down building and scaling their products in the marketplace. We added and subtracted a little here and there, but overall 2012 was a year of 'put your head down and deliver results' for everyone. We are still in this mode, as there are no overnight successes as evidenced by overly-romanticized-yet-ultimately-tragic startup stories like Color, especially during economically hostile cycles like the one we are still completing. The gradual economic improvement has the effect of reducing the amount of entrepreneurial activity, as involuntary entrepreneurs gravitate back to more consistent jobs. Look to a lower number of new-business starts in 2013 over 2012, which were already down from 2011 and 2010. The good news is that the startups that are in the market should find customer orders more forthcoming when spending opens up again as we emerge from this economic malaise.
Tej and I are fully committed to StartupCity and will be continuing to work with the residents here, and reviewing potential additions, in 2013.
Wow, what a year. In 2012 we executed on a major effort nearly every month of the year and expanded the footprint of the organization statewide without any outside funding. The Iowa Startupedia community wiki, the Startup Calendar, OpenIowa, Startup Fairs statewide, and countless other efforts kept the all-volunteer crew pretty busy. In 2013, we are expanding the group even more as we extend to additional population centers throughout the state. Iowa is counted as a top region nationally by the StartupAmerica Partnership, and is often cited as a case study in how to grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem from scratch. This will only improve with the addition of key thought-leaders throughout the state and a higher level of activity.
In 2012, I'll be helping a broader team build-out a statewide network of entrepreneurs and resources, and transition to more of a backseat role in StartupIowa. In order to thrive, StartupIowa needs to be owned and propelled forward by all Iowa entrepreneurs, not just a small few.
Again, what a year. In April of 2012, Tej Dhawan, who I am fortunate to count as my friend and business partner, called together a meeting of key local investors with the express goal of creating a local angel group. In true entrepreneurial fashion, things happened very quickly after that, with Mike Colwell from the BIZ grabbing the reins and forming Plains Angels in late May. From June to December of this year, I helped Mike and Tej create the structure and flow of the group, which has been unbelievable fun. We expected perhaps twenty angels to attend our first meeting in June, and were surprised with around eighty. The angels invested six-figures within nine-days of the first startup presentation. Plains Angels now counts over 100 angels in the group and meets monthly to review really high-quality startup presentations.
The BIZ, with the broader support of it's parent organization the Greater Des Moines Partnership, will be driving Plains Angels moving forward. I really appreciate Mike and Tej letting me help get things spun up with the group, and I hope we see a number of real angel investments out of the group in the coming months.
I launched Present.io after a rather circuitous journey (even by startup standards) in late 2011. Over 2012 I conducted nearly a hundred demos and had Present.io capture appliances on-site for evaluation at many of the key corporations in central Iowa. Despite trade shows, social media, demos, and belly-to-belly sales, I didn't see the sales traction I needed to justify moving forward in 2013 with Present.io.
I failed. I'm turning it off.
With Present.io, I did not get the critical market adoption that I stress daily to the startups in StartupCity as a mentor. I tried a number of different techniques to get traction, and none seemed to pick the lock of the market. I was hemorrhaging money on equipment and cloud hosting fees and there was no revenue to offset it. To continue to flog it would be to be the opposite of the sober and introspective CEO that I tell every startup founder I meet that they need to be.
And I learned a ton. It was awesome.
I'm having a wake for Present.io in January when I can find a free afternoon/evening. I invite you all to come and have a sip or two of Irish whiskey over the grave of the dearly departed, and I promise to honestly and openly share what worked and what didn't, so we can till these learnings back into the soil of our collective startup knowledge. As humbling as it is to fail at something that myself and others spent so much time and energy getting to market, I refuse to miss the learning opportunity and deny the failure. I will celebrate it.
So where does this leave me? Tej and I will continue to deliver solid results at StartupCity, I will slide out of the front seat and into the back seat on StartupIowa, Plains Angels is in the Partnerships capable hands, and Present.io ex mortis.
Close curtain on 2012.
Open curtain on 2013. Here is what I intend to do:
Keep building. If I am not building product, I feel like I'm not breathing. I suspect I'll have another dozen new product/company ideas before the ball drops tonight in Times Square, but I'll be proceeding much differently based on what I learned with Present.io, Athena, and even Stork.ly.
Deliver. I will double-down, and then double-down again, on StartupCity Des Moines. We've had our ups and downs in our first full year, and have learned a ton about what works and what doesn't with technology incubation in Iowa. We intend to apply those lessons in 2013 to take it up a gear to push the innovation limits in the Midwest.
Infect. The change of mindset, the risk taking, and the raw energy we've seen from the entrepreneurial renaissance in Iowa has been mostly isolated to information technology companies. There are much larger segments of our regional economy, like biotechnology and manufacturing, that could have a greater transformative effect on Iowa with the same energy. I'm going to do my damnedest to permanently infect those sectors with the entrepreneurial perspective that we now take as given in IT.
Be real. I intend to be much more direct with entrepreneurial feedback ("be the asshole in the room") to StartupCity residents and prospective residents alike. I will point and yell 'No Clothes!' at every well-intentioned public or private initiative that I feel will sidetrack our efforts. I will politely decline meetings with every entrepreneur within a 500-mile radius to avoid becoming a gate-keeper, and instead direct them to the excellent local resources all over the Midwest.
That's what I am going to do. Now I'm off to go do it.