What Local Governments can do to Help Startups and the Entrepreneurial Community

Somehow I get involved in these discussions from time to time, usually a local politician is doing research on what they can do to help the startups or grow the entrepreneurial community. Usually what they’re looking to do is provide some sort of access to “funding” or get office space for the entrepreneurs. But recently I found some comments by @fredwilson to be dead-on the best answer I’ve ever heard for what local governments can be doing to help grow the community. There are five main areas that Fred identifies in his talk with Andrew Ross Sorkin:

  • Good schools
  • Good parks
  • Good transportation
  • Safe streets
  • Good places for people to live

Politicians, focus on those five things and that will attract talent and growing companies. There’s a lot more to it but those are the basics and those are the things that elected officials should be focusing on. I’d also add here a quote from Brad Feld, “paint a big spotlight on what’s going on in the entrepreneurial community.”  Just stay away from trying to figure out who to get funding to, who the next great companies are, just get out of the way, this isn’t where you can add value.

Still committed to helping startups raise money? Angel investment is the catalyst for any entrepreneurial community – it gets things flowing. But as you’ll hear Fred say in the video, there has to be a more “cowboy” mentality when doing this. The mindset has to become one of “not missing the next big thing” rather than “I don’t want to look like an idiot for investing in (x).” We’re probably a long way from doing that here and it will probably be very small steps at a time as we get this going. As Fred points out in the video, get the wealthy people out of investing in bonds and into investing in startups. Angel capital is THE MOST critical thing necessary to get this moving.

How to Attack a Gordion Knot Problem

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 8.32.01 PM

I recently had the great opportunity to speak at TEDx Tampa Bay and I loved it. I got to cut loose, have fun and discuss something that really matters to me. I spoke about Tom Wujec’s “Got a Wicked Problem, First, Tell Me How You Make Toast” TED talk. If you haven’t seen it then invest the next ten minutes and let Tom drop some knowledge on you. It’s one of those talks that’s not obvious at the time you watch it, it’s a talk that’s only obvious when things fall apart and you need a Gordion Knot-cutting knife in your pocket kind of talk.

Tour of New Zealand! (Auckland)

As luck hard work would have it, @IamAgile sits on the Board of Directors for Agile Alliance for 2015-2018. This years New Zealandboard meeting was in Wellington, New Zealand – definitely one of the most beautiful and diverse countries I’ve visited. The food is all organic, there’s a thriving craft beer community (that knows all about Cigar City Brewing!) and scenes like this one are everywhere. Our tour started when we landed in Auckland and immediately took a downturn. The “Mini” we were supposed to get from the rental car company was actually a “mini” car. A Hyundai Getz with a rockin’ 93 bhp engine, water in the door, right hand drive, and two cubic feet of storage for our 20 cubic feet of luggage. I’ll be blunt, this thing was a piece of shit. And it made the trip all the more memorable and interesting, mainly because NZ (N-zed) is rather hilly.

Auckland itself was beautiful, reminded us a lot of our visit with @MissDestructo and @nbrown10 at the end of last year. The port city had several good bars and… well, a lot of wind. We barely got one day in the city before we headed for Hamilton and Hobbitown.

Tour of Italy!

photo-1415302199888-384f752645d0For @iamagile‘s and my honeymoon we finally got to hit Italy. We’ve both travelled extensively for our careers in Asia, Europe and Australia but never got to see Italy. For almost three weeks we visited Florence, Venice and Rome. First impressions? The art history here is unbelievably deep and wide. Venice is not a place to go drinking heavily after dinner. Sidewalks end abruptly in the canals with no warning. The people? Extremely friendly and helpful. Food? The further off the main streets you get the better, and less expensive, the food gets and the chianti is plentiful everywhere. The only part that got under my skin is a little bit is when I ordered a large beer (about 2 pints.) The response I invariably got was “You want an American size beer. Ok.” After a couple of these experiences I eventually started responding with “No, I want an Irish sized beer. Thank you.” Go back again? Sure, I’d just avoid Rome. A little dirty, people were ambivalent, food was pretty marginal. But the Vatican and surrounding architecture were absolutely incredible and you could spend at least three days in line waiting to get into the Vatican Museum. If you’re up for that sort of experience, be my guest – I’ll stick with Florence, Venice, and if I can trick @iamagile into it, Modena. I’ll just say it’s on the way to Milan.

Writing Software Isn’t Like Building a House

So please stop with the analogy. Writing software is like writing music. Even the most gifted of composers can struggle for days, weeks, or months to get movements to work together. Equating writing software to GOMY9CQSvmjKLxigsfxg_Atticputting PVC pipes together or framing a room is idiotic. I’ve lost track of how many exec’s have said “How hard can it be to get software to do this…?” Well, for starters, go write Hendel’s Messiah from memory. No? Try Beethoven’s Minueto Allegro Molto e Vivace. Because that’s what you’re asking for every time you want a custom piece of software written. Ok, maybe not that hard, but just try writing Chopsticks from memory and you’ll see what I mean. This is not that simple. This is hard, detailed work that requires focus and mastery of the most obscure details. And most of all it requires time. Time to think, to solve, to test (to listen to) again and again until it’s right. If you want it fast then you want it wrong. If you want it right then it takes time.


last_dragonThis post is a little different. It’s about earning self-respect. Respect from others comes from winning or being honest even when it runs against your best interests. Self-respect is earned from winning over yourself. It comes from honest introspection, recognizing your own dragons. And then slaying their asses.

This week my wife called me a ‘chronic procrastinator’ and in a sense, she’s right. I put off the shitty tasks and do the fun stuff. The brain challenging, can I figure this stuff out kind of work. The mundane, every day, boring, administrivia crap? Nope, not for me. But if you let the administrivia go long enough, you’ll die under the weight of the un-done. How did I beat it? I discovered a little book called One Small Step Can Change Your Life. The premise of the book is that your brain puts up defense mechanisms to protect you from pain. Ok, I can definitely relate to that. Unfortunately, there comes a time when the pain of not having it done overwhelms the pain of not doing it.  Then you have to put in the Herculean effort of putting all the fun stuff aside and knocking it out. Taxes are the obvious one. Going to the damn dentist is another. But there’s a trick to all of this that the book points out. Take the big-hairy-I-don’t-want-to-do-it-thing and break it down into the most minuscule of tasks. I’ll take an example we’re all familiar with: writing a term paper. For me, I wrote these the night before it was due. What I turned in sucked and was just enough to get me at the top of the class. But it was excruciatingly painful. Today I do a lot of systems analysis, a lot of research and detail work. Fun? Nope. So what I do is break it down into tiny, insignificant tasks. My brain doesn’t throw up the warning signs saying it’s going to be painful to pull this together and instead, does each tiny task. The result? Great work, delivered early. Essentially what I do it look at what needs to be delivered, decide f it requires A, B, or C level work and then break the deliverable into sub-tasks accordingly. The higher the grade of work, the more sub-tasks I create. If it’s C level work, I create a handful of quick, easily completed tasks and get that shit off my plate. If it’s A level work, I create a lot (a shit-ton actually) of low-level tasks and prioritize them. Understand a client’s systems? Identify the players and their roles, talk to them, get their perspective, take notes. From there you may come up with 150-200 follow up items. But the secret here is that each of those are miniscule. Make a call, talk about X, write down Y. All stuff that doesn’t trigger your brain into thinking that the thing you’re working on is a damn mountain. Before you know it, you’re at item 200 and you’re done. It’s ridiculously easy. Every time you catch yourself starting to procrastinate on a particular task, it’s because you’re working on to many itms all at once and you’re not thinking small enough. Break it down more. Spend an hour each morning making the smallest, most innocuous tasks imaginable. If you’re a “chronic procrastinator” you’ll have this dragon beaten before you know it. And well before your brain can throw up a barrier for you.

For me, this was my last real dragon to conquer.


One of the things I picked up when I worked in North Carolina was a love of barbecue. Over the past couple of months

After 12 hours...

I’ve been picking up a Boston butt when I see one with a good fat cap and putting going low and slow with it. It’s turning out so well that we no longer go out for barbecue. It’s provided a good distraction from everything else that’s been going on over the past year. Breaks are needed. New (or in this case, old) experiences are needed. And sometimes it’s just for fun. Maybe a little healthy competition now and then too. But for right now, it’s breakfast.

Ignite Tampa Bay

Ignite Tampa Bay is returning in 2013. Twenty slides. Fifteen seconds each.

Ignite-Logo copy

All you get is five minutes to tell us what you’re passionate about. The venue, date and time are all open at this point.

What’s Tampa Bay excited about? What are you really passionate about? Enlighten us, share your story with us.

More details will be coming on the FB page as we get this together for the coming year. The 2012 event was very well done and had some tremendous speakers. A bit of a different audience than we’re accustomed to for BarCamp events but that’s probably a great thing at this point.

Well… [Google|Microsoft|Facebook|Amazon] could do that…

I’ve heard this three or four times over the last six months, not only with ChannelLauncher but with other companies that are getting off the ground in Tampa. Originally my response was (at least when this was said about ChannelLauncher) to defend. “Yes but here’s our approach…”  It’s become clear to me that the people stating this don’t understand innovation and have probably never read Crossing the Chasm. Here’s how this plays out. Small company grows into big company. Big company focuses on larger and larger clients. The smaller clients get left behind, their needs aren’t met and begin to look for alternatives. Tiny company builds tiny product for tiny group of clients. Tiny company improves on tiny product and becomes larger company with larger product and starts eating away at big company’s core customer base. Big company acquires said company. This is always happening. Now my response to “Google could do that.” is to ask what the person saying this actually does. Regardless of the response, 90% of the time I can say in complete honesty that Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, you name it, they already do it. You’re an investor? Google does that [Google Ventures]. You’re a business consultant? McKinsey does that and is bigger than you’ll ever be. You’re a social media expert? @MissDestructo does that and has more followers than you do. The fact is this, yes a [insert fortune 500 company name here] could do this. But is it cost effective for them to really go after your potential clients? It may in fact be better for the large company to let you build the market and get the clients – then acquire your business. So the next time someone tells you “Google could do that” you can, if you’ve done your homework and understand the market, tell them it’s more cost effective for Google to acquire you. See what their response to that one is.


Tampa Bay is About to Take Off.

Not from all the rain we’re getting. Not from the RNC. What is about to explode is the number of startups getting off the ground. Unfortunately they will look like nothing the area has ever seen before. We’re largely known for medical companies and real estate but a growing core of entrepreneurs are bringing new companies and products to market that don’t even closely resemble these verticals. From BumperCrop and TourWrist to ChannelLauncher (my personal favorite) and Carvoyant,  the landscape is slowly changing. And I say “unfortunately” because the infrastructure (for example, Capital) isn’t in place yet for companies like these. Tampa’s 60/20 Plan as well as Gazelle Lab are working to change that but it will take time. In fact it will take 20 years to change the face of the entrepreneurial community in Tampa Bay. I peg year 1 as 2008, the first year of BarCamp Tampa Bay, so we still have 16 years before we can really call ourselves a successful entrepreneurial community. Many have argued with me that it will only take 5 years to complete the transition. They’re dead wrong. Here’s why. We need three key components to make this happen

  • Entrepreneurs
  • Technology Professionals
  • Angel Investors

We have a small number of entrepreneurs, the risk takers that can distinguish a ‘good idea’ from a ‘good business idea’ and figure out how to build a product and a company around it. Then there are the technologists – developers, architects and sys admins that build great stuff. There’s plenty of them in the area but relatively few are engaged in the community. And then there’s the Angel Investors. This group is virtually non-existant for tech startups looking for  seed stage funding in Tampa Bay. These three groups form a symbiotic relationship when it comes to starting a tech company, they need to work in unison and be in direct contact. Today they are not, not even close. It will take time, trust, missed opportunities and big successes to bring all three together, in particular the Angel component. That’s what will take 20 years to build a thriving entrepreneurial community. So Tampa Bay really is ready to take off and if you’re one of these three groups, you’ve got a huge opportunity to directly impact the direction of the community. Just realize that the goal line is in the year 2028.