By Dave Parker

It’s time for Seattle to Play Bigger! As a startup community, we’ve had a chip on our shoulder for years. We’re not the valley. VCs would say we need better founders, founders would say we need better (and more) VCs. Both were right. Founders are flogged for thinking too small. But investors don’t want to fund big ideas! Would you join me in making some changes to help level up the community as a whole? How do we bring individuals and groups together to do bigger things?

I’m starting with two things, first a community-driven Founder Development program, 6 Month Startup. Second, I’ve signed on to the WTIA Board to Chair the Startup Club Programs. Founders start their journey at the point of inspiration – it’s about them as individuals and the skills they need to test their ideas. Later in the process, there are service providers and organizations to help companies – I’m looking to focus our efforts on the middle – the Founder development stage. You’re likely early as a company, but you still need to think like an investor if you hope to get funded.

6 Month Startup

Last year I kicked off the first cohort of a new program called “6 Month Startup” Each month the founder(s) has a different set of deliverables designed to take them from ideation to revenue. The constraint is time. Deliverables include projects like:

  • Research
  • Customer Development
  • Awkward Co-Founder Discussions
  • How to Make Money (Revenue Models)
  • Customer Personas
  • Go to Market Planning (Marketing & Sales)
  • Pitch Prep

Beginning in month two, Founders show up to the session with deliverables to show mentors to review their work. If the founder doesn’t do the work (reviewed by their table-mates at the start of the session) they don’t get to talk to the mentors, but they do get to listen and learn. If they don’t do the work two months in a row, they are asked to rethink their idea. Though they don’t have to leave, they no longer get to present to mentors. The culmination is the final pitch night where they have collected actual customer data, have a go-to-market plan, etc.

If you think about the Seattle startup ecosystem (all ecosystems for that matter), there’s a continuum of programming starting with inspiration and maturing to company building. The goal of the program is what I call “Founder Development” which fits in between the great inspirational events (Startup Weekend, Startup Grind, FoundersLive, etc.) and company building efforts for later stage companies like Techstars. But it’s focused on the founder before they are a company.

The goal of the program is to develop better founders – the ones who aren’t going back for an MBA. They may represent the average age startup founder (41) or they may not be a middle-aged white dude (we know who we are). It’s a long game, but worthwhile. The program is designed as a monthly Meetup, no applications, inexpensive ($20 Student ticket/$35 Founder ticket, including dinner).

The results of Cohort I were better than anticipated:

  • We started at ~70 founders for the first 3-4 months – then bad ideas started to die off. We finished the Cohort at ~40 and 16 pitches the final night
  • 40% women and nearly 20% People of Color – we’re working hard on outreach
  • Killing bad ideas quickly was an intended result – not because I told them to, but because they had to do customer development and do interviews, and then the math
  • One team raised $500k+ and didn’t have a co-founder in month one!
  • There were a lot of other learning and changes to the curriculum as well

What’s next? Cohort II is starting May 9 and we’ll keep it going on the second Wednesday evening of each month, from 6:30-9PM in downtown Seattle.

How can you help? Thanks for asking!

  • Know any early stage teams that need to prove their idea? Send them to the overview page above, Meetup page or the Eventbrite page. Typically, they are excited about their idea but haven’t talked to enough target customers
  • Do you tweet? Here’s a Click to Tweet for the next session
  • Want to be a mentor? We take up to 8 per session – send me an email for the promo code/hidden ticket
  • We’re launching 6 Month Startup – Kitsap in June and have a number of other cities we’re kicking off in the coming months! Know a city that could use “6 Month Startup?”

Oh, and yes, this has provided the opportunity to finish the book “6 Month Startup – Ideation to Revenue.” I hope to have the first copy out in June.

WTIA Startup Programs

I joined the Board of the Washinton Technology Industry Association to Chair the new Startup Club Programs. The goal of the programs is to continue to “Level Up” our Startup Community in Seattle. Historically, the WTIA served larger technology companies with benefit programs (Insurance, 401K, etc.) as well as lobbying on the industry’s behalf in Olympia. I’ve known Michael Schutzler for 20 years and Nick Ellingson for a couple of years as his roles have changed in the organization. Nick’s now the Startup Ambassador.

Our goal for Startup Programs is all about Amplification, Connections, and Services.

  • Amplification! We want to let people know what’s going on in Seattle and amplify the great resources that exist for Startups. Know a great event? We’d like to help you promote it to the community. There are a lot of calendars already in the market, we’d just like to help you distinguish great events, with great value (not just price).
  • Increasing our audience – there are a lot of great events that are small because they lack marketing reach.
  • Connections – let’s face it, every first-time founder is replicating the connections and work of nearly every other founder that has come before them in Seattle. We can help them make those connections faster.
  • To that end – we’re launching a new event – inside Seattle funding – it’s a one day workshop designed for early-stage founders. Yes, we’re bringing together the Angel groups, Seed and A stage investors into a single day or programming to help founders understand stages and types of companies we are looking for
  • Building Cohorts of Founders – a secondary benefit of this program is that we want to leverage building groups of founders. Founding a startup can be an isolating experience that takes 7-13 years (congrats to Docusign on the pending IPO) and creating cohorts allows founders to connect with like-minded peers.
  • Investor and service provider introductions
  • Services – like many of the other services WTIA provides bigger firms, they are looking to modify those programs to make them more valuable to early-stage tech firms, like, product discounts and HR Services

You can JOIN the program here.

It’s the start, not the end. How can we help you play bigger and help Seattle become an even better place for startups? Let me know how I can help!