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Connecting the Indie Rock and Tech Scenes

Connecting the Indie Rock and Tech Scenes

There was a great article at NPR.org about the goings on in Omaha, Nebraska.

As many of you know Omaha has been a rising star in the tech/start up scene over the last few yearsBig Omaha, a yearly event that this limited to about 600 people and attracts some of the best and brightest tech stars as speakers and attendees. I haven’t gone but many friends have and they all rave about the experience. But back to this NPR article.

The gist of this article can be summed up in this excerpt:

“While I was there, I met several architects and web designers who all said they moved back to Omaha, at least in part, because of this club (Indie Rock club The Slowdown) and the movie theater (Film Streams) next door.”

I know my buddy Rebecca Ryan from Next Generation Consulting wouldn’t be too surprised. This is what she, and others like Richard Florida, have been preaching for years. “Cool” cities attract and retain top talent. What makes a city cool? There is nothing, that I can think of, cooler than Indie Rock.I’m talking Pitchfork.com stuff here. If you have a city that has venues where Pitchfork bands regularly play then you basically have the foundation for a cool city.

Here in Indy we have seen a local promotion company start to actively fill that void – MOKBPresents.com. This is an offshoot of MyOldKentuckyBlog.com, which is actually very much an Indiana blog but started by Kentucky native Craig “Dodge” Lile (who coincidentally works for Raidious a web content company here in Indy) when he moved to Indy in the early 2000s. Running the blog and a Sirius radio show lead naturally to booking shows. MOKB Presents brings a wide diversity of mostly Indie Rock acts to Indy. About 50 shows a year. I don’t think you can find any entity that is changing Indy’s national brand (at least for 20 somethings) as much as MOKB. Think of all the bands that come play Indy and then go tell everyone else about what a great experience, hopefully, they had here. Think of all the fans that see Indianapolis show up again and again on tour schedules, YouTube videos, etc. Word is getting out. Indie’s coolness increases with every MOKB show. There are others doing great work in this area but I’m singling MOKB out since they are the clear leaders. How many of you reading this article know about MOKB? Did you go to a show this year? Chances are they were the promoters.

At the same time we are seeing a huge boom in the tech scene here. Monthly Verge meetings fill up almost immediately. Start Up Weekends are becoming regular, very successful events. New tech companies are popping up everywhere like mushrooms. Develop Indy and Tech Point are noticing and doing what they can, often behind the scenes, to help create the right conditions.

Many of these tech startups are populated with 20 something kids that have grown up on Indie Rock. MGMT, Sufjan Stevens, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Arcade Fire, etc. These tech “kids” love music almost as much as code.

So you have a bunch of fans on one side that want to go to shows (local and national acts) and on the other side you have bands (local and national) that need tech help and fans. When you start to bring these two scenes you have some amazing synergies. This is what Omaha is witnessing and it is an affordable, effective tactic that Indianapolis should pursue as well.

How do we do this?

We need venues and we need audiences. Mostly audiences. Tech companies need to consider sponsoring bands, helping them with their tech and marketing needs. If Exact Target, for instance, wants to attract and retain top talent then they why not send out of state prospects a mix of local music? Why not sponsor a showcase at the Vogue? There are endless creative ways to cross-pollinate and collaborate between the tech and music scenes. So let’s tear down the wall and start making it happen. Connecting the Indie Rock and Tech scenes will create new jobs and grow our economy.

 

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Building Startups Into Great Companies – From the President of PolicyStat.com

Building Startups Into Great Companies – From the President of PolicyStat.com

For the past twenty years I have played various executive leadership roles at five different early-stage companies – one that never really got off the ground, two that established themselves as market leaders and were acquired by larger companies and one that went public and after seven years was sold to IBM. My present company, PolicyStat, has emerged from the startup phase very successfully, and its story is still being written.  Each company has provided tremendous opportunities for learning, and through it all has taught me that there are three very important rules when it comes to building a great company: deliver customer value, appreciate the contributions of everyone involved and be open to change.

Deliver Customer Value
Great companies, particularly those selling a business-to-business solution, are built around delivering customer value.  Often early-stage companies are founded because of a brilliant product idea, but even the greatest product ideas do not necessarily yield great companies unless they deliver business value to the customer.  Successful product evolution beyond the initial feature set should always follow a path that leads to customer-perceived value rather than technological sophistication or ease of implementation.  The best choice, whether product or service-related, is the one grounded in a basic understanding of the business value being delivered and drives the customer’s perceived business value highest.

Appreciate Contributions
Further, early-stage companies become great companies because of the contributions of everyone involved.  It is not unusual to have an iconic figure that either leads a company or personifies the company’s culture, but that individual is not the company.  Very little could be accomplished without the contributions of each individual team member, and unlike in larger companies, it is very difficult for an underperforming team member’s performance to go unnoticed.  Keeping team members focused on their roles is only part of the answer; the real key is to continually show team members respect and express appreciation.

Embrace Change
Probably the biggest lesson I have learned in building early-stage companies into great ones is the need to embrace change; to let go of established models and accept new ideas, new approaches, new perspectives.  Over the years I have watched time and again as people who join early-stage companies from older, established ones try to reestablish the ways of their former employers but fail because the old approach didn’t fit the new situation.  Forcing old ways on new teams can break down team unity, and ignoring new market conditions will almost guarantee a lesser result.

Early-stage companies are the essence of capitalism – this is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to creating new wealth and new jobs.  Success for any new venture is never a given, but by following these simple rules, your company can be on the road to success. Good luck.

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Building a Successful Startup – Tips from the CEO of Formstack.com

Building a Successful Startup – Tips from the CEO of Formstack.com

This post is part three of a three post series.

In last week’s post, Chris Byers, CEO of Formstack LLC, gave us a few tips on what it looks like to build a successful start-up. This week, he will continue his discussion in Part Two by adding a few more encouraging pieces of advice on building business success.

4. Build Momentum.

We commonly tend to think that the day we release our software or service, the biggest part of the work is done.  It’s not.  My approach is to hink of life and business as a marathon rather than a sprint.  While I have only run a half-marathon to date, my preparation takes place over the course of months and my distance slowly increases over that course of time.  Even then, improving my half-marathon time over previous records takes years of consistently deciding to get out and run, committing to tweaking my running strategies and the resulting run-time.  In the same way, you too need to build your startup over a number of weeks and months with small victories each week rather than hunting the big wins once a quarter.  This will allow you to build momentum in your product as well as excitement about the days ahead.
5. Keep Expenses Low.

I tend to be very debt averse, though there used to be a day when I wasn’t.  In my first startup, we started heavy with five staff members that needed to get paid each month.  In addition, we got this idea that having awesome marketing and logos were going to make us successful.  While the logos were pretty, that commitment cost us a great deal financially in the short-term.  Also, we thought that nice offices were a key to running our software business.  Three years of personal guarantees were wrong for our business and wrong for my personal finances.  And finally, I fell for the “lease a car to save taxes” trap and committed myself to $20K of a brand new car.  In the end, all of these debts and costs were a great detriment to our ability to make wise decisions for our company.  The good news was that if we had been successful, we might have blown the money anyway. This told me I needed a few lessons in stewardship before my next startup.

I hope these tips were helpful for those of you thinking about starting up your own company. There are always going to be lessons you have to learn along the way, but it’s always good to take as much advice as possible. Good luck in your venture.

If you have any questions or comments for Chris, contact him at Chris.Byers@formstack.com.

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Formstack LLC., is an Indianapolis, Indiana located company with a mission to give businesses and organizations of all caliber a solution to their online needs. Formstack provides a way for companies to develop, design, create, and manage online forms with little to no knowledge of HTML coding or programming. Users can create any type of form desired including surveys, contact forms, event registrations, and more. These forms are used by companies with a desire to collect data in a smarter, more convenient and stress-free way. Formstack’s online forms can also be integrated with multiple third-party applications. Check out Formstack athttp://www.formstack.com.

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Building a Successful Startup – Tips from the CEO of Formstack.com

Building a Successful Startup – Tips from the CEO of Formstack.com

This post is part two of a three post series.

1. Manage Your Own Expectations.

If you are just getting started with your new awesome idea, the tendency is to think that you will launch the product on day one, have enough users to pay the bills on day 30, hire a team within 90 days and sell the company for $23MM on a 5X revenue multiple by year-end.  It isn’t going to happen.  Within our company, which has passed the startup stage, we had very consistent and positive growth from day one…but it still took more than 18 months to sustain even one employee.  That said, I wouldn’t discourage the attitude in place that keeps you thinking you could be Indy’s next Exact Target.

2. Embrace Change.

If you look back and remember your past, the way you have previously thought about things, or even the decisions you made last month- they were all based on factors very different from where you are today.  When you make decisions, remember that everything is up for change. Sometimes, you need to create change just so you remember why you liked things the way they were.  By small example, Formstack attempted to gain more collaboration by placing a few people in an office together rather than our ‘one person to an individual office’ past.  After a few weeks, I was extremely frustrated and returned things to normal because the specific concept didn’t work. A few weeks later, we tried the same concept, but grouped cohorts together based on their individual departments. The experiment is receiving better results, and office morale has increased exponentially.

3. Your First Idea is WRONG.

Let’s say you’ve started your company, released your software, and have begun to market your first idea. That idea you had is why you have a start-up in the first place. The problem with that idea is that it is all wrong.  Maybe the market is wrong, maybe the timing is wrong or maybe the product itself is all wrong.  If you look at our history here at Formstack, we started as a custom software development shop.  From there we actually launched a number of products.   Of those, we killed a few and kept two alive.  One of them is our form-builder which took some time to see its value, and the other is no longer marketed and is only serving the few customers that remain. That said, from a custom development shop to the incorporation of Formstack was a good 4-year process.

We hope Byers’ advice was enough to make you re-think your strategy as well as encourage you to continue on the journey to developing your start-up. Stick around next week for Part Three as Byers continues dishing out his top five tips on starting a successful start-up.

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Formstack LLC., is an Indianapolis, Indiana located company with a mission to give businesses and organizations of all caliber a solution to their online needs. Formstack provides a way for companies to develop, design, create, and manage online forms with little to no knowledge of HTML coding or programming. Users can create any type of form desired including surveys, contact forms, event registrations, and more. These forms are used by companies with a desire to collect data in a smarter, more convenient and stress-free way. Formstack’s online forms can also be integrated with multiple third-party applications. Check out Formstack athttp://www.formstack.com.

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Building a Successful Startup – Tips from the CEO of Formstack.com

Building a Successful Startup – Tips from the CEO of Formstack.com

This post is part one of a three post series.

Chris Byers is the CEO of Formstack and runs the day to day operations of the company. He has been a fan and avid user of Formstack for many years but has only recently joined the team in March 2010. Byers understands the hardships that come along with starting a company and surviving the up’s and downs of the it’s life. As CEO, Indianastartup.com asked Byers for a few local tips.

Over the years, Byers has been the founder of a number of businesses in many different capacities.

Byers understands that the ability to say that you want to be a part of a startup or the owner of a business is the easy part. The work of actually being in that role is very different. In the end, a great full-time job can be more rewarding than owning or running a company that doesn’t match your personality. “In past businesses, I thought I knew what I wanted but each experience has simply been a journey and an education for today,” said Byers.

Business Model/Concept

As someone who came on the scene a bit later in the company’s existence, Byers only knew what he had experienced from the outside.  Formstack started in March of 2006 as a solution to its founder’s (Ade Olonoh) frustration with the tedious work of creating forms for his clients.  Olonoh developed an idea that would make the process simpler and along the way, created a tool available to everyone.  From day one, the form builder gained some traction and had signups for the product.  It took about 18 months to realize that it had the legs to decide that he could base a company around the product.  At that point it became time to look for some funding to assist in growth and find the right team to begin marketing Formstack.

In the Part Two of his post, he will share some helpful advice on what it looks like to be successful in a start-up venture.  Check back in a few days.

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Formstack LLC., is an Indianapolis, Indiana located company with a mission to give businesses and organizations of all caliber a solution to their online needs. Formstack provides a way for companies to develop, design, create, and manage online forms with little to no knowledge of HTML coding or programming. Users can create any type of form desired including surveys, contact forms, event registrations, and more. These forms are used by companies with a desire to collect data in a smarter, more convenient and stress-free way. Formstack’s online forms can also be integrated with multiple third-party applications. Check out Formstack at http://www.formstack.com.

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