Nutshell: You can’t build a startup alone. Find your city’s startup “watering hole,” and start drinking. But remember: that watering hole is not a charity.
In a world of abundance, including abundance of noise, curation becomes incredibly valuable. Few people have the time to sort through hundreds of duds (products, information, people) before finding something or someone that they truly need. Curation is actually one of the main points of this blog; particularly the Learn the Essentials section. Undercapitalized Texas founders need information on basic startup law and finance. That information has historically either been locked up in expensive silos (law firms), or spread out over the web alongside loads of crap. I help them avoid the noise.
If you (just) build it, they won’t come.
When I run into very green founders, my first piece of advice is always simple and direct: get plugged in. By that I mean find people who “do” startups: either as founders, developers, investors, advisors, etc. – and start making connections. It’s great to rely on your friends and business associates for general advice, but unless they work specifically in startups, it will not be good enough. The challenges you encounter as a founder of a tech startup (business, legal, financial, etc.) will be very different from those that people outside of that space have experienced. You need specialized advice, and that means specialized people.
And founders absolutely need to dispel any “if you build it, they will come” (just focus on the product) thinking. No, they won’t come. You probably don’t know how to build it in the first place. And even if you do, distribution matters. You or someone working for your startup needs to be out there building relationships. Every startup needs at least one hustler.
Naturally, the number of these specialized “startup people” is a tiny fraction of the general business community in any particular city; especially in large cities with relatively small (but growing) startup communities. But as startups have become much more of a “hot” topic (evidenced by political campaigns and a boom in angel investing among non-tech people), everyone and their mother has suddenly decided to bill themselves as a startup consultant, mentor, advisor, founder, whatever. You see this in the legal field, where lots of general business lawyers have suddenly become ‘startup lawyers’ overnight. There are also a lot of business executives trying to mentor startups, with zero experience having actually worked with one.
So knowing that they need to find good startup advice, but there are a lot of duds out there, what are founders to do?
As the Texas startup ecosystem continues to mature, in each major city we’re seeing startup “hubs” emerge: places where the signal-to-noise ratio of real, valuable startup experience v. ‘everything else’ is orders of magnitude better than throughout the rest of the city. They’re like watering holes for the founderati. Startup people, curated for you. You’ll find far more jeans and sneakers than slacks and loafers in these places. That’s a very good thing.
To help Texas founders get plugged in , I’ve created lists for Austin, Houston, and San Antonio (cities where the majority of our client base is) of the key startup locations, events, and even people in each city. While every incubator, meetup, and person that I list on those pages is a great resource, there are stand-out “core” places that, in my opinion, any new founder should use as a starting point for plugging in – by following their posts, attending events, etc.
In Austin, Capital Factory has by far emerged as the largest “hub” of the startup community. Tech Ranch, while somewhat less well known, is also an important player. While not physical spaces, Austin Open Coffee and Austin Lean Startup Circle are also regular meetups whose attendees pack a significant amount of startup experience.
In San Antonio, Geekdom is hands-down the epicenter of the startup community. I’ve yet to encounter a serious startup out of San Antonio that has not connected with Geekdom in some way. SA New Tech, a regular meetup, also has a solid attendance.
In Houston, the Houston Technology Center (HTC) appears to be evolving into a core of Houston’s startup community. Not exactly a cultural/social hub (yet) the way CF is for Austin or Geekdom is for SA, but an important player. The Houston Lean Startup Circle is also very well attended by experienced startup folks.
Dallas is noticeably absent from this list. I frankly don’t work a lot with Dallas startups, and I only write about what I know. Also, there are a lot of very important players in these cities that I didn’t mention (accelerators, investors, etc.) simply because the point of this list is to emphasize how very early-stage founders should get ‘plugged in’ to their startup ecosystem. A brand new founder shouldn’t be “plugging in” to accelerators or investors.
Eyes Wide Open
Texas founders benefit enormously from the above institutions. The connectedness and collaboration that result from their “dense” environments of startup activity are absolutely essential to a thriving Texas startup ecosystem. All that being side, founders need to understand that these are not charities, and the people running these organizations (while great) are not Mother Teresa.
A number of the “startup hubs” in any city are either for-profit themselves, or connected to/run by very for-profit investors. The density that they provide is not strictly for the public good: it’s a way to pool resources and systematically reduce the search costs for (i) investors looking to invest in great startups, and (ii) executives looking to join startups on the rise.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with this. Doing well by doing good is awesome. I “do well” by this blog just the same. But founders should avoid becoming naively enamored and approach these institutions for what they are: very useful players in a profitable market for influence. That market is competitive (incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, etc. are in competition), and the players are incentivized to do and say things that maintain their influence, but aren’t always in the best interest of founders. Founders should absolutely plug themselves in, but keep their eyes wide open in doing so.