Startup Series Posts

February 25, 2015

To Raise Capital You Need a Startup Roadshow

In the world of big finance, before a company IPOs, the CEO along with an investment banker(s) go on a global roadshow to pitch their business to potential investors, including hedge funds, major investment funds, and other portfolio managers. The purpose is simple: Drum up sales of the forthcoming stock issue. In the startup world, there are no big investment banks scheduling meetings. However, there are opportunities to do a roadshow for your startup, which is even more important than the IPO.

There were 275 IPOs in 2014, the largest number since 2000. By contrast, there are around 500,000 new businesses founded in the U.S. each year (not all of which are tech startups), approximately 225,000 angel investors in the U.S., and as of a year ago, there were 874 venture capital firms [read more]. In big finance, a few companies compete for the attention of a small, accessible group of investors. In the startup world, a large number of companies must seek capital from a huge pool of often-hard-to-find, geographically dispersed investors. Because of this, a roadshow is even more important for startups than it is for IPOs.

The SoftLayer Catalyst team works with startups in communities as big as San Francisco’s Silicon Valley to as small as Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The number one thing entrepreneurs outside of the major financing hubs ask about is how to access capital. My response is always the same: Your job isn't to bring more capital to your local community; it's to build a great company. You know where the capital is, so build something worth investing in, and then do a roadshow.

Practice Locally

Thankfully, as the startup world grows & matures, the number of outlets for pitching increases every month. There are opportunities in most cities to stand up and pitch your idea to your peers or investors. Start by getting out in front of your local community as often as possible. In the Boulder/Denver community, there are a few companies that I see pitch all the time, and those companies have fantastic pitches because they are constantly practicing, getting feedback, and refining.

Look for meetups that focus on pitching such as 1 Million Cups and House of Genius, or simply do a search for startup pitch meetup in your city. During startup weeks or similar events, search and sign up for pitch practices and competitions. If your co-working space is like SoftLayer partner Galvanize, they might have a big member pitch competition or a peer-to-peer practice event. Participate in as many local and regional pitch competitions as you can find. As long as the competitions don't take a piece of equity or require a significant payment to participate—either of which should be very carefully evaluated beforehand—sign up, and compete. This constant exposure to your local market will help spread the word about your company, provide feedback on your pitch, and maybe even score some prizes!

For more advice on your pitch, read my previous post, Advice from the Catalyst Team: Pitching Like George Lucas.

Maximizing Your Startup Roadshow

Now that you've refined your pitch and practiced in front of as many local audiences as possible, it's time to start planning your roadshow. Traveling on a limited budget means you must plan a highly focused trip with a specific goal in mind. Maybe you're traveling from New York City to Philadelphia for a competition, or from Portland to San Francisco for an investor meeting; no matter the reason, it's imperative to maximize your trip. A good roadshow involves getting the absolute most out of your travel budget, and this means booking meetings with potential investors or customers.

For example, while attending StartSLC, I visited with a friend from Colorado, Ryan Angilly from Ramen. Angilly traveled to Salt Lake City to participate in the pitch competition, but he made the most out of his trip by filling his calendar with investor meetings throughout the week. Before his trip, he reached out to his contacts in the startup community in Utah and asked for introductions. After following through with the contacts, he met with investors he would have otherwise never met.

Start by either allocating a budget for travel or identifying the most important pitch competitions in your region or industry. Once you have your trip scheduled, immediately start looking for connections within your network. It's far more effective to say, "I'll be in town the 12th to the 14th; what does your schedule look like?" than a non-specific request such as, “When are you available?” Look for connections with ties to your local community as they are more likely to be helpful and make intros on your behalf. And ask around locally about who has ties to your destination. Get your meetings lined up, and get ready for a whirlwind of pitches on your first ever startup roadshow.

I'll leave you with this final point: In 2014, venture capital firms raised nearly $33 billion, a 62 percent increase over 2013 levels. They'll spend the next few years investing that money in startups. The money is out there, and you need to do a roadshow to find it.

-Rich

February 17, 2015

Asia Startup Series: Putting a Twist in the Job Industry—Power to the Job Seeker

Startups are near and dear to our heart at SoftLayer; just take a look at the Catalyst program. That’s why we are so excited to see the startup scene in Asia growing at a tremendous pace. The fact that venture capitalists are now setting aside funds especially for young technology companies in this part of the world brings to focus the absolute potential of this market. Some of the big funds announced in 2014 include: the Singapore government's $48 million fund distributed among six venture capital firms, Japanese mobile gaming giant GREE Ventures’ new $50 million fund, Softbank and Indosat’s partnership to launch a $50 million fund for Indonesia, and Softbank’s $20 million fund for the Philippines.

*This is Part 3 of the Asia Startup Series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Before we dive into the Asia startup of the month, let’s discuss how the 2014 Asia Series A saw some of the largest investments to date—startups in China alone racked in US$130 million, and if we go by the frequently released trends, 2015 is set to break all records. The sheer number of investable startups coming out of the region will only open doors for more entrepreneurs. Here’s a look at some of the big winners:

  • Renrendai, a Beijing-based financial services startup received a whopping US$130 million last year
  • aCommerce walked away with US$10.7 million
  • Appier, an artificial intelligence, big-data ad-tech company won a US$6 million series A investment

Check out some interesting infographics on my Startup Trends in Asia Pinterest page, including this infographics shared by TechinAsia and the 2014 high-value investments. Ping me if you have some more we should pin (LinkedIn or Twitter).

Temploy

With so many job search websites, portals, apps, and agencies dedicated to getting the employer the right employee, I found Temploy to be quite uniquely positioned and hence, the focus of this month's startup story.

Temploy, founded by Mark Koh, is a marketplace that automates the anonymous matching of temporary workers to employers while aligning expectations. This translates to a platform that essentially targets not only semi-skilled, low-skilled, blue-collar, and transferrable job positions, but a portal where students searching for summer jobs, individuals searching for part-time placements, or those looking for double income avenues can design the work they want based on parameters of locality, remunerations, schedule, and skills.


Mark Koh, Temploy founder

Basically, the portal connects the job seeker with the right employer.

Having worked two jobs while studying in Australia, Mark went through the grind of finding jobs to fit his schedule. He also saw firsthand the often unfair treatment of temp-workers as well as the flickering loyalty of the temps towards their interim-employers.

"I realized there was a huge mismatch in what the candidate was expecting and the actual job requirements. There was a core demand in most cases of having the flexibility to maintain work-life balance so that the candidate could meet their other commitments. So, we decided to put the power in the hands of job seekers, and the idea of Temploy was born," Mark shared when we caught-up last week.

Understanding the Market

Temploy looked at targeting the ASEAN market due to the sheer demand of skilled workforce in the region. Mark found that Thailand and Philippines had a high number of day semi-skilled and blue-collared jobs. Because these paid daily, there was a great demand from candidates to find multiple jobs to fit in their unpredictable schedule.

On the other hand, in Indonesia, especially in the Bunder, Surabhaya, and Jakarta districts, the average users were teenagers and college students looking for comparatively higher salaries for temp jobs.

"It is surprising to note that employers actively encourage such candidates to pick up a second job to meet these expectations," Mark noted.

Singapore faced a big labor crunch, and the main reason behind this was an image perception that certain jobs were considered un-cool by part-time prospective candidates looking to fill their summer holidays. These candidates also demanded higher pay than what employers could afford. Here flexibility and work-life balance are more important than the actual compensation. Mark also noted there is a stigma associated with working two jobs.

In Vietnam, where the workforce population is the youngest, localization still remains a major challenge but there is still a huge potential. Cambodia, on the other hand, does not have the necessary penetration of smartphone and Internet connectivity needed for the platform to succeed currently.

The Platform and All That It Entails

After developing their customized optimized man workforce system (OMWS), Mark launched the company in mid-2014. Since then, there have been tweaks and updates based on their ongoing understanding of the region and to improve the employee-employer match algorithms.

The platform empowers job-seekers by allowing them to design their own jobs, including how many and what hours they would like to work, salary expectations, and the type of jobs they are looking for. This then undergoes a sophisticated linear optimization algorithm that matches jobs anonymously, mapping the job-seeker's criteria with current openings posted by employers. Contact details are only exchanged once both parties accept that the match is to their satisfaction.

When I asked Mark what was different about Temploy, he said, "The unique proposition lies in the database being non-extractable, hence discrimination based on last name, race etc. is avoided. Plus our competitors cannot poach our client or our candidate listing."

Mark and his team selected SoftLayer as a foundation for building their platform. "It helps that the data center is located in Singapore, which reduces the latency for our audiences. Getting data replicated is easy as well. I have no worries whether my data is safe since we can auto-replicate it across other DCs, including geographically disparate locations. In addition, features like auto-scaling are helping us tremendously in dealing with traffic spikes emerging due to our recent marketing tactics. Moreover, the benefits of the Catalyst program and the support from SoftLayer's support team are second to none," he shared.

The video gives a quick explanation of how the portal works.

What's Next

Within seven months of its launch, Temploy has seen over 1,600 registered users. The team has been progressively looking for ways to improve the platform, which will soon include a SMS-based signup for low-Internet penetration regions. Temploy recently participated in numerous startup competitions. The latest includes a spot in Channel News Asia Start-up Season 2. Mark has decided to launch a non-profit event, Skillup 2015, for youth and the young-at-heart to explore what he calls, Epic Career Options outside the ordinary—part time work, freelance work, entrepreneurship.

Temploy is in the spotlight, and for all the right reasons.

Cheers,
–Namrata (Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

January 19, 2015

Asia Startup Series: It's All About Making the Most of Your “Professional Social Life”

Startups are near and dear to our heart at SoftLayer; just take a look at the Catalyst program. That’s why we are so excited to see the startup scene in Asia growing at a tremendous pace. The fact that venture capitalists are now setting aside funds especially for young technology companies in this part of the world brings to focus the absolute potential of this market. Some of the big funds announced in 2014 include: the Singapore government's $48 million fund distributed among six venture capital firms, Japanese mobile gaming giant GREE Ventures’ new $50 million fund, Softbank and Indosat’s partnership to launch a $50 million fund for Indonesia, and Softbank’s $20 million fund for the Philippines.

*This is Part 2 of the Asia Startup Series. Read Part 1: Drawing Board Events: Event Planning Goes the Way of the Cloud

Australia is a hotpot of ideas and over the years a number of local startups have shot to fame. Seedstarsworld released this overview of the Sydney startup scene. In April 2014, Insight Venture Partners invested US$250 million in a Sydney-based email marketing company. Much more recently, U.S. venture capital fund Technology Crossover Ventures invested US$30 million in an Australian online hotel distribution company. With all the momentum Down Under, this seems like a great time talk about one Australian startup that has a pretty cool idea to share.

ChannelPace
Working with startups is brilliant because there are no limits to how much one can blur the lines, extend the lines, distort the lines, join two lines to reinvent the boring the stuff, or bring in something brand new. ChannelPace is perhaps one of my favorite examples of such line-blurring ideas.

Picture this: As a business, it is imperative that you have a complete track of who your customers, your prospects, and even your potential employees are. When the world recognized this, we saw some really nice CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools come to market. The problem, however, with such tools is that the contact ownership is with the business, while the relationships are built by the people (the sales, marketing and support teams). Attrition is a reality, and when an employee leaves a company, the contacts, relationships, and information they’ve made often slip through the cracks. Of course that individual could continue to nurture those relationships through popular social channels. But keeping track of the hundreds, if not thousands, of contacts is nearly impossible, especially if the contacts themselves change companies.

And, this is where ChannelPace, an Australian-based startup, managed to merge and blur the lines. Greg Furlong, CEO of ChannelPace, attended SoftLayer’s Melbourne data center launch party last October, and that's where we started discussing the unique value his startup provides. Greg defines ChannelPace as the world’s first crowd-sourced contact management system.

He said, “The contacts we make during our working lives are some of our most valuable assets. And at its core, ChannelPace is designed to enable users to get their contacts organized in one place and available across all their Web-capable devices. The premise is that individuals own contacts, and our system enables sharing between users at the same company, thereby harnessing the knowledge of co-workers. When a ChannelPace user moves to another company, they take their contacts, and an imprint is left behind.”

This cloud-based system has the best of both worlds: a CRM system and a social channel. Contacts may be entered in the same manner as a traditional CRM system, or via business networking, in a manner similar to LinkedIn. Only one record is ever kept of a business card, keyed on the unique email address, and then people with the same contacts or in the same company all participate in updating the information—all without necessarily being connected to or aware of each other. Crowd-sourcing ensures information is always up-to-date, which is more efficient and effective, giving companies and individuals a competitive advantage.

Here is a snapshot of my conversation and the innumerable email exchanges with Greg:

The crowd-sourcing concept was great, but why would an organization appreciate and implement this system if they were no longer contact owners?

Greg: The first pillar of the ChannelPace system, contact management, provides people with a place to enter their business contacts. As the only way into the system is via a work-issued email address, we bring users from the same company together by creating a dynamic CRM system where everyone in the same company’s contacts are pooled. Individuals still “own” their contacts, but now everyone in the same company has access to the contact knowledge of all other ChannelPace users in their company. When you leave your company, you lose access to the shared knowledge. When you start at a new company, your contacts are now pooled with other ChannelPace users at your new company. In this way, we are providing a contact management system where users have an active interest in using it, as it is their information. Traditional CRM relies on users within the company keeping information updated. ChannelPace does this also, but we extend the updating reach to any other users around the world with access to the same contacts, which makes it more reliable and relevant.

Why did you decide to build ChannelPace as a cloud-based system?

Greg: We began building the company in 2013 with a mission to disrupt the CRM industry and displace dominant players like LinkedIn, Google+, and Salesforce. In order to compete at that level, we realized that ChannelPace needed a scalable, global cloud infrastructure platform that was nimble, reliable, and easy to implement. Hence the move to cloud. We were also looking for local presence, redundancy on multiple continents, load balancing, and as workloads increase in specific areas, high scalability. We considered numerous cloud providers including SoftLayer, Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, Rackspace and Microsoft’s Azure. Finally, we decided to sign up with SoftLayer.

Why SoftLayer?

Greg: Two of ChannelPace’s priorities were global reach and scalability. ChannelPace now operates in 56 countries, and SoftLayer’s growing number of data centers and global network makes it easy for us to expand and grow our business. Also, SoftLayer’s network-within-a-network architecture is quite unique and enables us deliver unlimited traffic “on network” between servers in different data center locations around the world. When you’re looking to make an immediate impact on an industry, it’s important to work with a provider who you truly consider to be an extension of your business.

The system has immense potential. What are your growth plans for ChannelPace in 2015?

Greg: Like any other startup, we want to focus on aggressive market expansion and customer outreach. We have set high targets for ourselves, and towards that we are currently developing iOS and Android apps to extend the ChannelPace service to mobile. We also have a couple of tweaks and innovations in pipelines and 2015 is going to be super exciting for us.

I think it's great that my work life now has the potential to become a “professional social life!”

Cheers,
–Namrata (Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

December 12, 2014

Asia Startup Series: Event Planning Goes the Way of the Cloud

Startups are near and dear to our heart at SoftLayer; just take a look at the Catalyst program. That’s why we are so excited to see the startup scene in Asia growing at a tremendous pace. The fact that venture capitalists are now setting aside funds especially for young technology companies in this part of the world brings to focus the absolute potential of this market. Some of the big funds announced in 2014 include: the Singapore government's $48 million fund distributed among six venture capital firms, Japanese mobile gaming giant GREE Ventures’ new $50 million fund, Softbank and Indosat’s partnership to launch a $50 million fund for Indonesia, and Softbank’s $20 million fund for the Philippines

A key driver behind any startup looking to score funding from these big boys is the ability to handle unpredictable growth and achieve scale rapidly. Over the next few months, we’ll take a look at how we are helping our startup customers grow, scale, and succeed in Asia.

Drawing Board Events
It is hard and stressful planning a party for someone else’s big day. Birthday parties, wedding showers, and retirement parties take a lot of planning and attention to detail. The corporate world has its own set of events and challenges. That's why when I met Terence Woo at one of the startup meet-ups recently, his new venture, Drawing Board Events, made me sit up and say, “Now, that's what I need.”

After sifting online through vendor after vendor for his own wedding and calling each individually, Terence had a brilliant idea. Two years later, alongside co-founder, Samuel Stacey, he created a one-stop shop where users can browse user-reviewed vendors by categories: venues, décor, flowers, photography, cakes, and so on. After completing a quick five-minute event detail eform, users can simply click on “request quote” from as many vendors as they like. Vendors receive the request, and then quotes are emailed back—saving users the hours spent calling different vendors and providing the details over and over again.

According to Terence, right from the onset, Drawing Board Events decided to go the way of the cloud. There was no question that to achieve scale they needed a strong, reliable and flexible infrastructure. I asked him to give me three reasons why cloud is working for them, and here is what he shared:

  1. A highly competitive industry needs a quick turnaround time.
    Provisioning of events services is a highly competitive, though traditionally slow to innovate, market. Focusing on a collection of sub-industries (photography, décor, flowers, and so forth) as opposed to a single vertical market, requires housing the latest information in one location. By giving the service provider ownership over its own profile, the company is incentivized to keep its data up-to-date. Additionally, ensuring that the users are able to access updated information in real time requires a highly reliable platform.
  2. A growing database depends on a growing IT infrastructure.
    Data storage is infrastructure-hungry; there are no two ways about that. And as a business grows, so does its data. In order for Drawing Board Events to collect information on all event sub-industries, vast databases need to be housed and maintained. These databases can be stored, computed, and managed easily via the cloud. Sometimes the computing and storage needs fluctuate, and because the cloud is scalable, Drawing Board Events can add or subtract storage when and where it is required. The company needs powerful servers to handle its database workloads, as well as a cloud environment flexible enough to scale with its business.
  3. The Catalyst Startup Program got them what they needed.
    Drawing Board Events joined Catalyst after their business idea formalized and was structured. With SoftLayer, they were able to quickly host the website and access storage solutions best suited for their growing business. As a member of the program, they now have access to SoftLayer’s complete portfolio of services and can hop on SoftLayer's global network backbone.

    Although currently in the pilot stage, the startup has a huge list of subscribers who are finding the website an exciting and helpful way to plan events. Moving forward, Terence is hoping to add a real-time booking system for users ready to make buying decisions, as well as develop a more robust, proprietary communications dashboard for users and vendors. He also hinted at some exciting upcoming innovations that will need a heavy tech foundation and greater dependency on the cloud.

Even though I couldn't pry all the details from him, I am already sold and can see myself as the official party planner for my family—that is, of course, with the help of Drawing Board Events. The best thing is that I’ll have over 14 categories to choose from and more than 250 service providers at my fingertips. Planning a party just got easier. Just imagine if I had to contact all those vendors—now that ain't no party my friend!

Cheers
-Namrata
(Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

December 4, 2014

Advice from the Catalyst Team: Pitching Like George Lucas

SoftLayer’s Catalyst team hears startup pitches constantly.

We support more than 50 accelerator programs in the Global Accelerator Network, the TechStars programs, five hundred startups, and more. We hold office hours, offer pitch practice, and attend demo days—in short, we hear a lot of pitches.

Condensing the essence of how you’re changing the world into a five minute sales pitch, while still including other key elements like the business model, traction, early wins, team, and “the ask” is incredibly difficult. There’s a lot of ground to cover and very little time to do it, especially when you consider that likely half of your audience is focused on their phones.

A pitch must be concise, informative, and attention grabbing. The worst thing you can do is pitch like George Lucas’ dialogue in the Star Wars  prequel trilogy movies—clumsy and over-explaining.

  • Yoda: Always two there are, no more, no less, a master and an apprentice.
  • Mace Windu: But which was destroyed, the master or the apprentice?

This particular quote is the epitome of terrible dialogue because it communicates the same thing multiple times; the second line is superfluous. I don’t need Mace Windu to re-explain to me exactly what Yoda just said. I have ears. I’m paying attention. Imagine how much more powerful that scene would be with just the first statement.

Most of us have a natural tendency to over-explain a point, but by doing this, we insult the intelligence of our audience. Plus, over-explaining eats up precious time and causes the crowd to disengage. I can’t think of a worse combination.

If you find yourself saying any of these phrases, cut them immediately:

Let me show you . . .
I’d like to tell you . . .
I’m going to . . .
I think . . .
For example . . .
As I said before . . .

Simply put, don’t tell me you’re going to tell me something. Just tell me.

George Lucas did write some great lines of dialogue. Watch the Dagobah scenes in Empire Strikes Back. Yoda’s lines are pure brilliance. The message is simple and powerful, which makes it one of the most memorable lines in cinema.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

During a pitch, you’re not writing a screenplay, so you don’t want to leave your audience guessing, but you still need to explain the problem, the solution, and why you’re the best at solving it. Don’t leave your audience confused from a lack of information, but don’t insult their intelligence by telling them you’re going to tell them something. Just tell it. Or better yet, show it.

You want your pitch to be like a Lightsaber: an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

-Rich

Keywords:
Categories:
December 2, 2014

The Dallas Startup Scene – It’s Hot and Getting HOTTER!

Dallas came into existence prior to the country of Texas being admitted into the United States. From its early origins, Dallas prided itself on being on the cutting edge of business.

When the railroads began crisscrossing the country to take people north and south and east and west, Dallas quickly positioned itself as the center of activity—no railroad company could pass that up.

Over the next one hundred years, Dallas developed markets that influenced the end destinations of goods around the country and around the world. Then, as technology began to develop, Dallas followed suit. Texas Instruments became a leader in semi-conductors, and Telecom Corridor moved communications to new levels.

As other parts of the world grew their own specialties and opportunities, Dallas, outside the spotlight of other advancements in business and technology around the world, quietly plodded along and avoided the large swings other economies endured.

As recently as 2010, the entrepreneurial scene in Dallas was quiet, and there was little direction in advancing it. That was then . . .

In the last 18 months, the Dallas startup ecosystem has seen a magnificent transformation. The cobwebs have cleared, groups have organized, and the drumbeat of expansion is resonating across the four corners of the DFW Metroplex.

From Fort Worth to McKinney and Denton to Dallas, new companies are coming to life like never before. At the heart of this is a community—a community of people and companies collaborating to develop relationships, create and hold events, provide mentoring support, and drive a forward-thinking approach to sustain and grow the ecosystem.

Dallas-based SoftLayer plays a vital role in this resurgence of the Dallas startup community. Beyond monetary support of events, the Catalyst program is a revolutionary force across all startup communities around the world with a unique blend of services, programs, and one-on-one mentoring. SoftLayer has committed to the growth of the Dallas startup community by investing in community leaders, plugging into local programs, providing free services, and developing relationships that will not only grow revenue for SoftLayer over time but will tightly bond startups with the corporate world in a way that provides benefit to the overall economy.

It is important for SLayers and IBMers to get involved in what is going on in the startup ecosystem in Dallas; every week, events and sessions provide opportunities to network or learn how to build a company. Go build those relationships; either personally or professionally. These relationships build benefits extending beyond work. Learn about events via online sources like LaunchDFW or Startup Digest. If outside Dallas, other communities will have similar listings. Look for ways to get tied into incubators (The Dallas Entrepreneur Center) and accelerators (Techwildcatters, VentureSpur). The local universities and other corporate entities also hold events and courses.

The evolution of business in Dallas is unique and will continue to grow. A business friendly state that supports low taxes, low cost of living, easy access to strong technical resources, leads on capital, and the ability to get from DFW to anywhere in the U.S. (or the world for that matter) in just hours keeps the “freight train” picking up speed. It’s a destination for companies to start and grow businesses, and it is so much fun to see.

-Kevin
Director, Strategic Initiatives

August 6, 2014

Healthy Startups: HealthXL Global Gathering in Dublin

We’ve all heard nightmare stories about the health care industry. The combination of insurance companies, health care providers, government regulation, and literal “life and death” situations can make for a contentious environment. And with the outdated policies and procedures that permeate the industry, it’s a perfect opportunity for innovation.

When I met Martin Kelly of HealthXL a few months ago, I was intrigued by what he was building. He saw the need for innovation in health care, and he started looking around for the startups that were focusing on these kinds of issues. And while he encountered several groups with a health care focus, no one really took the lead to connect them all together to collaborate or strategize about how startups can really change health care. I mean REALLY change it.

Martin, a former IBMer, is super-passionate about innovation in technology for the health care industry, so he leveraged the IBM network and the relationships he built during his time at IBM to address a few simple questions:

  • What needs to happen in health care, through technology, to make the experience and the system better for us all?
  • What is the moonshot that needs to happen for true innovation to happen?

The group he brought together consisted of experts from enterprise companies like the Cleveland Clinic, ResMed, and Johnson & Johnson as well as startup influencers in the health care community like Aussie Jason Berek-Lewis of HealthyStartups and Silicon Valley Bank.

And when those different viewpoints came together, he realized the questions weren’t quite as “simple” as he expected.

Martin invited me to join the conversation for three days at the HealthXL Global Gathering in Dublin to hear what global leaders in the industry are saying about health care. And boy … was I surprised.

To their credit, these leaders (and their respective companies) are very willing and capable to innovate. They feel the pain of heavy administrative responsibilities, often involving duplication and triplication of work. They know how hard it is to track patients from different systems as they change jobs, insurance companies, and providers. They struggle with not being able to communicate effectively with insurance providers. And they fully understand how over-commoditized health care has become as well as its decentralization of focus from patients.

The bottom line: They feel the pain of not having the right technology to run more efficient, cost-effective, and patient-centered health care businesses. They’ve seen the finance industry integrate technology over the past few years, but they're somewhat unsure of what that could look like for them. This can only mean that there are huge opportunities for startups and innovative technologies.

I couldn’t help but consider of how nicely these conversations fit in with the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by our friends at TechStars that @andy_mui and I visited in March. The conversations inside that accelerator are the missing pieces to the conversations that companies like the Cleveland Clinic and Johnson & Johnson were having. Those enterprises have the opportunity to invest in early stage entrepreneurs and born-on-the-Web startups to incubate technologies and solutions that would prove in time to make their businesses more profitable and efficient.

But the biggest opportunity is what that means for patients.

The most telling story to play out over the next 10 years will be whether the largest health care providers and other businesses will approach these market opportunities in pursuit of cultivating a health care system that prioritizes patients. After hearing the conversation at the HealthXL accelerator global summit, that’s the ultimate challenge.

The startup ecosystem is full of entrepreneurs and teams that can deliver on the goal of improving health care while secondarily (and in some cases indirectly) improving the way heath care businesses run. These efficiencies will result in MORE clients, customers, partners, and profitability in the end, but they may require some hefty changes at the outset. Will the industry allow itself to admit what it doesn’t know?

I am excited to see where this goes. In a few years, I think we’re going to consider Martin Kelly as a key builder of this movement, and more and more businesses will be turning to him for answers to the most important of all questions: “How do we do this?”

We’re excited to be able to support Martin and all of the health care startups in the marketplace today. What will the future of health care look like when these innovators and entrepreneurs are done with it?

The possibilities are endless.

-@JoshuaKrammes

May 29, 2014

Startups and BBQ – The New Memphis

BB King. Elvis. Graceland. Jerry Lee Lewis. Beale Street. Cotton. Shipping. Martin Luther King. Civil Rights on the national stage. All of these things come to mind when you think of Memphis, Tennessee. You can now add one more to that list: Startups.

Yep. That’s right. Startups.

Memphis has a long history of economic success. From the early days of its settlement, it was a shipping and trading hub for the early United States thanks to the Mississippi River. It progressed into one of the world’s largest cotton producers, even having a cotton exchange similar to the stock exchange on Wall Street. As our country grew, so did Memphis’ value because of geographic location. Today, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population is within a one-day drive of Memphis. It has grown into a logistics hub and houses several North American railway companies, as well as FedEx.

What’s awesome to see on my second stop of our 2014 small-market tour, is that there is an undercurrent happening in Memphis that is shifting the landscape of the economic success of the region to technology. And it’s happening through the leadership of folks like Eric Mathews and Patrick Woods. Mathews heads up StartCo, a regional accelerator with 20 startups, all of which have come to Memphis to develop their companies. Woods is in charge of a very unique program, started by A>M Ventures that helps early stage companies get the right message out about their products, who they are, and where they are going.

Our team met Woods at SXSW in 2013. Over the past year, we have worked together to help Woods’ outreach efforts by building a bridge from Memphis to Silicon Valley and through other early stage startup communities. We connected with Mathews at SXSW this year through one of our strongest partners, the Global Accelerator Network. Mathews was very convincing. He not only showed me a startup community that was thriving, but he also fed me world-class BBQ at the same time.

Did somebody say BBQ? You don’t really have to ask @KelleyHilborn or me twice. Our Pavlovian response kicked in and we had our flights booked before you could flip a coin.

Last week marked the annual celebration of Memphis’ BBQ Fest – one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world. It also marked the first week for the StartCo teams, and we were there to welcome them with some SoftLayer Catalyst goodness (as a side to that BBQ).

We met with all of the teams and were greeted by folks from all over the world. Teams from NYC, Europe, Silicon Valley, and even local Memphis were made up of entrepreneurs who were eager to hear about Catalyst and how we could connect them to our community. From big data companies, to analytics companies and even a company that manufactures a chip for your dog, these teams definitely have the smarts and character to disrupt and succeed.

Our office and mentor hours provided us a strong foundation to connect with the startups one-on-one. BBQ Fest and events with A>M Ventures, StartCo, and our friends from Keen.io gave us an opportunity to spend two full days with the entrepreneurs, getting a higher sense of where they hoped to take their businesses.

The teams in Memphis are just as hungry, innovative, capable, and smart as any we work with in our startup ecosystems around the world. What we loved most about our time in Memphis was how welcoming the local leaders were, and further how open-minded they are to making a positive impact on this world. The leadership that is building this tech ecosystem from the ground up is doing so in an open, communal, and giving way, which all tech ecosystems need to be built upon.

Because of this philosophy, they are ensuring their success. They’re creating a community based on collaboration and mutual success. It reminds me of cities like Boulder and Portland. These cities were built on the same principles, and they enjoy greater success than many other larger markets.

And SoftLayer was there at the beginning. We’re excited to watch this ecosystem grow, and to continue collaborating to help support people like Mathews, Woods and many others in Memphis who see the forest through the trees.

Next stop on the small market express…Kelowna, British Columbia. Our very own @gkdog will be delivering a keynote and sitting on a panel, instilling our community and strategic philosophies on his home Canadian turf.

-@JoshuaKrammes

April 17, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Te(ch)xas: SXSW 2014

SXSW 2014 was bigger and crazier than ever. For anyone who has been sleeping under a rock, SXSW is one of the largest, most intense start-up technology, music, and film festivals on the planet. Held in March, SXSW turns Austin, Texas, into the global epicenter of everything (startup) technology.

As in years past, SoftLayer hosted the Speakeasy lounge, a daytime co-working space and community/networking lounge in the evening. For the second straight year, the lounge blew our expectations out of the water. Over the course of 48 hours, we saw over a thousand partners, start-up clients, fellow colleagues, and members of the global start-up community come through the doors. To give you an idea of how “global” the community was, I walked through the lounge at one point and heard six different languages being spoken.

Our start-up partners used the lounge to escape the chaos of the festival so they could get work done. In the space, they could relax, send emails, connect with clients and friends, or just find some peace and quiet away from the cacophonous show floor (and even-noisier 6th Street).

Catalyst Lounge SXSW 2014

One of the biggest highlights at SXSW for the Catalyst team was a panel that I moderated about building meaningful, organic communities around brands. The panelists for this discussion were George Karidis, COO of SoftLayer; Ben Rigby, CEO of Sparked; Samar Birwadker, CEO of Good.co; and Justin Johnson, director of developer evangelism for Keen.io. The group explained how their brands’ approaches to community engagement helped them build momentum and succeed faster, and I was humbled to hear how the SoftLayer Catalyst program impacted their decisions shaping their own communities. To cap off the session, the panelists also brought up the benefits of using Catalyst for testing and scaling during their early stages, so they could understand how to use the infrastructure as they grew. You need look no further for validation of our model than to have three of our most successful clients attributing their success to it.

In addition to the Speakeasy and the panel discussion, SoftLayer was also well represented on the SXSW show floor. Over the course of the show, clients, partners, and prospects stopped by to try their hands at the Server Challenge, and we had some phenomenal conversations about the future of the cloud and how SoftLayer is forging a new path in the infrastructure as a service game.

What a lot of people don’t realize about SXSW is that the majority of business gets done outside of the show floor. Each night presents opportunities to connect with and learn about individuals in the global start-up community. For example, Catalyst partner Planwise held a party and barbecue where they discussed best practices for start-ups in financial technology. We got in on the fun as well when we partnered with Techstars to host one of the hottest parties at SXSW Interactive. DJed by Thievery Corporation and attended by over a thousand guests, if you managed to get a hard-to-come-by ticket, you had a great time and met a lot of amazing people.

SoftLayer & Techstars Party SXSW 2014

Over the years, SXSW has proven to be a melting pot for creativity and innovation on a global scale. As businesses look for new ways to gather and present information, providers like SoftLayer become an integral part of their approaches. Our goal with Catalyst is to stay front-and-center in the startup movement … So it’s a safe bet that you’ll see us again at SXSW 2015.

-@joshuakrammes

April 3, 2014

Sprint Accelerator Spices Up Silicon Prairie

As part of the community development team here at SoftLayer, I get to travel the world and reach into cities to help local, born-on-the-Web communities grow and prosper. Last week, my travels took me (and my rock star team) to Kansas City, where we were invited to mentor startups in the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by TechStars (PBTS).

I know when you think of KC, you might not think of a technology startup community. As part of Silicon Prairie, where startups and tech are thriving, KC is taking its place amongst US tech communities, as companies like Sprint, Garmin, H&R Block, and Hallmark are investing in the local startup community.

Through the course of the days I spent in KC, we talked to 10 startups and held technical office hours. What we learned is that the startups in this accelerator had all of the qualities we hope to find: grit and determination coupled with brains and insane talent. (And some of the teams we met with are growing so quickly that they even have open positions.)

What struck me most from my trip was the sheer fact that even though I live in the epicenter of all things tech startup, I can see with my own eyes that the rest of the world is catching up––and they are doing so quickly. Most of the teams at Sprint PBTS are not from the startup mega cities like New York and San Francisco. They are from places off the beaten path. I’m happy to see it, and I’m even more excited for my trips later this year to other parts of the country like Memphis, Detroit, and Okanagan, where I’m sure to be as impressed as I was with KC.

True, for the time being the venture capital and investment communities will likely still steer startups toward the Bay Area, but I’m not convinced that is a trend that will continue forever. I’m more and more certain that as we advance technologies—and as SoftLayer maintains its edge in building the best platform on which to create them––geography will become a secondary factor in the success of startups.

Our Catalyst Startup Program provides that platform for early stage startups around the globe. Members have innovative concepts that need reliable infrastructure to support their growth from idea to enterprise. Recently, I sat down in front of a camera to share an overview of the program and it's benefits from the perspective of Catalyst member HAUL. Here is a crash course on Catalyst:

I believe in a year, a few of the teams from the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator will combine forces to create one company that will eventually become a household name. Their evolution will be fun to watch from the beginning to end. And we are going to watch them closely. They’re going to do it, and we are going to be with them every step of the way.

-@joshuakrammes

Subscribe to startup-series