Startup Series Posts

March 5, 2014

Making an Impact: Catalyst and BEHUM

Running a startup is hard. We all know that. The right help at the right time makes all the difference, and for many, finding that help is a challenge. Not knowing who to ask for help or where to meet the right people to help move the needle in the right direction, many entrepreneurs and startup teams don't even know where to start.

That's one of the biggest reasons we created Catalyst. When entrepreneurs are passionate enough about an idea to ditch "safe" careers to build their own companies, we want to help them succeed by getting them access to the right resources.

That vision may seem simple on paper, but when I reconnected with a Catalyst program graduate last night, I was humbled to hear how Catalyst helped his company succeed. That entrepreneur was Neal Bram, founder of BEHUM – Be Heard You Matter. BEHUM is a political engagement platform that empowers voters to take simple but meaningful actions to support the candidates and political issues they believe in. Or to put it more simply, BEHUM helps individuals make their political views a reality.

When I spoke with Neal about his Catalyst experience, he explained, "For this to work we need reliability and SoftLayer has always been up to the task. When a leading political official sends a BEHUM link to 2 million individuals at the same time as a statewide advocacy group’s petition is going viral, we have to stay up.” Those numbers might not seem huge for the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, but for early stage startups that can’t afford to pay for more capacity than they need, it's a mountainous task. The Catalyst program provides free cloud hosting resources for early stage startups like BEHUM, allowing them to be confident and aggressive about seizing opportunities to accelerate growth without fear of breaking the bank.

Hearing that the scalability of our platform could accommodate BEHUM's demands felt good, but what Neal said next was what really stuck with me: “Catalyst is far more than the technology and economics. It’s a network of entrepreneurs helping each other led by Catalyst mentors who provide invaluable insights and connections.”

It's easy for the tangible benefits of the program to get the lion's share of a startup's attention, so when I hear about qualitative and relational impact the Catalyst team is making, I know we're doing something right. When I asked Neal if he had any specific examples of that type of involvement, he answered, “Whether it’s commenting on pitches, input on business models, or making an important introduction, the Catalyst program provided BEHUM the right help at the right time.”

That's the best feedback any Catalyst customer could ever give about the program.

If you want your views on candidates and political issues to be heard, head over to BEHUM. And if you're interested in connecting with Neal and his team, let me know, and I'll make that happen.

-@JoshuaKrammes

November 1, 2013

Paving the Way for the DevOps Revolution

The traditional approach to software development has been very linear: Your development team codes a release and sends it over to a team of quality engineers to be tested. When everything looks good, the code gets passed over to IT operations to be released into production. Each of these teams operates within its own silo and makes changes independent of the other groups, and at any point in the process, it's possible a release can get kicked back to the starting line. With the meteoric rise of agile development — a development philosophy geared toward iterative and incremental code releases — that old waterfall-type development approach is being abandoned in favor of a DevOps approach.

DevOps — a fully integrated development and operations approach — streamlines the software development process in an agile development environment by consolidating development, testing and release responsibilities into one cohesive team. This way, ideas, features and other developments can be released very quickly and iteratively to respond to changing and growing market needs, avoiding the delays of long, drawn-out and timed dev releases.

To help you visualize the difference between the traditional approach and the DevOps approach, take a look at these two pictures:

Traditional Waterfall Development
SoftLayer DevOps Blog

DevOps
SoftLayer DevOps Blog

Unfortunately, many businesses struggle to adopt the DevOps approach because they simply update their org chart by merging their traditional teams, but their development philosophy doesn't change at the same time. As a result, I've encountered a lot of companies who have been jaded by previous attempts to move to a DevOps model, and I'm not alone. There is a significant need in the marketplace for some good old fashioned DevOps expertise.

A couple months ago, my friend Raj Bhargava pinged me with a phenomenal idea to put on a DevOps "un-conference" in Boulder, Colorado, to address the obvious need he's observed for DevOps education and best practices. Raj is a serial, multiple-exit entrepreneur from Boulder, and he is the co-founder and CEO of a DevOps-focused startup there called JumpCloud. When he asked if I would like to co-chair the event and have SoftLayer as a headline sponsor alongside JumpCloud, the answer was a quick and easy "Yes!"

Sure, there have been other DevOps-related conferences around the world, but ours was designed to be different from the outset. As strange as it may sound, half of the conference intentionally occurred outside of the conference: One of our highest priorities was to strike up conversations between the participants before, during and after the event. If we're putting on a conference to encourage a collaborative development approach, it would be counterproductive for us to use a top-down, linear approach to engaging the attendees, right?

I'm happy to report that this inaugural attempt of our untested concept was an amazing success. We kept the event private for our first run at the concept, but the event was bursting at the seams with brilliant developers and tech influencers. Brad Feld and our friends from the Foundry Group invited all of their portfolio CEO's and CTO's. David Cohen, co-founder of Techstars and head honcho at Bullet Time Ventures did the same. JumpCloud and SoftLayer helped round out the attendee list with a few of our most innovative partners as well as a few of technologists from within our own organizations. It was an incredible mix of super-smart tech pros, business leaders and VC's from all over the world.

With such a diverse group of attendees, the conversations at the event were engaging, energizing and profound. We discussed everything from how startups should incorporate automation into their business plans at the outset to how the practice of DevOps evolves as companies scale quickly. At the end of the day, we brought all of those theoretical discussions back down to the ground by sharing case studies of real companies that have had unbelievable success in incorporating DevOps into their businesses. I had the honor of wrapping up the event as moderator of a panel with Jon Prall from Sendgrid, Scott Engstrom from Gnip and Richard Miller of Mocavo, and I couldn't have been happier with the response.

I'd like to send a big thanks to everyone who participated, especially our cosponsors — JumpCloud, VictorOps, Authentic8, DH Capital, SendGrid, Cooley, Pivot Desk, SVP and Pantheon.

I'm looking forward to opening this up to the world next year!

-@PaulFord

July 19, 2013

Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Transcending Borders

At Cloud World Forum in London, I did an interview with Rachel Downie of CloudMovesTV, and she asked some fantastic questions (full interview embedded a the bottom of this post). One that particularly jumped out to me was, "Does North America have a technology and talent advantage over Europe?" I've posted some thoughts on this topic on the SoftLayer Blog in the past, but I thought I'd reflect on the topic again after six months of traveling across Europe and the Middle East talking with customers, partners and prospects.

I was born just north of Silicon Valley in a little bohemian village called San Francisco. I earned a couple of trophies (and even more battle scars) during the original dot-com boom, so much of my early career was spent in an environment bursting at the seams with entrepreneurs and big ideas. The Valley tends to get most of the press (and all of the movie contracts), so it's easy to assume that the majority of the world's innovation is happening around there. I have first-hand experience that proves that assumption wrong. The talent level, motivation, innovation, technology and desire to make a difference is just as strong, if not stronger, in Europe and the Middle East as it is in the high-profile startup scenes in New York City or San Francisco. And given the level of complexity due to the cultural and language differences, I would argue the innovation that happens in the Middle East and Europe tends to incorporate more flexibility and global scalability earlier than its North American counterparts.

A perfect example of this type of innovation is the ad personalization platform that London-based Struq created. Earlier this year, I presented with Struq CTO Aaron McKee during the TFM&A (Technology For Marketing and Advertising) show in London about how cloud computing helps their product improve online customer dialogue, and I was stunned by how uniquely and efficiently they were able to leverage the cloud to deliver meaningful, accurate results to their customers. Their technology profiles customers, matches them to desired brands, checks media relevance and submits an ad unit target price to auction. If there is a match, Struq then serves a hyper-relevant message to that customer. And all of that in about 25 milliseconds and is happening at scale (over two billion transactions per day). Add in the fact that they serve several different cultures and languages, and you start to understand the work that went into creating this kind of platform. Watch out Valley Boyz and Girlz, they're expanding into the US.

One data point of innovation and success doesn't mean a whole lot, but Struq's success isn't unique. I just got back from Istanbul where I spent some time with Peak Games to learn more about how they became the 3rd largest social gaming company in the world and what SoftLayer could to to help support their growth moving forward. Peak Games, headquartered in Turkey, is on an enviable growth trajectory, and much of their success has come from their lean, focused operations model and clear goals. With more than 30 million customers, it's clear that the team at Peak Games built a phenomenal platform (and some really fun games). Ten years ago, a development team from Turkey may have had to move into a cramped, expensive house in Palo Alto to get the resources and exposure they needed to reach a broader audience, but with the global nature of cloud computing, the need to relocate to succeed is antiquated.

I met a wild-eyed entrepreneur at another meeting in Istanbul who sees exactly what I saw. The region is full of brilliant developers and creative entrepreneurs, so he's on a mission to build out a more robust startup ecosystem to help foster the innovation potential of the region. I've met several people in different countries doing the same thing, but one thing that struck me as unusual about this vision was that he did not say anything about being like Silicon Valley. He almost laughed at me when I asked him about that, and he explained that he wanted his region to be better than Silicon Valley and that his market has unique needs and challenges that being "like Silicon Valley" wouldn't answer. North America is a big market, but it's one of many!

The startups and gaming companies I mentioned get a lot of the attention because they're fun and visible, but the unsung heroes of innovation, the intraprenuers (people who behave like entrepreneurs within large organizations), are the clear and powerful heartbeat of the talent in markets outside of North America. These people are not driven by fame and fortune ... They just want to build innovative products because they can. A mad scientist from one of the largest consumer products firms in the world, based in the EU, just deployed a couple of servers to build an imaging ecosystem that is pushing the limits of technology to improve human health. Another entrepreneur at a large global media company is taking a Mobile First methodology to develop a new way to distribute and consume media in the emerging cross-platform marketplace. These intrapreneurs might not live in Palo Alto or Santa Clara, but they're just as capable to change the world.

Silicon Valley still produces inspiring products and groundbreaking technology, but the skills and expertise that went into those developments aren't confined by borders. To all you innovators across the globe building the future, respect. Working with you is my favorite part of the job.

-@jpwisler

The full interview that inspired this blog post:

May 27, 2013

Tech Wildcatters Pitch Day (From a Unique Perspective)

In a classic scene from Duck Soup, Groucho Marx (as Rufus T. Firefly) is given a report, and he responds, "Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child. I can't make head or tail out of it." That deadpan line may have come from a movie that was released in 1933, but it alludes to an idea that's relevant to this day: Younger generations have a unique perspective, and their insights can be extremely valuable. James, my nine-year-old son, has a seemingly innate understanding of technology, and after watching TechStars Cloud graduates deliver their demo day pitches last year, he became very interested in startups. I can say this authoritatively because he's been bugging me for month to let him go to another session.

With his school year winding down, I decided I'd make a deal with him: He could join me at the Tech Wildcatters Pitch Day, but he'd have to write a blog about what he learned about each of the companies. When I saw the post he wrote, I realized that having a nine-year-old listen to elevator pitches from startups provides a great barometer for how well a presenter expressed the company's value proposition. I'll turn the floor over to James and let him share what he learned about the eleven companies that presented at #TWPitchDay2013:

Tech Wildcatters Demo Day

Today I went to the Granada Theater in Dallas with my dad to meet start up companies. They were doing presentations to investors to raise money.

My dad did the introduction for HedgeChatter. I really did not understand what the do, but my dad said they did "DID": They turn Data into Information so people can make better Decisions. Not sure what that really means but he seems to like their business.

Here is a quick summary of each of the companies and what they do:

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayVonciergeVoncierge.com@LittleDressBook
Voncierge is a virtual wedding website that lets brides find the time and day for appointments in a short time.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayKlick PushKlickPush.com@KlickPush
Klick Push is redefining online advertising by intersecting it with digital music.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayGroupRaiseGroupRaise.com@GroupRaise
GroupRaise is a platform for charitable organizers to set up fundraisers online at local restaurants.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayScribeSenseScribeSense.com@ScribeSense
ScribeSense is a better way to track and improve student learning. Their online platform grades.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayCrowdFeedCrowdFeed.co@CrowdFeed
CrowdFeed is an app that has a huge market, making music and merchandise available on the spot.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DaySmokePhoneSmokePhone.com@SmokePhone
Smokephone is a site that lets you save your ten precious digits from strangers, and then you can delete them at any time.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayHedgeChatterHedgeChatter.com@HedgeChatter
HedgeChatter is a social analytics tool for the stock market. It helps investors make more money in less time (from 12 hours to 6).

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DaySocialGlimpzSocialGlimpz.com@SocialGlimpz
SocialGlimpz is a market insight tool to glean insights from users and build consumer strategy. It is an alternative to slow, expensive tools in the market.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DayTalentizeTalentize.com@Talentize
Talentize is a website that lets DJs, actor, singers, artist, and models showcase themselves for jobs.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo Day501Fund501Fund.com@501Fund
501Fund is a company that helps with fundraising and saving money.

 

Tech Wildcatters Demo DaySecure PressIDSecurePressID.com@SecurePressID
SecurepressID is a security company that lets your hand be the username and login to protect from hackers.

 

My favorite of all companies was GroupRaise. I like it because I like helping people, and that is what they do too! Klick Push was great too. They give you prizes like free music for getting to new levels in games. Maybe they can do that for Minecraft.

This is the second time I went to an event like this. Last year I met a lot of cool companies that came to Dallas from San Antonio. My dad said they were part of something called TechStars Cloud. I even presented to them about Steve Jobs. That made me nervous, but it was worth it.

I am already excited about going to my next demo day. And maybe someday I will be on the stage with a new idea.

-James Karidis

Tech Wildcatters Demo Day

May 22, 2013

Catalyst at SXSW 2013: Startup Community Partners

Much of the buzz you've heard about Catalyst has to do with our relationships with the entrepreneurs and startups we support around the world. That buzz is understandable since the hosting, mentorship and networking perks of the program are the most visible aspects of the program, but to truly understand why Catalyst has been so successful, we have to shine the spotlight on our partner organizations in the startup community. Without close ties to the most powerful and successful startup-focused organizations, my team would have a much tougher time meeting and introducing the best and brightest startups to SoftLayer's platform.

When the folks on the Community Development team are not working directly with the companies in the Catalyst, they're looking for opportunities to help and serve our huge network of business incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces and startup events. As a result, we stay pretty busy. To give you an idea of what a given month looks like for us, Catalyst is supporting seventeen different startup-related events in six different countries over the course of the next thirty days. We're lucky that we love what we do so much ... Otherwise, that schedule might seem pretty daunting.

If you've been an avid SoftLayer Blog reader (as you should be), you know that we work closely with organizations like TechStars and 500 Startups, but you haven't heard much about the other types of partnerships we build in the startup community. We want to provide Catalyst companies with resources outside of hosting that can make their lives easier, and that means we have to find killer partners that focus specifically on the needs and wants of startup companies. To give you an idea of what those partners look like, I'd like to introduce you to a few of them via their video interviews from SoftLayer's Catalyst Startup Lounge at SXSW:

As we've done with the Startups Speak interviews, we'll be adding videos from our partners to the YouTube playlist above so that you can meet them and learn more about the value they uniquely provide to the startup community.

I'd love to take more time to explain how we incorporate services from these partners in the Catalyst program, but I think I'm late for a plane to Vancouver ... or Chicago ... or New York ... or San Francisco. In any case, I should probably head to the airport.

-@PaulFord

May 2, 2013

Startup Series: wind2share

I'm amazed by the people who work at the startups that work with Catalyst. If you could somehow bottle the enthusiasm, creativity and passion that entrepreneurs and startup teams have on a daily basis, you'd have an energy drink worth billions of dollars. It's impossible to describe in a blog, but because I'm surrounded by people with those characteristics, I'd be doing the blog audience a disservice if I didn't try to express what I've experienced first-hand. Instead of trying to generalize, a better approach would be to give you an example of what I'm talking about, and for that, I just need to turn the spotlight on wind2share.

I first met the wind2share team at TechCrunch SF in the fall of 2012, and I was immediately taken aback by their energy and the genuine kindness they exuded as people. At the time, the team had been slowly making the transition of having employees work in three different cities on two different continents, but it was clear that they shared a unified willingness to work hard and create a meaningful solution for their clients. As my boy Iggy Pop said, they had a "lust for life" that is as magnetic as it is uncommon. And if that weren't enough, their vision for wind2share is innovative and intriguing:

wind2share is a social business network specially designed for people to make referrals to leading institutions and companies and receive cash rewards based on successful referrals. Businesses seeking to enter new markets can lean on hundreds of ambassadors worldwide to offer their services to new audiences, and expand their client base in new markets.

Since I met them, they've made incremental improvements in their user experience, incorporating Facebook and Google+ accounts to streamline signups and launching a new site design to clearly and succinctly convey the business model and the platform's features.

After a successful pilot run in 2012 which generated more than $1.7 million in revenue, wind2share is strategically ramping up their marketing efforts to continue the viral growth of their disruptive referral model. Given how easy they make the process of connecting and interacting with businesses and top-level professionals around thew world, it's not a surprise that the startup has been so successful, and I have no doubt that their success will continue.

The beauty of the network wind2share created is the diversity of its functionality. Your social network trusts you, and your referrals are valuable, so wind2share provides a medium for businesses to reward you when you recommend them. Beyond that use-case, if you're an entrepreneur or you have an idea, you can connect with investors who share your interest and may be of some help. The way I think of it is that it's a social community with a business purpose. Members are provided with all the information, tools and resources they need to "Make a Wealth of Referrals."

Companies like wind2share are a glowing successes in our Catalyst. Our team has solved numerous infrastructure challenges for them, and we've had the opportunity to make strategic introductions to investors, business leads and potential business partners as the company has grown and matured. Seeing the work pay off in such a positive way with wind2share is proof positive of the value Catalyst provides startups.

To learn more about wind2share or to sign up, head over to wind2share.com. If you'd like to meet the fantastic team of brilliant folks behind the platform, reach out to me directly and I'll happily start the conversation for you.

-@JoshuaKrammes

April 26, 2013

Catalyst at SXSW 2013: The Startups Speak

SoftLayer listens to customers. There's no marketing spin or fluff on that statement ... I'm a former client, so I can attest to that from a customer perspective and from an internal perspective. When I joined the company as part of the community development team to work with startups in Catalyst, I knew my role was going to be more relationship-based than project-oriented, and that was one of the most exciting aspects of the job for me.

In my last blog about mentorship and meaningfulness, you heard from George Karidis and Paul Ford about the vision to make Catalyst a part of the startup ecosystem, committing to helping participating teams with more than just their hosting needs. While we attended SXSW Interactive, I ran into a few of our phenomenal customers and had the opportunity to sit down with them and talk about their businesses, their connection to SoftLayer and what the future holds:

Over the next few weeks, we'll add video interviews to that YouTube playlist to show off all of the startups that stopped by the Catalyst Startup Lounge at SXSW 2013. When a new video is published, it'll be added to the embedded playlist above, and we'll send some social media shout-outs via Twitter and Facebook.

With SoftLayer's 7th birthday coming up on May 5, we still feel like a startup, and a lot of that has to do with how closely we work with our customers ... Their energy is contagious, and it only encourages us to keep innovating and building our platform for the future. That's why entrepreneurs like the ones you meet in these videos choose SoftLayer. The fact that we have better technology and provide a more powerful cloud infrastructure winds up being a fringe benefit.

A big "Thanks!" goes out to the folks from Epic Playground, Flowmio, Medved, Urbane, YouNoodle, KeenIO, Cloudability and Preferred Return for taking time out of their busy SXSW schedules to chat with me. We love you guys!

-@JoshuaKrammes

April 12, 2013

Catalyst at SXSW 2013: Mentorship and Meaningfulness

In the Community Development group, our mission is simple: Create the industry's most substantially helpful startup program that assists participants in a MEANINGFUL way. Meaningfulness is a subjective goal, but when it comes to fueling new businesses, numbers and statistics can't tell the whole story. Sure, we could run Catalyst like some of the other startup programs in the infrastructure world and gauge our success off of the number of partners using the hosting credits we provide, but if we only focused on hosting credits, we'd be leaving a significant opportunity on the table.

SoftLayer is able to offer the entrepreneurial community so much more than cloud computing instances and powerful servers. As a startup ourselves not so long ago, our team knows all about the difficulties of being an entrepreneur, and now that we're able to give back to the startup community, we want to share battle stories and lessons learned. Mentorship is one of the most valuable commodities for entrepreneurs and business founders, and SoftLayer's mentors are in a unique position to provide feedback about everything from infrastructure planning to hiring your first employees to engaging with your board of advisors to negotiating better terms on a round of funding.

The Catalyst team engages in these kinds discussions with our clients every day, and we've had some pretty remarkable success. When we better understand a client's business, we can provide better feedback and insight into the infrastructure that will help that business succeed. In other words, we build meaningful relationships with our Catalyst clients, and as a result, those clients are able to more efficiently leverage the hosting credits we provide them.

The distinction between Catalyst and other startup programs in the hosting industry has never been so apparent than after South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin this year. I had the opportunity to meet with entrepreneurs, investors, and industry experts who have been thirsting for a program like Catalyst for years, and when they hear about what we're doing, they know they've found their oasis. I had a chance to sit down with Paul Ford in the Catalyst Startup Lounge at SXSW to talk about the program and some of the insights and feedback we'd gotten at the show:

Paul was quick to point out that being a leader in the startup community has more impact when you provide the best technology and pair that with a team that can deliver for startups what they need: meaningful support.

Later, I had an impromptu coffee with one of the world's largest, most prestigious Silicon Valley-based venture capital firms — probably THE most respected venture capital firm in the world, actually. As we chatted about the firm's seed-funding practices, the investment partner told me, "There is no better insurance policy for an infrastructure company than what SoftLayer is doing to ensure success for its startup clients." And I thought that was a pretty telling insight.

That simple sentence drove home the point that success in a program like Catalyst is not guaranteed by a particular technology, no matter how innovative or industry-leading that technology may be. Success comes from creating value BEYOND that technology, and when I sat down with George Karidis, he shared a few insights how the Catalyst vision came to be along with how the program has evolved to what it is today:

Catalyst is special. The relationships we build with entrepreneurs are meaningful. We've made commitments to have the talented brainpower within our own walls to be accessible to the community already. After SXSW, I knew I didn't have to compare what we were doing from what other programs are doing because that would be like comparing apples and some other fruit that doesn't do nearly as much for you as apples do.

I was told once on the campaign trail for President Clinton in '96 that so long as you have a rock-solid strategy, you cannot be beaten if you continue to execute on that strategy. Execute, Execute, Execute. If you waiver and react to the competition, you're dead in the water. With that in mind, we're going to keep executing on our strategy of being available to our Catalyst clients and actively helping them solve their problems. The only question that remains is this:

How can we help you?

-@JoshuaKrammes

March 26, 2013

Should My Startup Join an Accelerator/Incubator Program?

As part of my role at SoftLayer, I have the opportunity and privilege to mentor numerous entrepreneurs and startup teams when they partner with us through our Catalyst program. One question I hear often is, "Should I join an accelerator?" My answer: "That all depends." Let's look at the five lessons entrepreneurs should learn before they decide to join a startup accelerator or incubator program.

Lesson 1: The founders must be committed to the success of their venture.
Joining an accelerator or incubator comes with some strings attached — startups give up between 6 to 10 percent of their equity in exchange for some cash and structured program that usually lasts around three months. Obviously, this kind of commitment should not be taken lightly.

Too often, startups join accelerator programs before they are ready or mature enough as a team. Sometimes, a company's idea isn't fully baked, so they end up spending as much time "creating" their business as they do "accelerating" it. As a result, that company isn't able to leverage an accelerator's resources efficiently throughout the entire program ... The founders need to establish a vision for the business, begin laying the groundwork for the company's products and services, and be 100% committed to the accelerator program before joining. If you can't say with confidence that your startup meets all three of those requirements, don't do it. Take care of those three points and proceed to the next lesson.

Lesson 2: Be prepared to leverage what you are given.
Many startups join accelerator and incubator programs with unrealistic expectations. Participation in these programs — even the most exclusive and well-known ones — by no means guarantees that you'll raise additional money or have a successful exit. These programs provide startups with office space, free cloud services, and access to mentors, investors, recruiters and media ... Those outstanding services provide participating startups with a distinct competitive advantage, but they don't serve up success on a silver platter. If you aren't ready work tirelessly to leverage the benefits of a startup program, don't bother.

Lesson 3: Take advice and criticism well; mentors are trying to help.
"Mentorship" is very tough to qualify, and criticism is difficult to take ... Especially if you're 100% committed to your business and you don't want to be told that you've done something wrong. Mentors in these startup programs have "been there and done that," and they wouldn't be in a mentorship position if they weren't looking out for your best interest and the ultimate success of your company.

Look programs that take mentorship seriously and can provide a broad range of expertise from strategy to marketing and business development to software architecture to building and scaling IT infrastructure. Then be intentional about listening to the people around you.

Lesson 4: Do your research and make an informed decision.
With the proliferation of startups globally, we're also seeing an evolution in the accelerator ecosystem. There are a number accelerators being positioned to help support founders with ideas on a global, regional and local basis, but it's important to evaluate a program's vision with its execution of that vision. Not all startup programs are created equal, and some might not offer the right set of resources and opportunities for your team. When you're giving up equity in your company, you should have complete confidence that the accelerator or incubator you join will deliver on its side of the deal.

Lesson 5: Leverage the network and community you will meet.
When you've done your homework, applied and been accepted to the perfect startup program, meet everyone you can and learn from them. One of the most tangible benefits of joining an accelerator is the way you can fast track a business idea while boosting network contacts. Much in the way someone chooses a prestigious college or joins a fraternity, some of the most valuable resources you'll come across in these programs are the people you meet. In this way, accelerators and incubators are becoming a proxy for undergrad and graduate school ... The appeal for promising entrepreneurs is simple: Why wait to make a dent in the universe? Today, more people are going to college and fewer are landing well-paying jobs after graduation, so some of the world's best and brightest are turning to these communities and foregoing the more structured "higher education" process.

Even if your startup is plugging along smoothly, a startup accelerator or incubator program might be worth a look. Venture capitalists often trust programs like TechStars and 500 Startups to filter or vet early stage companies. If your business has the stamp of approval from one of these organizations, it's decidedly less risky than a business idea pitched by a random entrepreneur.

If you understand each of these lessons and you take advantage of the resources and opportunities provided by startup accelerators and incubators, the sky is the limit for your business. Now get to work.

Class dismissed.

-@gkdog

March 5, 2013

Startup Series: Kickback Tickets

The very first client I recruited to Catalyst when I joined the CommDev team about a year ago happens to be one of Catalyst's most interesting customer success stories ... and I'm not just saying that because it was the first partner I signed on. Kickback Tickets — an online ticketing platform that utilized crowdfunding — has simplified the process of creating and funding amazing events, and as a result, they've made life a lot easier for the startup, developer and networking organizations that fuel Catalsyt.

Anyone who's organized events knows that it often involves a financial risk because it's hard to know whether the event will be well-enough attended to cover the costs of putting on the event. With Kickback Tickets, an event is listed an funded ahead of time, and when it reaches its "Tipping Point" goal of tickets ordered, it's completely funded, the early supporters are charged, and the ticket sales continue.

The process is simple:

Kickback Tickets

Event updates, guest registrations and QR-coded tickets are provided to attendees to make check-in seamless, so the hosts of each event don't have hassle with those details. Kickback's revenue comes from a small fee on each ticket for each successfully funded event, and they've got a ton of momentum. After signing on with Catalyst in March 2012, Kickback went live with an open beta in November 2012, and they launched their out-of-beta site in February 2013. They've successfully funded more than 20 events, and new events are added daily.

Kickback Tickets

When I met the Kickback founders Jonathan Perkins and Julian Balderas, I was attending SF Beta (my first official event as a SLayer). At the time, Jonathan and Julian were a couple of bankers with an innovative idea to help organizations alleviate the financial risk of planning and putting on events by enlisting community support. I told them about my experience as the COO of a small non-profit startup up called Slavery Footprint (also a Catalyst partner), and I guess they could relate to the challenges SoftLayer helped us overcome because they were excited to join.

In their own words, Jonathan and Julian explain that their partnership with Softlayer and the Catalyst program has been extremely valuable:

SoftLayer provides a rock-solid technical foundation and allows us to focus more resources on business development. On the technical side, what Softlayer offers is impressive — super fast speeds and an intricate level of control over the hardware. On the personal side, the mentorship and networking benefits of the program have been very helpful. We've always found the Catalyst team to be available to chat about any questions we had, ranging from development to biz dev to fundraising.

As they continue to expand their platform, it's going to be exciting to watch Kickback become a true force in the events space. Organize your next event with Kickback and make sure it's a success.

Oh, and if you want to speak to Jonathan and Julian, just reach out to me and I'll happily make the introduction.

-@JoshuaKrammes

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