RVA Hungry for Entrepreneurs

This past Thursday, the Richmond Venture Form packed the house with a panel on innovation and entrepreneurism. I was fortunate enough to be asked to play a small part on the panel alongside Startup Virginia’s Jonathan Aberman, InnoVArium’s Steve Hutcherson and New Richmond Ventures Bob Mooney. It was clear from the energy in the room that Virginia, including central Virginia and Richmond, is preparing for an exciting future in creating rapidly scalable businesses.

During the day a few key themes emerged (at least for me).

All hands on deck: No surprise but it takes a number of committed organizations and individuals to create a high energy, successful ecosystem. As I have stated before, RVA is not Silicon Valley and does not aspire to be. Richmond and the region will create its own unique flavor and in so doing hopefully will find a way to serve its own investment and business communities while taking its place on the broader global stage. It was good to see so many dedicated to this pursuit!

Keep moving forward: This little phrase Is one of my favorite tag lines inspired by Walt Disney. Building any successful enterprise is a challenge. Borrowing from Coach K after Duke’s opening round loss at this year’s tourney, it can bring the “highest of highs and the lowest of lows”. One thing you cannot do as a business builder is stop moving. You must constantly connect with others and realize that overnight success never happens overnight. I was especially taken in by Bob Mooney as he discussed the dedication required by investors as fuel for the process. He called on the investment community to understand the volatile nature of business building and stay committed to the development of the individuals they support and the ecosystem. Jonathan Aberman added that rarely does a successful exit look anything like the first pitch!

Build relationships: I can honestly say the best thing about attempting to start an acceleration program is the fact you cannot do it alone. Same thing in business. From sales, to internal team, investor support and service providers you are called on as an entrepreneur to be in relationship. Jonathan suggested that the primary purpose of diligence when looking to invest in a company is gaining an understanding of the team’s trustworthiness. I am very excited to report that the region and its leadership is highly supportive of building the right relationships that will serve as the base upon which great ideas grow to ground breaking companies.

It begins with entrepreneurs: For any area to achieve success in encouraging founders it needs to have FOUNDERS and they need to know about each other and what the area can provide to support them! I believe this is a key area of awareness and growth that the region is embracing with programs like acceleration. It is developing more shared working and incubation spaces. It is striving to create more events and groups tailored to entrepreneurial development. It continues to focus on pulling in university support. And the region is creating more organized groups of angel investors alongside larger funds. And all of this activity, focus and effort must begin and end with the founders.

So, yes, I can state with these lessons (and I could have shared more) being learned and shared the region is hungry for success…so stay tuned!

Can’t touch this…

Recently I was flying JetBlue minding my own business when the actions of a passenger a few rows away caught my attention.  As you are probably aware, JetBlue shows free TV on all of its flights.  The small screen is tucked in the head rest in front of you with controls on the arm rest.  As the flight climbs from the runway a welcome video begins to roll.  

And this is when that passenger caught my eye.  He was tapping away on the screen.  Touch, touch … ok, maybe not the middle of the screen so check the corners … touch, touch.  No, the corners don’t respond either.  Then finally he realized that touching was a no go.  He glanced around the seat and finally found the push button arm rest controls. 

What in the world does this have to do with company building?  While I will not lay the reaction of the passenger at the feet of the iPhone/iPad it is clear that we now believe glass + touch = action.  The market is now conditioned to a certain experience in interacting with technology.  

When building your next great startup what are the basic assumptions of the market you are attacking?  You may be looking to change the game entirely but you still have to be ready to understand how the current market and its expectations will impact your success or failure.  If you fail to engage the basic expectation or clearly light the path forward you will have placed your company in the position of dealing with potentially unnecessary obstacles to adoption.  This is not just a UI issue, almost every area you deal with from market message to functionality carries basic assumptions and expectations.

Clearly, it is important to take note of the environments you will attempt to influence!  If everyone around you is ‘touching glass and expecting an action’ and you produce ‘glass without action’ you are already starting with a deficit.  It is also notable how quickly basic customer expectations change and new table stakes appear.  As fast as markets and indeed whole industry segments move make sure your plan can factor in, keep pace with and even drive the change.  You certainly don’t want to find your customers touching away and coming up empty.