How to Start a Startup – from those in the know!

‘How to Start a Startup.’ This was the theme of the recent event I hosted for General Assembly at the startup hub of WeWork in Seattle.

The four-person panel featured entrepreneurs from varied backgrounds in Seattle’s startup scene, and along with a crowd of around 60 people, we discussed and debated hot button issues such as:

  • The diversity (or lack thereof) in the startup scene
  • What the Seattle startup scene will look like in 2020; and
  • The challenges and rewards that come out of ‘creating something out of nothing’.

Let me introduce our panelists:

Susie Lee – Co founder of Siren

Jacob Whitish – U.S. branch of Antsquare

Patrick Henley – Founder of AMPTAB; and

Ben Gilbert – Co founder of Pioneer Square Labs (affectionately known as PSL).

Some of the difficulties that plagued the various new companies included a lack of funding, trying to build the right team with the culture they were after, and choosing the right metrics for success. The panelists agreed that every business will set different KPIs, so it’s important to define what success looks like for your particular organization.

The big thrills they’ve experienced as part of running a startup: getting your first investor, your first client, the making of a team that believe in you and what you’re trying to do.

Ben mentioned the need to listen carefully to the pain point of your audience, to really answer their questions. The unique and valuable insights that make great business need to be implemented well – a great idea alone won’t magically happen.

When it comes to hiring, the panel emphasised will over skill.

Jacob talked about the need to be like ‘a Swiss army knife’ when you’re working at a small company. As well as being the business development manager and basically creating something out of nothing in the US, he cleans the toilets. Talk about humble!

On that note, Patrick shared how he has never used investor’s cash to pay himself a salary, and only recently rewards himself with $60k per year. One of the things that really resonated with me was something he shared just prior to the panel discussion; he said that when people come to work at AMPTAB, he wants them for ten years, not ten months. Ambitious given the trends in workplace tenure for the millennial crowd, but his appreciation for his staff shines through in comments such as these.

Susie raised the issue of diversity in the scene.

As a woman of colour she is often the only voice raising the unique challenges for anyone not a white male wanting to start a company or work at a startup. She believes in the phrase, “Diversity begets diversity,” explaining that startups with a female or ethnically diverse founder tend to attract more diversity, whereas the opposite is true for startups founded by stereotypically white, males. Diversity generally won’t come by accident.

All panellists agreed that the next five years will be critical for Seattle’s success.

Governmental policy and funding are two wet blankets that might keep the fire out. The top tier talent flooding into the city (you’re welcome), the incubators, co-working spaces and openness to new ideas that define Seattle might be enough to combat the challenges. In the Q&A we learned that every clickbait article along the lines of, “The Top 10 Mistakes Not to Make as a Startup” is often nothing but that – don’t waste your time reading them!

For those wanting to break into the tech and startup ecosystem, the word resourceful kept popping up… I’m not suggesting drastic measures like using your hair as dental floss, but getting creative about where and how to find the resources and tools to get the job done.

Thanks again to General Assembly and the panelists for sharing their insights and experience.IMG_1061

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