Todays guest is somebody who is one of the most authentic people in the startup community who personifies ‘give first’ and is a community builder and a true entrepreneur - Michael Sitarzewski
Michael Sitarzewski is co-founder and CEO of Epic Playground, Inc. He is a veteran entrepreneur with a specific focus on Web-based software and services. Michael considers helping people understand and leverage technology his life's work.
1:12 Michael didn’t go to college and is completely self taught with the Internet and HTML. He has had several failures, finally finding moderate success with meetmeonline.com which he sold in 1999. To put into perspective how far technology has come, his business model was for people to send him physical photos, and for $5 he would scan them and put them on the website. During all this time he worked for Apple as a consultant to pay the bills. His next venture was ‘Hypersite’ - an early day equivalent to Wix and the like.
3:18 He learned a valuable lesson about pricing value through Hypersite, when he realized that you can’t take a job that people were paying $50,000 for and charge just $10 a month - it doesn’t work. In 2006 he met David Cohen (of Tech Stars) and Brad Feld - two investors in the Boulder area. He started two open coffee clubs (which are still running), and raised close to a million dollars for an audio and video analytics company (which he was later to crash). When the company was crashing he took the unusual step of contacting everybody in his Tech Stars network to offer them first call on his employees that were going to be out of a job, and every single one of them that wanted a job actually got one. In 2013 he moved back to Dallas and started to look at how the community was and how he could build, support and in fact replicate what he did in Boulder.
6:42 He feels he was more of a participant in Boulder but he took the responsibility of being a leader and building a community when he moved to Dallas.
7:45 Serendipity is the most important quality of any community. He feels anytime you can put people together in a room in the right atmosphere, ideas happen.
9:12 A lot of people look at open coffee clubs as networking events - and they are, but are not sales pitches for things people don’t need. They are events for people of similar backgrounds and interests. He feels the content may be a distraction - because the real conversation before and after the meet ups is the real crux of why the coffee club exists. This is when the meet ups happen.
10:58 The secret sauce of the coffee clubs is that its moderator led. He encourages ‘use your outdoor voice’ and only allows one conversation at a time. He considers it a networking opportunity under the guise of content thats moderator led.
12:17 The coffee club deals with everything from driving cars to robotics, apps to privacy. He brings a list of stories and uses that as a base for the conversation, but the audience decides the direction of the meet up.
13:50 Boulder is a landlocked city with restrictions on building heights, so it makes for a dense startup community. Denver has a concentration of startups down around the Union Station area. Compare that to Dallas / Fort Worth which is a sprawling 9,000 square miles. The task of building a community across such a large area is much more challenging. Michael feels it works once you realise that in such a large area the density of startups can’t just be one place, but a collection of places each with their own unique community, but part of the bigger community also.
16:55 Michael feels that although geographical locations may be unique, there is still a sense of community on a global scale. His new company - Launch DFW recognizes how big the community of Dallas is. Each of the distinct regions in Dallas / Fort Worth have their own unique startups in their own geographic region, and his new website will reflect this with unique landing pages for the areas, but the investors are the same.
19:36 He feels that the biggest problem for people to understand with communities is that its not about you and what you are going to get out of it, its about the bigger picture. Every startup needs resources, and if you can help source and create these resources it benefits everyone.
22:10 The biggest takeaway is even though every region has its own community, the end result should be the same - the give before you get mentality.
23:12 Michael discusses un-meetings and un-conferences. Basically he discusses how its basically a lot of different topics and experts willing to share topics timetabled into a day at a location and people can choose to come to whatever topic they want - its not pitchy, its purely information and content.
26:55 Michael discusses bootstrapping versus funding and quotes the remarkable example of a startup that went from concept to finished product in 7 months as a perfect example of a bootstrap candidate. He recommends that generally if you can bootstrap, and even if it takes a little bit longer.
29:30 Daily routines are something that Michael still hasn’t figured out. He has a varied week between his own work and focussing his energy on downtown Dallas out in the community. He tends to get to the downtown area by 9am and stays there for the day. Curiously he falls asleep at 10pm, wakes at 2am and works for a couple of hours before going back to sleep again.
31:53 Michael has recognised his strengths and his weaknesses, and he is constantly looking for people to fill in those gaps and help him out.
33:48 He doesn’t have specific books to recommend other then the Startup Owners Manual by Steve Blank. He recommends looking at the wealth of free content for education out there - and he quotes the lessons at iTunes University as an example.
35:52 Michael's son is 11 and he is not in school at all and he is being ‘Unschooled’. As parents, Michael and his wife don’t teach him what to learn - they teach him how to learn. Its opening up learning to subjects he never would have learned in normal school structure.
38:35 Failure is a great teacher.
38:48 He is not a big fan of hacks other than knowing that there are more people out there willing to help then you actually think.