Paul Singh is embracing the changing nature of the venture capital—or _VC_—game.
Formerly a partner at 500 Startups, an international VC seed fund and startup accelerator, Singh noticed that high-growth tech companies were starting to pop up all across the U.S. If he wanted to invest in the very best startups in the country, then waiting for founders to fly out to Silicon Valley and come to him wasn’t the best method anymore.
Singh decided he had to go to them.
He founded Results Junkies with his wife and started road-tripping across the country in a pickup truck and custom Airstream trailer, hosting events for entrepreneurs, meeting investors and visiting incubators and coworking spaces.
Last year, he stopped in 42 cities and met with 20,000 entrepreneurs and 1,200 early stage startups, seeking out the very best talent to invest in. And he’s doing it even bigger this year.
I’m so grateful Paul took some time to chat with me about the lessons he learned working in his hometown of Ashburn, Virginia as well as San Francisco, the role he believes venture capitalists should play in improving cities and towns across the nation, and what drives him to keep achieving better things (it’s fear!).
He also has insightful advice for anyone looking to build a company or create a startup community outside of the big coastal cities. The good news for Midwestern entrepreneurs (like me) is that technology really is a great equalizer.
Keep an eye on the Results Junkies blog for more of Paul’s thoughts on starting up outside the Valley and to follow the progress of his traveling VC firm. If you want to get in touch, you can find him on Twitter @paulsingh and on Facebook.
In this episode with Paul Singh, you’ll learn:
- No matter what your line of work is, you’re always selling yourself
- Why fear drives him
- His plans for Results Junkies in 2017
- How technology gives you freedom to do what you want
- How company building and community building are related
- Ways to spread a business idea outside of the Valley
Please enjoy this interview with Paul Singh.
- Listen to it on iTunes.
- Stream by clicking here.
- Download as an MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing “save as.”
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So if you have an idea for a web or mobile app, or need help identifying the great ideas within your company, go to developertown.com/powderkeg.
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Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
PBworks (formerly PBwiki)
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From Verge headquarters in Indianapolis, I’m Matt Hunckler. With powderkeg igniting startups. And in the upcoming conversation, you’ll hear from an entrepreneur turned venture capitalist who learned some important lessons while traveling around the world to visit with entrepreneurs and invest in nearly 100 companies,
whoever really like helps build that sort of Midwestern network, and sort of, you know, is out there kind of deploying ash, and helping build networks and connecting community all that, from a venture standpoint, they’re going to have access to all the deal flow
that’s pulsing a former partner at 500 startups, which is a well known international VC fund and startup accelerator. And during his experience at 500, startups, Paul noticed that high growth tech companies were starting to pop up all across the US. And if he wanted to invest in the very best startups in the country, then waiting for entrepreneurs to fly out to Silicon Valley and come to him was not the best method, he’d have to go and find them. That journey and the lessons learned along the way, coming up on powderkeg igniting startups, where each week we share the untold stories of innovation, leadership, and technology beyond Silicon Valley. I’m your host, Matt Hunckler. And I’m the founder and CEO of verge a network of local communities with global reach for tech entrepreneurs, investors and top talent outside of Silicon Valley. You know, as my team and I have grown verge over the past seven years, we’ve hosted more than 1000 entrepreneurs at our events around the world. And those founders have gone on to raise more than $500 million in capital. Collectively, they’re disrupting industries, creating wealth, and changing the world. And most of these entrepreneurs are leading from areas outside of Silicon Valley, using their talents, strategies, and local resources to build tech driven businesses that matter. That’s why we started this podcast. Each guest has their own powder keg full of raw skills and talents that ignited their startups and fueled their growth. These are their stories, you can find me on Twitter and on Instagram at Hunckler. That’s Hu NCKLE are and it’s also a great way to let me know how verge powderkeg. And I can help you with your entrepreneurial journey. So this is the part of the show where usually I give a shout out to one of our partners, but I’d like to do something a little bit differently. See, we’re more than dozen episodes into this powder keg podcast. And I could not be more thrilled with the response and the community that we’re building here at powderkeg. But I’ve got to say that starting a podcast is hard work. There’s been a lot of lessons learned every step of the way. And I couldn’t be more thankful for developer town support as our founding sponsor. You know, every time I’ve encountered a setback, or our team has needed to iterate, they’ve gone above and beyond to help us be successful. And you know, because they work with new digital products for startups and big companies alike. They understand what it’s like to start something new. They’ve been in the trenches right alongside founders and product owners for six years. And over the course of 200 new startup projects, they’ve honed the principles and tactics that are needed to be successful with new endeavor. So if you’re a business leader who wants to turn a great idea into a product with traction, I cannot recommend enough developer town these guys are amazing. And we’ve got an awesome URL specifically for all of you powderkeg errs out there and loyal listeners, you can just check them out at developer town.com/powderkeg and get more information and get connected with this awesome, awesome organization. Developer town start something. Today’s interview is with Paul Singh, founder of results junkies.com he founded results junkies with his wife and started road tripping across the country in a pickup truck, plus his custom Airstream trailer, hosting events for entrepreneurs, meeting investors and visiting incubators and co working spaces. Paul is an awesome guy, I highly recommend you reach out to him and connect on Twitter. You can find him at Paul Singh. That’s at Paul S I N G H on Twitter, where you can follow all of his entrepreneurial adventures, I highly recommend checking them out. You know, last year he stopped in 42 cities and met with 20,000 entrepreneurs and 1200 early stage startups seeking out the very best talent to invest in and he’s doing it even bigger in 2017. I’m so grateful that Paul set aside time to chat with me about the lessons he’s learned from the jobs he’s had growing up in Ashburn, Virginia, to the role he believes venture capitalists should play in improving cities and towns across the nation. You’re gonna get some really cool insight into what drives him what keeps him growing, launching, reinvesting and reinventing himself. So let’s dive in.
In the US, I grew up in a small farm town about 40 miles west of Washington DC was about 8000 ish people and primarily like dairy farms out there. There were like dairy farms in an airport.
So you grew up were you a first generation immigrant?
Yeah, yeah. So my Yeah, so it’s for you know, I was the first. My family, I grew up first generation in my family to grow up here.
Wow. Do you think that that had an impact in terms of how you perceived and pursued your career?
I think so, you know, look, here’s, here’s my view, I think, when a lot of Indians came over, you know, there became this cliche of all of the kids becoming doctors, lawyers and engineers. And it’s sort of this joke, right? But But like, if you kind of, like try to put yourself back in their shoes, it was entirely rational. So consider 30 years, 40 years today, if you and I wanted to go to India right now, or we could go pay United Airlines 1000 bucks and get on an airplane. And look, $1,000 isn’t zero. But that’s way cheaper than it used to be, you know, when you look at it on a cost adjusted basis, or an inflation adjusted basis. So here’s where I’m going with that. The kind of person that leaves their country and goes 8000 miles around the world to go somewhere else where they don’t speak the language, you know, don’t know anybody. They are, by definition, risk takers, by definition. They’re entrepreneurs. Right? Yeah. So my parents sort of in in a lot of their generation came over like that. Now, here’s where I’m going with this. You know, as it relates to your question that first generation of adults comes over. And the first thing they did is, we took a lot of risk. We don’t want our kids to do that. And it was purely rational on their part, right? They were like, we struggled, we don’t want our kids to struggle. And that’s what they did. You know, when you ask the question of like, do you think it influenced my outcome? I think it’s yes, with an asterisk. And what I why I say that is that, like, if you look at a lot of my generation, at least, how like the way I view a lot of the people in my generation, you know, in their mid 30s. Now, I really think unfortunately, a lot of them did not turn out to be entrepreneurs. They’re still successful. You know, they have families, and they’ve got the black BMW and the big McMansion now and stuff like that. But like, I don’t know, the one thing that my parents never did, like, my parents were both college educated, but they chose to do entrepreneurial things like my dad was a, I think, an architect by training, but then decided to, he wanted to be outside. So he started laying brick and then building a construction company around that. And so there was always this sort of, like, entrepreneurial bend to things. So I go back to answer your question in a long way. But but you know, again, it’s yes, with an asterisk, because like, I guess my parents never really gave up on the entrepreneurial side of things. Whereas I think a lot of the folks in our generation did,
it’s fascinating that that your parents were both kind of entrepreneurial in that sense. What were some of the lessons that you gleaned from that? Whether it was you know what to do? Or maybe even what not to do?
I think a lot of people today, I don’t know, I never grew up my parents never once I don’t even think my parents today would describe themselves as entrepreneurs. Like I almost think that real entrepreneurs don’t actually think of themselves as entrepreneurs, they just go stuff. So when you look at my dad, for example, like he’s retired now, but back in the day, he used to just have this like, green notebook with him. And I always remember, like, this green notebook, you could buy at Staples, and like, it was just, it was like this weird shape or size. It was like, he was always like, that was how he sold stuff to people. He always kept his notes in there about like, who he had talked to what the estimates were, you know, what deals were in play, he was always selling. And then like, my mom was with the store anyways. You know, she, she, she also knew, like, what was selling in the store, and she didn’t have Excel spreadsheets on stuff. But anyway, so they were always selling, they never described themselves as entrepreneurs. And so I don’t I don’t know that I described myself as an entrepreneur either. I will say, I will say one thing to mind, as I tell you this story, though, which is, you know, so for the most part, my education was here in the United States, right? So classically, think about, like what you learn explicitly and implicitly, in school, you’re taught that you get a job, and then you have to, like, do good work. And then you get promoted. And then as you get promoted, you get more responsibility, and you get more money, and you get all this stuff, like there’s a certain ladder and progression to your career. And as I was telling you that story, I was also remembering that like, my mom, she still isn’t Navy, federal. So she’s been there now, I guess, probably more than 25 years, maybe going on? 30. Yeah, I remember, as I was growing up, she used to get there was there was some sort of performance award, right. And like, if you weren’t, you know, if you hit all your metrics or whatever, that’s what you got. My mother Long story short, she used to turn down she still to this day, turns down promotions. And the reason is she just wanted her flexibility. And I think in many ways that was really fascinating. Like she was willing to give up an increased What do you call it like salary, like confer you know, you know, guaranteed salary. So I think that was really interesting. She chose to kind of like keep her freedom at the expense of like, you know, a mortgage stable salary. And so if we pick up the phone right now and call them, I don’t think either of them would describe themselves as entrepreneurs, they just sold stuff. And so that was sort of something I think I picked up along the way.
Now that makes a lot of sense and provides some good context for your entrepreneurial path. And even if you won’t call yourself an entrepreneur, I’ll call you an entrepreneur. Because you’ve started and sold companies and helped several other entrepreneurs do the same. But I do think it’s interesting to note that you don’t necessarily classify yourself as one. I’m curious to know if in your sales today, you have a similar note book or note taking habit that your father had.
I do, I actually have these like, so I always had this like backpack on with a laptop and a couple pens. And this this notebook and I just carried this like little lined moleskin thing. I’ll show you on the video later if we if we pull it up, but it’s like a notebook. And there’s just a bunch of chickens scratching it. Like, I have tried to get rid of paper for a long time. But there’s just something I think relaxing about just scratching a pen or dragging a pen across a piece of paper.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And you’re still selling to this day, in one way or another.
Aren’t we all? Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I don’t know. Like, don’t get me wrong, like, man, if there was a way to kind of make a living without constantly selling yourself, like, I’d love to find it. But like, I feel like anybody listening to this shouldn’t kid themselves. They’re always I don’t care whether you’re working in a cubicle, or you’re making you know, you’re coding a product, you’re selling yourself, you just don’t want to admit it. And the sooner you admit it to yourself, the sooner you’re, you’re you’re better off for it, you know?
Well, I’d love to dig into some of those strategies on how to sell. But first, I’d love to learn a little bit more about your first sales role. What was that like? And what were you selling
my first job. So I grew up in Virginia. And so in Virginia, I think our work permits came through at 15 and a half if I remember, right. And so it 15 and a half, there was a pizza joint down the street called Papa John’s, I just I you know, I got a job there. And so I started making pizzas now. Or sorry, like working in there. Now, the thing is, if anybody’s ever worked at Papa John’s, or I don’t know if it’s the same now, but back in the day, you know, you kind of like, did a little bit of everything, they sort of rotated everybody around. Like sometimes we were like, I don’t know, stocking the fridge, sometimes you’re making the boxes, sometimes you’re pulling the pizzas out of the oven. Like within a few weeks, I like kind of figured out how to make more money, because they just paid they pay you like an hourly rate there. And again, I don’t know if it’s different now. But back in the I guess 90s, or whatever it was, the way it worked was they pay you an hourly rate. And then you know, that was that. And so then the only, or the only tip based employees, I think were the drivers and I wasn’t a driver. Anyway. So I started to volunteer for the evening shifts, Friday night and Saturday night, and I wanted to close the place down like I wanted the last shift of the night. And the reason was, is it turned out there was a bar next door. What I did was, again, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Papa John’s, but they make the pizza. So like, we would actually like roll the dough down and then spin it, like throw it up in the air and spin it. So it turns out like drunk people love that. And so I just put a tip jar out. And I would just like spin pizzas as I was making them and making it like that was my little like side hustle. And so that was like one example of sales, I guess, because I sort of like figured out what people wanted. Like, this is my definition of sales, like figure out what people want and give it to them. And so that was that. I did that for a little bit. And then my first real like, quote unquote, real sales job was there was this company. Back in the day called Circuit City, most people would recognize a company called Carmax Carmax was a Circuit City company and it sort of like spun off the car stereo division anyway, weren’t going with his in Virginia, you have to be 18 to sell cars. And it turned out like right at my 18th birthday Carmax parted got to be one of the first 14 sales guys at one of their first stores. To be honest with you at 18. All I cared about was like man, I can go drive some cool cars around the parking lot turned out like I got pretty good at selling cars like I could work Saturday, Sundays and Wednesday night. And I could do on average 34 new cars a month like is what I could sell. And I’m pretty sure that’s a record. Nobody’s ever actually broken that since then. And the thing about the car max for anybody that doesn’t know is that like, it’s not a place where you can push a car on somebody like I could be like I could be a really aggressive sales guy and maybe maybe push up more cars. But the problem is there’s a return policy so even if I force somebody to buy a car and return it you know within five days and then I lose the Commission on it. I just learned to talk to a lot of people figure out what they wanted and then like kind of line them up with what they what they asked Warden pushed him through the door. And that was that. And it was because of that job that I actually kind of like met, you know, a bunch of other entrepreneurs at America Online. And that was kind of how I stumbled upon technology.
So America Online was in your area at the time, right?
Back then I’m selling cars. And these people would like roll in. And they, you know, I was I was 18 at the time, and these people would roll in and they looked like they were in their 30s. To me, they didn’t seem like they’re very much older than me in the mornings. I was like, you know, laying patios and doing stuff with my dad’s company. And then midday mid afternoon, I was like, you know, going to George Mason University, you know, Wednesday nights and Saturdays, I worked at Carmax. So I was getting paid like 30 cents of brick in the morning, and then like 150 bucks a car at night at start at Carmax. And so these people started coming in. And this was like, probably, like, 9899 kind of timeframe, these people started coming in, and they would like by 6070 $80,000, cars and all cash, like, they just write you a check for it. Now remember, we’re in this little small farm of like, eight or 10,000 people now because it’s slowly growing. Anyway, I just happen to ask them like, look, I don’t know what you guys do, but because I noticed they all have the same badge. And I’m like, hey, what do you guys do? Because like, I want to be able to write, you know, check for a car or whatever. And long story short, they were like, oh, yeah, we work at this site startup called America Online. And it turned out that, you know, AOL had had, you know, set up in Ashburn, Virginia as their headquarters because like, frankly, it was a place with cheap dirt left. And so that’s kind of how it worked. But yeah, it was it was because of AOL that like all these people started moving to Ashburn and then other companies started there. And, and then I got to like, begged and borrowed and got an internship, like basically moving boxes around at AOL. And that was, honestly, it was the first time up until that point in my life, because of my culture. And because I think, frankly, what everybody taught me even my own growth, you know, education experienced here, I up until I worked at AOL, I realized I thought you had to trade time for money, right? So if I was consulting with you, it was this many dollars per hour. Once I went to AOL, though, it was really fascinating. Because like, they sold, they didn’t sell time, they sold a monthly service that you couldn’t, like, really touch. You could use it, but you couldn’t touch it, right? Like, I don’t know how to describe that to you. But for me, it was sort of this profound realization that like, you know, things you couldn’t touch still had value.
Well, in order to get to AOL, it sounds like one that was such a pivotal moment for you. I’m curious, because all of our guests have sort of this guide, somewhere along the journey, sometimes multiple guides that are kind of responsible for the level up moment, how did you develop a relationship with that person? And, and how did you organize that deal?
Oh, man, listen, okay, so first, let me just admit that at that point in my life, I was just a greedy little bastard. And I just, you know, I was like, okay, these people are making more money than me, I’m going to do whatever it takes to make as much money as them like, I’m going to figure it out. And so, in hindsight, the way it worked was, so I was pledging a fraternity back then, at George Mason, the first thing I did, what I ended up doing was going to the alumni network of my fraternity, and trying to figure out if they knew anybody at AOL, and it turned out that one of the alumni from a different chapter worked there, and was looking for an intern. And so one of the other alumni is like, Hey, dude, I need somebody to help me here. It’s not going to pay much, you know, whatever. And so I essentially came on as a contractor, I think for a month or two. And did this sort of, like, temporary role with them. And then while I was there, I basically begged and borrowed his boss to let me you know, stay on full time. And it, it like, barely came through. But it were, see, here’s the thing, like, I don’t, I see, there was somebody that like, put their arm around me and said, Hey, man, you know, you’re, you know, you’re smart, and you’re capable or whatever. But the truth of the matter is, I just, I just wanted to my family wasn’t poor. Don’t get me wrong, right. Like, you know, my parents busted their butts to kind of make sure we had a, like, we never went without. But you know, we also didn’t have like, the nice cars or whatever that I saw some people in our school have. And I’m like, Man, I’m gonna do whatever it takes to not have to worry about money. Maybe that’s not like the right thing to say. But it’s the truth, right? It’s like, I was just trying to like, make a buck.
Now, that makes a lot of sense. Do you feel like that is the same thing that drives you to this day?
No, no, no, I think, like, don’t get me wrong. Like, whenever people tell me like, they’re like, oh, Paul, what do you need? I’m like, I need more time. I need more money. And it’s Well, I guess, you know, the main thing that drives me today is sort of what I described as fear. Right? Like, it’s just fear. Fear is what drives me now. Like, I don’t want to, for example, what I did over the holidays, you know, with with Dana and my business partner, and my better half was like, trying to figure out what we’re going to do in 2000 17 Right. And the thing I think a lot about, I thought a lot about over the holidays is the same thing. I’ve thought about every set of holidays over the last couple of years, which is like, how do I kind of level up? Like, how do I not become the, you know, the people that I’m trying to be better than. And so what I mean by that is like, for example, if you talk to any other investor, you’re supposed to sit in Silicon Valley, or you’re supposed to have like a, somehow raise a bigger fund, because like, that’s what VCs do. And I just like, what, like, fear drives me like if I, if I raise a bigger fund, like everybody else, what opportunities does that take away from me? If we don’t keep driving? What does that what opportunities does that take away from me? I think what I think about it now is like money is not the primary driver. It’s really more like, how do I just make sure that I don’t make the same mistakes that I think other people have made? So I’ll do what my mission is right now? Like, just like blunt, right? Because maybe this will help answer the question. Like, when I think about what results junkies is, my firm results, junkies is going into 2017, it’s going to be tour content, more investments in a network. And just to kind of break that out a little bit. The tour, we need to physically keep driving around, and we just announced it the other day, you know, we’ve got 13, confirmed stops, we’re gonna do another seven or eight, probably. And so we’re gonna keep driving around and bringing more friends with us to every stop, we go to. The second part is content. Like we met 20,000 people last year, including in Indianapolis, and we didn’t capture their stories. And I think, so this year, we’re going to carry a video crew around with us. And we’re going to capture the stories of the entrepreneurs we meet along the way. And we’re going to, like, share their stories with you and everybody else because like, like, that’s important. And I think it’s important to describe it. And say it’s, it’s more Anthony Bourdain and less, you know, Gary Vaynerchuk, I want to kind of capture the why of the thing. The third thing is investments, like we could do even more investments, but we need to do an even broader set of investing. And so what I mean by that is, you know, not only should we be doing traditional venture investing, like investing in people that are trying to build, you know, the next 100 million or billion dollar company. But I think we also need to build a new product that goes after these quote unquote, lifestyle businesses, because I really, truly believe that if we’re going to try to make Indianapolis better or any other city better, we have to not only aim for the venture scale companies, but we have to help these quote unquote, lifestyle businesses get to the next level. And so I’ve got, you know, we’ve got some interesting stuff in the works for that. And then the last thing is a network. And I think, to me, what that means is that, you know, right now, if you’re in Indianapolis, or you’re in Taos, New Mexico, or Butte, Montana, you probably know where to go to connect with the local entrepreneurial community. What’s not really existing well out there right now, is this idea of an intercity network. Like, if you’re in Butte, Montana, how do you connect to your peers in Lexington, Kentucky, or Silicon Valley, or Bangalore. And so we’ve got some interesting ideas around a network of content and community and connections that will sort of drop in place. But I tell you, all of that, because, like to me, like, I just operate out of fear. You know, and I think to put it very bluntly, I think we’re, we are really starting to see the rise of everywhere else. Like you can now build a company in Indianapolis and never have to go to Silicon Valley, you can, you know, that’s true. I just kind of think that, like, whoever whoever really, like helps build that sort of Midwestern network, and sort of, you know, is out there kind of deploying ash, and helping build networks and connecting community on that, from a venture standpoint, they’re gonna have access to all the deal flow. That’s that’s sort of our goal is to be like, right there out in front, trying to trying to try to make that happen.
I love it, man. I love that. I love that. It’s such a positive vision and very proactive, sort of quest that you’re on. But yeah, that you recognize that it’s actually negative energy or a negative emotion, that sort of driving and pushing you forward.
That’s right. For any listeners that are, you know, psychologists, I’d love to hear what you think is wrong with me, but
I don’t know if anything’s wrong with you. It seems to be working for you, Paul.
Not good. So far. So good, you know, so ideally, the culture I kind of want to build, you know, within results junkies, and this is sort of related to what you just said, is it like, I think we should be trying to optimize for fun and profit.
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well said.
But yeah, I mean, look, I just think I think one of the messages I think is really important to get out to even your list or to especially to your listeners, is that like, you don’t need anybody’s permission to do anything interesting. I don’t think people understand how much leverage technology gives them so if you’re listening to this from I don’t know, like, I don’t know, let’s just let’s just pick Lincoln, Nebraska. If you’re listening to this from from Tulsa, Oklahoma, whatever, like just remember that today. 10 years ago is when When the iPhone came out, and like actually forget about that, let’s go back 20 years before 20 years ago, if you were a young person growing up in Tulsa or wherever else you were growing up, you only had three choices for a job just like me and Ashburn, Virginia. Choice number one was want to work in whatever industry my hometown has. So for me, that was farming, right? Choice number two, as a young person in the pre internet world was to work in an industry that supports the main industry. So farming was our number one industry, construction was our number two industry. That was my choice. And then the third option was, I could get on a bus and I could leave. And those were the choices that people that young people had 20 years ago. And now with the internet like need that you can build, like if somebody sitting here is an accountant, let’s just say you’re an accountant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and you’re working for a firm, you know, they’re full time. Well, what’s to stop you from from trying to find at least one client that you charge $1,000 a month to that you do that you service virtually at night, that’s one of the big themes you’re going to see from me in 2017 is that we’re going to stress heavily stress, more people should be aiming to make an extra 1000 bucks a month, like because that’s huge. I think that’s how we’re going to make ideally, that’s how we’re going to make the world a little bit better, right? If we can get people to make a little bit more money, even if it’s on the side. That’s that’s what’s going to make people’s lives better. And frankly, that’s going to make a lot of a lot of towns and cities all throughout the Midwest better.
Well, and what I love, Paul, is that you practice what you preach, right? Like you run your business while traveling around the country in an Airstream that you’re born behind as a trailer. I do know that for a while though, you actually did move your business to Silicon Valley. Can you talk to me about the first time you visited the valley?
Yeah. So I was interviewing for Google. I think it was 2006. I think it was. So I interviewed. So I was interviewing for Google. And was this was it was this after your entrepreneurial venture your first venture?
Yeah, it was two years after that. After I sold his two years later, I had applied right through the front door. And I had applied to their I guess their whatever group does like their data center design, okay. And so I got this interview, I’ll never forget. Okay, so I fly, they bought me an airline ticket. And so I flew in in the middle of the night, right, so I couldn’t really see anything. And so the next morning, I wake up, and I gotta go to the office. Now, the first thing that I noticed was, it was just beautiful. Like it was the middle of the year, the sky was blue, it was like 70 degrees and no humidity. I mean, it was just like, perfect. And as soon as I walked outside, like to go get a cup of coffee, or whatever, people were just cool. Like, what you would normally describe as a quote unquote, nerdy discussion everywhere else. People were just shooting the breeze at the local Starbucks or whatever, you know, like it was nothing like they were just carrying their laptops around and like, talking about big ideas. And I was just sitting there eavesdropping, right. I kind of have to like laugh at myself here a little bit, because then I go to the interview. So I get a car, you know, at a rental cars, I drive over to the campus. And I’m wearing a suit and a tie probably laughed their asses off. Because here, I was like a goober in this suit that at Google. And anyway, I didn’t get the job. But I remember thinking when I left Silicon Valley, I was like, I understand now why these people are just so happy. Like, they’re like the weather’s nice. They’re surrounded by smart people. And like, their credentials didn’t matter. Like that was the interesting thing about my interview, too, is like, nobody actually cared about where I went to school or like, my personal story, like not in a bad way. They just went they really spent more time trying to understand like, hey, how would you solve this problem? Right? Or, or how would you think about this? Think about that. Like, I thought that was a really fascinating thing. Because all the job interviews I’d been to on the east coast were like, Oh, what was your GPA? And you know, like, who do you know, you know, like, I that sort of thing. Anyway, so I didn’t get that job. But then I knew I wanted to kind of go there. So about a year later, I knew that I met this guy online, named roommate, Satie, who co founded a company called PB PB Wiki, and now it’s called PBworks. But long story short, I essentially said to him, like, Hey, dude, I’ll do whatever you need, just want to work with you and out there. And that’s what I did. So I think it was December of 2007, when I actually moved out there and I joined PB Wiki. And I think I was like running their support operations. In hindsight, here’s the lesson in that. Like, if you find if you see people going places, just do whatever it takes, do whatever role you can to get in, and then learn as much as you can. And so in hindsight, like what was really interesting was, and I accidentally made this decision correctly. PB Wiki went on to raise 2 million bucks really quickly. And now Now remember, I had never raised venture capital up into this point, like I know nothing about it. So PB Wiki I know this guy we meet online. I’ve been following his blog and did a So like I knew him, I really liked him, I thought he was like, super smart. And I was like, I’m going to do whatever job he’ll give me because I really want to kind of learn from this guy out of pure luck. I like I honestly never did any background research on the company I just knew is following your meat. And so it’s probably embarrassing to say, like, 10 years later. But anyway, the cool thing about PB Wiki was, so they raised 2 million bucks right around the time I got there. And then, because the company was so small, we had to grow really quick, which meant that everybody had to do a lot of different roles. And in hindsight, that was really cool. Because I got to see all different sides sides of the business, the way, the way I would like kind of sort of visually try to describe this to you is that in most companies, you’re you’re disconnected from the decision decision makers, right. So like, in most companies, I’m betting for most of the listeners here that like have a job somewhere, you’ve been asked to do something and your first thought at one point or another has been.
And the thing at PB Wiki was because we were all like, 10 of us. And you know, we were supposed to grow so quickly. You know, I got to listen to the board meetings, everything all the way down to the product engineering meetings, like everything, because we were all in one little room that was maybe 700 square feet, 800 square feet. If somebody said to me, like, Hey, we got to go do this. Even if that roll, even if that thing that we had to do sucked. I knew why it had to get done, because I heard the board meeting, like in the board meeting, like two weeks ago, that it was a priority. And so it’s just it just helped me sort of understand the business. And so anyway, I ended up living in the Valley for on and off for a couple of years. You know, and I say on and off, because like when I finally started investing in companies, I chose to sit on an airplane for most of the time, because like I really even though everybody back then told me that all the company’s worth funding were in Silicon Valley. I just couldn’t help shake this idea. I was like, Well, I mean, I, I grew up in a farm town. And I seem to do all right, without Silicon Valley. So surely other people like that exist. And so like, I kept an apartment there all the way through 2013. I think he doesn’t, I think through through 2013. So that’s, I guess that’s five years. Yeah, I think it’s five years, a little over five years. But I say that I live there on and off, because I just had on airplanes like, you know, a quarter million miles a year, and I just went everywhere else to invest in companies.
That’s really cool that you did that. And I think it’s clearly just a paradigm shift. Right that you had the experience and the perspective of startups don’t have to grow in Silicon Valley. I do kind of want to dig in on the culture aspect. Because I know you’ve written about this a lot, Paul, on your blog, and in your newsletter, that these cultures are popping up everywhere, and you’re getting these little clusters of entrepreneurial activity. You mentioned the entrepreneurial culture in Silicon Valley, how can areas outside of Silicon Valley create that same sort of culture in their hometown?
So there’s two things I would say. The first is that I think individuals listening to this shouldn’t worry about whether or not they’re their communities building a Silicon Valley like, like, individuals listening to this right now. They have enough leverage to do stuff, regardless of what’s happening in their community. Right. So like, that’s part one to your question. Now, part two, for the community builders that might be listening to this. I think it’s important to ask yourself, like, what do you really think Silicon Valley is like, what is it that people really think Silicon Valley is special for? And here’s my, my answer. Like, I think the thing that makes Silicon Valley powerful or interesting, or whatever, is because it has an incredible sense of urgency, incredible sense of urgency people in Silicon Valley, they’re never going to judge you by your credentials or whatever. They’re just gonna, they’re gonna ask you like, what did you say you were gonna do? And what did you actually do? That’s it. And like, everybody’s just sprinting ahead, you know? And, you know, I don’t know, it’s just like, it’s all about urgency. And so, for anybody that’s trying to build a community, like just remember that community building and company building are two different things. Company building, I really think is about in their, their symbiotic nature, like in any sort of system like that you have to kind of kickstart it. Like this is the chicken and the egg question, right? Like, which one starts first? In my view, the company building starts first, like individuals building their own companies that eventually build communities. Yeah, right. That’s That’s how it starts. Like that’s what AOL did to Ashburn, AOL started because Steve Case and Ted and all these guys decided to like build this company. And when they did that, and they started growing, they had to hire people like nobody was going to move to Ashburn for that for anything other than a real job. It was it was AOL, that sort of kick started that community anyway, over the course of years. Like some of those people left the company and they started their own companies there because like by then they had bought a house in Ashburn and had a family and they weren’t gonna like Leave, but it all started because of the company building. Right? So I don’t know if that sort of like answers your question, but that’s sort of the way I think about it.
Yeah, it absolutely does. And, and then some, I think the the piece I’m trying to hone in on is as someone outside of Silicon Valley that isn’t necessarily going to go into Starbucks and immediately find someone that’s interested in giving them feedback on their product idea, and willing to, you know, talk for 2030 minutes about it. And oh, by the way, has some perspective on it, that’s actually helpful. What are the things that an individual can do that’s looking to start up outside the valley to kind of give themself the resources they need to grow and scale,
let’s, let’s say you’ve got somebody listening here that built a prototype of something, publish it on Product Hunt, or get into a Reddit subreddit, or something like that, and publish it there. You know, if you got an extra 100 bucks, you know, buy a Facebook ad campaign and drive traffic towards the landing page and see what people do. You know, if you got a little bit more money, I don’t know, you know, join a co working space and pester the hell out of anybody else’s work in there to kind of give you give you some feedback. You know, and I’m not suggesting that any one of those ideas is sort of like a silver bullet. Like, I feel like people come up with a million for why they can’t get ahead when they when, because that’s easier than actually like hustling. Yeah. You know, like, here’s the thing I remember back when I used to sell cars, I don’t know if anybody’s ever been to Carmax Have you ever been to Carmax, but there’s always somebody standing, always. And so like, like, the way it works at Carmax is like, if you’ve got nothing else going on, you stand by the door, that’s just how it goes. Like, you’re not going to meet somebody by like wandering around the parking lot, or hanging in the break room, or whatever, you just have to like, get you have to like put yourself out there. I don’t know, I feel like that’s what you still have to do. Now. Even if you’re sitting in a cubicle right now listening to this, you know, doing your nine to five, like, let’s just be very clear that you could do the best work in the world. But nobody, if your boss doesn’t know about it, if like your friends don’t know about it, whatever. Don’t be surprised if you get passed over for the promotion, I think people have this like weird version to to talking about the things they’ve accomplished, or the things they’ve done, put yourself out there more often, like, exposure gives you leverage. Actually, you know what, let me just kind of give you another little like, I want to answer your question, but like the only way I know how to answer it is to tell you like how I think about this, which is like, like, like when I think about it for myself, the thing I think a lot about is is that there’s a lot of stuff that could go wrong, that’s out of my control, the public markets would crash. And then all of our investors, you know, that help invest in companies with us could choose to not invest in companies, or gas prices to go skyrocket, and then I can’t pull the trailer around. Or like there’s a million other things like that, that are completely out of my control, right. But the thing I think about every day is how do I get 150 new email addresses to sign up on my blog every single day. Because the bigger the audience, the the bigger the reach. And the bigger the reach, the bigger the insurance policy that I’ve got. This is the number one piece of advice that I would give to every person listening to this today, which is no matter what you’re doing today. Start building an audience. And it doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be like curated like so if you’re if you’re sitting in a cubicle, but you and you just love like talking about I’m just making this up, you know, like you like talking about dandelions or something right? Like, how do you know? Right? I’ve been I’ve been researching you, man. So like, set up a free account on MailChimp and create a landing page and just, I don’t know, tell people you’re gonna send out a once a week thing on dandelions. That’s it. Like, and I don’t even care if you just go out and find the best links on Twitter that week about dandelions or whatever. But that’s what you do. Because like, the thing about technology is its niche is the new big. Like the only way I can kind of like maybe explain this is to say that like think think about it this way. 75 years ago, Procter and Gamble needed like 6000 people or 60,000 people to make half a billion dollars revenue, right? Just like now. Then 7070 years later at AOL, we needed 6000 people to do about the same amount of revenue. And actually right down the street from you. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, is Sweetwater sound, which, like sells musical equipment. This is a company of 1100 people doing half a billion dollars in revenue. So the revenue per employee has skyrocketed, right? You need fewer and fewer people to make the same amount of revenue. And that’s the same with audience building. So if you’re listening to this right now Google something called 1000. True fans, yes. Right and read that and internalize it. And as you think about your career, like remember that being an entrepreneur doesn’t just mean you have to start something you have After like your career, you are going to be an entrepreneur for your career. That’s just how it goes, whether you work at some big company or you choose to start your own thing, you, you are always going to be entrepreneur, you have to think about the 1000 true fans, because that’s your insurance policy. And that’s the way I think about it. Right? It’s like, it may not be like, I don’t know why people don’t talk about this stuff more openly. But like, that’s my that’s the reason, you know, I do it. Right? Is it like, I feel like, I fear that I’m unemployable. Like, if everything goes to shit tomorrow, I don’t actually know who would hire me. But I feel like the bigger the bigger the audience, the more opportunity I might have.
That makes a ton of sense now. And when you talk about your audience, and what you’re doing there, Paul, who are the kinds of people that are signing up for your newsletter? And why might they want to sign up and be a part of what you’re building results junkies?
I would like to think that our readers are sort of a mix, right? So I think there’s sort of three, if you look, by volume, there’s sort of three big groups of people that that are in our audience. The first and the biggest by far is entrepreneurs, people that are either aspiring to start something, or have started something, but they’re all outside of Silicon Valley in New York, like I don’t actually think anybody in Silicon Valley or New York reads my stuff anymore. But but that’s the, that’s the biggest group, the second biggest constituency is sort of investors, particularly angel investors, and high net worth families that are thinking about how to raise money, or how to invest money into companies outside of Silicon Valley in New York, that’s, that’s the second biggest group for us. And then the third biggest group for us is community builders, we have a lot of people that are, you know, that are running either code schools, or co working spaces in small towns all throughout the US and Canada. And so those are our three sort of big demographics. And then if you sort of kind of grow, go down through the long tail, or whatever, you know, we have a lot of sort of what I would describe as like corporate types that are thinking about their career and like, you know, what it means to be an entrepreneur. But that’s sort of just but you know, I think like, you know, I just think that if you’re, if you’re thinking about what it means to be an entrepreneur outside of Silicon Valley, New York, I’d like to think our blog, and our newsletter is probably the most useful to you.
Yeah. And if I sign up for results, junkies today, this minute, this second, what am I going to expect? Or what should I expect over the next month from you?
Yeah, so what ends up happening is I try to publish a blog post every day. So you’ll, you’ll get daily blog posts in your inbox, you’ll get content in your inbox every day. Ideally, you’re getting a lot of cool free stuff, you know, that everybody else isn’t getting?
And for people to find you, Paul, what are the best places to check out on the interwebs? Yeah, so
other than the website, which is results, junkies.com. Twitter and Facebook tend to be the best ways to kind of connect with me, it’s just pulsing Pau l si, ng h on both of those. And I, you know, look, my email is easy to find everything. Like I try to be as easy to reach as possible. So so there’s no excuse for not being able to reach me.
Absolutely, man, you’re very responsive. I appreciate all the collaboration we’ve had through verge and now of the powder keg podcast. And hopefully we can get you in some of the verge chapters throughout the country. If not on this tour, then, you know, World Tour 2018
Oh, no, we’ll make it happen this year. And I’ll send you a list of where we’re going. And you tell me where the chapters are, and we’ll make it happen.
Very cool. I love it, man. Thank you so much. Hey, you got it, man. Hey, Matt. Hunckler. Here again. That’s it for today’s episode of powderkeg igniting startups. But there are so many ways to continue the conversation. So I hope you’ll take me up on that. Make sure you hit me up on Twitter and give Paul a follow on Twitter. Again, he’s at Paul Singh on Twitter. And again, that’s at Paul S I N G H on Twitter. And of course, check out results junkies.com That’s Paul’s blog and website where you can follow all of his adventures, be sure to sign up for his email list, which shares a ton of stories on startups and innovation outside of Silicon Valley. It’s one of my must read emails every day. So make sure you get on there. I just want to remind you couldn’t get all of the show notes and the full transcript on our website at powderkeg dot c. Just a little reminder, powderkeg is presented by verge which is a network of local communities with global reach for tech entrepreneurs, investors and top talent growing companies beyond Silicon Valley. We have a ton of free resources for starting and growing your business at our website, which is just verge hq.com. We also host several events every month around the country. So check us out see where we’re gonna be. Maybe we can link up in person we’d love to see you meet you have a conversation. And again, you can find all that information on Our Website at verge hq.com. And of course, you can always find me Matt Hunckler on Twitter, and I’m just at Hunckler. I appreciate the follow. I appreciate the conversation and all of the ideas that we’ve been sharing back and forth over the last several weeks since launching the podcast. Thanks to all of our powder keg errs out there who already left us a review on iTunes. Just a little reminder that you can leave us your honest review on iTunes by going to this link powder keg.co/itunes Give us a subscribe while you’re at it, and we’ll be forever indebted to you. It’s your reviews. It’s your subscriptions and your feedback to help us get better and reach more people. We’ve got guests like Jenny Blake, host of the pivot podcast and author of the best selling book the hidden. We also have Emerson spars, founder of ghost, calm, and Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger and so many other entrepreneurial endeavors, all of that coming up soon on powderkeg igniting stars