Derek Andersen was a bit of a world traveller growing up, as his family split their time between several countries in Europe and their home in Tampa, Florida. He kept traveling as an adult, jetting all around the globe to build startup communities and connect with entrepreneurs, wherever they were.
These communities are part of Startup Grind, an organization that nurtures startup ecosystems through events, media and partnerships with organizations like Google for Entrepreneurs. Andersen founded Startup Grind in 2010 with one location in Silicon Valley. Today, it’s active in nearly 100 countries around the world, including over 200 cities.
Over the years, Startup Grind has helped millions of entrepreneurs find mentorship, connect to partners and hires, pursue funding, and reach new users. Although Andersen is now settled in Redwood City, CA, it’s pretty obvious that his influence reaches far beyond the borders of California.
In our interview, Derek talked with me about the beginnings of Startup Grind, how he gets the most out of every interaction at a conference, and why VC funding isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. He’s met a ton of famous businesspeople over the years, and he also opened up about his favorite interviews and the fact that even tech giants are people, too.
Startup Grind has a ton of exciting stuff going on these days, including the rollout of their new event-hosting software (discussed in detail in this episode) and their 2017 Global Conference later this month. The conference includes an exhibition of 125 startups, and you can visit StartupGrind.com/startup if you want to apply to showcase your company!
Derek is a friendly, welcoming guy who’s happy to help you with your entrepreneurial journey if he can. You can find him on Twitter @derekjandersen, or you can shoot an email to email@example.com if you’d like to get in touch.
In this episode with Derek Andersen, you’ll learn:
- How to work with people at big companies (7:20)
- What’s going on in Silicon Valley right now (14:20)
- How Startup Grind got started (18:30)
- Why the best startups usually begin as side projects (20:00)
- That big names in tech are people like you and me (21:30)
- How to get the most out of a conference or event (26:30)
- Why he got into the events industry (27:25)
- Why you might NOT want to accept VC funding (29:35)
- All about Startup Grind’s new event-hosting software (34:30)
- What to expect at Startup Grind’s upcoming global conference (41:45)
Please enjoy this interview with Derek Andersen.
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Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
Companies and Organizations:
Startup Organizations, Tech Conferences and VC Firms
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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 a founder who built a community of 1 million entrepreneurial members in more than 200 cities in almost 100 different countries around the world. And he did it all without raising $1 of venture funding.
I always say to my team, like the greatest success and Startup Grind is Startup Grind, because we have we hear all these talks and education like you’re doing with your podcast, and we listen to it, internalize it, and then we apply it. So we’re a product of our own advice on our own stages. And that’s helped us phenomenally and that’s a credit that in large part to why we’ve been able to do what we do
best Derek Anderson, CEO and founder of Startup Grind, who shares his story of growing his global movement, from a single location in Silicon Valley in 2010. To now 200 cities around the world, we talk about how Startup Grind has partnered with large organizations to fuel their growth, how Derek gets the most out of every interaction at his networking events, and how he’s built a large scale business without raising any venture funding. 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 ViRGE, 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 powderkeg, 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 want to do something a little bit differently. See, we’re more than a dozen episodes into this powderkeg 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. 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. 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. 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 Derrick Anderson, CEO and founder of Startup Grind, which is the independent community that nurtures startup ecosystems in nearly 100 countries through events, media and partnerships with organizations like Google for Entrepreneurs. In this conversation, we’ll hear about how Derrick Anderson grew Startup Grind from Silicon Valley in 2010. To more than 200 cities around the world today. The organization has hosted more than 5000 Fireside Chats since its founding, and to date Startup Grind has helped millions of entrepreneurs find mentorship, connect to partners and hires, pursue funding and reach new users. Here’s Derrick Anderson. Derek, thanks again for being here. Man. I’m really excited to dive in. Obviously, I appreciate you being part of this beta. For us in these awesome studios. Here. We we have an amazing podcasting Studio in Indianapolis edumedia studios that we’re using for this today. So it’s my first time doing it professionally like this. So look professional. I know right? I’ve got this sweet gear and you’re looking good yourself, man. I like I like the setup you’ve got over there. Thank you. Where are you tuning in from today?
I am on the West Coast, Redwood City, California sort of right in between Palo Alto and San Francisco.
Sure, right there in Silicon Valley, man. Indeed. Well, I know you’ve been all over the world. You’ve been starting Startup Grind chapters for a long time. And now I know you have a huge SWAT team that does that for you. So hopefully you’re not going to the city every single time you launch a new chapter, but I know you’re traveling even before Startup Grind. Tell me a little bit about your earliest memories of travel.
Well, I grew up in Tampa, Florida, and at seven we moved to Europe and lived in France and Switzerland and Germany and every summer we would go back to Florida so me and my I was seven or eight and then it’s kind of a different era. Right now than even it was 25 years ago, but we would fly back with my brother and sisters and hang out Florida this summer and go home and go back to France. And so we did that and then eventually moved back to the States. And I went to school in Provo, Utah, and I live in Palo Alto, California.
And how long have you been in Palo Alto?
I moved here in 2005 for an internship with Electronic Arts, and it basically lived here ever since?
Have you always been a gamer? Or was it literally just a job? And you saw the opportunity? And you went for it? No, I’ve
always been a gamer. Yeah, absolutely. We always have the latest console working at EA was like, Absolutely, like one of my dream job. You know, I love Nike, like huge Nike guys, but I didn’t really want to live in Oregon, always loved EA Sports always loved da brand. And it was a great company. So that’s where I landed.
Are there any lessons that you learn there when you were doing game development that you apply? Now, as an entrepreneur growing this global community?
You know, I think about this a lot, because I, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. But out of college, I went and did the kind of the corporate thing for few years, and I did it basically, to build a security blanket for myself. So if anything ever happened, I knew I could get a job as employable. I’m not sure if it was a good decision or not, I made great friends there. So I wouldn’t trade those relationships at this point. But you know, I, if I could do it, again, I probably would have gone to a startup or like a well funded startup, I probably should have tried harder to work at. Like Facebook, if I had, like made a list of the top 10 startups that I liked, I could have been at some pretty special places. And it pretty special time, this would have been like 2005 2006. But you know, the thing I did learn and working in big companies, I learned how to work with a big company. And I learned what it takes to be successful in a big company. And so that’s helped me get deals with people like Google or IBM, or I worked with POM, after I left for a while before they imploded, you know, Atlassian other people like that, like it takes something you kind of have to understand how to navigate big organization, in order to get those deals, working in one of those places made it very easy for me to put myself in their shoes and to get deals done.
So the fact that you had been at a large organization like EA means that now when you’re working with potential partners, or your current partners, you kind of understand how to navigate that organization and get things done. Absolutely. Besides understanding the politics and knowing who to talk to, what are some of those things that make it easier to get things done at big companies,
if you’re going to be successful in a big company, you have to do something that everybody knows about, and talks about about once a quarter. So if you do that, then at the end of year, a year, you’ll have good reviews, because you’ll have four great things to talk about. And you will probably get promoted, and you’ll probably go on up the ladder. And the other thing is like, there’s not much upside, there’s a lot of downside to making mistakes. So when you’re working with someone at a big company trying to clearly understand like, what are your KPIs like what is going to get you promoted, you can’t say that, but you can understand it based on their goals based on they talk about what they care about. And then basically, it’s your job to make them look good. And like and build confidence for them that you are going to make them look good. And maybe more importantly, that you’re not going to make them look bad. You know, so like, if you make them look bad, like it could be career ending for them, they could they could lose all their cloud, if they took a big bet on you or something they, they could be putting all their political capital into your deal. And so we you’re just constantly reassuring them that this was a good decision. And it’s not by saying this was a good decision, it’s by sending them the updates, communicating so well, creating documents for them, not for them, but for them to send internally, you know, these kinds of things like that, that make them look good. If they look good, they won’t kill your funding. If they don’t kill your funding, then they’ll keep feeding your beast. But if you think about like, how do I make this person look good this quarter next quarter. And this is like the one thing that everybody talks about inside the company, then, you know, your budget is gonna get bigger.
Yeah, yeah, that makes a ton of sense. And I imagine too, that some aspect of it, you know, as being a startup entrepreneur, or innovative entrepreneur, in addition to making those enterprise employees look good, you also probably want to instill some amount of the innovative or entrepreneurial energy into that company. I imagine that part of what they’re trying to borrow there is your ability to be nimble, be quick and take risks so that you can make the mistakes and not them. Yeah, I
think, I mean, working with big companies is all about solving problems. So how well do you solve their problem? And how affordably Can you do it? And how quickly can you do it? And then and then you turn into be somebody that reliably solves problems. And that’s, it’s I think it’s easy to get one deal with almost any company. It’s really hard to get something that doesn’t end that goes on for three, four or five years. If you do it’s like, it’s like honey pot And I think like if you take that if you take that sort of mindset with your, your work, and you say like, Hey, like, I’m not doing this as a one time thing, I’m doing this as a long term thing, then you can turn a $10,000 deal and $200,000 for a couple of years, and it’s not really that much work. So I think like meeting with people in person and communicating, one thing I like to do is, I like to send these people emails very late at night, because I want them to know that I’m working, and I want them to know my team is working and, and I always, like I respond, if it’s an important client or customer, I respond within seconds, minutes. Like I drop everything and respond as fast as I can, so that they know that like when they email me, they’re going to get a response. They won’t get me on the phone very quickly. But they know an email, like I just don’t put it off. Even if I don’t have an answer, I’ll they’ll get a response. I’ll say I’ll deal with this and figure it out, fix it, that just instills trust, and then they feel like they can step out on a limb further for you as time goes on.
Well, I imagine that’s especially important in a world where everyone’s trying to be, well, I shouldn’t say everyone, but a lot of people in the tech world are trying to be more like Tim Ferriss and try to push to batching email, and doing, you know, email once a day, or worse once a week, if they’re putting in, you know, some sort of auto responder on kind of saying, I only respond to emails at these times. If you’re out there, hustling and responding to an email, real time within minutes, I would imagine that really sets you apart.
If you’re in sales, and every CEO is in sales. So if you’re in sales, then it’s it’s how quickly can you get a deal how, like, if you wait, you might have just put another week on your cycle. Sure. And another thing too, like if you if you can’t like I think driving to a meeting, if you can drive like going an hour, and driving can push you ahead by a week, if you meet in person, you just gained so much by being in person and you gain the credibility and respect. So I think like all of these things, they just, they all start adding up. And then you know, and the kind of the corporate process is created to weed out the wrong vendors over time. And so you get if you get someone’s approval, verbal approval, that’s step one, there’s five or 10 more steps, contract legal security, you know, all these other things that you may or may not have to go through gates, and it weeds out the weak. If you don’t get there, then you don’t get there. A lot of people don’t, I think you just optimize that process. Most of those processes are the same in every single company. So once you get good at a once you can pretty much replicate that anywhere. Well,
I think that understanding how to navigate the enterprise space and big company culture is so important for startups, right, because startups want those enterprises clients, those are the lifeblood for any tech company, especially a b2b or b2b SaaS company. I go back to kind of what you were saying about wishing that you had gone to more of a well funded startup versus an enterprise out of college if you were to do it all again. And some of the companies you named we were like Facebook and LinkedIn, I noticed that they’re all companies still, you know, based in Silicon Valley. He talked to me a little bit about why Silicon Valley is still the place where you call home, despite the fact that you’ve been to hundreds of cities and experienced the tech culture in all these cities.
I’ve lived here longer than just about anywhere else. Well, I have lived here longer than anywhere else. So I moved in one point I was in 10 schools in 10 years, wow, this really is home to me now. And my wife’s from California. So it’s a, it’s a good, good place where she’s happier. So then I’m happier. There’s a high concentration, I’m 20 minutes from Google, I’m 20 minutes from Facebook, 45 minutes from Uber and Twitter. And so like, these are people I can easily do business with. And I have an advantage if you’re in New York, or if you’re in Paris or London, you can come in fly in once a month, but I can go see them once a week. And I can set up a meeting tomorrow and go see them in the morning. So I’m gonna win deals because of my proximity to them that you can’t win outside, you can still get deals, but I can close it faster than you because I can speed up the cycle faster than you. So that’s, that’s a big advantage. But you know, look, I make trips to La all the time I go to Phoenix, I go to Salt Lake City, I go to Seattle, sometimes I go to New York, sometimes DC. So we’re fighting for deals everywhere. But there’s a lot of companies here. And there’s a lot of problems to be solved here. So
well. And I want to talk to you about how you’re expanding. And what you’re doing now is Startup Grind. But I’d love to talk a little bit more about where you are right now. I mean, Silicon Valley, obviously a great place to get deals done for the kind of organization that you’re growing. What are you learning just by being out there in Silicon Valley by these extremely innovative companies.
I always say like the or I said in my team, like the greatest success of Startup Grind is Startup Grind, because we have we hear all these talks and education like you’re doing with your podcast and we listen to it, internalize it, and then we apply it. So we’re a product of our own advice on our own stages. And that’s helped us nominally, and that’s a credit that in large part to why we’ve been able to do what we do. I mean, right now, what are people talking about? What am I learning? You know, everyone’s a little more conscious about money right now, which is good. We’re Bootstrap. We’re one of the few companies here in Silicon Valley that is Bootstrap. And so, you know, we’ve always I love when Dropbox says, like, Oh, we’re going to, we’re going to take back perks, and we’re going to save money and try and like, get to profitability. It’s like, dude, this has been going on for like, 1000s of years. Like, that’s not some revolutionary new thing. Welcome to the club, where most of us live. I had lunch with somebody yesterday, who said, Oh, man, insurance is so expensive. And he’s like, Oh, well, you have this big company. He’s like, Oh, well, my VC just pays for it all. So I don’t really care how much it costs. And I was just like, I just ya guys. It’s like, I don’t even know where to unwrap that. I’m not even gonna try it. So it’s a ridiculous comment. So there’s the good and the bad. And it’s expensive, and it’s competitive. But I’m a competitive person and good at saving money. So you know, you just take the good with the bad.
Sure, sure. I mean, I was actually do a little prep for this show. Obviously, I’m a huge follower of Startup Grind. And I love reading some of the content that you guys publish through your platform, both natively and on medium, and through the podcast as well. But I was looking through your medium posts and some of the most shared articles, and I just had to notice some of the titles I wrote some of them down here, you know, the top one, or most shares was I’m done pretending SF tech is visionary. The second one was I got scammed by a Silicon Valley startup. Oh, yeah, that one was crazy, right? That is nuts. That was a crazy, crazy story. I just couldn’t help but notice there is a little bit of a trend towards like a little bit of disillusionment with Silicon Valley. Do you think that Startup Grind is kind of ridden that wave a little bit in terms of the almost becoming disillusioned, you know, Silicon Valley, the TV show on HBO and some of the the jokes around the fact that Silicon Valley isn’t the only place that innovation happens?
Yeah, I mean, that’s there’s lots of data to back that up. It’s without a doubt true. And 90% of all venture capital exits happen in Silicon Valley. So the Silicon Valley money is going to be here and stay here for for a long time. But you’re now seeing people like Steve Case, and rise the rest and people like TechStars and, and other groups who are really promoting 500 startups promoting entrepreneurship, not encouraging you to move here to stay in your city. You know, and you’re having great companies Qualtrics, in Provo, Utah is a $2 billion company send grids in Denver Boulder, and you’ve got New York, you know, with dozens of great companies, you’ve got DC with a bunch of great companies. So I mean, that’s happening a lot, you know, in a lot of different places, and Seattle, and LA, I mean, tons and tons of huge companies in great tech companies, I think that the ones that get on all the magazines are still going to probably be from here, because of all the reasons that companies do so well here, but you’re gonna see people make a lot of money and start really big companies in other cities and, and you’re gonna see him get funded, because VCs, you know, you can’t you can’t pay engineer, you can’t compete with Facebook here for engineers or Google. So I mean, our engineering teams out here, I don’t even try. It’s too hard. So we have people across the United States and Canada, but it’s just happening more and more this exact targets happening all over the place.
Well, I would love to talk a little bit more about what exactly your engineers are building, because I’m very fascinated with that. But before I jump ahead, I really want to learn a little bit more about the early days of Startup Grind, because I’ve heard interviews with you in the past. And obviously, it’s one of those scenarios where it wasn’t ever meant to be the thing, right, very similar to what virgin powderkeg was with me. I just had a company I was working on and wanted to be around other smart people that also wanted to learn. But I’m really curious about how you that traction started to happen. And when that really started to catalyze for you. Do you remember the moment you realized, Hey, hang on a second. This isn’t just me getting together with friends and learning. I’ve really got something here.
When we did our first fireside chat that we did this was in like February of 2011. And it was with Jason Calacanis. Who’s the guy from This Week in Startups, not a bad first Fireside Chat. Yeah, no, we’ve done events for a year and I called email them and he agreed to come and we just kind of said that he said, Hey, I can only just show up and, and, and you need to interview me or whatever. And so we did it. And people really liked it. And it was kind of like, Hey, this is really cool. And then the next month, we had navall Raava Khan from AngelList, who drove down and this is kind of very early AngelList days. People loved it. And we filmed them. And the interviews were good. And the content was interesting. And so I think at that moment there was like, wow, this is this is like something and then probably the next moment came probably about a year later when we had this product we’re trying to sell that we’re working on it’s called common read, but no one really knew what that was or cared but they always knew at Startup Grind I was we did an interview with the founder of Pinterest, and he almost never speaks. And it was some miracle that I got him. And it was like 250 people, they had all paid a bunch of money to be there. And like news was there, and an NBC Nightly News carried our interview on their broadcast. And, like, all these crazy things happen that like just don’t happen, you know, and you can’t, you can’t force it, like, they have to happen organically. And that’s, that’s why like, your, like powder, keg or like verge, like, the best things are almost always side projects for a long time, because there’s no pressure on them. And it’s like, just give us a time to like, you know, for the dough to rise of your bread or you take time to bake and, and then like, once it’s had that time and that energy and like then you can kind of wrap your own mind around it, then maybe it takes off. Maybe it doesn’t, but that there’s so many great startup ideas that start that way. And don’t start as like, Hey, I’m starting a company that they just put so much pressure on yourself when you’re starting a company versus like, I’m doing this for fun with my friends.
Well, I’m really glad that you were patient with it and allowed the dough to rise for a Startup Grind to take off because was become as so so cool. I mean, you’re in, what, like 200 cities now, what almost probably 100 countries at this point, but at least a million members of what you’re doing at Startup Grind. It’s it’s really awesome, man. And it’s cool to have kind of like gotten to know you through that process as well. Along the way. I think one of the things I am always curious to ask with people like yourself who have talked to a lot of people on a lot of different stages, who’s the most interesting person that you’ve ever interviewed? And I don’t mean necessarily. They’re interesting because of their name and title. But the conversation was interesting,
I think, Well, I think Vinod Khosla is maybe one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. He’s an investor. He’s the founder of Sun Microsystems. He was at Kleiner Perkins through like the Google days, and now runs his own firm, he’s probably at least probably worth a billion, maybe multi billion dollar guy. He’s like, in his late 50s, early 60s, successful and yet he acts like 29. And he’s like, just getting going. I asked him the last time I interviewed him, I said, like, Why do you have such a chip on your shoulder? And he like, got chippy about I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, you know, like, if he does, and it’s like, well, you don’t need to, but like that kind of fire. You know, after so much success, I think it’s pretty rare. So I think he was he was, he was incredibly interesting. I interviewed Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, last summer, and brilliant guy, no prep, walked right in and gave some of the best answers I’ve ever done. Any questions? Very, very interesting, very articulate, like, probably doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what he helped do at Google, but also a very normal person, just from what I’ve read, his life is not perfect. He’s got other issues, he seems like, that’s the thing I take away most from these speakers is like, at the end of the day, like they’re putting their pants on one leg at a time, they have to go to the bathroom. So like you do, like if Steve Case, who you know very well, from AOL, you know, if he could start AOL, like, he’s, there’s a I mean, he’s could be your uncle, he could be your dad, he could be your brother. Like, he’s a smart guy. But he’s not really that much different from you, or I, I think that that’s really inspired me to kind of say, like, hey, well, this guy can do it. Why can I and I hope people get that out of, they’ll certainly get it from hearing this with me. But hopefully, you even get it with people that are billionaires and other people. They’re really not that different.
I always say that’s one of the things that’s so magical at events like Startup Grind, or like verge Pitch Night is you meet these people that industry tends to put on a pedestal, the tech industry puts them on a pedestal, they glorify them, they put them on the covers of magazines, quotes on their Instagrams about them, and they’re just normal people. Yeah, they’re brilliant people, of course, but you can have a conversation with them in real life, like face to face, not even just on Twitter, or on Facebook or on Snapchat, but you can grab a beer with them and grab a slice of pizza or whatever the food is. Yeah, absolutely. What are some of the most magical connections that you’ve seen? Out of all the all the events that you’ve been to? Can you remember someone either you met or even two people at an event? I mean, you’re a masterful connector. You know, we rode the rise of the rest bus together there for I think, at least a couple of tours, how do you navigate those events when you’re when you’re connecting people? And what’s the most interesting connection that you’ve either seen, been a part of or made?
Well, I would just tell people, if you’re going to take the time and energy to go to an event, doesn’t matter what event it is, like, you better get something out of it. And you know, you’re giving up your night you’re giving up maybe you could have been with your kids or your spouse or maybe you could have been working on your project. So like there shouldn’t be strategic reasons to go to events, and it shouldn’t just be to get free food. And so what I like to do when I go to events is like, just say, like, how can I help you, you know, and, and, you know, instead of like sitting down with somebody and pitching their brains out, like, listen, in short, try to genuinely help them move their project ahead. And I found that if you do that dozens and hundreds of times that those things will, you know, they’ll, they’ll, they’ll come back around to you, and then you’ll be able to make them up, you know, down the road, but it’s sort of taking a much longer perspective, in terms of things that we’ve seen, I mean, I’ve hired a ton of people from our events that have worked with me for years and years and years. You know, there have been co founders, there have been, you know, funding, you know, investors that have invested in companies, there have been, you know, lots of some of my best friends I’ve met at Startup Grind. So, it’s not just me, there’s lots of people like that, that’s probably the thing I’m most proud about is like, all these connections in these different cities, like, the people that run these cities, like they, they’re some of each other’s best friends. And they really, like look out for each other. It’s not like a company where you come in and you leave, it’s sort of like, you can always be a part of it. And this, you know, they’re from all over the world with different political affiliations, and, you know, and, and, you know, moral and, and other sort of, you know, ideas of, of how life should be, but religions and other things like that, but, you know, they become best friends. And, you know, it’s, that’s something that would not exist if we if we hadn’t helped help facilitate that.
Oh, absolutely. You mentioned, a great thing to do at any event, is just ask, How can I help? You know, what are some other ways that entrepreneurs or talented individuals can do to get the most out of attending an event, whether it’s a conference, or meetup or a pitch night, maybe it’s even an interaction at a coffee shop, right? If you’re in Silicon Valley, you’re just bumping into people left and right, that are in tech. So what are some of those things that people can do to get the most out of an event?
Well, I mean, you should, you should try to meet five people at each event, you should try to learn something from the people that are speaking, you should, you know, try to, you know, like I said, try to help help those five people that you meet, tried to do something for them. I don’t know if that’s usually what I just tried to like, I focus on meeting some interesting people, and I focused on, you know, learning something. And I think if you can walk away from two or three hours with doing that, then you’ve probably done a lot more than everybody else.
So I’m curious, because this is something I’ve experienced as well, obviously, you know, powderkeg, has got our verge events that we do as well. Events is a really tough model to scale. Right? It is a tough industry. And you’re in the land of the tech over there at Startup Grind. I know you have your own tech product. And and I want to make sure we we talk a little bit about that. Why go the events, routes? Why did you decide to scale this thing?
This? Like, I think that people say, I’m not interested in the events business, and I don’t blame you. But I think the thing that’s interesting about this, for us that maybe somebody can learn from is that, um, everybody told us that it couldn’t scale. Right? And everybody told us that, why would you want it to scale, it’s not going to make any money. And I think we just eventually just said, like, we don’t really care, like, we’re just going to do it, because people are asking us to do this, and we’ll sort of figure it out. And, you know, you don’t have to make $100 million to to be successful, you know, you don’t have to, like, you can have a million dollar business, that’s you, and you employ a couple of people, and you’d probably be one of the richest guys in your whole town. You know, so it, you may not make a magazine cover, you may not be on, you know, whatever, you know, TV, but, you know, you can be really, really successful and you don’t need a lot to do that. And so I think we just sort of took that mindset of like, well, we don’t need to raise money, this isn’t a venture backed thing. We’ll just run it. And I don’t look down on that I looked at that as positive, we could have raised money. And we’ve been offered several times by by people that would be we’d be very proud to take money from. But we just decided to go to go at our own way. And that’s given us the freedom to do what we want to do and, and not be worried about growing too fast. I like we grow at whatever speed our customers want us to grow at. I mean, we’re pushing very hard, but I don’t feel any pressure to grow 100% year over year, we don’t we try to grow like 40 to 50% year over year, which still seems like a lot. It’s harder to do that. But if we grow 20% This year, I mean, I’m not going to complain about that. We’re going to work as hard as we can, and we’ll grow as fast as we can. And whatever that is, you know, let it let it be. So
talk to me a little bit more about that decision about whether or not to take funding, because I know a lot of our listeners have been at that point, or they’ve been at a company that’s been at that point of hey, we could take this money and really ramped things up and push push, push, push, push, or we could keep going at the rate that we that we’re going and cashflow this thing.
It’s totally up to the entrepreneur what kind of business they want and what they want to do. And I think there’s so many great examples of great businesses that did not take money from investors. And if you’re not in Silicon Valley, you don’t really have a choice. In most cases, I’ve raised a little bit of money, a few $100,000. In 2010, I built a video game, it failed miserably. And it felt horrible when that happened. It wasn’t something I’ve really ever been excited about doing. Again, that might change. But that’s how I feel today. If you have money, you control what happens. There’s, there’s no greater feeling than telling a VC No. I mean, I’m just telling you, there’s nothing that feels better. And you can only say it if like your business is in a great place. But it’s not right for everybody. And but you can build a tech company, you can build a software product that does not need VC funding, if you want to, you can also build one that does, but the day you take money is the day you start preparing to sell your company or to give it away. And that’s okay, this isn’t a business surprise. That’s something I’m prepared to give away yet. So maybe someday I will. But at the moment, it’s something I could do for a really long time. But the day you take funny, you just turn your hourglass over of like, get ready, you need to sell this because this person is not giving you money to be your friend, he’s giving it to you because you know, she expects a 10x return in that investment. You know, it’s not been right for us, but that I’m not hating on other people that it’s good for sure what
and you clearly built an events based business that is phenomenal. And you’ve done it without taking funding. Talk to me about some of the other events, based businesses or even conferences out there that you admire that are you know, not Startup Grind, or even any of your summits that you that you guys have, you know, which I know you’ve got some coming up here soon.
Yeah, I mean, I think TechCrunch is events are great. I think, you know, the Web Summit, guys, collision, guys have done a great job at focusing on their big events and nailing huge events.
What do you like about those about those about those events? Yeah, but those specific ones, the TechCrunch in the collision ones
TechCrunch is, you know, they get the they get great speakers, they they’re expensive, but they’re cool. They’re high production. There’s a lot of interesting, smart people that go to those events, partly because they’re expensive, you know, and then and then I’ve never been to Web Summit or coalition, but lots of people have and hear a lot about it. And I what I like what they’ve done is I’ve just like how they focused and they just, they just do those big events. And I think they’re great. They’ve been smart to focus on that. They’re sort of like the, like the Taco Bell of the event business. But they, you know, were they like cookie cutter their stuff, but they do it better than anybody I’m not I mean, it is a compliment. Like, they’ve found a way to like, take it off the assembly line again and again, and do it quickly and efficiently. Versus like, crappy tacos. I actually like Taco Bell. But But yeah, I mean, I respect what they do. And, and I like what they do. And and so it’s different from us. So you know, I think it’s sort of like, people always say like, oh, well would like, why do we need another event. And I don’t disagree with that. I don’t think the world is like, like, Oh, if only we had another tech event. But if you’ve got some something to offer, like, I prefer in and out over McDonald’s. So they’re both hamburgers. So like, you know, I am we try to be in and out. And some other people that I taste are more like McDonald’s. So if you prefer McDonald’s, more power to you, and my kids like McDonald’s, so you know, I like their orange drinks, but I won’t eat their food. So, you know, it’s every everybody has a different has a different palette. And hopefully, we hopefully we have something that’s worth, you know, trying out, I would
endorse and say it’s definitely worth trying out for someone that hasn’t been to a Startup Grind event. One of things I’ve noticed is that you have created a repeatable process as you’ve scaled. Talk to me about the things that you did, and a model where you don’t have employees in every single city where you have a chapter, in fact, quite the opposite. How do you control that repeatable process? Or do you control that repeatable process?
The biggest thing is we just keep it simple. When it’s not right under your, you know, your the Eye of Sauron, you can’t, you cannot control everything. So I can control my event, I attend one event a month, or two events a month. And and so you just have to find good people that match your values. So that’s critical people. And then you have to have a simple process so that you never get it wrong. People, people like our events are so simple, like you have to deliberately try to mess them up to mess them up.
I would love to talk a little bit about some of the things that you’re doing behind the scenes. I would love to hear a little bit about, you know, you mentioned that you’ve hired developers. And by the way, awesome that you’ve built a business that’s cashfloat enough to hire a development team and self fund that software development. Talk to me about why you’re building software for an events based company.
I think we’ve never seen ourselves as an event company. We’ve always seen ourselves as a technology company and some people it’ll sort of laughed at us at that for a long time of like, you know, you are an event company. But we, you know, what we wanted to do was we wanted to like to scale this thing. And we knew, like people said, it wasn’t possible to scale it. And we knew it wasn’t possible because there wasn’t good technology. So, you know, we kind of cobbled things together for years and years and years. And then finally, a couple of years ago, I finally just said, you know, what I looked at, I looked at the market, I looked for solutions, I would have happily use someone else’s product, if it was, you know, priced correctly, and, you know, and everything, and I didn’t find it. So I just said, Okay, I’ll just bite the bullet, we hired an engineering team, my CTO and co founder has always been with me. So he’s always been there and sort of building the tools, but we needed much more than one person. And so, in late 2015, we just started working on it. And we were in sort of like, like, there’s so many things that are needed, like from an event standpoint, from invoicing and sponsors to, to newsletters to like the Global website to content to like a CMS has like so many features. And it’s like, this is the worst idea ever, like build a product with tons of features, and then don’t launch it for a year. But the thing we had going for us was like we knew what we needed. And so we didn’t like we were the best customer. And so we didn’t really build it for anyone else. We just built it for ourselves. And, and we launched it a year ago. So it took us a year. And we spent about a year beta testing it. And then a few months ago, I started talking to people and Matt, you and I spoke about it years ago, that I said, Hey, I think we’re gonna we’re gonna build this thing. And and then we didn’t talk about it for probably almost two years, at least two years, because it just it that’s kind of how long it took for us to get it to a decent place. But now it’s in a great place. And it does all sorts of things. And it just basically makes people’s lives really easy that want to run these events, or communities on and offline communities, what I call them. And so you have the digital side, you have the offline event site, and it kind of brings all that stuff together in one place.
Can you talk to me a little bit more about the pain point because I obviously know a little bit better than maybe the layperson would but you know, someone that hasn’t run an events first organization might not know they might see, you know, I use Eventbrite all the time and evite and Facebook events and meet up, you know, why not use one of these things off the shelf.
And those things are great. You know, to start with, but as soon as you start doing about more than four or five events a month, you start to just want to commit suicide using these tools. They’re terrible. They’re not built for heavy usage. What’s what’s missing. You know, look Eventbrite, what I’ll say about Eventbrite, which I’ve done 4000 eventbrite events. So I have great respect and fondness for Eventbrite. The one thing, the thing that Eventbrite was great at is you never had a payment, a credit card payments stolen. And basically, your, your credit cards always went through, they have great processing in the countries and languages, which they that it’s available. The problem is, it’s only available in 13 countries. And the problem is, is that, you know, the amount of it’s not really set up, you know, for the sort of the 21st century type of startup it doesn’t. They do accept Paypal, but they don’t, you know, take credit cards, and basically any other country, so our platform, accepts payments and 60 countries, you know, so that that’s one aspect. You know, the event pages don’t really reflect the types of events that we hold, we throw like, Eventbrite, and everybody kind of knows this, if you use Eventbrite, it’s, it was never, and I’ve heard the founders talk about it. They just didn’t like it was designed by a business guy, Kevin Hart. He’s the guy that designed Eventbrite first event page. He’s an amazing business person. He’s not a designer,
Kevin Hart, the business person, not the comedian. That’s right.
Exactly, yeah. And, you know, early investor in Paypal, and he took another company public. And so, you know, these were just not things they solve for. And that’s okay. But, you know, we need beautiful event pages. And we need the users to seamlessly move between MailChimp, and Salesforce and all these other tools that we use to manage our manage our customers and our users. You know, it’s just not Eventbrite. It’s really designed for the one off event. They’re granted very, very deep functionality inside of those events. So that’s great. But we kind of need a more broader, more specific feature set for what we do.
So you’re you’re two years into development. Now. You’ve brought on some early users. If you were to go back, you know, at a time machine two years ago, would you do it the same way?
I would be more patient on certain things. And I would have, you know, we built everything Minimum Viable feature. And when you have to build five huge features to get to launch, you know, there’s a lot of sense to that. But I would say that when you’re solving your own problem, you just you can pinpoint on the pain someone’s Great. Nobody hits it bullseye. But I would say like, we got it 80%. Right. Okay, like everything we did was 80%. Right? And some things were spot on 100%. Right. And we’ve never had to adjust it, but, but I found the average like, 80%, right? When you’re building based on someone else’s pain, you’ll probably build it like 50%. Right? And when you’re building without talking to customers are probably building it like 30%. Right? I’m an optimist. So like, I’m thankful for what we did we have things that we built a year and a half ago, we haven’t changed, because we just don’t have time. Yeah. But luckily, we got it so close to the target that we haven’t had to change. There are other things that we built out of, you know, the necessity to move quickly, which we’re now going to have to go back and redo to maybe kind of build to scale. But um, but But you know, in the beginning, you don’t know, are we going to be the only customer are there going to be other customers you don’t know. So we built it, as it was intended for us. And, you know, when we onboard it our first, our second customer, it took us, it took us a year to onboard us, because we had to build all the features, then it took us six weeks to onboard the second customer full time five people, five engineers, six weeks, our new customers, now we’re we can get them up inside the product in an hour. And it doesn’t it’s not all perfect yet. But we’re getting to the point where, you know, shortly down the road here, it will be in minutes. And they can get in and use the product. And they could in theory, as long as I pay for it and you know, sign up, then I could get in and start using it immediately.
Well, I’m here to get the demo because I would kill for something that’s 80%. Right, right now in terms of the software for our events driven organization. So I’m definitely eager to see that. But I’m also eager to see one of your other products that you’ve already launched, you know, probably your biggest product to date, which is your Startup Grind global conference. Can you tell me a little bit about that and what to expect this is year what three for you guys on the global Congress here five.
I was away in 2013. And it’s it was a way to bring our global community together, we try and have, you know, TechCrunch or recode level speakers, but at a price that anybody can afford. And you know, we have the founder of WhatsApp coming founder and CEO of WhatsApp. We have the CEO of Oracle we have Ben Horowitz. We have the founder of Tinder, founder of Waze DraftKings, Zynga stripe, the CEO of YC, Dave McClure from 500 startups. So we try to like we cater to the kind of the person trying to figure it out, the person looking for funding, the person trying to get educated the person trying to build a network and build relationships. We have a startup program with about 125 startups that will exhibit this year. It’s an invite only thing. And we just bring the best startups from our network into to show what they have. And, and it’s right here in Silicon Valley, it’s the beginning of the year when VC dollars open back up. And so it’s been flights are cheap, assuming that you can get in the country. And, and so it’s been a it’s been a really, it sort of was just something we came up with in my garage one night, and and then launch to the first year. And we’re shocked that we didn’t, it didn’t ruin us. And then it’s been something we’ve grown on since then. And it’s like our it’s our Super Bowl week. So February 20, to the 22nd. And and we’ll have four different stages and 5000 people. And it’s a good a great place to get close to some of these people that are inaccessible,
besides the amazing speakers that you have there and the other attendees that you can connect with, what are some of the outcomes you can expect to get from a conference like this, as opposed to you know, just your local Startup Grind or similar tech meetup?
Well, we for our startup program for the startups that apply and if you if you’re interested, just go to start grind.com/startup. And, you know, we set up hundreds of investor meetings for those companies, they exhibit they they, you know, meet partners and make relationships we do a whole pitch day for kind of like a more curated group inside the under 25. With our top 50. Several of them will get into 500 startups, several of them will get into Tech Stars 500 startups and tech stars interviewed between the two of them, they interviewed probably the average like 25 of the companies each last year, and that comes directly through us. So that’s kind of like getting to the final round of interviews. So we hand them off to them. We don’t take any equity. We don’t take any we just you know try and bridge that relationship and Um, yeah, people raise funding people meet team members and start companies. You know, the the speakers end up becoming advisors for some of these companies so that we’ve had lots and lots of great outcomes over the years. And, you know, I say like calm, you’ll get educated for sure, guaranteed if you just show up and don’t fall asleep. And if you are nice, you’ll meet a couple of great people sitting next to you, or just, you know, walking around. And then if you really hustle, then you could, you know, meet some investors, you could exhibit your startup and really push to the next level.
Well, it sounds like an awesome lineup of speakers. I’m hoping that I can get out there. Not quite sure what February looks like yet, but every every year that you’ve had it, and I did not realize it had been five years. But every year that you had it, and I saw it come through my social feed, and I missed it. I felt like I missed out. So I really hope I can get out there in February this year. If people want to attend and you mentioned the startup to apply. What if you just want to attend?
Yeah, just go to startup grind.com/conference. And that’ll redirect you. You can see everything that it’s about the agenda is online. The details we start Monday night, February 20, with the founder of Zynga, Dave McClure from 500 startups and Michael Siebel, from Y Combinator. That’s our opening night. Wow. And then the next morning, we just get going. And then we finished with Ben Horowitz that day. And then we finished with the founder of WhatsApp on this on the second day. So So yeah, get a ticket. Come on out. We’d love to have you
absolutely man. And we’ll make sure we put that link in the show notes as well. Derek, if people want to find you, obviously, people can check out Startup Grind at all the social profiles at startup grind.com. But if they want to find you and follow your personal story and journey, what platforms are you on right now? And what’s the best way to get a hold of you?
Well, I’m just on Twitter, Derek J. Anderson with an Sen. And but if I can be helpful to anybody that’s listening, if you’ve made it this far, I don’t know if I said this at the beginning or not. But my email is just Derek D R e k at startup grind.com. And if I can be useful, in some ways, sometimes I can sometimes I can’t. But that’s like my only main email. So happy to be helpful if I can.
Well, I really appreciate that. Derek, I appreciate you taking the time. In two separate days to help film this interview for us. I really hope that a lot of our community of powderkeg listeners and people in the verge community get out to the Startup Grind global conference. I know you’ve you’ve got some other conferences this year as well to do you want to kind of tease and
we’ll be in London and we’ll be in LA. This year. We did both of those last year. So we’ll be doing that this year and awesome. And maybe in one or two other places as well. But But yeah, if you’re if you’re in Europe, come meet us in London, although that’s soon to not be in Europe, but and then in Los Angeles, which is a surprisingly amazing technology hub. There’s just some incredible companies there and VCs and everything. So come meet us down there.
love a man. Thanks so much, Derek, appreciate you taking the time.
Thank you appreciate it, guys.
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. Make sure you follow Derek at Derek J. Anderson on Twitter. And that’s Anderson spelled with s e n at the end of it. Make sure you say thanks for being on the show. Let them know if you have any questions for him or his community, which of course you can find online at startup grind.com, you can find out all about the global conference, as well as some of the opportunities to showcase your entrepreneurial projects, check them out at startup grind.com. 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 powderkeg 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 powderkeg.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 that helped us get better and reach more people to help them grow and scale their companies beyond Silicon Valley. And again, that link is powderkeg.co slash iTunes. We’ve got guests like Jenny Blake, host of the pivot podcast and author of the best selling book pivot. We also have Emerson sparts, founder of dos.com and Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger, and so many other entrepreneurial endeavors, all of that coming up soon on powderkeg igniting startups