Inflective Havoc
Reflections on Our Big Entrepreneurial Times from Jan Horsfall

Power to the People!

   We had an incredible meeting yesterday in beautiful downtown Colorado Springs with about two dozen entrepreneurs who are trying to do some incredible things. Take for instance, Devium, the maker of an amazing new smart phone application for your automotive dashboard. Their founder, Paul Lizer, has created an amazing device which essentially throws your old radio in the garbage can in exchange for a car radio driven by all of the best apps that one can utilize when it comes to music (Spotify, Slacker, Ocarina, Last FM, Pandora, et al). The kicker? You simply plug your phone into the Devium device and all of these modern music apps are at your finger tips – without the cords and hassle we all deal with. I’ve personally moved fully into the cloud-based music space via Spotify Premium, but it’s a major league hassle using my phone as a radio in my car given the charging wire and transmission wire. Given the average car is now nearly twelve years old, the OEMs won’t save us on this one. This product is the right product at the right time for millions of people.

Paul is one of the guys who has come out of the woodwork here in Colorado via Springs Startupwe have hundreds of amazing newcos sitting here on the Front Range – and it’s critical that as an ecosystem we don’t let him fall back from optimizing his company because he doesn’t have the access or understanding to get the rest of his stuff right. I’m convinced that even six months ago he would have been heading for a storm, given this area’s inability to financially feed and nurture its young start ups (see my earlier blog, The Power of Angel Investment). Amazingly, the spirit and intensity of a growing group of Colorado entrepreneurs will keep that from happening this time around.

You see, instead of waiting for the ‘faux and few’ in our local investment community to essentially tear the shirt off his back, as a group of entrepreneurs we’re banding together to find Paul the assets he needs to succeed without letting him wander into the local valley of the lost. Like the internet community which rose up and shot down SOPA and PIPA with a sense of purpose and numbers, we’re banding together as a band of new companies to make sure we get companies like Devium funded and expanded. We’re not waiting for anybody and we’re not going to do the things the way we used to – we’re going to do things together.

Too many times, we think local when it comes to our ideas and inventions. Today, that’s both good and bad. It’s definitely good if you’re hooking into the power of a group of newcos who aren’t in the mood to wait around for local funding. It’s bad if you think that the big money in your community is there to fund and support start ups. Sorry – the vast majority of the time it’s not.

To be fair, our newcos have to do their job as well and we haven’t always been as ready as we need to be to exploit our ideas via funding and expansion. We’ve spent a lot of time as of late finding great lawyers who will help our area entrepreneurs without fleecing their pocketbooks. Folks like Ben Sparks from Sparks Willson are now our go-to counsel for any legal issues our newcos face (company formation, patents, term sheets). Not only will I be willing to bet that Ben will make a lot of money – eventually – for his pay-it-forward mentality, but he represents what’s great about our approach: the best service providers will get our business and those merely waiting to overcharge a newco for term sheet work won’t ever see their faces. Mark one up for group protection.

Similarly, we’ve been looking for individuals and entities who can fill the gap in financial work, manufacturing assistance and prototyping and we’re not fooling around. Those willing to help will become part of tomorrow’s Front Range – teeming with business opportunities and results and driven by the innovation we all possess and want to revolutionize. Those unwilling to put forward an effort to help these newcos simply aren’t going to be part of a growing movement of entrepreneurs (no government entities; no fake investors; no more shirtless newcos).

As well, we’ve adopted a lot of the precepts of The Lean Startup thinking as a group. Peter Skalla, CEO of Qbillion, has showered our group with an intense understanding of how to preserve our capital through this thinking so that when we do get funding we’re fully aligned with the idea of a milestone-based approach which doesn’t waste “80% of our invested capital” according to author Eric Ries. I’m pretty sure every single person associated with Springs Startup is either reading this fantastic book or is in the process of reading it.

The goal is not to let any of our great ideas die for reasons we’ve all collectively experienced: bad term sheets; poor accounting principles; faux angels; wasteful spending. And this thinking is now taking hold. 

Yesterday, Paul provided an example of this new group thinking and it really hit me like a ton of bricks as it unfolded. As I’ve said in the past, the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. Formerly, we’d have sent him to visit our local set of government-based acronyms – all trying their best – in order to get the help he needed. And we’d never hear from him again. These entities don’t understand the culture of entrepreneurship (see Entrepreneurial Reverb) and they waste vast amounts of time and energy given the lack of impact via results we’ve not seen historically.

This time around – with a band of supportive entrepreneurs which is growing at an incredible rate of speed over the last six months – we all made sure he didn’t fall for the bullsh*t. He needed manufacturing contacts and we had a half dozen real contacts in his hand by the end of the day. He needs legal help and we have him on his way to the people that will help him – not rip him off. And we’re tying him into a set of investment sources which only fractionally depends on investment conversations with our traditional angel network – which unfortunately and historically hasn’t got the job done. And he’s probably reading The Lean Startup as we speak.

I’d urge community-based entrepreneurs to shore up their ranks – increase that network density via meetups, coffee sessions and pitch nights – and open yourself up within a group mentality to do bigger and better things than your community would normally allow. You’ll meet great friends. You’ll grow your companies. You’ll change the world.

Power to the People!

– Jan

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4 Responses to “Power to the People!”

  1. Jan,

    I’m in Mountain View (PaloAlto) reading this. At the 500 Startups offices (500.co), meeting a developer friend in the 500 program and he is from the Springs. Thinking how the Springs can and should start our own entrepreneur center (I’m not going to call it an incubator, as the small business ‘incubator’ is such a failure for young entrepreneurs.). We have the resources and the talent in the springs, it is just fragmented and we need to bring it together! I completely agree that we canNOT and should NOT rely on government for this as it become politically and power driven. As for funding, that why Im here and also why I didn’t take the time to fill out the app for the local Investors group… Every person I’ve talk to has said, they have not heard of ANY successful funding from them or amounts that does warrant/earn the term ‘investors’ in their name. With that said, Boulder is only a 2 hour drive, so let’s see if we can get The Foundery Group to come down bi-Monthly and hear pitches from the local talents. We know people who have the real estate and I’m sure that we can drum up funding for utilities, inet, etc. And just like 500 startup, founders institute, tech stars, we can ask for a very small percentage of a startup in exchange for providing the resources, mentoring, etc. With today’s video conferencing we can provide virtual mentoring, high level speakers, etc. Heck one of the top sales and executive training companies is based out of the springs! I’m all in for making the springs the next boulder, let take action to make this happen!!! Who’s willing to donate a little time to make this happen, I am… Are you the reader willing to help!???

    • Count me in, Charles. I love the way you and Jan are articulating the opportunity for Colorado Springs. It’s a waste of talent and natural resources to not make this happen now.

    • Charles, there’s much being done on that front – in fact the announcement of a new ‘entrepreneur center’ is not far off. Will explain when you and I talk. Thanks for the feedback – you completely get it.

  2. I took a chance Thursday morning to join Springs Startup. I am very happy I decided to take that chance. I have a product I am just bringing to market and I have been working in a vacuum for the last 14 months. I didn’t know there was a scene building ready to support startups and develop an entrepreneurial culture.They are an energetic group wanting to highlight, showcase, and mentor the startups rising in Colorado Springs. I am surprised and honored to have been highlighted as an example of the new culture developing here. I just started reading the “Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. 😉 I am looking forward to next week’s meeting.


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