Would I do ExitEvent all over again today?
Not 24 hours after I asked you guys to send me questions, I got a really good one. This came in through my website at joeprocopio.com.
Would you do ExitEvent all over again today, knowing what you know now and also seeing where the startup community is now?
Thanks for stopping by.
Backstory: In April of 2010, a couple months before Robbie Allen asked me to help him build what would become Automated Insights, I founded ExitEvent as a side project, because I was entirely fed up with the state of the startup community, not just where I operated (Raleigh-Durham), but everywhere I spent time that wasn’t the Valley.
ExitEvent started as a monthly, free beer, no-frills, invite-only meetup of any entrepreneur within shouting distance — plus a website that I built to keep track of who was who and what they were doing. I invited 12 entrepreneurs to the first meetup, and 50 showed up. I invited those same 50 back the next month, 100 showed up, from hundreds of miles around. And so on.
I kept it an entrepreneur-only event, which bought me some static but kept the event useful. All I did was put smart people in a room and let them figure out what to do. No name tags, no speeches, no sponsors, no bullshit. About a year into it, I started writing a mix of opinion and news content three times a week on the ExitEvent website (I wrote these pieces at 5:00am before starting my day at Automated). Within three months, the ad revenue and some of the services I built into the website exploded.
So this was becoming its own startup while I was building Automated, and as Automated got ready to raise its Series B, I knew I had to divest from ExitEvent, for both my good and its good. I wound up selling it outright to the American Underground startup hub (technically Capitol Broadcasting) in August of 2013, which was perfect timing, as Vista Equity Partners started making overtures to buy Automated right around then (they bought us about a year later).
ExitEvent was finally totally absorbed into American Underground this past November 2017, four years after the sale. I was sad to see it go. For seven years, ExitEvent did some awesome things for the area and for some deserving people across the country who went on to create some amazing companies. It also served as a backbone for the ones who tried and failed. It proved startup can make something out of nothing, and if you stick by ideas and ideals, the formula can work.
So would I do it all over again today?
ExitEvent was never about the startup community, especially not about the local startup community. The startup community was there before ExitEvent, ExitEvent railed against it, and the startup community is still there now that ExitEvent is gone.
I’ve never been a big fan of the term or the idea of startup community. I know I have to use the term to be understood, but I’d rather use the term “ecosystem” when talking about the machinery and the people, and “scene” when talking about, well, the scene.
ExitEvent was about the entrepreneur, and the network included founders from all over the world. In the eight years since I registered exitevent.com, the entrepreneur hasn’t changed.
But the scene has changed.
ExitEvent existed in that brief moment when the stars aligned and the scene was about the entrepreneur, and I capitalized on that. If the startup community was going to be focused on corporate and universities and government and non-profit with lip service and feel-goodism, ExitEvent was going to have the tagline “By entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs,” and kick them all out.
And it worked.
Within a year after the first ExitEvent meetup, there were about a dozen local copycats, and I welcomed them. The more we could disrupt an entrenched, self-perpetuating startup community, the more we resembled what startup was really about.
That wouldn’t happen today. Not here anyway. Maybe where you are. But I’ve also found that anywhere that isn’t the Valley kind of acts the same way. Some ecosystems are a little further ahead, some a little further behind. It’s all basically a crap shoot anyway at the individual startup level, the ecosystem just makes navigating the ride easier.
Don’t get me wrong. The fact that ExitEvent couldn’t happen again here is a good thing. The Raleigh-Durham ecosystem has evolved to next level. It’s still got plenty of issues, some of them the same issues as seven years ago (funding comes to mind immediately). But you can get started here now, you can get help and make friends and find resources pretty quickly.
But man, we’re still really cheering for Amazon to come here? I honestly don’t know if it’s a good thing for the startup ecosystem or not. I know it’s a good thing for the economy here in general, and maybe it’s a good landing place for us entrepreneurs when we fail. But shouldn’t we be more focused on building our own Amazons?
That said, ExitEvent could never escape local gravity the way I wanted it to. I think it might have, had I been able to take it on full time. American Underground might still expand its ideals regionally, maybe even nationally, now that it’s all absorbed into the American Underground brand.
I don’t regret for a minute doing it back in 2010. In fact, it’s one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done, in startup or in real life.
Nah. It just wouldn’t work.