An Antidote for the Startup Community: Hidden Insights from Middle America
Startupicide and the Antidote
In 2011, the conversations of tech startups were booming through the nation. “Startup Hubs” found safe haven in Silicon Valley. Accordingly, the haven of the antidote.
The smaller cities in America were sprayed with Startupicide. “Startupicide is what resists and repels startups and those who would build them.”
Graham continues. “Startups are fragile things by their very nature — few succeed even under the best of circumstances. What makes Silicon Valley and a very few other places different was that their culture contained an antidote to Startupicide — such places embrace an ethos that encourages rather than crushes startups and the broader mentality from which they grow. The problem is not that most towns kill startups. It’s that death is the default for startups, and most towns don’t save them. Instead of thinking of most places as being sprayed with startupicide, it’s more accurate to think of startups as all being poisoned, and a few places being sprayed with the antidote.”
To foster a startup community, you must create an environment of the antidote.
Entrepreneur is one of the fastest-growing words in the past 2 decades. Startups, corporations, mid-size businesses alike seek the entrepreneur mindset. The word “entrepreneur” is fantastic at starting a project, yet at its core fails to finish the job: the fundamental problem plaguing many startups.
“Entrepreneur” originates from a thirteenth-century French verb, entreprendre, meaning “to do something” or “to undertake.” It is not a word defined as “to start, battle with blood sweat and tears, and finish the task”.
For this, I use a simple word: adventurer. My personal definition: a bilateral risk-averse and risk-taking individual dedicated to chartering the unmapped territories of the physical and mental landscapes in the exploration of achieving an agile purpose.
In May of 1804, the Corps of Discovery Expedition began. Thomas Jefferson had a goal: to find “the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.” Starting far east and headed to the west. The expedition lasted over 2 years. Alas, it was long forgotten…
Until 100 years later, the two Americans who pioneered the expedition gave way to massive historical significance: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. According to the original purpose, the expedition was a failure. “The long and arduous trip had been made without the aid of a direct water route. They had not found the legendary Northwest Passage.” Yet the expedition had unplanned successes, heading ship into massive contributions to science, arguably sparking the Western world into the leadership of innovations the remainder of the world would come to follow.
Two adventurers set out on a purpose (discover new routes for commerce) to be faced by numerous trials (fear of death, loss of purpose) to return home with a small party (but not long-term gratification*) to find a newly-discovered and refined purpose (establishing trade with the Native Indians and expanding the geographical knowledge of the West).
*Jefferson’s greatest disappointment regarding the expedition was the delay in the publication of the journals kept by Lewis and Clark.
Returning home with a renewed perspective.
The journey of Lewis and Clark is eerily similar to the journey of modern-day entrepreneurs. Perhaps it would do us a better service to publicize the term “adventurer” — much more fitting to the narrative.
Building an Antidote Community
Revolutions and societal shifts recognize a universal truth: Innovation and entrepreneurship are the engines of economic growth. The minds of the beginners in industries give way to great leaps in industrial progress. Yes, most fail, but incubating these minds is something special.
It’s long-since been believed a startup community is a dependant on:
- Angel Investors
- University Research Institutions
- Venture Capitalists
- University-level Talent
- Density (creating communal workspaces)
The summation of the previous list demonstrates the point. Though these components are wonderful to have, they are not at the core of the human heart. The most vital component of an adventurer.
Each of the above components relies on someone else other than the adventurer. Someone else’s money. Someone else’s talent. Someone else’s business. Someone else’s knowledge. As such, there is a stable point in the life-cycle of a business to introduce each component, yet it should not be confused with the reason for success.
The tenacity of the human heart gives way to the most innovative discoveries.
Fostering a culture of antidotes begins with fostering a culture of redefining the building blocks of a startup. It begins with a man or woman with a plethora of grit and the resilience to get there.
Rise of the Mid-America Adventurer
Over the last 12 months, there has been a heavy shift in the tech elite from Silicon Valley to the midwest and southern states in pursuit of open-minded cultures, lower costs of operations and an inclusive connectors’ economy.
It seems areas offering the antidote to startup success — unknowingly — inject a delayed poison, curing today’s problems only to create tomorrow’s.
A quick summation of definitions.
- Startups focus on disrupting markets and driving top-line revenue at a fast pace.
- Small businesses, on the other hand, often set their goals on long-term, stable growth in an existing market.
The Midwest and Southern states of America have long since held an antidote for small businesses: reasonability, resilience, and respect.
Silicon Valley had the antidote for startups: expansion, exploration, and experience.
A cross-assimilation from the small business culture into the startup culture is gaining attention. Lower overhead (where possible), administrative oversight, strong financial principles, establishment of cultures, and fostered ambitions.
A Hybrid World: Adventurer’s Valley
A local non-profit to Fayetteville, Arkansas — Startup Junkie — focuses on improving lives through innovation & entrepreneurship. Each year during the fall, they host a Startup Crawl, a local, 1-day event dedicated to connecting the Northwest Arkansas community with the vibrant, diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem the region has to offer, and no better opportunity for fellow entrepreneurs, innovators, founders, and creatives to share and connect with peers and potential new teammates.
They have the rapid growth development mindset of Silicon Valley blended with the understanding of business operations of Middle America.
A list of services offered — similar to tools designed to aid the journey of an adventurer:
- Budget development
- Kickstarter campaigns
- SBIR/STTR grant assistance
- Venture finance
- Leadership and team development
- General management counseling
- Lean startup methodology
- Customer development methodology
- Technology commercialization
- Intellectual property strategy
- Risk management methodologies
- Financial projections and proformas creation
By extension, Startup Junkie also incubates connections to the key components mentioned earlier, connecting businesses to investors, competition, and community.
Perhaps the future for entrepreneurship is fostering the consulting stage of business development while applying the energies of rapid growth, crafting a new valley non-subject to location.
Shared Genesis of the South: Arkansas
I began SmallWorld in a small apartment in the middle of Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Originally a social-media, travel application (*though the app is no longer in development, the landing page is maintained as a remembrance of our roots). After realizing the difficulties in out-sourcing development, I took on the task of building the application. This involved a strenuous amount of programming beyond that of which was taught in my degree. Quickly thereafter, local business owners took notice not in the app, but in how it was built: the solutions-level thinking surrounding the application.
This lead into modern-day SmallWorld, a firm dedicated to inspiring world-changing ideas and crafting cutting-edge technologies — both in the digital and the physical — globally, across 8 countries and 22+ locations, working with clientele from the ground-level startups to the Fortune 50 industry giants.
Origin: Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The South has long-since been recognized as a “close-minded” business sector of the world. The antidote to my early woes as a startup were like-minded small business owners. Pros doing pro work. We shared office space with RGC Glass, a commercial glass company, not a tech company. From the owner — and dear friend — John Garrett Whiteside, I inherited infinitely valuable guidance on business operations.
The grit of self-funding and self-innovating. The grit of starting with a purpose and having the purpose shifted with an entirely new perspective.
Arkansas incubates purpose-driven perspective. RGC Glass is just one small business that forms the tribe. Many more great startups and small businesses come from Arkansas: Collective Bias, Atlas DSR, Big Box Karaoke, Supply Pike, Sprout Social (formally Data Rank), and Slim Chickens. Each, in our like-minds, adventurers.
Universally, we share a common axiom:
Generating new ideas is not the difficult part. Making a decision on a company or product’s direction, evolving an early idea, and letting go of bad ideas. Those are the hard parts.
Paul Graham is accurate in his prompt of the need for an antidote. By extension, an antidote healing today and healing tomorrow.
Entrepreneurs should be recognized for their modern-day adventuring, chartering of unmapped territories. This would allow for more preparedness for the trials and tribulations along the way for all adventures.
Consultancies like Startup Junkie will be the grass-root guides in the hero’s journey of startups: allowing innovation and entrepreneurship to be the engines of economic growth.
Let Silicon Valley and Middle America learn from one another, fostering an advancing economy, realistic of potential and encouraging of the adventures. Perhaps to become the Adventurer's Valley.