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The State of #yesphx and the Phoenix Startup Community

A lot has changed in two-and-a-half years. That’s how long ago I wrote why I believed Phoenix sucked for startups despite my love for the city, my two first Medium articles. More importantly, that’s just about how long ago it was that the very first iteration of #yesphx was launched.

If you’re looking for the short version, it’s this: I don’t think Phoenix sucks for startups anymore. As for the longer version…

It was just supposed to be a megaphone.

In its earliest incarnation, #yesphx was simply started as a means to amplify what was already happening in the startup community. It wasn’t trying to create something new or brand our community, per se. In lean startup terms, our MVP was simply a hashtag, accompanied by a website to explain it.

Turns out, it worked.

People started using it, thanks largely to the early support of people like Christie (Kerner) Simmons, Mario Martinez II, Zach Ferres, and many others. After 30-months, #yesphx tweets have now been liked nearly 19,000 times by the @yesphx Twitter account, representing over 630 tweets per month and 21 tweets per day — and the pace is picking up. In the last 24-hours alone, there have been over 55 original tweets (i.e. non-RTs) incorporating #yesphx. The hashtag has regularly trended in first position on Twitter during local events like PHX Startup Week, Rise of the Rest, and Galvanize announcing their launch downtown, too.

More importantly, #yesphx has been adopted by an incredibly diverse population of members within our community, even interchanged as our community’s very name by those who live and work in Greater Phoenix. Unfortunately, many still pronounce it “Yes Phoenix” instead of “yes-p-h-x,” much to my chagrin, but I digress.

All that said, just like any good, growing startup…

#yesphx must evolve.

I wrote the initial copy for the website, including “our community’s vision for vibrancy” before really diving deeply into all the different pockets — and politics — of our local ecosystem.

But now, I’ve talked with the users, so to speak. Startup founders, employees, mentors, investors, supporters, heroes, lawmakers, and advocates from nearly every part of the Greater Phoenix community, including many beyond our borders, have spent time with me. To put it in perspective, I spent about 35% of my working time for nearly 2-years serving the community philanthropically, spending endless hours at the Henry, leading the organization of the years’ largest events, poorly managing #yesphx social media accounts (thank you Caitlin, Matt, and Vince for taking over!), and more. In nearly every encounter with community members, I concluded with one simple question:

“How can I help you?”

After asking this innocuous question over 1,000-times, even though I asked without expecting anything in return, I actually did get something out of it. I learned this:

The needs of our startup community members — and arguably, any community’s members—are rather basic.

It all comes down to four needs.

After thousands of hours I’ve spent with community members, I could boil roughly 95% of responses to my sincere offer into four ensuing questions:

  1. “How do I get involved in the startup community?” This is easily the #1 question I have been asked. People want, yes, they need to know how to get their foot in the door and contribute to the community.
  2. “How do I get funded?” Startups, small businesses, non-profits, and student projects alike all end up exploring this question at some moment in their journey. I would argue alongside others that it’s the wrong question to lead with, but that’s beside the point. We can revisit that later.
  3. “How do I find a co-founder?” Largely, this question is asked by “idea people” looking to find a technical co-founder who will work, at first, for equity only. Even not being an engineer myself, I’m asked regularly if I want to join other teams in their pursuits — if you’re wondering, the answer is #nophx. I will write a practical (and fairly comical) post on this topic down the road, I’m sure.
  4. “What’s up-and-coming or happening right now?” Whether these are people asking about which founders are breaking out, what events are upcoming, which startups are hiring, or the like, people generally want to know the pulse of our community and stay in-the-know. A digest, so to speak.

Today, after far longer than my liking, we have a better answer to these questions.

Say hello to #yesphx 2.0.

The headline says a lot, but not everything. Visit the whole new website.

Ain’t she a beaut? The new #yesphx website launches today, complete with a whole new design and far richer content. The site’s information is structured entirely to solve for those four categorical needs I mentioned:

  • Start here: A quick way to help newcomers get plugged into the community more effectively. This represents the very top of the funnel for our ecosystem’s talent funnel.
  • Resources: A growing list of resources we will both link to (if it already exists) and create (if it doesn’t). Again, this isn’t about creating something new, but simply building upon what has already been built by others — this will be ever-expanding, including resources for finding co-founders, mentors, and more.
  • FAQs: My pseudo-self-serving endeavor to answer people’s questions about #yesphx and our startup community only once, in writing, rather than repeating myself. I’ve done a lot of repeating the last couple years.
  • Feed: While this was implemented in our previous iteration, it was more buried than it should have been. We’ve changed that, with an easy way to quickly view everything that’s being shared across all social media platforms using the #yesphx hashtag.

In addition to what you see on the new site, this 2.0 launch also represents more coalescence of the various other components for which #yesphx is known. That includes the roll out of an email team and process that will send newsletters once-or-more monthly, the ability for others to join our #yesphx Slack channel more quickly, the promotion of our Medium publication, an easier way to highlight upcoming #yesphx events, and much more.

It’s all there, folks. Take a long, lingering gander. Read her up and down that lengthy page of hers. I wrote the copy from my own experience, though I would appreciate a run-through from other copywriters in the community to improve upon it. There’s certainly more to be done, especially in the way of adding more resources and FAQs to the needs that naturally arise as founders and startups mature — so please, send your suggestions our way!

And of course, share it out. If you would be so kind, write a blog post about our startup community and link to the site using the anchor text, Phoenix, Arizona’s Startup Community. Add a #yesphx badge at the bottom of your product or website. Get creative. Let’s make this the first thing that people find when researching Phoenix as a bold, lasting first impression.

Amazing people made this happen.

Before continuing, I must briefly mention the committed supporters who made this update possible, 100% free of charge. In addition to the early adopters who helped launch #yesphx 1.0, we added some folks to the mix this go around. Adam Mann led design to perfection; Matthew Giacomazzo and Michael Ashbaugh led the development quickly and effectively; Matt Simpson has led the coalescing of many different parts and people into a more functional team going forward; Rachel Harpley, JP Taxman, and Jennifer Jermaine will be managing emails going to forward; and, it is my joy to say that Caitlin Waters and Vincent Orleck now manage all our social media efforts with far more panache and power than I ever could (or did). The other volunteers who continue to help organically lead #yesphx are noted in the website’s FAQs. When you see these people around town, thank them profusely, because they work for even less than peanuts.

Community life is demanding.

Candidly speaking, I’ve personally had to take a little bit of a step back from the community. Not because of the community itself — I’m quite bullish on Phoenix and the beautiful people which compose our city. No, I’ve had to take a step back because I’m back…to building. I’m still more plugged into the community than most, probably, but I just can’t attend everything like I used to, I’ve stopped my open office hours at the Henry, and my family needed more of me after a difficult year health-wise. It’s been a good pause, necessary even.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so downright proud of this new direction for #yesphx as a community resource, because I feel it is one of the best gifts I can offer our ecosystem, even though I’m not as involved, physically speaking. #yesphx 2.0 is the culmination of countless conversations I’ve had, true, but really, this launch is the result of our entire community’s effort to move the ball forward and put Phoenix on the map as a growing startup ecosystem.

And looking at our progress, we’ve done it. Up and to the right we’ve moved. The nation has taken notice. We believe in PHX. Heck, even the New York Times is talking about Phoenix as a positive startup climate, as compared to our checkered past. Finally, Phoenix is hot in more ways than our thermometers will show.

But, we still have work to do.

I’m an optimist, folks. Eternally, so. That’s part of why I’ve chosen to be (and endure as) an entrepreneur in the first place. But the reality is as true as it’s ever been: we haven’t arrived. We still have major work to do. In fact, there will always be work to do, otherwise, we’ll meet a slow and painful death.

Grow or die, the facts must be faced…

Our startup community’s population isn’t as diverse as our city’s population.

Keep banging the radical inclusion drum, Phoenix. Beat it loudly and proudly, because diversity is key to our continued growth. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do as humans. Unfortunately, I’ve heard a few people (emphasis on few) say that they’ve felt left out by the startup community, and that really does disappoint me. Let’s open our arms even wider and continue to prove, not just preach, our generosity as a community.

We still lack early stage capital.

Sorry, but you gotta deal with it. Go elsewhere for it if you must. Let’s build more unicorns and centaurs and workhorses. The capital will follow. At least in my own recent experiences talking with SV and NY investors, most investors aren’t turned off by Phoenix anymore. If anything, they’re embracing other startup cities as part of the natural byproduct of their own ecosystems’ hyper-growth (and failures). Let’s get over this lack, keep building, and the capital will eventually come. For the record, many talented and committed Phoenicians are working to help solve this problem, including many at the Startup AZ Foundation. Give it some time.

We’re still too heads down.

This has gotten way better, but it’s still a problem. I just mentioned why I have re-assumed this posture more recently. I get it. Still, we need to get the builders and executives of our startup community together more often, solving real problems they’re each facing. As our original #yesphx homepage highlighted: We need each other. This remains as true as it’s ever been, so let’s get out of our shells. Even if that’s just breakfast, coffee, lunch, or beer once per week with someone in the community that you don’t already know, do it. Again, we have some solid community leaders that are working to solve this connectivity issue.

Our elected officials can still make us look bad.

Without getting too political, I simply want to say that we can still do a better job of fighting exclusionary tactics that are bad for our economy as a whole. We’ve gotten better here, and officials like Councilman Daniel Valenzuela, Mayor Greg Stanton, Councilman Bill Gates, and State Treasurer Jeff DeWit have helped push our startup economy forward, not to mention the ongoing efforts of our municipalities’ economic development teams. While I argue we should collectively rally behind issues and policies even as we may individually support politicians and parties, we must all continue to fight for shining as bright a positive light on Arizona as possible. Together.

And now, back to optimistic me.

Contextually, I would argue that no one would say we’ve remained stagnant on our previous problems, so that’s what matters. As any startup grows, problems don’t disappear, they just (should) change over time. We’ve gotten better in each of these problem areas and overcome many problems which aren’t even worth mentioning anymore. Never give up. We’re making progress.

Finally, the point.

Before wrapping up this lengthy thing (it’s been on my heart and mind for a while, so thanks for bearing with me) I want to be as clear as possible:

#yesphx isn’t the point.

#yesphx could come or go, as far as I’m concerned. This may surprise you, but it’s true. I have very little (though I’d be lying if I said “zero”) attachment to the longevity of #yesphx as a brand or “movement,” as many have called it — and for the record, I don’t personally call it that.

I’ll share what I’ve already written for the new website, so it’s as in-your-face as possible, with added emphasis for clarity:

#yesphx is not a non-profit, or a startup, or a movement and, to be honest, it isn’t even the point. Building the Greater Phoenix startup community and economy is the point. Making Phoenix a better place to live for our children and our children’s children is the point. Taking pride in our city is the point. #yesphx is just one of many vehicles to help focus us on the points that actually matter.

To the frequent question I am asked about #yesphx supporting only the city of Phoenix vs. all of Arizona, I continue:

People think in terms of metropolitan areas and regions. When people reference San Francisco, they bundle places like Oakland, Palo Alto, San Jose, and the surrounding parts in their minds. So, let’s stop drawing territorial lines and start thinking like a unified metropolis. Regardless of whether our addresses list Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Peoria, et al., we are Phoenix. Let’s act like it.

All that to say…

Our brand is Phoenix.

Together, we do not make up #yesphx. We make up Phoenix. And when people talk about our city, do you want them primarily discussing our polarizing political policies, sunny weather, golf and spa days, real estate deals, saguaros, and sunsets; or would you prefer they think about our successful startups and the spirit of generosity that is both true of — and the aspiration of our growing ecosystem? There is no number of logo design, tagline copy, or PR efforts alone that will improve our city’s image, but the more unified and committed we are to helping each other and being known for our generosity, the better.

#yesphx aside, we have a lot to be proud of, and we’re all heading in the right direction. We wouldn’t be to this point without every single person’s contributions heretofore, and we need each other just as much now as ever. We must never forget our interdependence.

Keep learning, keep hustling, keep sharing, keep moving, keep helping, keep loving, keep growing, and keep on keeping on, my Phoenix friends. This is no small feat. We’re building the world’s most generous community for entrepreneurs.

Spread the vision by liking this article below. Then, share yesphx.com with every friend you have inside and outside of Arizona across every social platform. And please, let us know how you could be better served by #yesphx 2.1. We’re in this together.

Stories, thoughts, and news from the Greater Phoenix startup and entrepreneurial community.

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Jonathan Cottrell

Jonathan Cottrell

Recovering doer

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