Big Omaha Day 1
Now in its fourth year, Big Omaha is all about innovation and entrepreneurship. I’m here repping StartupCity, to learn more about this new-to-me industry and to make connections with others working to foster the startup ecosystem in the Midwest. I’m also selfishly hoping to be inspired in my personal mission to be my own boss again. Being surrounded by creative, intelligent and daring individuals can only serve to inspire, right?
Here’s my roundup of today’s speakers and the inspirational/practical highlights:
Ted Rheingold (@tedr), a VP at SAY Media and founder of social networking site Dogster. After working for several “dot bombs” he started his own computer-services business working with nonprofits before starting Dogster to try and create a small recurring revenue. His wildest dream was 10,000 users (it far exceeded that!). The take-aways: Coming up with ideas is easy; the challenge is finding ideas you can execute with the resources available to you. Entrepreneurship is a roller-coaster ride–enjoy the good and ride out the bad. Network, network, network. And don’t believe anyone’s hype or feel insecure because “everyone’s faking it, no one has this figured out.”
Ben Lerer (@benjlerer), co-founder of Thrillist Media Group. Since the age of 12, Lerer overachieved at underachieving. After quitting 3 grown-up jobs, he decided the only way he’d ever be a go-getter was by working for himself. So he started Thrillist, a “Daily Candy for dudes.” The take-aways: Things WILL change so be open-minded with your dream; Thrillist has grown in ways no one expected. Media must change or die–couple content with merchandising (monetize, monetize, monetize). Forget the light at the end of the tunnel, “it’s only about the tunnel.”
Sahil Lavingia (@shl), founder of Gumroad and a founding team member at Pinterest. At 18, Lavingia “got serious” about his career and started helping others build stuff. Now at the ripe old age of 19, he has raised $8 million for his own startup. The take-aways: Learn what you need to learn and then move on to where you can learn what’s next. Work with (or hire) people who are smarter than you and who make you smarter. Remember what’s important and fun–”Money is exciting but not as exciting as turning it into something more valuable.”
Jim McKelvey (@2000F), co-founder of Square. A mediocre engineer at IBM and a mediocre artisan, McKelvey decided it was time to excel at something after his mom died. He started a software company that eventually outgrew him. He then started a glass-blowing school, a construction company and a printing house before launching Square. The take-aways: Permission is unnecessary, so stop asking! We all have the ability to create things that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago, and we can share those ideas for free (communication is so accessible that you no longer have to pay to shout). And a great thing about free communication is that lying is getting really hard. Seek problems, not opportunities, if you want to find the next big thing.
Seth Goldstein (@seth), co-founder of turntable.fm. Offering up 10 lessons learned over 20 years of “creating, advising, and investing in startups,” Goldstein says he’s failed more than he succeeded. The take-aways: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly (dont wait until its perfect or it will be too late). Hire slow, fire fast to create and maintain a team of A-players. Have the difficult conversations. Raise money when you can, not when you need to (sadly, it’s harder to find financing when you need it). It’s hard to bring on an investor and 10x harder to get them out, so be certain before you sign the dotted line.
Yael Cohen (@MsFuckCancer) of Fuck Cancer. Cohen’s life was fundamentally changed when her mom was diagnosed with cancer and pivoted her career to say “fuck you” to the disease. The focus is on youth and on early detection (90% of cancers are curable if found early). The take-aways: Do something you’re obsessed with, even if you don’t know if you’re doing it right. As your business grows, it’s easy to lose sight of your overarching strategy–DON’T! Most of the time you should be saying no because if it doesn’t mesh with your goals, it will just dilute your mission.
Philip Rosedale (@philiplinden), co-founder of Coffee & Power and founder of Second Life. An über geek, Rosedale’s lifelong dream of connecting everyone’s computers in a virtual world led to the creation of Second Life. The take-aways: Real entrepreneurs aren’t motivated by money–they irrationally pursue ideas that may not work out because they cannot get them out of their head. “Nobody is dumb enough, if you take a vote on it, to go after a big, crazy idea.” It requires a crazy CEO to take those risks. Biggest lesson: Think outside the box … there are no rules for running a business and Rosedale has proven it time and time again.
Stay tuned for another round of highlights following Day 2 tomorrow…