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A year ago, Brad wrote a post titled Effective Networking, where he discussed how producing good work can be a useful mechanism for building meaningful connections. While power-networking can also be an effective strategy, it is not the only path to developing great relationships. Brad’s post was heavily influenced by two essays by Adam Grant, the professor and writer: Networking Is Overrated and To Build a Great Network, You Don’t Have to be a Great Networker.
I savored that post earlier this year when suffering from a bout of conference fatigue, and decided to write about it in a post titled Introverts and Networking. I have found that the most meaningful professional relationships in my life have typically sprung out of a common appreciation about something that I or the other person did—not from hitting it off in a conference lobby or at the post-event reception. That has happened of course, but it’s not the dominant theme, at least for me.
Because of this, I was excited to discover this recent TEDxPortland talk: An introvert’s guide to building community, given by Rick Turoczy—a leader in the Portland startup community. The talk is not about how introverts per se can build community, but rather, how he as an introvert used some counter-intuitive advantages that introverts possess to do this type of work—namely, a desire to make connections one-to-one, or what he calls collecting dots.
But for Turoczy, this is only the beginning. The real magic of building community occurs not through the collecting of dots but through the connecting of them. By collecting many dots, and through the power of introspection and patience, community-builders will begin to see patterns emerge—uncovering dots that need connecting but haven’t been yet. These connections will eventually seem obvious, but aren’t at first—otherwise they would have already been made. It is the process of collecting and reflecting—along with your own unique perspective—that the connecting naturally unfolds.
For me, the real beauty of this talk is what it reveals about Turoczy himself—he views the process of networking not as a means for helping himself, but as a means for helping others. And that’s the whole point of building community. It’s almost certainly a key reason for why he is so good at it too.
A million thanks to the World Startup Report team, sponsors, and volunteers around the world for making this trip a reality. It’s been an amazing 6 months. Here’s a recap of what I’ve learned on the road.
Time flies when you’re off exploring startups in far flung lands. Six months ago I set off with just a carry-on and my trusty laptop, bright eyed and armed with boundless enthusiasm – I was ready with a capital R, to explore the world of startups. Now six months have passed and amazingly, I’ve realized that the more I learn, the more there is I need to learn. 6 months, 16 countries and 1000s of startup conversations later, I have only scratched the tip of the iceberg. The people I’ve met and the passion they have for what they do, often times in the face of great adversity is equal parts motivating and humbling. Its been a whirlwind journey so far and I am beyond excited to be able to share these findings. So on that note, here’s a little mini recap of my trip to date. Stay tuned for the full startup reports!
What in the world did I find?
India: hello, Google? Running a search engine via telephone may sound funny to the Valley, but really is it that different from asking Siri where the nearest parking lot is? Now picture Siri as a live person and put yourself in a country with 895M mobile phones vs just 35M smartphones. JustDial is a $720M empire in India…and it’s just one of many catering to this unique market.
Nepal: Don’t discount this hidden gem – even in a country where there are rations of only 12 – 16 hours of electricity per day, you can build tech firms with $100M USD exits.
Australia: Being a small yet modern and accessible country can be a double edged sword. On one hand, you get access to the latest and greatest from the West, but on the other hand, this very same lack of entrance barriers eliminates many startup opportunities for locals hoping to break onto the scene. Expect stiff competition here.
Greece/Spain: This could be a classic case of turning lemons into lemonade. 50% unemployment rate among youth might turn out to be the fire-starter that Greece/Spain startup ecosystems need.
Argentina: The story of Argentina can be told through their currency, which devalued 25% in the last 3 months. These folks are under constant pressure to produce in the midst of impossible constraints – trial by fire style. It could be argued that these conditions have produced the best entrepreneurs in Latin America.
Brasil: Size does matter. Virtually all successful Latin companies make the move to Brasil after their initial growing period, despite the unfavorable laws and social instability.
Peru: Though one of the least developed countries in South America, it’s also the place with the highest growth. Serious potential here.
Colombia: When a country invests 40% of the national budget on education, it changes things and empowers people.
Chile: StartupChile might go down in the history books as one of the best things to ever happen to Chile in this decade.
Kenya: The future of mobile payment can be seen in Kenya today. M-pesa is a micro-financing and money transfer service all easily accessible from your mobile device. It accounts for 25% of the country’s GDP.
Ethiopia: There are two 1s you have to know about Ethiopia: 1% internet penetration rate. 1M new cellphone subscribers a month.
Philippines: The Peru of Southeast Asia, but three times bigger with its 100M population plus everyone speaks perfect English. Keep an eye out for it.
Thailand: Unbelievable infrastructure and ample access to talents through its tourism. This 70M population country is poised to do well.
Myanmar: For a country that’s only a year old, its infrastructure is surprisingly developed. Those who want to jump in for low hanging fruit might already be too late.
Israel: Roughly 70% of the startup founders at our meetup believe they can build a billion dollar company. With this much ambition, drive and optimism in the room, some of them could be right.
So what’s next?
There are 13 more countries on the list, equally split between Europe (Netherlands, France, UK, Germany, Ukraine, Russia) and Asia (Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore). Big things are happening for the WSR team, keep following us to access the full country by country World Startup Reports as they become available. If your country is on the list, please let us know if you would like to help! http://bit.ly/helpWSR
Oh and one more thing… *drum roll*
We’re proud to announce the WSR closing ceremonies happening in the Philippines at the end of my 29-country tour, called Geeks-On-A-Beach. Some of our most influential and knowledgeable founders/investors from all over the world will join us at Geeks-On-A-Beach to discuss the global startup trends and opportunities, from Silicon Valley to India. This will also be where I share my overall findings, impressions and conclusions from my epic journey.
Don’t miss this opportunity to meet the world’s startup founders and investors. Sign up today and get the early bird discount. This will be an incredible event in partnership to help the local startup community in the Philippines.
Founder, World Startup Report
Special thanks to: 500Startups, Startup Revolution, StartupWeekend, StartupDigest, Brad Feld, Dave McClure, Flightfox, Boingo, Bizpora for making this trip a reality!
Bowei Gai is a serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley who sold the company he co-founded, CardMunch, to LinkedIn in 2011. On New Year’s Eve of 2013, he boarded his first flight for a 9-months long trip across 29 countries and 36 cities to research the world’s startup ecosystems.
Bowei’s first project, “The China Startup Report”, received over 100,000 views on SlideShare. His new project, the India Startup Report gained over 150,000 views shortly after release. From January to June 2013, Bowei has traveled to the following places: India, Australia, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Israel, Greece and Spain. Below is his story.
This week, the WSJ Accelerators program is running a special discussion called Heartland USA. In it, they are exploring the development of startup communities in five cities: Boulder, Colo.; Memphis, Tenn.; Washington, D.C.; Omaha, Neb.; and Portland, Ore.
Monday is Boulder day and there are a number of guest contributions already up, including:
- Pete Sheinbaum (LinkSmart): Boulder: The Tech Industry’s Best-Kept Secret
- Carly Gloge (Ubooly): Communities Are Essential for Startup Growth
- Niel Robertson (Trada): Crowdsource Your Business, Any Time, Anywhere
- Chris Moody (Gnip): The Boulder Startup Scene: A Guiding Light
- David Cohen (TechStars): Boulder is for Startups
Today, at 3pm EST, I’ll be participating in on online discussion called Ask The Accelerators and with Scott Case (Startup America Partnership CEO) and Marc Nager (Startup Weekend CEO). Join us as we talk about how you can create a startup community anywhere in the world.
I heard so much about the incredible Startup Community developing in Boulder that I decided to take a trip there to witness it firsthand. Since my return, many people have asked about the trip, about Boulder and our experience. For those of you who like to cook, you could draw a parallel of my Boulder visit to reading a cookbook versus taking a hands on cooking class from world class chefs. The intended results are the same but there is nothing quite like being there, witnessing how it’s done, and immersing yourself in the culture to truly appreciate and get the most from the experience.
During our visit, we had the opportunity to meet with many community leaders and learn about the evolution of Boulder as a Startup Community. Everyone is actively involved and committed to making a difference. We had 12 meetings in just over 2 days, each starting and ending the same way “how can I help?” and “is there anything else I can do to help or people you would like to meet?” Awesome.
We participated in Meet-up events, Entrepreneurs Unplugged at CU Boulder and were invited to a small group dinner with community leaders and entrepreneurs. We visited Techstars, were welcomed into several co-working spaces to hangout and catch-up on emails. We were the beneficiary of many pay-it-forward introductions – no questions asked. Entrepreneurs are everywhere in Boulder and the entrepreneurial energy is infectious. One afternoon at a local establishment, our server asked why we were in town and then proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes talking to us about her Startup. Sidebar: Another great experience during our visit was the prevalence of “Happy Hour”. For a beer loving Canadian entrepreneur could Boulder be any more perfect?
If you read Brad Felds book “Startup Communities”, he talks about the Entrepreneurial eco system and the importance of it being led by entrepreneurs, the “give before you get” attitude, network versus hierarchical structure, inclusive of all who want to be involved and the necessity to be in it for the long term – 20 years from any point in time. There are many other important discussions in the book, but these were my key impressions and our firsthand experience in Boulder.
The only negative about our Boulder visit was that it ended too soon. It was very inspiring and motivating to hang with people that are all working together to make a difference, led by entrepreneurs and supported by the community – everybody “all in”. Cool.
On the trip back, I was thinking about our experience in Boulder. How could we tap into that culture, the infectious energy and continue to learn about successful Startup communities on a go forward basis? The concept of the Entrepreneurial eco-system being a network not a hierarchy was resonating with me – the power is in the network. Could we expand the network and get entrepreneurs connected to and from other regions? Perhaps we create a “Startup Communities Network”, a network of like minded entrepreneurs from other communities committed to the “give before you get” culture – the impact could be very powerful; entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs through a boundless, non-regionalized support system, making the right connections at the right time, reducing risk and accelerating business growth.
Interested in discussing the “Startup Communities Network” concept in more detail? I look forward to your feedback and getting connected.
A big shout out to Brad Feld and all the amazing people from Boulder for making us feel welcome and for sharing your time and experiences with us. We are returning to the Okanagan with many great community building ideas to share and look forward to visiting Boulder again in the near future!
I am grateful and consider myself very lucky to be able to experience, on a daily basis, two very different startup communities, separated by thousands of miles and an entire ocean. Being born and raised in a small but proud country in the Middle East (Jordan) and after spending some time working in Fintech, venture, and with startups in New York for several years, I was inspired by the thriving tech community in the Arab Middle East and decided to start a hybrid accelerator and venture capital platform along with some great partners to try to bridge entrepreneurs across both ecosystems.
We put our money where our mouth is and in less than one year, Silicon Badia has invested into and/or accelerated 12 tech startups (9 announced, 3 TBA) in Jordan and the US with an expectation to grow this family to ~15 companies by year end. We will only continue to accelerate and strengthen this platform as we work to launch a new early stage fund in Jordan with veteran Jordanian VCs and strong international sponsors. But this post is not about us – it is about what I believe to be a real threat to the startup community in Jordan and similar communities around us in the Middle East.
When people talk about a “Bubble”, they are usually referring to an “Economic bubble” “Speculative bubble” or “price bubble” all of which roughly mean the same thing: when the prices of products, assets, securities etc. rise very rapidly above their “true value” with little fundamental reason for this and keep doing this until prices eventually and suddenly go into freefall (the “bubble bursts”). Although, many would argue that some of the tech communities here in the US are “frothy” or in a “bubble,” and I have personally seen a few signs of this, the type of bubble we are currently experiencing in Jordan is one of an “Excitement Bubble”. In other words, what happens to a startup ecosystem when the excitement that has helped drive it fizzles and fades away?
What categorizes a community that might be at risk of an excitement bubble? Here are a few factors that I have seen in Jordan:
- High & Sudden Growth: Although Jordan has always had a strong technology ecosystem, the “new-wave” startup scene really only exploded 3-4 years ago especially with the (a) introduction of early stage accelerators like Oasis 500 (featured by Thomas Friedman here) who have done a great job of promoting startuphood and entrepreneurship to the masses (even over the radio!), with (b) the very important but over-talked-about success story of the home-grown Maktoob which was acquired by Yahoo in 2009, and with (c) the continued support of the “godfather investors” of the industry like Accelerator Technology Holdings (and its early stage IV Holdings) and Fadi Ghandour’s group. Were we ready for such a high and sudden growth?
- Cultural Barriers: A community where necessary startup cultural traits that help ensure sustainability over the long-run do not come natural in society such as risk-taking or overcoming failure (society taboos of failure). Although we have managed to somewhat overcome the first step of “Why don’t you work with your father or at Bank X” mentality to some degree, I feel that the majority of society is only testing the startup community and waiting for a few more failures only to say “See I told you this won’t work… now go back to your father or Bank X and stop wasting time”
- Unrealistic Expectations: Do young and first-time entrepreneurs realize how hard the advertised “join accelerator => raise seed funding => raise more funding => sell for millions” cycle usually is? From recent conversations over the past two years, I fear that many don’t.
- Angel investors: Just as society is “testing” this newly formed startup community, angel investors who are extremely important to the viability of the ecosystem but who have traditionally made their fortune through real estate or industry (and rarely through their own tech startups or investing in them) are also testing the community without truly understanding the risks of angel investing and realizing the cold-hard fact that a high % of early stage ventures fail (i.e. you will most-likely loose your money!). Do they have a strong enough stomach to take the hit given what I fear will be a large wave of early-stage failures that we will see in the region over the next years?
- The “black hole” of early stage investing: I borrow this phrase from my friend and Chairman of Oasis 500 Dr. Usama Fayyad who says that we have a “black hole” in the early stage investing….he is 100% right. The amount of investment capital available to satisfy the demand for it in the seed stage and the early stage/Series A (arguably similar here in the US) is a black hole. It will be especially interesting to see how this unfolds in the next year as many of the tech “darlings” in the ecosystem go for their first real Series A raise. Nevertheless, we are hoping that with funds like ours, Sadara, Wamda, MEVP, Dash etc. and capital from abroad (as shown by the recent fundraising rounds of Souq and MarkaVIP) will fill this gap but this is happening slowly. The natural question many will ask here is “Wait…I thought you guys have tons of $ in the Middle East from oil??” True we do, but that is only concentrated among a few countries who would rather spend that money buying football teams in England or buying luxurious businesses than on building a sustainable SME industry that can help build the future of the region.
- Macro-politics: I leave this for last but this is something we simply can’t ignore. What happens when the same visionaries at power who had a large hand in creating an IT services economy are now pressured by other forces to turn their backs against some of core values of the internet ecosystem. Remember SOPA/PIPA? This Bloomberg article does a good job explaining this.
Despite all of these factors all hope is not lost (obviously otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this). We smell opportunity. It will require creativity, it will necessitate competition, it will rely on support from and the integration with other communities, and it will require the few entrepreneurs and investors that will succeed in these next years to continue to motivate the younger generations of entrepreneurs (and hopefully invest back with capital and their new gained knowledge/experience). We are hoping to create a sustainable ecosystem as we need it in our region.
I got a note the other day from my friend Lesa Mitchell concerning my assertion that you can create startup communities anywhere in the world. Lesa is vice president of Innovation and Networks at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Her responsibilities include identification of programmatic and policy levers that can accelerate innovation and support networks enabling firm growth. I asked her if she could write a quick summary of the experience she had with a handful of Yemen business leaders – it follows.
Recently at the Kauffman Foundation we hosted the US Ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, and a group of ten business leaders from Yemen. At the Kauffman Foundation we host 80K visitors a year from all over the world who are either using our facilities for meetings around the topics of education, innovation or entrepreneurship or, are coming to the Foundation specifically to acquire knowledge to replicate in their own communities.
I used this opportunity to talk about Mr. Kauffman’s history as an entrepreneur and mentor which led to the creation of the Kauffman Foundation and how we are using Brad Feld’s “entrepreneurial stack” to translate those lessons to communities around the world. I heard from the entrepreneurs that they wanted to lead, wanted to help other entrepreneurs and would like their government to be supportive but not in the way. I told them that any entrepreneur in the USA would have repeated the exact same message. I heard from Mr. Fathi Hayel Saeed that he was enjoying the sense of community of the entrepreneurs on their trip and was interested in supporting other entrepreneurs when he returned home. Do they want Startup Weekends in Sana’a Yemen – yes. Do they love the idea of running competitions to allow some of their young people to get interested in entrepreneurship – yes.
The lesson; startup communities can start and flourish anywhere in the world. They all need to figure out their own “stack” based on the resources available in their community and they all agree on one thing – entrepreneurs by growing their firms, creating jobs with good wages and helping other entrepreneurs can actually improve the economy.
I recently received an email from Chris Heivly and Dave Neal who recently spent an hour talking about the Boulder Thesis and what it means for them in RTP/Triangle/Raleigh-Durham. I’ve gotten to know Chris and Dave through a few trips in the past to Durham along with their work at Triangle StartUp Factory, the accelerator they run in Durham. They offered an example of how a feeder – the Durham Chamber of Commerce – has effectively engaged and supported the Durham startup community. The example follows:
When you talk about the role of governments, institutions, and associations as feeders I felt like I wanted some more examples. We have a very unique Chamber of Commerce here in Durham and I think they serve as a good example.
When I first started talking to you and David Cohen in the fall of 2009 about an accelerator here in Durham – you planted the entrepreneur-led, organic/network thesis in my head. I was on a 275 person in a year tour of the area testing the accelerator thesis and one of those meetings was with the head of the Durham Chamber, Casey Steinbacher and a young associate, Adam Klein. They asked to get involved and I pushed hard on the “you can’t control this – you need to support this” thesis. We gave them a task – raise awareness. They bought it big time. They reached out to the entrepreneurial community for thoughts, advice, help and then took off. If anyone would have told me that I would be working with a Chamber of Commerce I would have told them they were crazy. They are true partners in our ecosystem today.
To date, they have spearheaded two contributing efforts that have really helped support & grow the region:
- The first was the Durham Stampede, an application based program which offered 60 days of free space in a cool downtown location for 10-15 startup (mostly around software tech). I and others supported their effort by being one of about 8-10 experienced entrepreneurs who came in to share our best practices and get these founders networked. The goal – simple – raise awareness of the scene in Durham. They have operated 3 programs in the past 18 months.
- Their 2nd offering was called the SMOffice – the world’s smallest office. An application based offering that provided free office space (80 sq feet) in the corner of the coffee shop that is the equivalent of “Buck’s” in Durham. The winning team got the space for 6 months as well as a free condo. 3 sisters from Illinois with Durham roots were selected (they are building an Etsy for just NC based artisans).
Total costs run less than $5k per Stampede session and most everything was donated for the SMOffice. I find these efforts to be totally supportive of the greater good and consistent with their strengths.