If I hear one more person ask me ‘How do we keep young entrepreneurs here in Boston?’ I will run headfirst into a wall. Not because it’s a bad question but because in my experience the people asking the question are blowing so much hot air that I can’t take them seriously anymore. My head might actually feel better after plowing through a sheet of drywall.
Now let’s deconstruct why I believe Boston fails the young entrepreneur and how you can help.
1. How to build a business
In Boston, we spend way too much time focusing on how to raise capital and nearly zero time on how to build a business. Ask yourself the last time you saw an event on how to sell a product or how to acquire users. The lean startup events have been a great start, but there is a serious need for more.
Boston startup culture focuses on sucking up to the capital/angel community. The investor ends up telling the entrepreneur all the things that they don’t like about their business and why they won’t invest.
Great, you’re not going to invest but after you say no, why not mentor these entrepreneurs and help them achieve those milestones you want to see? I know a lot of you guys in the capital community have a ton of experience building businesses, so let’s get our hands dirty, get back in the trenches and share some of that incredible insight with the young entrepreneurs in Boston.
Forget money being the rocket fuel for propelling a startup. If you’re not going to invest you can still provide rocket fuel in the form of helping the company sell it’s product or acquire users. Who knows, with your help the startup might actually generate revenue and maybe even achieve positive cash flow.
2. Building a network in Boston
Boston startup events feel more formal than a White House black tie dinner. Over the past 18 months I’ve gone to a lot of events. . . a lot. There are two things in common between 90% of them: suits and Sam Adams. Imagine how difficult it is for a young guy to approach a group of ‘buddies’ at one of these events as they sip on their Sam Adams, and chat about their golf game.
In order for this kid to have an effective conversation, he has to have the insane confidence to breach the group, command everyone’s attention, and sell himself within 10 seconds before the suits’ eyes glaze over and they tell the kid anything they want to hear in order to get them to go away. I’ve seen this happen a million times.
What’s the solution? I wrote an article in MHT a year ago on how to help the twenty-somethings in Boston build their network and I still think it rings true today. If the experienced entrepreneur/capital crowd stepped up and was more proactive in introducing themselves and their colleagues to the young guys, we would drastically change the feel of Boston for the young entrepreneur. I might even venture to say that by giving the community a more inviting feel, we might actually see more brilliant students coming out to let the investment community in on their new venture.
So the next time you’re at WebInno and you’re nursing your Sam Adams, look for a young guy you haven’t met before and ask them what they’re working on. I promise the young entrepreneur won’t bite and you might actually be doing a little bit to put a suture on the mass exodus of young brilliant minds to the West Coast.
3. “Please promote our event.”
Jake and I get about 20 requests a month to promote some event or program around town. Now don’t get me wrong, I would love to promote everyone’s event and we try to do as much as we can. But let me tell you what makes me want to take a baseball bat to my computer:
If you ask us to promote your event, it better not cost money for the young entrepreneur. Most young entrepreneurs are at the same financial level as starving artists. In plain English, they are poor. The reason you aren’t getting many young people out to your event is because they can’t afford it.
If you don’t know what your event’s value proposition is for the young entrepreneur, do not ask us to promote it.. If you tell us your value proposition is relationship building, how will you run the event to make sure these young guys will leave with one more great relationship than when they arrived? If the topic is on helping entrepreneurs learn how to raise capital, I won’t be able to respond to you because a baseball bat has destroyed my laptop. If you have a compelling topic of conversation, great, let us know what it is.
Alright, you have a compelling topic— you’re going to be a serious connector and make sure people who don’t know one another are introduced, but your event is during the day on a weekday. Ask yourself how you expect twenty-somethings who are moonlighting or treading water with part time work are going to be able to show up to your event?
Finally ask yourself what you’ve done to reach out to young entrepreneurs personally. Have you come out to a Dart event to introduce yourself to the 100+ twenty-somethings and college students we have at our startup parties each month? Have you gone to a startup event at a university (not just at MIT mind you)? Have you gone to a One in Three event? If you really want to kickstart college and twenty-something involvement in the broader community you need to reach out to them on a grass roots level. In fact if you come out to a Dart event I’ll introduce you to everyone there personally and, better yet, you don’t even have to pay for a beer because they’re already on us (Gansetts, not Sam Adams).
So if you want us to promote your event to our 1,000+, twenty-something, entrepreneurial focused DartBoston list:
a. Provide us with free tickets to give away
b. Help us to understand why your event is valuable for the young entrepreneurial community
c. Tell us which Dart event or any other Boston young entrepreneur event you’ve recently gone to and how you’ve introduced yourself to young entrepreneurs.
4. Why smart young people who have created a business leave for the West Coast
I’ve had conversations about this topic with several successful entrepreneurs, angels and VC’s over the past couple months as I’ve watched my friends take off for the West Coast. While it’s awesome that I have plenty of couches to crash on when I go to the Valley, it’s a real bummer that we’re losing these highly motivated kids who are willing to take risks and create startups.
It’s understood that many first time young entrepreneurs won’t have huge exits from their first venture. However the ones who succeed do so because they work with other young experienced entrepreneurs, have solid networks, learned how to build a business, raised seed rounds and were mentored. But unfortunately that’s only happening out West and not in Boston.
If we want to keep young, smart, motivated entrepreneurs in Boston, who are willing to risk everything on building a company, it is going to take action on everyone’s part and not idle chatter at the Unconference, Future Forward or Nantucket Conference.
Prior to FKA, I co-founded Terrible Labs, Boston’s premiere web and mobile development company which was acquired by Autodesk. While at Terrible Labs, I also co-founded TicketZen, a mobile, parking ticket payment provider.
I am all about getting out into the community to meet other passionate entrepreneurs so get in touch if I can be of any help.