A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend TechCocktail’s Startup Mixology Conference in Washington, DC. The conference is a single track event focused on putting the people “who do” together with the people “who want to do.” It ends up being an interesting blend of business types, lawyers, accountants, technologists, bloggers, and developers. The thread that ties them all together are startups.
My mission on this trip was to speak with existing customers like Zaarly and Uber, chat with a few potential customers, and generally be supportive of the people and startups in and around the city. There were three particular sessions that stood out for me:
First, was Peter Corbett of iStrategy Labs. iStrategy is a design, consulting, and strategy shop that is effectively one of the pillars of the DC technology community. He shared his experience of building the company as a part of – as opposed to instead of – the community. He attributed the growth of iStrategies from just himself to a team of 25 in large part because of those contributions. More importantly, he highlighted the relationships and some of the successes that came for himself and those around him as a result of a strong community.
Later, Andrew Warner of Mixergy interviewed Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit and Hipmunk. The interview was wide-ranging and veered into some NSFW topics but there were a number of gems. Alexis talked about Hipmunk specifically and their desire to always try something different. Their first hit was the Agony option. It captured something their users were already considering but hadn’t quite put into words. For Mixology, he distributed pre-stamped postcards to solve the “agony” of finding 29 cent stamps. Definitely unique. Further, Andrew’s polished interview style and his ability to redirect and focus an interviewee kept the entire session moving and engaging.
Finally, we have Travis Kalanick of Uber*. Travis has the unique distinction of being sued for 250 billion dollars for his startup Scour.com and threatened with up to 20,000 years in jail for merely operating Uber. For those not familiar, Uber is an on-demand black car service that allows a driver – who is otherwise between scheduled jobs – to opt-in and fill the rest of their schedule. In this session, he shared the reasoning behind their metrics. It was a fascinating look at how they’ve estimated, validated, and tracked demand throughout San Francisco. Even more interesting was how they’ve enabled the system in New York City and started collecting data. So far they’ve already killed some bad assumptions for a fraction of the cost of trying them. A major win.
Overall, it was a great event. The TechCocktail team – led by Frank Gruber and Jen Consalvo – are great at finding good people to talk about engaging subjects. Their events all over the country are a good way to plug into your local startup community, find out what is out there, and find sharp people. Until last summer, I lived and worked in DC Technology circles and caught every one of their events possible. I suggest you do, too.
* Disclosure: As noted, Uber is a customer of Twilio and I have used their service in San Francisco.