Yesterday I attended The Startup Conference in downtown Seattle, organized by the Founder Institute. This was the Institutes’s first go in Seattle after putting on the conference in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and Paris. Being relatively new to the Seattle startup scene, I was looking for a solid litmus test of the local entrepreneurial energy as we kick-off 2012.
This conference was a single-day event that featured CEOs from Seattle’s most interesting startups, including Rich Barton (Zillow), Rand Fishkin (SEOMoz), Neil Patel (KISSmetrics) and Glenn Kelman (Redfin). These awesome speakers were rounded out with a Pitch Session featuring over a dozen startups with the top-3 advancing to go for the gold in front of a VC and Angel-staffed panel.
Transparency Software and Power to the People
A veteran founder with multiple companies under his belt, Rich Barton had very interesting and inspirational message to share. Listing all the companies he’s founded or been a part of is challenging, but a few to name include Microsoft, Expedia, Zillow, and Glassdoor. The common thread between all of them was powerful: they remove gatekeepers, democratize information and empower people to make decisions. They turn closed silos into free and open markets where customers are in charge and not companies.
It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t that long ago that a travel agent was required to book a flight. Rich calls these applications “transparency software” and challenged the audience think about other ways to empower people with information that they don’t have access to today. Cool trivia nugget: Expedia started-out as an idea for a CD-ROM, sort of the travel version of Encarta.
No, Pitching a 20 year-old Isn’t Easy
About halfway through the day, it was time for a dozen local startups to try out their pitches in front of a live audience and get instant feedback from Brian Wong, the founder and CEO of Kiip. You’d like to think pitching someone who can’t order a beer yet would be easy, especially if you’re a multi-decade industry veteran. Wrong! Brian provided razor-sharp feedback that managed to be both hilarious and highly insightful.
Humor aside, Brian did a great job of helping these founders hone their pitches. Often times a founder is just way too close to their product and they need help to articulate the concept to a person who’s seeing this for the first time. What problem are you solving? Who are the people that care about this? How big is the opportunity?
2012 is Looking Up for Startups in Seattle
Overall, this was a great event. Much thanks to the Founder Institute, Geekwire and Redmond Startup Weekendfor organizing. When one of the speakers asked the audience “how many of you are in your first year of running your startup?” a startling number of hands went up. There’s a tangible electricity in the air and strong sense of optimism in the people that I got a chance to talk to at the event.