Tag: capital entrepreneurs

Happy Two Year Anniversary Capital Entrepreneurs

It’s been two years since I started Capital Entrepreneurs, an organization to help Madison entrepreneurs connect. I’ve been blown away by how fast CE has grown and how quickly time has gone by.  On our two year anniversary, here’s the story of how we got to where we are today.

In April 2009, I was a month short of gruduating from UW.  I had just started my second company, Entrustet, with my business partner Jesse Davis.  Many of our friends were taking jobs outside of Madison and the two of us were going to be staying in Madison to startup Entrustet.  We both had been a part of the UW entrepreneur scene and had received support from other students, professors and the university itself, but since we were graduating, we were worried that we would not be able to take advantage of the support system any more.

I realized that most people make new friends after college via their job, but since Jesse and I were the only people in our company, I worried that we’d get isolated.  I knew that there were other founders in town who were graduating who likely felt the same and wanted to do something make us more like coworkers, even though we were all working on separate businesses.

I’d been to most of the startup focused meetups and events around town and thought that there was a niche for a group that was specifically for founders that could compliment the existing networking events like High Tech Happy Hour and Madison Magnet.  I wanted to create a place where founders could get to know each other, hang out and talk freely about their problems, dreams and goals, without having to worry about getting pitched by attorneys, insurance agents, accounts or the press.  I wanted a place where ideas flowed freely and entrepreneurs would feel comfortable both asking for help.  I wanted it to be free and without structure.  I wanted Madison’s entrepreneurs to be a community of friends, not a disparate group of people who just happened to start companies.

At the end of April, I talked to a few of my entrepreneur friends and asked them what they thought.  Everyone loved the idea, so I started to look for a venue that would give us a private space for free, along with some other enticement to get our business.  Our friends at Brocach gave us a space in their upstairs bar, along with a nice food special and we set our first meeting.  I invited all of my friends who met two simple rules.  They were:

  1. The founder or first employee of a Madison business
  2. Were not a service provider like an attorney, accountant, insurance agent

Our first meeting was right before graudation in May 2009.  Around 10 founders showed up.  We introduced ourselves, had beers and talked.  It was great.  We decided to do a second meeting that next month.  I quickly realized that Madison entrepreneurs were doing some amazing things, but that the rest of the community had no idea.  So I started a website.  It’s a simple blog that gets updates whenever a CE company gets press, sends out a press release or the city itself makes news.  It also includes a list of member companies, resources for Madison’s startups, along with info on how to join.

Since May 2009, CE has grown slowly, but surely each month.  The second meeting had 12 founders, the 4th 17.  It just kept growing.  One year later, CE had 34 member companies and 60 registered members.  As we grew, service providers wanted to attend to meet the entrepreneurs.  We decided service providers could sponsor CE and attend ONE meeting per year.  At that meeting, they are not allowed to sell their services, just answer questions and get to know the entrepreneurs.  They also have to pay for our bar tab.

We were lucky enough that Neider and Boucher, Michael Best, Boardman Law Firm, Marquette Golden Angels and Venture Investors agreed to be our first sponsors.  Sponsorship worked out great for CE and the sponsors.  It was a great way for entrepreneurs to get to know service providers and for the service providers to get to know us.  It was also a great way to attract new, high growth clients.

CE continued to grow, but I was a little worried when Jesse and I got selected for the Startup Chile programForrest Woolworth stepped up and ran CE while I was gone and did an amazing job.  Over the last year and especially in the last six months, CE has started to take off.  We now have over 75 member companies and 120 people on the email list.  We’ve been featured in Techcrunch, Read Write Web, Madison Magazine and tons of other publications.

Member companies have been featured in the NY Times, The Economist, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Techcrunch, Mashabale, Forbes, BBC and hundreds of other influential blogs, newspapers and magazines.  CE companies have created over 300 full and part time jobs during one of the worst economies in recent history.  We’ve raise over $15m in funding.  Spinback, founded by CE alumni Andrew Ferenci and Corey Capasso, was acquired.  Spill, founded by CE alum Heidi Allstop was selected for Techstars.  My company, Entrustet, was selected for Startup Chile.  CE members have been instrumental in helping start the Forward Technology Conference, Build Madison and other entrepreneurship initiatives in Madison.

Madison’s startup scene has grown significantly in the past few years and I’m excited and proud that CE has been a part of it.  I can’t wait to see what the Madison startup scene looks like in another year!  I’d like to thank everyone who’s helped make Capital Entrepreneurs what it is today.  It would never have been a success without all of your help!

I’m Blogging about Madison Startups At Capital Entrepreneurs

If you enjoy my Startup Reviews, entrepreneur profiles and thoughts on the Madison startup scene, don’t forget to check out my posts over at Capital Entrepreneurs.  For the last year and a half, I’ve been posting on Capital Entrepreneurs whenever a member company gets press, but over the last few weeks, a few of the CE members have decided that we’re going to use the CE blog as the TechCrunch of Madison and potentially all of Wisconsin.  We’re writing more in depth posts and are interviewing more people, startups and entrepreneurs and are even breaking some news that you might not see covered in the local media outlets.

I don’t think I’ll be cross posting much, but I think if you’re interested in hearing about Madison tech, you should check out my stories on Capital Entrepreneurs.  I posted last week about GoBuzz, a business intelligence email service that two CE members launched last week and yesterday I wrote about Chris Meyer’s grand opening of Sector 67, Madison’s first hackerspace. Check out CE and if you have any tips or stories that you think should be told, shoot me an email and I’ll make sure to do

Forward Technology Conference 2010

On the flight back from Austin after SXSW last March, I was taking with Jesse about how much fun it would be to have something like it in Madison.  We thought it would be cool to try to set something up for the summer.  When I got back, I pitched the idea to my friend Matt Younkle, who really liked the idea.  In May, over some beers, we decided to try to make a go of it.  As the summer rolled along, Matt, Bryan Chan and I continued to plan Madison’s tech conference.

The Forward Technology Conference took place at the Memorial Union on the UW campus on Friday and was a huge success.  Over 120 Madison entrepreneurs, techies, investors and other tech savvy Madisonians attended the inaugural FTC2010 to hear from some of the most interesting people in the Madison technology scene.

FTC2010 was only a small part of the 10 day long Forward Technology Festival, which was sort of a “taste of Madison” but for all of the tech and entrepreneur focused groups in town.  The Forward Technology Festival was the brainchild of Preston Austin, who had the foresight to try to bring all of the different tech groups in town together in a week long celebration.  FTF2010 included High Tech Happy Hour, Capital Entrepreneurs, Sector67, BarCamp and other tech focused events.

FTC Highlights

The Forward Technology Conference kicked off with a panel called Entrepreneur 101, which featured four successful Madison entrepreneurs: Greg Tracy (Sharendipity), Dan Voell (GoBuzz), Chad Sorenson (Flamedisk) and Roy Elkins (Broadjam) and was moderated by Bryan Chan (Supranet).  The panelists talked about their successes and lessons they’ve learned over their careers in the startup game.  All of the entrepreneurs talked about staying focused as one of they keys to their success.

Next up was All About LLCs featuring attorney Joseph Boucher of Neider and Boucher and Kevin Kelbel an accountant from Smith & Gesteland LLP moderated by Matt Younkle (Y-Innovation).  Boucher and Kelbel talked about the different types of business entities and shared stories about why different companies should choose LLCs, S or C corps.

After a quick lunch break, we did an hour of breakout sessions with topics proposed from the attendees.  We ended up with a wide range of topics and settled on four.  First was how to run an intern program led by Jesse Davis of Entrustet.  The second group was about what a shared hackerspace in Madison should look like, led by Chris Meyer of Sector67.  Another session was about biomimicry, with the last session focusing on the future of the web and HTML5 (hosted by Momenta’s Dan Gordon).

The final panel of the day was all about design, branding and identity.  It featured John Besmer (Planet Propaganda), Wesley Grubbs (Pitch Interactive), Andy Wallman (Knupp & Watson & Wallman), Gage Mitchell (Gage Mitchell Design) and was moderated by Dan Merfeld, (TheoryThree Interactive).  This was one of the more fun panels of the day and featured spirited discussion on the pros and cons of large and small design shops.  The panelists stressed that brands need consistent messaging across all platforms or their marketing won’t work.  My favorite quote of the day came from Besmer “If you’re thinking about your marketing when its time to do marketing, its way too late.”

We rolled on into my favorite part of the day: Pitch Your Biz.  5 startups had 5 minutes each to present their ideas to the crowd and then the crowd had 5 minutes to provide feedback, ideas and ways to improve the business.  Biz Pitchers included Heidi Allstop (Student Spill), Derek Swoboda (Golf Links Cafe), Joseph Beck (Loacsys), Justin Beck (PerBlue) and Mudit Tyagi (Open ADC).

I love this format because it keeps the participants and the audience on their toes.  The audience can’t fall asleep, since the pitches come fast and furious and there’s a new one every five minutes.  All of the startups did a great job, as did the audience.  My personal favorites were Student Spill, which I think has the potential to be a game changer by bringing support groups online, but with a tweak and PerBlue.  Justin Beck from PerBlue is always an entertaining speaker because he is right to the point, provides compelling stats and doesn’t mince words.  All five startups did a great job and Laurie Benson (Innacom) was a phenomenal MC.

Fred Foster of Electronic Theater Controls was the keynote speaker and told the story of how he founded ETC while he was still in school at UW.  He told war story after war story about his battles growing the company into what it is today: $200m in revenue and 700+ employees.  Foster had the audience laughing every few minutes and I could have listened to him tell stories for as long as he wanted to talk.  I thought it was awesome that when he started the company, he wanted to sell theater controls to The Met and 20 years later, he actually did it.  Talk about perseverance!

After the keynote, we put on a reception above the union terrace, right on the lake.  The weather was perfect and I enjoyed talking with all of the attendees and learning about their current projects.

I really enjoyed FTC2010 and am hoping to make it an annual event.  I know that with a full year to prepare, we can do an even better job and get more people in town to attend.  Madison is turning into a startup hub in the Midwest.  TechCrunch noticedForbes noticed and the local media is starting to take note.  The Forward Tech Conference is another step in the right direction and one that I hope continues to put Madison on the map!

Did you attend FTC2010?  What was your favorite part of the festival? Do you have any suggestions or feedback?

Entrepreneur Profile: Jeremy Shafton, Door-6

Note: This post is the fourth in a new series called “Entrepreneur Profiles.”  These posts focus on an interesting entrepreneur who I’ve gotten to know and hopefully provide a window into their business that you might not otherwise find in a newspaper or magazine.

Nathan Lustig: Hey Jeremy, thanks for talking with me.  Can you give me a brief overview of your company?

Jeremy Shafton: Door-6 was started in June 2009 with the goal of developing mobile phone games with a level of quality only found on handheld gaming devices. We want to eliminate the need for additional hardware by bringing features like immersive 3D environments to the phone. By doing so, gamers will no longer have to spend money on additional hardware, and will be able to directly download our games on their phone’s integrated marketplace at a fraction of the usual cost.

Our first product was Atmosphere: The Training Mission which we built specifically for the 2nd Google Android Developer Challenge. The game was completed in a single month, yet we still managed to reach the final round, finishing in the Top 20 Arcade and Action Games. We continued to improve Atmosphere over the next few months and released its successor, Vacuum, to the Android Market in March 2010.

Between April 1 and May 31 we ran a cash prize contest to reward the top three highscores in Vacuum, for which we recently announced the winners.

We currently have six part-time people, and will be taking on more in the next few months. We’re focused on setting ourselves up for success.

NL: What kind of background did you have to be able to start a mobile gaming company?

JS: I was a big gamer in high school and have had a little bit of Java programming experience, but I saw a great opportunity in this industry and worked with two people who shared my vision on getting this company off the ground.

NL: Many founders of startups have some sort of an “ah-ha moment” when they first got the idea for their company.  Did you have one and what was it?

JS: Together with my partners Jon and Ryan, we looked at the way things are in mobile gaming today and realized that over the next few years there would be a significant transition. 97% of all teenagers and adults have cell phones in the US, even the majority of 12 year olds have cell phones now. The hardware is getting so powerful and so inexpensive, that soon it will be completely out of the question for most gamers to buy more portable gaming hardware than just their phone.

NL: What is the biggest reason you founded your startup?

JS: The startup life is the life for me. In high school I started my first business selling build-to-order desktop computers online. It wasn’t a success by any means, but I gained insight into a lot of the elements of entrepreneurialism. In reality, my first business was in elementary school, I built balsa wood airplanes, painted them “cool” colors, and sold them on the street corner in a custom booth.

And yes, I have photographic evidence of this.

My last startup was The Gadgeteers and it was a small success. I found a unique product, built a website to sell it, briefly existed as the exclusive retailer within the US, and sold hundreds. As exclusivity ended and I had to become a normal ultra-competitive retailer, it just wasn’t as fun anymore.

NL: What is the biggest unexpected challenge you had to overcome?

JS: The biggest challenge we have come across, but have not yet overcome, is breaking into this highly cluttered market. With the release of Vacuum we were able to get the blogs talking, using press releases and YouTube videos, but in the end we didn’t sell more copies than other games. The cash prize contest was one the big ways we drew attention, and even that did not generate significant sales. Instead of rushing into the next product, we are taking the time to build something more groundbreaking that will force the market to pay attention.

NL: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a startup?

JS: I would suggest that you share your ideas with the intelligent people around you, and seek out those who can help you build your idea into a business. Having a great partner or two makes the difference in the early stages.

Work as hard as you can at it, but don’t be afraid of changing your business model as you go. You have to be flexible and consider every opportunity that presents itself.

NL: What are three websites you check everyday?

JS: I like to stay up on the technology, software, and smartphone industries, so I read Engadget and TechCrunch daily. TechCrunch is great for seeing more about what’s happening in the startup world. Number three is Gmail which I have open 24/7.

The Android Development Blog from Google is a good one to check irregularly.

NL: Do you have any funny stories or amusing anecdotes about starting or running the company?  Do people ask you “when are you going to get a real job?”

JS: Everyone always asks how we got our name. We came to it after sitting for days in a conference room trying to pick out a name and after a long while the only consensus we had come to was that the door to the conference room was quite unique looking. From there we just counted how many people were actively involved in the company, and now you have Door-6 Inc.

I get asked the real job question on occasion, but my family is supportive. My girlfriend would prefer if I had a steady salary, but she knows I’m doing what I believe in.

NL: What/who has been the biggest help to you and your company?

Working with Jon and Ryan has been the driving force of the company. Partners make all the difference, like I said earlier. We all count on each other to make this company succeed.

NL: What is the most fun part of running your company?  The least?

JS: The most fun I have had at Door-6 has been building our team. We’ve recruited some talented individuals, and it has been a great learning process for how to build a team and collaborate successfully. Having big meetings where we all share ideas and work together is a blast. The least fun thing is dealing with the fact that pretty much everyone has to commit part time, because of the lack of a salary. It makes it harder to coordinate meetings, and harder to meet deadlines.

NL: As always, it’s been great talking with you.  Good luck with Door-6!