Tag: Entrustet

Capital Entrepreneurs: How To Start A Founders Meet Up Group In Your City

I’ve been involved in the startup community in Madison for about 6 years now, but had a hard time fitting into the networking scene, especially as a college student who was also running a business.  Most of the entrepreneurship and networking events in Madison were either overrun by service providers trying to sell you something, cost too much for what they provided or were at bad times or locations.  The signal vs. noise ratio at most of these events was pretty poor.  At some of the other events, I’d be the youngest person by 3o years.

There really wasn’t a good, free, entrepreneurship organization that was limited to founders.  To fill the gap, I founded Capital Entrepreneurs, an invite only meet up for founders of startups.  We meet up once per month at a bar in Madison, grab drinks and talk about our businesses, ideas and how we’re moving forward.

Here’s some Capital Entrepreneurs stats from the last year:

Best of all, it’s been something that we all look forward to each month.  It’s lonely starting a startup.  In the early stages, you might only see one other person (your cofounder) each day for months at a time.  Founders groups like CE help create a scene and allow you to commiserate with others in your situation.  You also get “coworkers” and if you’re lucky like we are in Madison, most of the startups will be located close together to facilitate lunches and happy hours.

The awesome thing is that it’s been really easy to get Capital Entrepreneurs started and it’s been incredibly successful, moreseo than I ever envisioned back in May 2009.  If your city doesn’t have a good founders group, I’m here to give you the steps to take to replicate the success that we’ve had with Capital Entrepreneurs.

Your startup group should have the following characteristics:

  1. Exclusive to Founders – No attorneys, accountants, people searching for jobs, consultants etc.  These are all nice people, but do not belong in an entrepreneurship group.
  2. Private Email List – People like to keep their emails private.  Use BCC to send out invites
  3. Open to new members – You’ll never grow if you exclude startups
  4. Free – Do not charge admission
  5. Website – Create a website and post updates
  6. 1-2 people should control it – If there’s more, it gets too complex
  7. Sponsors – After you’ve been going for awhile, you’ll find that attorneys, accountants and others will want to be invited.  We started offering sponsorships where service providers can attend one meeting per year as long as they do not try to sell their services.

Step 1

Survey the existing startup groups in your city and try them all out.  There are 6-7 entrepreneur and young professional groups here in Madison.  All are valuable, but none provided exactly what we wanted to do with Capital Entrepreneurs

Step 2

Reach out to your network.  I emailed all of the founders that I had gotten to know, about 15 of them, and asked if they were interested in a meet up specifically for founders.  I got a good response and moved forward.

Step 3

Set up a wordpress site.  I bought the Capital Entrepreneurs domain name and installed wordpress.  I created a members page that includes everyone’s logos and a 2 sentence description of their business.  The home page is a feed of press that our member companies gets and we have a contact form so that new businesses, press and other can get in contact with us.  We later added a resources page that lists some service provider sponsors to advertise to our members, along with a list of helpful articles and resources that came from Entrepreneur 101.

Step 4

Find a location.  We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had a regular meeting location.  The great guys at Brocach let us have a private room upstairs, give us free appetizers and run us a tab for drinks.  I called 5-6 bars in town to find the one with the best deal and you can too.  Try to find a place that will not charge you fees.

Step 5

Pick dates and time that people will be able to come to.  We’ve picked Wednesdays or Thursdays from 7-9pm, as we are a somewhat younger crowd and most of the people walk to the events.  Pick a time that works for your members and your city.

Step 6

Send invitation.  Shoot emails to all of the people who’ve expressed interest and tell them that they should forward the email on to any other startup founders.  Make sure that everyone understands that it is for founders, not service providers like attorneys, accountants or for people searching for jobs.

Step 7

At the first meeting, make sure to introduce everyone so that everyone is comfortable.  Explain that this will be a monthly event and that it is for founders.  Keep it casual and then schedule the next monthly meeting at the end of the event.


Overall, you want to create a place where founders can come to meet up, exchange ideas, get to know each other, without the burden of talking with service providers are those handing out resumes.  Once you get a group together, make sure to keep emails private and set up a twitter handle and website where you can post updates about group members.

If you follow these steps, you’ll likely be able to replicate what we’ve done in Madison.  I think cities of just about any size can benefit from founders groups.  Even if the groups are small, they can be fun, easy ways to connect with your fellow entrepreneurs.  If you’d like help starting a founders group in your city, please feel free to contact me.

Are there good startup groups in your city?  Have you started one?  Would you go to one if there was one in your city?

SXSW Recap

SXSW 2010 was my first SXSW experience.  I had heard amazing things from friends who had gone before and from people on my previous trips to Austin, so I had high expectations.  It did not disappoint.

For those who do not know, SXSW stands for South By Southwest, which is a combination Technology, Film and Music festival held each year in Austin, Texas.  It is one of the biggest in the US, if not the world and brings some of the smartest and most interesting people together to listen to panels, network and go to parties.

I was lucky enough that my first time going to SXSW also included the added experience of launching Entrustet into beta, with Jesse giving a talk called “People Die, Profiles Don’t.” I met some great people and attended some really interesting sessions and will share my best of SXSW.  Check out our Entrustet blog for more info on what we did at SXSW.


We launched our beta version early in the morning on Friday March 12th, a day before our panel.  Everything’s been going really well and we’ve started to get some good traffic and user sign ups.  Our panel got some traction, especially online on Twitter.  Our stat that over 285k US Facebook users will die this year caused a stir and was used by our friends over at The Digital Beyond at their panel on the 16th.

More and more people are asking the question “what happens to my digital assets when I die?” and this attention is starting to reach a critical mass.  Everyone from Guy Kawasaki to the American Bar Association is starting to think about it.  Hugh Forrest, the founder of SXSW raised this question in an interview with NPR:

Yeah, we did one session on that last year and we create this virtual presence more and more with our new technologies. What happens to that presence when you pass away? Do you will that on to someone else to essentially keep on your virtual existence or how does that work? And there are lots or there are some services that help you with that process now.

Now, the other session you mentioned was My Right to Delete, which is, again, in this brave new world we live in, the things we say or do often get onto the Internet and it’s impossible to get rid of them. How do we move on, if and when we want to move on?

Gizmodo is dedicating an entire week to looking at what happens to your digital assets as people pass away, including an article called What Happens Online When We Die? and many other publications have been writing about this issue.  The Digital Beyond’s panel was well attended and Adele McAlear’s blog Death and Digital Legacy has been gaining strength.

I believe that 2010-2011 will be the year that consumers really start to think about what happens to their digital assets when they pass away.  What do you want done with your Facebook?  Your email?  How will you protect your family photos or all of your blog posts?


I went to some great panels this year.  My favorite one was about Seed Combinators and featured a who’s who of entrepreneurship forces.  The panel included Paul Graham, Naval Ravikant, Marc Nathan, David Cohen and Joshua Baer and they spoke about their efforts to create successful seed combinators across the country.  I think that Madison, WI has to potential to have a very successful seed combinator and am going to post about it in the next week or so.

Another great panel talked about Social Media in China.  In China, websites are not able to sustain themselves on “advertising” as a business model, so they have had to create innovative business models in order to survive.  I hadn’t realized how big TenCent is (1.5B in revenue, 40% profit margins) and all of it is based on virtual currency and virtual goods.  The Chinese version of Match.com charges $450 for 6 months, equivalent to 1 months salary for the average Chinese citizen.  Like match.com, the service matches you up with potential matches and you go on dates.  After the date, you call into their call center and rate how you thought the date went, what you liked and didn’t like about the other person and if you want to date them again.  The next day, the service calls you back and tells you what the other person thought of you.  It gives you the chance to improve your dating skills and cut through some of the awkwardness.

Another dating site allows you to create an avatar of yourself and go to a virtual “dance club” where you dance with potential partners.  You talk, exchange personal info and get to know each other.  The site makes money when the people buy drinks, gifts and other virtual goods for each other.  After awhile, if you like the other person, you can meet up in person.

Advertising has been a crutch in the American Internet space that is being removed as we speak.  I think you will start to see more innovative business models, like Mint.com and others come to the US in the near future.

I also attended Student Startups to hear about others experiences starting a business in college (nice job by the panel, including Ellen Chisa), The Third Coast, by the founders of Crowdspring and many others.  If I had to do it again, I would attend more core conversations, rather than panels, as there is more give and take and you have a better opportunity to interact with the speakers.

Food, Parties, Fun

I could write an entire post about each of these topics, but a short recap will have to do.  I had some amazing food in Austin, but the best came from a food cart called Texas Picnic.  I had one of the best pulled pork sandwiches I’ve ever had and their white BBQ sauce on their chicken was unlike anything I’ve ever tried.  I’m somewhat of a BBQ connoisseur, so that is high praise.  The Whole Foods we went to was the biggest I have ever seen, with a crazy amount of selection.  If I had unlimited money I’d shop and eat there all the time.

The parties were really fun, with the highlight being the Mashable party.  We had to wait in line for at least an hour, but we made the best of it, creating a new check in location on Gowalla that served as the unofficial Entrustet Launch party (8 people checked in).  We grabbed some beers from the liquor store across the way and made friends with the people around us and had a great time.  The Thrillist party on our last night had some great live music, although we missed the DJ.

I also met some great people who I hope to stay in contact with in the future.  One of the interesting people was Geoff Hamrick, a 19 year old entrepreneur from North Carolina.  Geoff and his partner George have a cool site called Group Story that lets you share photos and collaborate to create photo books.  They’ve got a really cool idea going.

Overall SXSW was a great experience.  I will definitely be back next year and hope to see many of the cool people I met this year again and hear about their successes in the year apart.  I learned a ton, including some lessons that will lead to direct improvements in Entrustet.  It was a week well spent.

Entrustet Beta and SXSW

You may have noticed that I haven’t had many new posts lately.  I’m in Austin, TX at South By Southwest, where we launched Entrustet Beta two days ago.  After about 18 months of work, we are incredibly proud of the site.

With Account Guardian, we’ve created a free way for you to create a secure list of all of your digital assets (any online account or file on your computer) and decide what you’d like done with each asset when you pass away.  You can either decide to delete individual digital assets or decide to pass specific assets to heirs of your choosing.

Jesse gave his presentation People Die, Profiles Don’t at South By Southwest yesterday and we got a great reaction.  The most tweeted about portion was our stat that over 285,000 American Facebook users will pass away this year.  We calculated this number using Facebook’s own stats and US Government data provided by the US Census and the Centers for Disease Control.

We believe that this number shows that companies already face a large problem about what to do with digital assets when their users die.  I’ll have a longer post about where I think the industry is going once I get back to Madison on Wednesday, so stayed tuned!

More Practice, Less Theory

“What do we need to know this for?” I asked as my K5 teacher tried to tell me how to write more clearly.

My penmanship was pretty bad and the teacher realized that I was writing my letters backward.  Instead of writing some of my letters from bottom to top, I wrote from bottom to top.  I remember being annoyed and asking “what do we need to know this for?”  I could read my writing and so could the teacher, but I wasn’t following the rules.  In 3rd grade, I pretty much refused to learn cursive because I could print really fast and hated the new rules, again asking “what do we need to know this for?”  I continued this (probably incredibly annoying) refrain all the way through middle school: manually calculating slope instead of using a graphic calculator, diagramming sentences, specific types of bibliographies.  Even gym class wasn’t safe from my middle school ire.

Somewhere along the line, probably around freshman year of high school, I kept the questions to myself, but decided to tune out anything that I thought wasn’t going to help me later in life.  I loved reading about interesting things that had happened in real life and writing about current events, but hated theoretical or outdated lessons.  My favorite class in high school was consumer economics, an entire class devoted to balancing your checkbook, investing in stocks and personal economics.  It was real and I still use many of those skills I learned sophomore year.

I hated geometry because of the rigidity of proofs, hated calculus because I couldn’t understand why we had to do it by hand when we had graphing calculators to do it for us.  I hated memorizing the parts of a cell in freshman biology and reading about the Greek Gods.  It was boring and I couldn’t see the benefit later in life.  I haven’t used any of those “skills” since. This choice was the main reason why I got waitlisted at UW and almost didn’t get in, but I don’t regret it one bit.

When I got to college, I was expecting a change.  I thought we would learn how to succeed in the real world, but I quickly realized it was going to be more of the same inside the classroom.  I realized that if I was going to learn, I would have to do it myself.  After I bought ExchangeHut, I thought I’d try the business school.

After about half of a semester, I realized it wasn’t right for me.  Accounting 100 was rule driven and required you to do problems by hand.  After managing ExchangeHut’s accounting in Quickbooks for a few months, I couldn’t understand why we would figure out any of that stuff by hand.  Why not just use Quickbooks and save all of the trouble?  After the first four weeks, we started to learn about how Wal-Mart manages its inventory and how other large corporations prepare financial statements.  While I understand accountants need to know this stuff, I realized it was worthless to me.  I could use quickbooks for my accounting and if I ever got really successful, I’d hire an accountant.  Why bother?  I found the over reliance on theory to be extremely prevalent in business school classes.

I had a simple accounting question for ExchangeHut and asked four different friends who were Accounting majors with good GPAs.  None of them knew the answer, but they could sure solve the question on the exam about WalMart’s inventory system.  It happened again this year with an intern for Entrustet.  We have a finance major who earned a 4.0 from UW and is graduating in the spring.  He is clearly smart and learns quickly.  We have him doing some balance sheet work and other finance related tasks and he’s good at it.  He was working on our balance sheet and ran into a somewhat complex issue, so he went to his finance professor and asked for help.  The professor said “just use quickbooks, it’ll know where to put everything in the right place.”

At first I just laughed, but then I realized this was a microcosm of why students are having trouble adjusting the the real world.  I don’t think its our intern’s fault.  He just was never taught how to use quickbooks and as soon as he got to the real world, his professor says “use quickbooks.”  That’s what happens to graduates all over the country.  Rebecca Thorman’s post addresses how colleges are failing students, but I really think the over reliance on theory in the place of practice is what is hurting students.  Ellen Nordahl looks at the problem from the other side in her post about how students are unengaged.  Universities need to teach students more skills they will use in the workplace or they will not be prepared.  I bet if students weren’t asking themselves “what do we need to know this for” in their heads, they would be more engaged in their school work.

I am not saying that we should throw out all theory.  It is clear that you need to understand the basic theory in order to implement them in practice, but universities have swung way to far to toward the theory end of the continuum.

Schools are not the only place where the balance is out of whack. I ref a bunch of soccer each year and see the same basic problem.  I ref everything from U-11 to high school to semi-pro adults and I really enjoy it.  Each year, all refs have to take a recertification course that is supposed to refresh refs on the laws of the game and let us know about any rule changes.  It also gives instructors a chance to stress certain aspects of the game and teach better game management.  At the end of the class, everyone has to take a 100 question test and get at least a 75% in order to retain their badge. All USSF refs have to take this class each year, so attendees range from 12 year old first year refs to 70 year old guys who have been reffing for 35 years.  Sounds like a good system, right?

Wrong.  The test focuses on incredibly abstract game situations that would never happen, even to a World Cup level referee.  Here’s some actual questions from the test:

Q: An offensive player is dribbling toward goal, standing outside the penalty area.  A defender who is standing in the penalty area takes off his shoe and throws it at the ball, knocking it away.

Q: A player takes his shin guard off and slaps the ball with the shin guard in his hand.

There are a ton more, but you get the idea.  You have to know the rules to get these questions right, but they cause everyone’s eyes to glaze over.  It would be a test that would be great to do as trivia, but doesn’t really help a 12 year old new referee manage a game.

Because the test is so skewed toward situations that will never happen to you, the instructors have to teach to the test, just like teachers in middle and high schools do for state tests.  To make matter worse, the instructors use jargon heavy language instead of using concrete examples.  For example, at my most recent clinic, a kid of about 13 was confused about offside.  The instructor had said “as the assistant referee, make sure you stay with the second to last defender.”  The kid raised his hand and said “I thought it was the last defender.”  It was clear that the kid forgot that the goalkeeper counts as a defender, but instead of explaining it with an example, the instructor just repeated his sentence again, but more slowly and with more emphasis.  The kid didn’t understand until another ref at my table explained it to him with a diagram and an example.  There were so many other examples like this during the 8 hour course, my head started to hurt.

A huge percentage of kids quit refereeing each year because they get screamed at by coaches and parents.  The recertification classes should teach foul recognition (ie, when to blow the whistle and when not to), how to kick a coach out, how to deal with parents and the basic rules of the game, not what to do if someone throws a shoe at the ball or whether the correct restart after a chicken walks onto the field and knocks the ball over the end-line is a drop ball or a goal kick.  They should be showing videos of fouls from youth and adult games to keep people engaged.  A quick search of YouTube for “soccer violence” or “youth soccer red cards” brings up tons of teaching moments.  Additionally, FIFA makes rule changes each year, usually as a result of something that happened in an important game.  We could have watched videos of each situation to explain why FIFA decided to make the change, but instead we just read it from the book. Just like you learn how to succeed in the real world by doing things and learning practical things like Quickbooks, soccer referees learn from watching other successful referees work and learning from real life situations.

It is harder to come up with engaging, real life lesson plans than it is to teach theory.  Its also riskier.  I think educators are less likely to try to teach real life situations because it takes time to come up with more in depth lesson plans and it’s not the safe choice.  In The Wire (my favorite tv show ever), a teacher realizes that he can teach probability to his inner city students via dice.  The kids love it and learn because they can see how they will use this skill in real life.  I think everyone agrees that the US has to do a better job of preparing students for the future.  The first step is to stop teaching so much theory and start teaching things that students will use in real life.