How to gauge the state of your local tech community

I sign up for a ton of email newsletters.

Part of it is because I want to try keeping up with what’s happening in all the communities we’ve visited over the past few years.

Part of it is because I want to see what other copywriters and authors are sending out to their audiences.

Part of it is because I want to feed my extreme FOMO for information.

Anyway, that’s not the point…

The funny thing about the end of every year is that every single local tech newsletter ends the calendar year with a retrospective look at their local entrepreneurial community. And they usually sort it by the number of clicks (in an attempt to “prove” what the readers cared about over the past twelve months).

Maybe it’s because they think it matters. Maybe it’s because they don’t have anything else to write about over the holidays. Maybe it’s because they’re desperately trying to boost their clicks before the end of the year.

Here’s the thing: the state of your local tech community isn’t measured by web traffic reports.

You measure the state of your local entrepreneurial community by the number of companies created. By the jobs created. By the revenue growth created. You measure the state of your local entrepreneurial community by a different measuring stick.

It’s not about people’s clicks. It’s about people’s actual work.

 

Sales emails: two changes that get 250% conversions

It’s super simple:

  1. Keep it short, especially the first time you email someone. No one enjoys walls of text. Ever.
  2. Always make the benefits clear within the first two sentences. This applies to the first email you send someone — and the hundredth email you send that same person. Don’t introduce yourself. Don’t waste a paragraph re-explaining that thing you talked about on the phone. Just get to the benefits. If it benefits the reader, they’ll respond.

Emailing an investor? Start with your traction. (“We have X customers and we’re growing Y% week over week.”)

Emailing a prospect? Start with the quantifiable benefits. (“We helped [XXX] get a 88% increase in leads when they used us.”)

If you find yourself sending your investors and your prospects (and even your friends) emails “bumping” something back to the top of the inbox, it’s your fault for not winning their attention. Rewrite the subject line, email and call to action instead of sending more awful emails.

That’s it. Really simple. No brainpower required.

Why Startups Die

When we first moved into the Airstream, we thought that safety and logistics would be incredibly hard to handle but that decent wifi and entertainment would be super easy.

After 100,000 miles under our belt, it seems that we had it backwards: the things we thought would be hard turned out to be easy and the things we thought would be easy turned out to be hard.

(Safety and logistics in a RV is much easier today thanks to smartphones and other travel blogs. Streaming Netflix to your Apple TV, however, via your mobile hotspot can blow through your monthly data in hours. 🤦🏻‍♂️)

I think it’s the same with startups: many start out thinking that building the product will be hard and selling the product will be easy. In hindsight, most tell me that they had it backwards.

Most startups die because of their inability to acquire customers not because they couldn’t build the product. (Most people don’t travel because of the excuses they tell themselves not because someone else was holding them back.)

Most startups die because of their inability to acquire customers not because they couldn't build the product. Click To Tweet

I started my travels to escape life. Along the way, I found it.

The first question people ask you about anything tells you almost everything you need to know about their mindset. This applies to entrepreneurship, personal development and even living in a RV.

For example, the #1 question I get about living in an Airstream is this: “But, how do you back it up?”

Not, “where can I go with that?”

Not, “where do I learn more?”

Not, “where do I go from here?”

Here’s the point: most people focus on all the reasons they can’t do something rather than consider all the ways they could do something.

They let their fears stop them. They let their internal “invisible scripts” stop them. They let what other people think stop them.

If you’re honest with yourself, you have probably experienced this for yourself. I know I have.

If you decide to stop reading now, I’ll leave you with this: in 2018, I hope you resolve to think about the future more than you think about the past. I hope you resolve to think more about what could go right than what what could go wrong.

Last year, I wrote about my 26,141 miles of mistakes, learning and growth. This is about the next 30,000 miles of mistakes, learning and growth through 2017.

For some context: I’ve driven nearly 100,000 miles in the past two years — back and forth across North America more times than I can count. A little over half of those miles involved hauling my 2016 30′ Airstream Classic behind me. And almost all of those miles included my soon-to-be bride.

I’ve lived in 94 cities for a week at a time. I’ve slept in 44 states and two provinces. I’ve met over 50,000 people along the way. (And even invested in some of the best of them.)

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So, here are some of the most personal things I learned in 2017:

  • Lying to yourself is the worst thing you can do. When things don’t go right, most people blame other people or their own circumstances. I know I did. But those are just lies we tell ourselves to dull our own disappointment, guilt or shame. I don’t care if you lie to other people (though, I hope you don’t) but please don’t lie to yourself.
  • The rear view mirror is useless. (Warning: bad dad analogy ahead… brace yourself.) When you pull a travel trailer behind you, the first thing you notice is that the rear view mirror becomes useless. You can’t see anything behind you and it forces you to just focus on what’s ahead. That’s not a bad way to think about your life as you head into 2018.
  • Negative people are the worst — cut them out. You don’t need to confront them. You don’t need to have awkward conversations with them. You don’t even need to delete them from your phone. Just optimize for hanging around the most optimistic people you can find. You have the same 24 hours in each day as I do — spend them with happy people.
  • Make a commitment to travel more regularly. You don’t need your own Airstream or a lots of time off from work. If you can save $250 per month, you can spend a weekend each month visiting some other city within a 500 mile radius of your home. Do it. It’ll be the best investment you make in yourself.

As 2017 comes to an end, there’s one thought that continues to hit me: Two years ago, I started my travels to escape life. Along the way, I found it. 🙏🏼

So, here’s my advice to you: Make 2018 your year. Spend more time looking forward and less time looking back. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

Make 2018 your year. Spend more time looking forward and less time looking back. It'll be worth it, I promise. Click To Tweet

Niche is the new big

Before the Internet was around, you had to aim for a huge market if you wanted to build a huge company. Today, things are different — and it’s because the Internet is everywhere.

If you’re reading this and you’re an entrepreneur, there are two things you need to know:

  • Niche is big. And those niches are only getting bigger. All you need is 1,000 True Fans.
  • The only people that need big companies are the investors with the big funds. The only thing you need is a focus on customers.

If you need more proof, go read the history of companies like Proctor & Gamble, America Online and Sweetwater Sound. 🤷🏻‍♂️

 

Growth is the only common language between entrepreneurs and everyone else

One of the many other things I’ve learned over the past 18 months is that when you put entrepreneurs, investors and anyone else around a single table something weird happens: they’re all kind of talking about the same thing but in a slightly different language.

Entrepreneurs are excited about their product. Investors are excited about the possibility of financial returns. Community leaders are excited by the prospect of new job creation.

But then, often, nothing happens. All the excitement leads to no action — and, usually, disappointment from more than a few people.

It seems to me that growth is the only common language between all these different groups.

growth is the only common language between entrepreneurs, investors and community leaders. Click To Tweet

If you’re an entrepreneur, lead with traction whenever you describe your company. Control your narrative.

If you’re an investor, focus your conversation on the growth — or the growth assumptions — of the company. (ie, “OK, you said you had three customers last week. Who are those customers, how many more exist like them and how much will it cost to reach them?”)

If you’re a community leader, share the company’s story as a function of growth rather than a function of passion or some other intangible thing. (ie, “They help bricklayers get X more leads per week.”)

Ultimately, growth is something everyone can rally around regardless of which side of the table you’re sitting on.

The bigger the city, the less it understands modern entrepreneurship

Maybe it’s because there are more employers and jobs available.

Maybe it’s because the traffic and sprawl make it harder to share ideas in person.

Maybe it’s because all (or none) of the above is true.

All I know is that there’s a gap of understanding between the people that are (or want to be) entrepreneurs and everyone else. And, after visiting 94 cities in the last 18 months, that gap of understanding seems to get wider as cities grow.

there's a gap of understanding between the people that are (or want to be) entrepreneurs and everyone else Click To Tweet

I’m not sure what to make of it but maybe you do.

Coworking spaces are awful but important

When you look at the business of coworking spaces, they’re pretty unappealing: they don’t employ many people, their members are often building intangible things that are hard to measure and their business models are tough to justify.

But yet, they’re popping up all over the place. Big cities, small towns and everywhere in between — it’s hard to not find a coworking space in many of the smaller cities across North America. Coworking spaces are one of the four most important things in any tech entrepreneurial hub.

Our current measuring stick for coworking spaces (and startups) is wrong. When you try to measure them like any other business, it’s hard to explain their importance to anyone outside our community. Instead, we should measure the economic footprint of coworking spaces as the sum of their member companies.

we should measure the economic footprint of coworking spaces as the sum of their member companies. Click To Tweet

It may not be perfect but it’s far better than the current measuring sticks.

And, if you’re reading this and running a coworking space, you’re in the best position to help bridge the gap between the tech and the non-tech leaders in your community.

Here’s the biggest opportunity for entrepreneurs — and cities — everywhere else

You can divide most people into two groups: those that are bullish on offline businesses and those that are bullish on online businesses.

The former want to create the next coffee shop or the next farm supply company. The latter want to create the next Amazon or Facebook.

There’s nothing inherently wrong in either of those opinions but the biggest opportunity for entrepreneurs over the next 5 years will be at the intersection of offline and online.

the biggest opportunity for entrepreneurs over the next 5 years will be at the intersection of offline and online. Click To Tweet

And, in particular, it’s about helping those offline companies learn to use online service to grow their businesses. (e.g. social media and paid ads for customer acquisition and online services to streamline their back office processes)

If you’re reading this from San Francisco, Chicago or some other big city, you might think that the online/offline intersection is a joke. Or too basic. Or not disruptive enough.

But the rest of America — and the rest of the world — would disagree with you.

Over the past 18 months, I’ve driven 50,000+ miles, lived in 92+ cities and met 50,000+ entrepreneurs across North America and here’s what I’ve learned:

Ambition is equally distributed. Cash is easier (not easy) to get than ever. Functional expertise — particularly around entrepreneurship — is what’s not equally distributed.

Ambition is equally distributed. Cash is easier (not easy) to get than ever. Functional expertise -- particularly around entrepreneurship -- is what's not equally distributed. Click To Tweet

And that’s the opportunity for entrepreneurs, investors and community leaders everywhere.

To really think about what it takes to help more of their existing offline businesses learn to use and leverage the latest online platforms and tools to grow those local businesses.

Encourage your local tech entrepreneurs to run a workshop on using Facebook ads. Or a workshop on using social media effectively. Or a workshop on using existing online tools to streamline back office processes. And spend the rest of the time getting local offline businesses to come spend an hour a week learning about it.

Whatever you do, just do something. And start doing it today. That time will be better spent than begging other big companies to move to your town.

It’s not about influencers or lucky breaks, it’s about the process

Filip, one of my readers, made a great point about my most recent tip on improving cold emails:

Sadly I think most of these cold emails are not even justified. A lot of people seem to be reaching out to influencers, hoping for some lucky break, instead of actually working on building their business.

One could make the case that the sender needs advice, but there are so many books/videos out there which already address probably any challenges one could have. If one truly needs specialized and custom advice, they should fix that problem immediately by finding the right person and paying them for their time like on clarity.fm, certainly not wasting time spamming people with coffee requests, LOL.
It’s a great reminder that entrepreneurs should be extracting information rather than asking for advice. And that everything — growing your business, raising money for your startup and hiring your team — is a process.