Category Archives: Start-up culture

Have You Heard of Riff?

Riff could be the NEXT BIG THING!!!

I don’t really know anything about that…I just believe in hype.

So, Riff is a “music messaging” app, allowing users to send a 20-second music clip and an optional picture to any contact in their phone. It is pretty cool, though, honestly, totally frivolous. But most apps are, so who am I to say anything? Frivolity rules. Oh, and like Snapchat, these messages self-destruct, so enjoy the hell out of those 20 seconds while you can.

Having apparently grown out of an Entrepreneurial Club meeting at Virginia Tech, the founders of Riff are sticking to tried-and-true marketing methods to spread the word: hotties in their tumblr posts. Not gonna lie, I appreciate that, and I think their target demographic will as well.

I’ll report back as I continue to use the app. They are currently in Beta, and I’m not sure what full functionality will look like, but “local boys release cool app” is always a story worth pushing. Let’s keep an eye out and see where they take this.

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Filed under Blacksburg Start-ups, Start-up culture

A $600K Idea

To quote the late, great Madame: I have all these things. In my head? Ideas!

Always fun to come home for a visit and just feel the energy in a city the size of DC. People walk here! To go places! And crossing the street is an exciting contact sport.

And though I haven’t been writing (on here; I’m on fire on twitter), I’ve been collecting ideas and making notes for when I get home to Noke and actually have time to write.

But since all of the Internet is just a first draft anyway, I thought I’d throw this out real quick because the thought is killing me.

Please forgive typos and general sloppiness, as I’m on my phone.

What I’m thinking about are accelerators, and how I don’t really know how they work or why it makes sense for the state to give us 600k to put one in an old medical building.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not against the idea, I just don’t understand it. Like, who works in an accelerator? I don’t mean the “seed-stage start-ups” the accelerator is supposed to help nourish, I mean the other people. Are there other people? If not, why not? What will they do? And if there aren’t trained professionals there to do start-upy things to help founders get moving, then wouldn’t that make the “accelerator” just start-up focused office space? And if there are people working there, are they government employees? If they are private workers, then they would work for…whom? Because I don’t look around Roanoke and see an existing business that teaches founders how to get a seed-stage venture off the ground, so, wouldn’t that mean that to the extent we do get a private company in there to run the thing, it would itself have to be a start-up business?

Whew! That right there is a whole passel of questions masquerading as a paragraph, ain’t it? Thing o’ beauty, powerful beauty, and fearsome. Ain’t never seen it’s like before, and God willing, I never will again.

The Internet is all a first draft, keep that in mind.

But what really got me questioning the state’s 600k investment is that I found what I believe to be a better model in New York Startup Lab. They are a permanent start-up team. Founders pay them rather than building out a team to work on an unproven idea. Once the idea is up and running, then the founder has something tangible and proven to build a team around.

Isn’t that smart? They are a mature business that never stops working on start-ups, so they know exactly what they are doing. That doesn’t mean the ideas are any good, of course, but even a great idea can’t build itself; you need a team. There aren’t many things sadder than a world changing idea that can’t find a team to support it.

Well, these guys do.

How many teams like this could we put together with $600,000?

Just a thing in my head. An idea!

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Filed under infrastructure upgrades, Start-up culture

Sriracha-Marinated Sweetbread Tacos

We received a tweet last night – @starcitydreamr Sup, homie? yeayuh – asking about our mission statement here at Grandin Republic: are we only “bout it bout it” as regards technology start-ups, or does our definition of a ‘start-up’ include more than just tech ventures?

Uh. Ok. Let me answer like this. A guy goes to the bank, gets a traditional business loan, hires a commercial realtor to find him a suitable downtown location, and opens a fast-casual restaurant serving American fare…that isn’t a start-up.

If that same guy opens a food truck…is that a start-up? Maybe. Unless he opens a Chick-Fil-A food truck.

But if he opens a food truck that serves Sriracha-marinated sweetbread tacos, then we are having the right conversation (especially if we are having this conversation in Chicago, where unctuous tacos are soooo IN right now ohmygod).

Start-up culture is about trying something different, doing it all a new way, taking risks. The exact definition may be fuzzy, but the outline is (relatively) easy to spot. To quote the immortal words of Potter Stewart, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, start-ups are pornographic. Verbatim, y’all.

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Filed under Start-up culture

It looks even sadder in the rain…Or, why start-ups shouldn’t waste capital buying office furniture

fetch2 Do you know what you are looking at in this picture? Here’s another view: fetch3And one more, just because I’m getting all fancy with pictures: fetch5 My friends, you are staring into an abyss of failure.

Well, I mean literally you are looking at a characterless brick building at the corner of First and Campbell, but it is figuratively the embodiment of an abyss of failure. In the past 36 months, this space went from being an art gallery, to vacant, to a coworking space, to the headquarters of a delivery service start-up, to vacant. That is boo-hoo sadsies.

I’ll admit I don’t know exactly what happened to any of those concerns, and maybe they were all a bunch of d-bags who deserved to fail, but I was personally bummed out when I realized the coworking place was gone, and then I was double bummed when the delivery place went under. (Not that it matters, but the delivery place was/is called Fetch, but I don’t remember what the coworking place was called. Might have been the Tear Factory, or maybe the Pit of Despair. Who knows. Oh!, and Fetch might still be in business, although obviously moved…their website looks updated and their twitter account is active.)

But let’s just take a moment to acknowledge some realities and maybe lay down a few ground rules.

First, no crying over spilled milk OR failed start-ups. That is just how this game works. Move fast, break stuff; sometimes, have your dreams crushed.

Second, we win together as an ecosystem, so NO JUDGMENTS. Let’s not let our pleasant little valley become like the cool girl’s junior high lunch table; in other words, we aren’t going to pile on and make failure worse, especially by Monday Morning Quarterbacking. Although…I mean, yes, that’s exactly what I’m about to do when I list the Rules in a second, but this is intended to be educational. Let’s all learn this lesson TOGETHER.

Okay, now some Rules. To start with, don’t open an inconvenient coworking space; if you aren’t near a walkable population center AND you have no parking, you can’t expect a start-up or telecommuter to pay to work in your space rather than in Starbucks, or their kitchen, for free. Second, if you want to be a hip coworking space, don’t plant yourself in an ugly building in a totally dead block. Third, become a 24-hour destination, which means keep the lights on. And finally, rent your furniture. Its a little more expensive long term if you get your venture off the ground, but hella cheaper if you fail in the first year.

One final bonus Rule for delivery services: you don’t need expensive downtown storefront real estate. You need a garage. But Fetch, if you read this, this Rule is actually for FUTURE delivery services, as I have a feeling your start-up grew out of the failure of the Pit of Despair, and so you probably assumed the remainder of their lease term. That’s my guess, and if true, I get it. Still, for next time, remember this phrase: efficient breach. Because you got to know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em.

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Filed under Coworking, Start-up culture, Start-Up Rules

Shart Tank!!!

How all y’all doin this morning? Peachy, I hope and pray.

Have you heard the latest about Shart Star Tank? No? Have you not heard of Star Tank? Allow me to enlighten you:

Star Tank is like that show “Shark Tank,” where randoms walk in off the street and pitch business ideas to a panel of potential investors, the only differences being that it is in Roanoke and instead of Mark Cuban you get to meet Mark Lucas and/or Mark Pace. And don’t ask why it is called “Star” Tank…you’re better than that.

Anyhoo, this version they are doing May 14th at the CoLab in Grandin will differ from the one they did last November (and will do again this coming November) in that this event “will focus on business development by allowing start-ups, inventors, and entrepreneurs the opportunity to present their pitch and receive feedback.” That sounds totally different to me so I believe them that it is totally different and not exactly the same thing they’ve done before.

I personally love the idea of a local venue for start-ups to polish their pitch, potentially pitch polish, and certainly pitch woo. Seriously, I do! Is it a bit hokey, er, “hokie” (get it? GET IT?), to just balls-out copy this dumb tv show? Yes, but it also seems like fun, and really helpful even if you fall on your face.

As it happens, I walked into CoLab last November when they held the inaugural event. Didn’t have a clue what the hell was going on. They had a couple of banners hanging on the walls and a bunch of nervous, suited gentlemen walking around toting white binders. And that is the sum total of my reportage from Star Tank #1! I’d have taken more extensive notes had I realized I’d soon be starting a world-famous blog.

Here, now read more words: Since I’m not a journalist, I don’t feel like I need to make any stinkin’ disCLOsures to you beetches, but I will anyway because I like you, so you might be interested to know that I have met a few of the judges on the panel, I know everyone who works for and at CoLab, and I’m vaguely considering getting my “stuff” together and presenting my own biz idea at this shindig in May. ‘Nuff said.

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Filed under Grandin culture, Start-up culture

It is called “serendipity”

On the same day Apple unveils its dope watch, Roanoke receives a 600K grant from the state for a land swap deal that will lead to the opening of an accelerator inside an old medical building in 12 to 18 months time.


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Filed under infrastructure upgrades, Start-up culture

Same ol’, same ol’ Part 1

I swear that this blog will eventually be more than simply re-posting articles from the Roanoke Times, but just this very second (!) I read an interesting and almost germane article that I thought you, my zero dear readers, would find…um, how will you find this? Amazing? Catastrophic? Since there are zero of you, I guess there will be no feeling at all.

Anyway, here is the article.

“Start-up culture,” on which I’m an unquestioned expert so don’t question me on it, begins with smart people with new ideas, but it does not end there. You also need boring infrastructure crap, as you would for any nascent endeavor. (Except for hillbilly culture, for which all you need is dirt. No, I kid! This is Appalachia, homie, I ain’t hatin’. I’ve got pickup envy SO HARD right now.) Infrastructure that One Million Percent includes ubiquitous broadband, but also just good office space. Utilitarian – meaning conducive to the way start-ups work, so NOT segregated cube farms in suburban office parks – and comfortable.

We need more and better office space for start-ups to thrive here. For all the hype surrounding Roanoke’s downtown revitalization over the past decade, developers have actually done a shit job on this front. Sure, we needed apartments, but we didn’t only need apartments. What about a grocery store? Or a movie theater? Or affordable, attractive office space for start-ups??? *Caveat:Coworking space is a separate issue, and one I’ll discuss at a future date; as regards Roanoke, it is a surprisingly fruitful topic.*

Back to the article in the Times, which, for those too lazy to click on it, is about the City of Salem’s plan to “energize” their lil’ downtown. Why is it interesting for our purposes here at Grandin Republic? Especially when a reference to start-ups, even an oblique one, is nowhere to be found? It is because of the following quote, explaining that the methodology of the Salem study, which included public solicitation of ideas and upon which planning for downtown revitalization was based, uncovered this response:

“Not everyone sees the need to change anything in Salem, though. Payne said one thing they have noticed from survey respondents and casual conversation is that older generations of Salem residents think downtown Salem is fine just the way it is and don’t care for any changes.”


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Filed under NIMBY, Start-up culture

A second post?

Yeah, a second post! This is almost legit.

So here is a confession: I wrote a few posts even before taking the plunge and signing up with WordPress. I figured that if there was actually something to be said on the issue of Roanoke Valley Start-Up Culture, I’d be able to write more than one story pretty much off the top of my head.

And I was. Able to write more than one piece, that is; in fact, I stockpiled a handful. However, after publishing the first post, I’m questioning the value of those rounds remaining in the clip.

Still, I want to keep the momentum going, so I wanted to share a couple of articles you might have missed in the Roanoke Times. Here is one posted online February 26, and another posted today, the 8th of March.

Neither article is about start-ups, exactly, unless you consider DIY civic hacktivism to be a part of start-up culture. Which I do, and it obviously is, so I’m happy to share these cool examples of Sisters Doing It For Themselves.

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Filed under Start-up culture

Hello World


Here’s the deal. I looked around for one good source, one decent outlet for news and reportage on the Valley’s “start-up culture,” but couldn’t find one. Sure, there were a few scattered news stories in the paper, but nothing in-depth and on-going.

To clarify: Not THAT Valley, but this whole ‘nother valley here in Virginia, the Roanoke Valley. Y’all should come visit.

Anyway, it was a Dead End, so this first entry represents something of a rightaboutface, a three-point turn in that search cul-de-sac. I’m gonna take this old jalopy (huh? What jalopy?) out on the information superhighway and just EMBODY the change I want to see in the world. (A blog is the change you want to see in the world? Please, lower your expectations before life rips your shit to shreds.)

I am not going to be cynical. I am not going to make this about myself. I am not going to make this about my pit bull, who regularly rips my shit to shreds.

I am, instead, writing this thing for ONLY ONE PURPOSE.

Oh, you want me to explicitly state that purpose? I thought it was obvious enough that I wouldn’t have to spell it out for you. Ok, I’m going to write about “start-up culture in the Roanoke Valley.” Duh.

I imagine this could be difficult. And when I say difficult, I mean there will be words and also typing of words. So yeah. But, again, I went looking for a resource and it apparently doesn’t exist, so dagnabbit, somebody has got to do this thing!, and I guess that somebody is me until I get bored with it. I’ll just take it one step at a time. As they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And also additionally too, you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.

And I’m not going to be cynical or snarky starting on my very next post.

Speaking of, here is how I see the path forward in future posts (leave a comment if you have additional ideas [eternal silence of slumbering keyboards]): discuss resources for local start-ups, e.g. access to capital and adequate work space; interviews with local techie types; rambling opinions; pithy musings on muesli;  and other start-up issues.

So let’s briefly recap. Roanoke Valley start-up culture. News. Information. Pit bulls. Muesli.

Stay tuned.

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Filed under Start-up culture