Category Archives: Start-up culture

Charlottesville: Marcia :: Roanoke: Jan

Oooh, look at pretty blonde Charlottesville and her fancy new SXSW-clone “happening,” Tom Tom Founders Festival.

Cville, Cville, Cville!

Charlottesville gets all the sexy stuff, and we get dumpy old Norfolk Southern cheating on us with our dumb cousin Norfolk. What, you think just because “Norfolk” is in your name that it makes sense to have more of your employees there? Sounds inbred to me. I hope your kids turn out fugly. And if you’re gonna have a distributed workforce anyway, why couldn’t you cheat on Atlanta? Huh??? Why? What does she do for you that I never did? Why don’t you love ME?

Charlottesville doesn’t have this problem. They’re all like, “what? No, haha lol, I can totally eat this Royale with cheese and still look great in my bikini. LOL, I don’t even exercise, I just never gain weight! LMFAO love ya babez TTYL”

And do we seethe? No, not really; it’s copacetic. I hadn’t even heard of this new festival until this morning, and it starts in two weeks. Have you heard of it? Are you going? Are you interested in driving me? I call shotgun.

I was planning on finishing up that weird post about coworking today, but I thought this might be more interesting. Just wanted to bring it to the attention of my readers, in case all both of you had missed the news. (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!)

And if ya don’t know, now ya know.

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Filed under Charlottesville, Pointless musings, Start-up culture

On the Occassion of Your Birthday

Happy first birthday, We Evolve Us! A birthday is as much a celebration of the year gone by as it is anticipatory of the new year ahead, so let’s cast our misty eyes back upon the time that was. 

First though, let me splain to y’all just what the hell We Evolve Us is, because I know good and damn well you don’t have a clue.

We Evolve Us is an INCREDIBLY ambitious start-up. In Roanoke. That’s right. Not Blacksburg. It is actually headquartered within city limits of Big Lick.

And when I say it is ambitious, man…wow. Imagine if Facebook and Kiva had a baby that grew up to found Habitat for Humanity. Right??? Ambitious.

“Will it work?” you ask. Wrong question, dummy. The right question is, why haven’t you heard of these guys?

As a community, we are failing them and all the future start-ups that won’t be founded here because we are oblivious, failing to take any interest at all in their work. If there is one – just ONE – super ambitious start-up in this town and you’ve never heard of it, well then, I guess we all need to give the fuck up and move. Because tech start-ups like this are the future, and if they don’t have a future here, then Roanoke might as well eat a bullet. Ask Norfolk Southern; that was pretty much their conclusion.

It is totally inconsequential if We Evolve Us “makes” it (unless they scale globally, which, while unlikely, would obviously be a game changer for the whole region). On the other hand, it is imperative that the community embrace this project, if only to encourage the next entrepreneur that this is a welcoming place to try something new. Roanoke has to feel like a safe place to fail, or nobody can feel empowered to take risks. 

Here’s the thing. If We Evolve Us fails, you know what founder and CEO Philip Tompkins is going to do? He’s going to try something else.  And the odds of his success will go up, because he’ll be able to avoid the unseen pitfalls you only discover by falling in. But the onus will be on all of us who live here and give a damn to convince him that founding his company in Roanoke, Virginia, was not one of those mistakes to be avoided the second time around.

So, a look back at the past year reveals…what? Well, that a small, part-time team can build an incredible platform for social change that ironically hasn’t changed social networking here in the Valley. But that was Year One.

So my birthday wish for you, We Evolve Us, is that you find a userbase and enough funding to make it to your second birthday. Hopefully a year from now you won’t be the only interesting start-up in town. 

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Filed under Roanoke Start-ups, Start-up culture

I guess you HAVE heard of Riff…

Judging by the increase in traffic on the site following the post about Riff, I’d say that was a fairly popular topic.

So two quick points. First, the whole reason I started this blog was to highlight local start-ups because nobody else seemed to be doing that. If stories like this find an audience, then I feel like that validates my premise that this really is an unfilled niche. So congrats to me. And you’re welcome.

Second, listen up Riff. Here’s a story about me growing up in West Philadelphia using your app: I worked hard to craft the PERFECT “riff” – believe me, it was great – sent it to my friend and waited for him to respond positively. I was expecting hilarity to ensue. Instead I got back this:

photoSo there you have it, indisputable proof that confused people named Chandler think you purvey pornography. I hope you can live with yourselves.

And no, that does not say more about me than it does about you.

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Filed under Blacksburg Start-ups, 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