In italics is Joe Procopio: ExitEvent troublemaker and minor player in the formation of the Startup NC Triangle team.
You look beat.
Ha! I’ve spent the past two weeks organizing and coordinating the Startup NC launch, along with my day job.
I’ve been on the calls and you’ve been killing it. How would you sum it up?
It’s been equally challenging and rewarding. Five weeks ago, I don’t know that anyone knew what Startup North Carolina was or would become. Today, we have over 400 entrepreneurs, investors, community and government leaders registered to attend the launch events in the Triangle and Charlotte. It feels exactly like the sprint before launching a product for a startup.
That’s exactly why I backed off. I already had one of those going on, and from the calls I was on, all the way back to the initial call I had with Scott Case, I felt like if there wasn’t an effort like that, it would fail.
That was my general feeling too. I initially didn’t want to be the one to lead this, but I also didn’t want North Carolina startups to be left out of the Startup America Partnership and all of its resources and connections.
So you and I have had a lot of offline conversations over the past few months, want to sum up how you got from point A to point B?
It has been a while. About five months ago, the potential founders, I guess you could call them, came together and threw around fun ideas and everyone left with warm fuzzies.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
No, it was a good start. But then, I think around three months ago, by and large, the same thing kept happening, because we thought this was going to be guided more from up above, from the Startup America Partnership.
That’s when I pulled back, for Automated Insights and ExitEvent reasons.
Thanks for that, by the way. That got me a little worried that this may not come to fruition, to be completely honest. So about two months ago – I know I can only speak for myself – but probably everyone started feeling awkward, unsure and frustrated about all of this. Would it even happen? Should it even happen? We’re BUSY, and I felt like… we’re talented, but we have talented and busy clients that we could be spending more than 24 hours per day on… so why did I sign up to participate on these calls again?
That’s when you took the bull by the horns, so to speak.
I kept thinking, “Am I going to be part of the solution or part of the problem?” I made a call to Donna and addressed that, and she connected me with Evan Burfield from Startup DC and we realized we had it all wrong. This wasn’t meant to be guided by the Startup America Partnership. I felt like Startup DC had the right approach and we could launch very similarly to the way they launched. We could make this open and bottom-up.
Which was the initial intent, but a lot easier to say than do.
Exactly. So I told that story — bottom-up, open, crowd-sourced, ecosystem generated and driven ideas to improve the ecosystem and accelerate startups in NC. I felt like we had found the winning formula. Then I got all of the questions I hated to hear but needed to hear.
Why would anyone come to this? Will anyone submit ideas? What happens if they submit stupid ideas? We had that many people come when TechCrunch came to town…no offense, but this isn’t TechCrunch… what’s the “carrot”?
I get that with the ExitEvent Social from people who have never been. I say screw the carrot, it isn’t about the amount of people. Just get the right people in the room and get out of the way. Listen to them and then go build what they ask you for.
Yeah, I realized I needed to refine the story. I did that. I realized I needed to get buy-in and have other people tell the story in their own words. They did that. I knew I needed help, and I needed to reach out and find that help. I needed to build an engaged and hands-on team that was willing to execute more than talk.
So two weeks ago – I put the event registration and idea submission and voting page up. Nervousness still ensued.
(Laughs) As it should!
I know. Would anyone care? The awkward radio silence, the uneasy feeling in your stomach, is anyone going to sign up?
Raleigh will be our 12th Startup Social and I feel that uneasy feeling every single time the first set of invites go out.
Now that you mention it, the ExitEvent article came out and I was inundated with offers to help – from directions I didn’t know existed and folks I would never have thought to reach out to. An old friend from college that I didn’t even know was interested in startups, Adam Compton, he’s been the most important person on my team. Tonya Rucker, of course she rocked it at Triangle Startup Weekend for us. She delivered again when I needed her. Derrick Minor, Anthony Pompliano, I’m probably missing so many others.
I reached out to everyone that offered help. There were some folks that gave me proverbial hugs and kisses, but delivered nothing. That will happen and I understand that, but it’s a key point we’ll want to drive home about Startup NC. Nothing will happen if the members of our ecosystem and community don’t step up and take action. I’m confident they will. Everyone else that stepped up and actually delivered, they’ve had a tangible hand in what the Startup NC Launch will look like. ExitEvent hasn’t missed a beat, and I’d attribute a lot of the signups to the ExitEvent articles covering Startup NC.
Least I could do watching all your hard work on this.
The first ExitEvent article was key for us. It came out and we started getting folks signing up, and folks started submitting interesting ideas, and voting, and engaging in a meaningful way.
Awesome. I know Charlotte and Adam Hill have had a huge struggle as well to get this to come together, so I’m not slighting them, but tell me about the heavy lifting for the Triangle event.
Launching is hard, any entrepreneur will tell you that. The team has done all of the heavy lifting – drafting invites, press releases, reaching out to contacts. I just made sure I articulated the vision and pumped in some energy when needed, and made sure they had what they needed. Then I just tried to stay out of the way and let them run with it as they saw fit. And they did.
What do we expect tonight?
We have over 400 registered to attend in the Triangle and Charlotte, and we’ll probably have to cut off registration so we don’t violate fire codes or overload the HVAC units. The RTP Foundation HQ is a nice building and they’ve been incredibly gracious and helpful. There will be energy at the launch, that’s for sure. Oh, and beer and light apps thanks to LoneRider and Eschelon Hospitality, growing and successful local startups in their own right.
So one thing I’ve learned is free beer gets people there but doesn’t keep them there or bring them back. That’s about the value of the program itself, so tell me what you have planned.
We’ve got keynotes from Brooks Bell, Founder and CEO of Brooks Bell and the founder of HUB Raleigh, Aaron ‘Ronnie’ Chatterji, an Associate Professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and Derek Holt, the Managing Director of National Partnerships for the Startup America Partnership.
Then we’ll have Idea Pitches, which I’m most excited about, where we take the best ideas that were submitted over the last few weeks on Uservoice and hear from them about how they plan to take action. We’re going to have some Q&A and then plenty of networking, and during that we’ll have opportunities for people to form leadership teams around the ideas and initiatives that were presented.
Charlotte’s will run along those same lines, and they’ll have Louis Foreman, the CEO of Edison Nation and Founder of Enventys, and Donna Harris, the Managing Director of Startup Regions for Startup America.
That sounds like a solid plan. Listen, I’m glad you took this on, and I’m pretty impressed at how far you’ve taken it. I think it’s got a great chance to move forward past the event and into something real.
Yeah. Thanks. I’m excited because I know our ecosystem will rise to the occasion. It always does.