3 Lessons for Startups Trying to Solve an Industry Problem

April 6, 2017

10:30 am

When diving into a city’s ecosystem, a common question is where are all the startups? Sure you can ask around, but to have one central place where the community can turn to is not something ecosystems tend to have available. Having a hub where anyone can peek into the SaaS industry bubbling up in Phoenix was not available, until I took action to help the community.

Six months ago I published an interactive website with a list of all the software companies in Arizona called Gregslist of Arizona software companies on my personal website. One day I just started by listing out local software companies and reaching out to local founders and CEOs to offer help and make connections. Since then, Gregslist has grown into a popular directory with more than 300 Phoenix software companies and adding 10 to 20 companies a month. It has been seen by 15,000 people and shared thousands of times.

Along the way, I’ve learned a lot from this labor of love. The lessons below are for any startup trying to change a perception or do something new in their industry:

Most Problems and Solutions Aren’t Obvious

Since the launch of the website, people continue to tell me, “This list is so obvious and useful. I can’t believe someone hasn’t done this before.” I’m not surprised it didn’t happen before. No one was asking for such a list and nobody was doing the hard work to build a useful resource. I only stumbled onto the need after meeting individually with more than 50 local software founders.

Despite people telling me it was a silly idea, I decided to build the list in my spare time. Only when I launched the list and kept adding more companies each week did it become obvious to others.

Lesson: Find an important industry problem that people aren’t Googling yet, then be first to solve it.

One Person Can Change the Mindset of Many

For those within an ecosystem, they may not have any idea how much innovation is happening around them. Phoenix not Silicon Valley for sure, but the local mindset was the opposite: “We’re not a software town. You can’t build a big company here. We don’t do that here.” Really? Says who?

Having been a successful co-founder and executive leader in the software business in Phoenix for 20 years, I got tired of hearing those words from smart leaders and top talent, so I decided to do something about it. Gregslist proved that there is, in fact, a ton of activity in the software industry in Phoenix. You can’t argue otherwise when you view the list of 300 real companies, 20,000 direct jobs and close to $1 billion in invested capital.

Now people tell me, “There’s a lot going on in Arizona. I think it’s going to be a software hub someday.” Yep. Not much changed but a little list is helping spread the word that there is real action in Arizona.

Lesson: With a big enough lever, entrenched mindsets can be changed by one person.

Curation Makes the Difference

It’s easy to assume that the answer to every question already exists on the internet, created by big companies, crowdsourced communities or computer-driven “bots.” I don’t think this list could have been created by any of those. In this case, it took a passionate local expert who cares enough to create, maintain and manage Gregslist – people know there is a real person behind it.

Think about it: the data was already available in many forms, but it wasn’t useful, accurate or displayed in a powerful way. The Gregslist data has become a trusted resource for local job-seekers, investors, service providers and the founders themselves.

Lesson: Experts who care can make a difference.

As more and more software companies in Phoenix launch and grow, it is my hope that the community continues to use this list to connect with one another and share other lessons learned. After all, a rising tide really does raise all boats.

Read more about startups in Phoenix at Tech.Co.

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Greg is a 30-year veteran of the software business who has helped grow three startups into global brands, two of which exceeded $100M in revenue and one reached IPO. His passion lies in helping ambitious entrepreneurs realize their big visions, and today, Greg consults with CEOs to help them grow through the treacherous early stages before they reach “escape velocity.”

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