November 13, 2013
Last night, General Assembly (in partnership with 1776) hosted a class that focused on helping newcomers navigate their way through the DC startup ecosystem. Titled “Intro to the DC Startup Community” (you really can’t get more straightforward than that), it was led by the always-enjoyable Peter Corbett, founder and CEO of DC tech darling iStrategyLabs. In it, Corbett covered the various resources that people should be checking out if indeed they want to make a shift into the world of tech startups.
No stranger to the DC tech community, Corbett touched briefly on his experiences and roles in DC tech, including his founding the world’s largest Tech Meetup group, creating the Digital Capital Week (DCWEEK) festival (which Tech Cocktail has proudly co-produced), investing through DC-based NextGen Angels, and advising Mayor Vincent Gray on tech-related initiatives in the city.
According to Corbett, Washington is in a great position to support our startup ecosystem. With hundreds of active angel investors, the highest concentration of engineers and people with advanced degrees nationally, and a metro area that’s top 5 in the nation for venture capital, the DC area’s potential for growth in tech is essentially illimitable.
While the aim of the class was to provide information on programs, blogs, events, people, and other key resources to check out (most of which can be found here), the true value of last night’s orientation into the DC startup scene is Corbett’s insights into, and tips on, engaging with these resources and develop your role(s) in this community.
Here are some key takeaways from last night:
People Need to Know About the Startup Option
This was in reference to the vast engineering presence in the area, but could easily be applied to anyone else outside of that field. People in DC need to realize that “there’s a culture of innovation that they could be part of,” according to Corbett – that there’s an alternative to whatever mundane government job they’ve probably settled into.
Get on AngelList
“If you’re in the modern technology game, then you’re going to be on AngelList,” says Corbett. Whether you’re looking to get into the startup community or launching your own startup, you need to have a presence on AngelList. While the initial intent of the site was aimed at helping startups raise equity or debt investments, it has become a one-stop source for anyone wanting to know more about various startups, including whether a startup is hiring for any particular position.
Check Out DC Tech on Twitter and Facebook
Whether it’s the #DCTech hashtag on Twitter or the DC Tech Facebook group, get acquainted with the conversations that are going on in the DC Tech community. Corbett says that before posting anything on the DC Tech Facebook group, you should take some time to observe the kinds of posts that are truly beneficial to the rest of the community. “If the way you’re interacting gets zero response, then you’re doing it wrong,” says Corbett. That being said, Corbett argues that the startup community is one of the most supportive communities (as opposed to, say, the fashion industry) and you’ll quickly see how willing people are to lend a hand or ear.
— General Assembly DC (@GA_DC) November 12, 2013
Build a Great Company
“Building a great company is the number one thing you can do…and if you can’t, help someone [else] build a great company.” Obviously, not as pragmatic as other pieces of advice, but it strikes at the core of what it takes to ensure that you’ll build a startup that will actually survive. As soon as possible, you need to learn or figure out that what you’re building is actually great (by getting feedback from who your target customers are) and then really go at it. And if you can’t build it, then support it, either by being an employee, consultant, investor, or even just a cheerleader.
Be a Selfless Contributor to the Community
Corbett describes himself as a “servant leader.” Prior to entering the startup ecosystem, you shouldn’t be focused on yourself; rather, it’s about you and the people around you. When you go to a meetup or a hackathon, be as helpful as possible. Serve the people in your company and offer advice and support. Create bridges from DC Tech to elsewhere by serving as an ambassador to the tech ecosystem – provide insight or resources to other parts of the community that are simply lacking your expertise.
Listen first; talk second. Learn more about the tech ecosystem and hear what others have to say. Stop telling people that you’re something when you’re not; don’t front. You also need to stop telling people that you’re going to do something rather than actually doing it – have some actual value to give to the community.
Your Ideas are Worthless
When asked whether an idea alone can succeed (particularly in cases when non-technical people want to get into the startup ecosystem), Corbett puts it bluntly: “ideas are completely worthless.” According to Corbett, you need to “expose your ideas as quickly as possible to as many people as possible so that [they] can tell you how [crappy] it is, so that [you can fix or improve it].” Prior to even coming up with an idea, what you should do is research what field or industry you want to get involved in, interview 100 companies, and then come up with an idea to solve whatever problem those companies constantly run into. But even then, at the end of the day, it all comes down to execution – can you find a viable way to do that despite your lack of technical skills?
During the Q&A portion, Corbett also talked briefly about other topics, such as the state of hardware (touching upon the forthcoming opening of ideaspace, a premier maker lab which would provide people in the DC Tech community with high-end tools for fabrication and prototyping) and DC as the place for EdTech (since, you know, the Department of Education and National Education Association are here).
Again, check out Peter Corbett’s “How to Hack the DC Tech Ecosystem” to learn about the key resources available to get you acclimated to the DC Tech scene. Also, make sure to check out some of the other classes being offered at General Assembly’s DC campus.
Lead image by Patrick Nouhailler
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