Hey guys, welcome to part two of Library magic.
Eric and I are celebrating one year of upside, and as he mentioned last week in part one, we were particularly struck by Monique Villa’s comment in our fifth Coffee Chat:
“It’s sort of like novelists, whenever you read a book, you’re getting the benefit of someone’s life’s work that they’ve put into book form. And I really think of founders that way. Anytime I meet a founder, I’m absorbing something that they’ve been working on for years or sometimes decades -- sometimes longer than I’ve been alive -- and I just love diving into something and learning about a new industry. And learning about a new way that this industry is being looked at by people who have been, frankly, often times confined by the traditional industry and, and see this opportunity of what the world could become.”
We’ve spoken to over 100 founders in this past year, and published more than 40 of those conversations as episodes here on upside. That’s over 100 “founder novels” in our library.
But these aren’t your typical books. We’re not interested in collecting an incremental set of Harry Potter books, and more interested in collecting the rare books that are difficult to find or discarded based on their cover.
We’re looking for what the book world calls, “first editions.”
First editions are prized because they are as close as a reader can get to the source. They are the way the book first appeared to readers, with the original cover art, and sometimes even the original typos.
One of my virtual mentors, Seth Godin, also talked about the value of books in his interview on the Tim Ferriss Show:
“A book is a screaming bargain. You pay $15-20, and you have something that might change your life; you have something that reminds you 20 years later, sitting on the shelf, where you were when you read it.”
I’d say the same is true of running a podcast for a year. It’s an order of magnitude more expensive and a whole lot more work, but you build a library that no one else has. You have control over your library.
And our library is eclectic. Over the past year, we’ve spoken with founders in more than 30 cities, including founders outside of the United States.
We’ve spoken with bootstrapped founders and we’ve spoken to venture investors.
We’ve spoken with community builders and we’ve spoken with community members.
We’ve spoken to immigrants, and we’ve spoken to former academics.
Our conversations have ranged from virtual reality athletic training to enterprise blockchain to children’s toys.
We’ve augmented our learning with the perspectives of guests that are users of a product or investors in a particular market.
And while reading the books of others, we were writing our own.
Our story is one of exploring the fringes. We’re just as interested in learning about defense drones as we are in material science and Quantum Dots.
We look through an investors’ lens through most of our interviews, but we’re just as interested in exploring the fringes of the financing options that are available to bootstrappers and indie hackers like TinySeed and Earnest Capital.
For a long time, the founders we speak with were considered on the fringes of investable geography. Investors weren’t all that interested in traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma, or Lincoln, Nebraska.
But these locations aren’t by chance…
Preteckt, a commercial vehicle prognostics company and SOMAVAC, an out-patient medical device, found a home in Memphis, Tennessee, where accelerators brought them to the doorstep of their ideal clients.
Freshfry, a technology that purifies cooking oil, calls Louisville home, where they can sit within the franchising capital of the world.
Frank Jackman of Local Crate setup shop in Minneapolis, where he both learned from Schwann’s and build his geographical advantage through local depots for food delivery.
...and they aren’t the disadvantage they were assumed to be.
Corbett Morgan of LOOP Returns is building a reverse-logistics infrastructure to let ecommerce companies all over the country compete with Amazon.
ShearShare is located outside of Dallas where they have access to the largest percentage of licensed cosmetologists, while employing a remote team of engineers.
The same is true of Vlipsy, a consumer app in Ohio that promises its engineers a better life through remote work.
It turns out, it’s not so crazy to start a financial data platform in Florida, or a travel and swim apparel company in St. Louis.
The advantages of areas inside the coasts aren’t just cost-savings, but instead include things like proximity to customers, supply chain and logistic advantages, and access to Fortune 500 companies who Summer Crenshaw told us would take her call when you’re in their backyard, “because they are nice, and they want to help.”
And you don’t have to get giant checks to start -- sometimes, like in the case with Nick Potts, living in a trailer in your parents’ backyard can afford the runway to get your first contract with a national pharmacy chain.
These founders are scrappy. That may be teaching themselves to code in the case of Seth Miller of Rapchat, or that may be finding non-dilutive funding through grants and pitch competitions like Tony Bova of Mobius.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and sure, some founders are located by happenstance. There are still strides to be made in terms of investor education in local ecosystems and convincing investors to invest in other ecosystems.
Just about every ecosystem we speak with could use more density and diversity in terms of talent, capital, and support.
Our episode with Stephanie Manning was my first exposure to the idea of a “platform” team within Venture Capital. I think “platform” as a concept will mature first within ecosystems, and then across ecosystems.
Because none of the founders we’ve spoken to bought into the narrative that you must be in Silicon Valley to start a company. None of the community builders either. They’re finding a way and writing their own narrative.
And with this podcast, we just so happen to be the beneficiaries of those narratives.
Now, as Eric would tell you, I don’t read a lot of paper books.
When you’re a founder, you don’t have time to learn for learning’s sake. Instead of picking up a book “just in case” you need that knowledge later, you’re more often forced to learn things “just in time” for you to use them. And for the last several years, I’ve found myself in this camp.
And it’s for this reason that I often find myself opting to learn directly from the “books” of others. When a problem comes up, I find someone I know has already faced or solved that problem, and I look first for their insight.
I gravitate to audiobooks and recorded conversations, just like we have here on the podcast.
Looking forward, we will continue to collect new and interesting stories here on our show. We’re always looking for those first editions.
Thanks to our earliest guests for jumping under the microscope with nothing but an idea. Thanks to Matt Pasternack and Pat Gibson for helping us create the look and sound of the show without a moment’s hesitation.
Thank you to Andy Curran and Alex Wittenberg for recording our first interviews which were so bad that they’ll never see the light of day.
Thanks to Taft for making their first podcast sponsorship with us.
Thanks to Nathan for making Eric and I sound much smarter in post-production than we ever do in actual production.
And thanks to you for listening to our show and supporting us. We’re always grateful to hear from you, and look forward to sharing more with you over the next trip around the sun. I assure you, we’ll keep exploring those fringes.
Follow upside on Twitter: https://twitter.com/upsidefm
Follow upside on Twitter: https://twitter.com/upsidefm
What is upside?
Named a top 27 business podcast by Fortune, upside examines startup investing outside of Silicon Valley.
Every Wednesday, we speak with an early stage founder. We interview them as if we are angel investors considering the company as an investment opportunity.
Each show has three segments:
1.) Intro: independent research of the company
2.) Interview: interview with the founder
3.) Debrief: breaking down the opportunity
On Mondays, we share Coffee Chats interviewing venture capitalists, community builders, and later-stage founders.