“The only thing that is constant is change.” - Hereclitus
The great Greek philosopher Hereclitus is credited with this profound quote about change. Never before has this axiom been more important or relevant for Think Big Partners, or in our opinion, the world of entrepreneurship in general.
A recent report by Babson and Baruch Colleges reveals a very thought-provoking statistic: The percentage of adults involved in startups in 2012 hit a staggering 13%. This is a record high since Babson began tracking entrepreneurship statistics since 1999.
Looking further at this trend, 56% of adults said they were able to start a business, a confidence level higher than in many other advanced innovation-driven economies. Changes in perspective, attitudes and opportunities have led to more entrepreneur activity than ever before.
Beyond this shift in thinking, even more changes have occurred in the world, to include in Kansas City, our home town which we love.
When we started Think Big Partners in 2010, there was one formal business incubator program and really no active accelerator program in Kansas City. Today, there are at least six accelerator programs focusing on early stage startups, maybe even more. And if we were to start counting the number of coworking spaces that have sprouted up, the entrepreneur related activity level becomes even greater.
Back in 2010, an accelerator was radical, innovative and was a departure from the more traditional business incubator model. Today, there are hundreds, perhaps even over a thousand, of accelerator programs in the world. And likely this number is still growing for a bit longer.
The “entrepreneurial ecosystem” is sometimes a strange place. This ecosystem doesn’t always follow conventional wisdom. Hard work is admirable but results are really the only thing that ultimately matter. Commitment is not measured by focusing on your original business plan, but instead by focusing on creating solutions to the original problems which inspired your plan from the beginning. A lack of early formal organization often yields better ecosystem structure later on, even if it doesn’t always feel good at the time. We tell people unfamiliar with the space to accept the disorganized mess that entrepreneurship appears to be, because the big bang theory of successful entrepreneur ecosystems seems to work.
Brad Feld, partner at Foundry Group and co-founder of TechStars, has some great theories about this phenomena and talks about startup communities. In talking with Brad (who is a great entrepreneur, wise visionary and fantastic human being), we have listened to his thoughts on how startup communities develop and agree with his underlying beliefs. We believe in Brad’s “Boulder Thesis.” We have seen firsthand, the results of a long-term view led by passionate, motivated entrepreneurs that were willing to take action at a sprinter’s pace but knowing it might be a marathon distance. We love Kansas City’s inclusivity that now exists and see groups collaborating more than ever before for the benefit of the community, the entrepreneurs and each collaborator's organization.
Brad’s last point in his “Boulder Thesis” is about creating substantive activities and events in support of the startup community. Think Big Partners is proud that we have been part of the startup and entrepreneur ecosystem for four years now.
We are proud of our original event, Think Big Kansas City, which drew 400+ attendees from nine states, that has now morphed into iKC, in partnership with The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Our goal was to begin the conversations among all regional stakeholders, and then continue these conversations based on Tony Hsieh’s “collision density” belief system. We have read the book, Triumph of the City, that inspired Tony to take action and have worked to put this belief system into Kansas City (and a few other cities too, that have asked for our help).
We have conducted innovation focused events such as The Gigabit Challenge, the Google Fiber-inspired innovation challenge, to Hackovate Health, an open innovation competition in partnership with H&R Block to solve health care innovation problems. Hackovate Health drew applications from all around the world resulting in 10 finalists from different countries presenting their ideas in Kansas City on a very snowy day in 2013. The goal was to foster entrepreneurial activities that focused more closely on product-market fit, or even more specifically, finding solutions matched to problems that had commercialization partners on board from inception.
Lastly, we launched our first accelerator program in fall 2012, which has produced companies that have gone on to raise additional capital, win national awards, get invited to participate in other national level opportunities and generate substantial revenue as they bring their solution to the marketplace. We needed to stress-test our accelerator belief systems against actual accelerator experience and our own experiences as entrepreneurs building companies to develop our best model to help early-stage entrepreneurs and innovation partners.
With all this behind us, we now look in the mirror and realize the one constant truth: the only constant is change. Maybe it is time for us to look at ourselves more closely.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ― Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy’s quote inspires us to evaluate the world we live in. We are proud of the density of accelerators, the vibrant conversations and the signs of real economic success that now exist not just in Kansas City, but in the Midwest region. We now look at the role we have played and feel we have accomplished part of our original mission to ask provocative questions, encourage new conversations and challenge the status quo surrounding entrepreneurship.
We launched multiple experiments to test assumptions we made. Sometimes we were right. Sometimes we were wrong. Often times, we weren’t even right about what we were getting wrong – at least at first.
Think Big Partners has always focused on accelerating entrepreneurs, ideas and innovation. We want people who “think big” and who can act as partners in success.
We are professionals at helping teams build, launch and scale. In our profession, we have seen the startup statistics play out that point to the fact that teams (versus solo founders) win. Solo founders take 3.6 times longer to reach scale stage and are 2.3 times less likely to pivot, compared to co-founding teams.
Teams that are business-heavy are 6.2 times more likely to successfully scale with sales-driven startups than with startups that are product-centric and don’t have these capabilities. Technical teams are critically important, too. Tech-heavy founding teams are 3.3 times more likely to scale than their counterparts that don’t have this experience. Balanced teams that have one business founder and one technical founder raise 30% more money, have 2.9 times more user growth and are 19% less likely to scale prematurely than teams that only have one type of founder in the equation.
We realize that many of our most impactful engagements, the role that we play best and the gap that we feel exists most in today’s marketplace, is being more substantive in a “late, early-stage” companies success. This stage is where you need strong technical partners who know how to commercialize technologies (from pilot to full scale production), can combine proof of concept with innovation partnering, and cover blind spots and missing roles along the way to building out an entrepreneur’s permanent team. This role requires talent, discipline, execution, network resources and sometimes capital. Most of all, this role requires time and focus.
We like being part of that team.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
We still see much work to do, but also feel good about the environment in which we live today. Traditional accelerator programs (90 days, 6%-8% equity for $18k-$24k investment) are more widespread than ever before, but there is not enough follow on resources to help those companies once they graduate. We will be part of a founder’s team that needs more substantive help after they have graduated from a good accelerator program or weren’t well suited for an accelerator program to begin with for certain reasons.
Think Big Partners has been playing this “graduate” role for many companies for almost 2 years. We are especially excited to focus on entrepreneurs and innovation pathways that realize they have more substantive needs based on their company’s life stage, complexity of their idea or the need for speed without sacrificing precision and execution.
We are excited to see how best we can help these types of “later, early-stage” companies and our innovation/commercialization partners going into 2014.
“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” ― Steve Jobs, Apple
Good luck to all the entrepreneurs trying to change the world. We love your efforts, passion and enthusiasm. We hope you will solve real problems with your solutions – and with more support than ever before. The world can be a wonderfully small, productive place when we all work together to help build startup communities that thrive due to collision density and produce results based on the right collaboration of effective resources, deployed at the right time, being available for the right people.
We don’t think this is a crazy idea. We think this idea is essential, critical and timely for the world we live in today.
“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” ― Wayne W. Dyer
Change. It truly is a great thing.