Scaling. It’s a topic that comes up a lot whenever I’m talking with other startup founders. Granted, New Tech is an event startup centered on emerging and adapting technology. But we’re not a “tech startup,” so it’s a little different for us than for most members of this community.
What’s similar for New Tech to any other rising startup is that as long as we’re growing, we’d eventually hit a sustained growth period. That time has arrived for us and it signals that we need to either take a step forward – or decide if we just want to “chill” for a while longer. Either way, when founders find themselves surrounded by new opportunities, we have to decide if we are up for the challenge. A business can only sustain for so long before moss starts to gather (especially in the PNW). While cushy, soft moss may be comforting, it will eventually eat away the foundation you’ve built, if you let it accumulate too long.
New Tech Northwest has hit the right milestones that make scaling up look like the smart move – versus just riding out the wave. But even before you “checklist” your startup’s growth stage against prevailing wisdom on when to scale, you begin to feel the need for change in your gut. Everything is going along pretty well and then you get this sense that you need to step it up in order to stay relevant to your community (or buyers for many startups).
But what is the next step? That’s the question that keep founders up at night (followed by, “and how will we pay for that?”).
When I wrote a few months back about being in a funk it was related to the never-ending startup question of, “what’s next?” Our New Tech Northwest events in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma and our Portland affiliate are humming along, but it’s time for something more.
Another city, perhaps? I get asked that a lot: “What city are you going to next?” This seems like the obvious way to scale up, right? Just duplicate what you do in multiple locations. Several city leaders have reached out me, inside and outside of the Northwest, since our community has made New Tech so successful (21,000 members in 3 years and over 500 new members joining each month), asking that we bring New Tech to their communities. I wish it were an easily duplicable business.
After researching the pros and cons of four potential new cities it was clear that, though we could launch events in more cities right now, the costs would outweigh the benefits at this time. Details like finding and managing local presenters, attracting attendees, securing brand sponsors, and negotiating with local caterers and event venues takes much more time than you’d imagine – and our team would have to grow exponentially in order to be successful. I shudder at the thought of losing the community vibe we have worked so hard to create because we expanded beyond our ability to maintain it. More isn’t always better. And as a startup founder, many of you probably understand the conflicts of SWOPM (Scaling with Other People’s Money). Holding out until you can’t hold out any longer is practically the startup founder’s motto.
I made the decision that expanding to more cities is not a good business decision at this time. This is where trusting your gut (instincts) is really important. I’m always looking at how to create more positive experiences and inspire more people, and that is where my gut takes me. Considering New Tech’s core values of having fun, giving first and connecting people to essential opportunities that offer valuable resources for ideas, encouragement and connection, it became clear to me that the next step was to double down on Seattle. There is so much going on here that hasn’t been fully explored – and we already have a fantastic team of co-presenters, community partners, staff and volunteers located here!
The answer from my gut was to make New Tech better for the people we already serve, before expanding our community-centered approach to other cities.
Still, having a geographically-dependent business – especially in an area that’s vulnerable to a 5 minute long 9.0 earthquake may not be my best business decision. But the Northwest culture and lifestyle are what fuel me – so this is where I want to build my business and give back to my community. There’s a lot of value in being “hyper-local.”
As a result, New Tech Improv was born. It launched last month as New Tech’s 5th monthly event with more success than I even imagined. The first class focused on listening skills and had us all laughing our asses off! I can’t wait for the next Improv class with our trainer, Andrew McMasters, Founder of Improv Mindset. If you are an “accidental presenter” or have to make pitches or give talks about your company or product – this is the speaker training program for you! Our goal was to add an event that would further help the Seattle entrepreneur/tech startup community – and we think we’ve succeeded with these unique Improv training classes. With New Tech Improv, another brick has been laid on our path to continued growth.
The next new brick we’re about to lay down is through a “smart” job board. This is a technically savvy community and we have been testing out and looking at the smartest job board system we can offer you. We learned that our community wants a job board that offers search and profile privacy, a straightforward UI/UX solution and will match your job skills and career/employer preferences to the right tech industry jobs – and it will alert you to them as soon as they are made public. Wow, right? Nobody wants job searching to become their next full-time job. We think this new job board is going to really help you with that process.
Our goal is to help New Tech members find great jobs and Northwest companies connect with people looking for new opportunities through machine learning and natural language processing. This is a fast and accurate way to connect skilled people to the organizations that fit their personalities and professional ambitions. Watch for details on this to roll out soon!
We are very excited to have you along on this journey with us as we continue to scale up. And we want to keep finding new ways to serve you better by identifying novel approaches to the things we all commonly experience in our careers and lives as technophiles and startup founders.
My email is always open if you have feedback on how New Tech can add more value to this amazing community.
P.S. > Startup Founders: Our friend Marc Nager at Techstars Startup Programs, in partnership with Chase Bank, are looking for some valuable feedback from you. Take a short survey and help them out (plus there’s a prize drawing for $1000 Visa giftcard)