Geoff Wood: Welcome to a very special edition of the Welch Avenue show. I'm sitting here with Ben McDougal, from Jet Set Studio, Drake Homes, and thirty other things, probably. We're at 1 Million Cups before things get started, we're looking back at an even that happened last week. The Gravitate grand opening, then you sat down, and had this cool idea to record a how during the night. I haven't listened to it yet, I'm really excited to hear it. Why don't you tell the folks what it is that they're going to hear?
Ben McDougal: Yeah. The initial idea was to chat with as many people as possible by sitting in one place the whole evening. Drinks alongside of me, as the evening progressed. Choosing a variety of different people, and talking super concisely with who they are and what they were building. The result was, hopefully, going to be kind of a state of now. As to where people are at, what the community is up to, and with that grand opening at Gravitate, it made a perfect location for that type of conversation.
Geoff Wood: For those who have been at Gravitate, you were sitting in what we like to call "The Hunger Games chairs," how did those suit you for the night?
Ben McDougal: I refer to them as the hot seat, and being that they're bright orange, it actually makes some sense. Being close to the beard was also fun, because you really felt as though, even though I wasn't talking to as many people at once, the crowd was still energizing, and it was fun to be right there with everyone.
Geoff Wood: Yeah. You were busy the whole night, and that was really nice, thank you for doing that.
Ben McDougal: That was grind.
Geoff Wood: How many people did you get to?
Ben McDougal: We ended up with exactly 25, right? That number was, I think, a pretty big success. I went to the restroom, I think, once or twice, but besides that, it was bang, bang, bang, getting as many great people into that seat and it was a really great mix. I remember a quick combination of Jay Byers and Debi Durham and Clyde Evans. Three city-oriented leaders right in a row.
Geoff Wood: Yeah, economic development professionals.
Ben McDougal: Right. Then you had, a little later, you end up with the bot conversation right next to Ben Milne from Dwolla. That was a neat combination. There was another one that was two construction oriented start-ups in a row. The random order that people filtered into would be fun to enjoy during this show, as well.
Geoff Wood: Absolutely. Is there one that stood out to you, as "Man, this was a great conversation."
Ben McDougal: They all were good, and towards the end I got to learn some new things about a few other people from out of town. We have a couple of Iowa City folks, I think one guy from Cedar Falls. As I spoke with Ben Milne, it was fun to hear just the stage that he's at with Dwolla, but he said something about breaking the ice, that really struck me as an interesting thought. Got a little philosophical, and I enjoyed that. That's one specific comment that I will be eager to hear what people think.
Geoff Wood: Did the philosophical nature have the direct result of how much beer you guys had at that point?
Ben McDougal: It was about a half to two thirds into the evening. I noticed that, as the evening got longer, the interviews got slightly longer, too. At the same time, we really kept them about four to five minutes for each person. As you're listening to the first person, know that the next person is coming pretty quick.
Geoff Wood: Anything else that we should share with folks, or should we just let them hear it?
Ben McDougal: I don't think so. I'd say we're ready to rock and roll. Let's do this.
Geoff Wood: All right. Sounds good.
Ben McDougal: Hey, thanks, Geoff. It's a pleasure to be here. I love the start-up community, and something that has energized me for so long, and tonight's celebration here, at Gravitate, and with our opportunity of infusing start up drinks into the event, there's going to be a lot of great people here, and I'm actually really excited, almost honored, if you will, to be able to sit down with some of these folks, and almost get a state of now, right? For what things are happening here in the community, I'm excited to get this thing underway. I'm here with Chris New, and we're going to get things fired up, I suppose. Chris, thanks again for letting me be a part of the fun.
Chris New: Let's kick it off. I got my drink, so I'm ready to start it up.
Ben McDougal: As do I. My challenge will be sitting here for three hours, drinking for three hours.
Chris New: We're going to listen to you, slowly, overtime ...
Ben McDougal: We might have to break this into parts. We'll see what happens.
Chris New: We'll say, Okay, he's three beers in now. Now, he's five beers in.
Ben McDougal: We can make a little meter that goes up and down.
Chris New: So, tell me about this start up. Yeah.
Ben McDougal: Nice, nice.
Chris New: While we're still sober. I just want to turn it back to you, because I helped out Geoff with the show, and I hang out at Gravitate every once in a while, but I'm really just doing my video thing. I want to take it back to you, and have you start it off. I know you'll be talking to a lot of people tonight about what they're doing. We're calling it state of the Gravitate or whatever.
Ben McDougal: Well, with the State of the Union, I think State of Now is kind of an interesting phrase. We'll see what happens.
Chris New: It's State of the Union week, so, we'll ride those coattails. I know that you're with Drake Homes, but you're involved with half a dozen other projects.
Ben McDougal: Yeah, I have some things going on, and that's, I think, something that I found energizing over the years. I come from ten years of web development experience, and more or less retired out of that world, and went in house at a home builder here in Des Moines. Drake Homes, as you mentioned, and that's been a real blessing. I've been able to build a brand in a really aligned way, and shake up an industry that's sometimes build on "Hey, this has worked in the pats, so it always will" By being sightly innovative, doing things just a little different, we've been able to set ourselves apart pretty quickly, and I've been there for a while now, and that's always been a pleasure.
Alongside of my work, I also have been an entrepreneur for fourteen, fifteen years. You start calculating it up. My first entrepreneur experience was a 3D3 soccer tournament that I build and sold way back when. That was as Jet Set Studios spawned. We initially launched a social network for gamers called, gatheringofgamers.com, and took that, started building live events to connect people to the virtual community, and it was a really neat thing that happened as guitar hero was cool, and social networking was still new back in 2007. We built the product while we built this video game event management service, that was really interactive, and traveled the country building these gaming events.
Fast forward to today, Jet Set Studio continues to thrive. We've released tournamentseeker.com, which is a product that is bridging the gap between event organizers and people looking to compete. It's kind of two different highways running alongside each other, crossing once in a while, but it's been a pleasure, alongside of those things ...
Chris New: Is the gaming community just kind of coming into maturity now more ... because ten years ago, you had your LAN parties, which gave way to these small tournaments. Is it just expanding from there? How is the community moving?
Ben McDougal: Gaming is growing faster than most people know. Everyone knows video games, and people are enjoying those in their homes, and what not. Competitive gaming, or e-sports is an industry that is starting to push past the viewership numbers of television. Still remaining online. Bringing a lot of people together from around the world, and producing some pretty major price packages. It's been fun to be a part of that E-sports growth and the work at Jet Set Studio definitely keeps me energized, and I want to get moving along to other folks and so, I guess, finally, I'd say that the added bandwidth that I've been given at Drake Homes has also allowed me to plug into things like Des Moines Startup Drinks, which we're having tonight, and also 1 Million Cups.
Being able to, it sounds cheesy, but almost give back, it's been a real pleasure, and I consider myself blessed in that way.
Chris New: You're doing a lot of stuff. I always see you do trying to do innovative stuff in terms of marketing with Drake Homes, but then also, you're managing these events.
Ben McDougal: They're pretty different, but somehow I'm able to connect them.
Chris New: It all kind of flows from the same place. Awesome. Cool. There's a lot of people already trailing, we're just at the front end of this three hour event to gravitate, so I'm going to send you out, and have you connect with some of these other people.
Ben McDougal: Yeah, this will be interesting. Maybe I'll start with Matt McKinney. I'm literally going to grab people as they walk by.
Chris New: Let's see if you can come on right now.
Ben McDougal: If Matt wouldn't mind being the first one.
Chris New: I'm going to pass the mike off to Matt. We're just asking people what the state of what they're doing here. We're just going to go around the room really quick, and Ben's going to take the lead on this, and asking people what they're up to. I'm going to hand the mike over to you.
Matt McKinney: All right.
Ben McDougal: Originally, the plan was to cut these and do some editing, and make it all clean. We'll just keep rolling here.
Matt McKinney: You're trouble, Ben.
Ben McDougal: I know. This is Matt McKinney here, joining me. You're the first one of my guests. Just to highlight what we're doing, again, and I'm not going to do this for everyone, so if you're listening, don't get annoyed already. By sitting here, and having quick conversations with people, I think it could be interesting for less than five minutes, you sharing what you're working on, here things are at, what drives you in the community, and what we'll have is, we'll end up with quite a few people on a single show, sharing what they're building. I think that could be interesting. Who knows where this will go, but you're the first one. Welcome to the experiment.
Matt McKinney: Good. There's not a high bar for me to reach.
Ben McDougal: No, you're going to set it high, see?
Matt McKinney: Oh, God.
Ben McDougal: Matt, we've been friends for a while, and I've always enjoyed watching what you're up to. Share a little bit about what you're doing here in Des Moines, a quick story as to what drives Matt McKinney.
Matt McKinney: What I'm doing here in Des Moines, first off, I'm over at the BrownWinick firm practicing largely commercial litigation, doing some government relations. At the end of the day, what really drives me in this community, brings me out here today to this grand opening, is connecting with people that are doing some incredible things. People that want to make a better widget, that want to drive development and that have a passion for what they're doing. So many times you see people that are just stuck in the routine of a day to day life, and you connect with the entrepreneurs and startup businesses around here. Both in Gravitate and Des Moines Incubator, and others around town.
You see a real excitement and look in their eye, "We're going to do something, and it's going to be big." It's a contagious attitude that is energizing to be around.
Ben McDougal: That's awesome. One other thing that you've plugged into, and something I've also plugged into, is the 1 Million Cups thing. I explained Des Moines startup Drinks is almost a happy hour version of 1 Million Cups. Talk a little bit about your involvement with that group.
Matt McKinney: My involvement there began just as somebody from the outside looking in, and attending those coffees every Wednesday morning, seeing what people are doing in our community, and seeing how everybody in the community is so willing to get together, bounce ideas off of each other, open up their contact book, and say, "How can I help." I think that's one of the best things about this community, is what can I do to help you. In an unselfish way. It's a unique community. I walked away from those Wednesday mornings feeling completely energized for the week. How can I do more of this? Again, that contagious feeling.
I kept coming back and eventually got to know Ethan, over there at Ruster Sports and a few others. Started organizing it with them, and obviously, yourself. It's been a heck of a lot of fun.
Ben McDougal: Nice. It's been fun to be a part of that with you, and definitely appreciate your efforts in that front. We're going to keep these short. We've set the bar fairly high.
Matt McKinney: Are you recording this, too?
Ben McDougal: No, that's just for fun. I got to highlight startup drinks while I'm somehow doing this project, as well.
Matt McKinney: Cool.
Ben McDougal: We'll see where tonight ends up, but thanks again for being the first, and a great start to tonight's conversations.
Matt McKinney: Hey, thank you.
Ben McDougal: All right. After a good chat with Matt McKinney, I saw Brad Dwyer, and he obviously is an interesting character that I'm curious to have share his state of now. Brad, I challenge you to take a moment and tell a quick story about what you're building.
Brad Dwyer: I run a company called Hatchlings, we make social games. We've been around now, will be our seventh birthday in a couple of weeks. We just came out with our fourth game, and it's called Puzzlings. It's a jigsaw puzzle game.
Ben McDougal: I've seen you making accomplishments and posting those, and I didn't know that was actually your product. That's awesome. I haven't heard this, so keep going.
Brad Dwyer: Actually, we've been only been working on it for like the last three weeks. We are working on Hatchlings Match 2, and the puzzle pieces were supposed to be a component of that, they were going to be rewards of what you got for beating levels. Building up that feature, we found out that it's actually really fun to play with them, so we spent 2 weeks, took a little bit of a distraction, and built it out into a full-fledged game. Launched that about a week ago, we picked up 20 thousand users, already, people are really liking it. It's getting a lot of really, really good feedback.
It's taking off at another demographic that's popular in Europe, but also the United States, which is a good demographic to have. It's been different for everything that we've worked on, but a nice refresher to do something new.
Ben McDougal: Yeah. When I saw you do that, I just assumed it was something that you had picked up and you were enjoying. To be honest, I don't look for puzzle apps. I haven't seen one recently. I'm curious. This is probably a bad question, but are older people gravitating towards this type of product? Who's your MVP type of user?
Brad Dwyer: We announced it to the Hatchlings users, and we haven't actually announced it to anybody else, yet. It's just kind of spread from there. I think the Hatchlings users are mostly women over 35. That was our seeded users. I don't think we really know yet who the ideal target demographic is, but that's who've been picking it up and running with it, so far.
Ben McDougal: That's awesome. How are the other projects going? Continuing to churn, I assume?
Brad Dwyer: We have limited bandwidth with the number of people.
Ben McDougal: What's the team size up to?
Brad Dwyer: It depends. There's four of us in the downtown office. My mom works for us full-time out from the suburbs. Then we have four illustrators spread out across the country.
Ben McDougal: Okay, designing eggs. And levels.
Brad Dwyer: All these puzzles are done from Hatchlings artwork. We had all this library artwork.
Ben McDougal: Oh, I was wondering …
Brad Dwyer: We needed a way to show that off. We haven't done a great job of that in the past, we had such awesome artwork. This is another way to show that off.
Ben McDougal: Sure. Before I came, I rattled off some different questions that I might just pull out and ask people randomly. I was going to make little, like, "Pick one out, and you answer whatever you choose." I'm just going to throw one out here. I'd like to ask you this. What industry do you find right for disruption? I would only ask you that loaded question because I know that you probably have more than one answer. Off the cuff.
Brad Dwyer: You have to give me a little bit more time to come up with a better answer than this. I kind of spin that question a little bit to what I think could be a million dollar idea, but not enough time to do anything about it.
Ben McDougal: Early in the show, we're getting good insight from Brad Dwyer. All right Let's do this.
Brad Dwyer: Google analytics has a real time products. It's very old school. It's basically Google analytics, the exact feature set that they have, but in real time. How many users are online, what are they looking at, that sort of thing. As part of one of our products, we built our own analytics tool that is really an actual, real-time analytics solution. I think that that you can gain so much really awesome information. Uber has talked about their real time analytics and they call it Godview.
They can zoom out and look at all the cars everywhere, where they're going, to and from. I think pulling out and making a Godview dashboard for businesses as a service, would be a really cool product that would give you insights of your business that you wouldn't have otherwise.
Ben McDougal: That's interesting. With all the conversations of big data and analytics. Just the word Godview is pretty hot. I feel that's a domain someone should pick up if Uber doesn't already have it.
Brad Dwyer: I'm sure it's taken.
Ben McDougal: I suppose to. Brad, that's a neat way of getting a quick statement out from you. Thanks for sitting down, and keep going, man.
Brad Dwyer: No problem.
Ben McDougal: All right. Cheers. All right, well, the fun continues here. I'm now with Emma Peterson, who's a longtime friend, ally, I don't know what we necessarily call ourselves, but here in Des Moines, we're all connected in one way or another. A quick talk, and I want to hear a story out of you.
Emma Peterson: All right. Guess a story out of me. I'll start with what Tikly is. Tikly is the artist-focused, fan-friendly online ticketing platform. If you think about TicketMaster, we provide a similar experience, except that it's a lot easier to use. Substantially lower service fees associated. We try to make it just a more positive experience, than otherwise ticketing companies tend to offer. We've been having a lot of fun recently, looking at different ways that we can grow and work with other clients we've been working with our touring musicians, and general admission venues.
With the Summer coming up, we got some larger festivals ahead of us, and with that, because we've launched our new platform, it's been really well-received by all of our clients and now we're in a position to get out there and really promote the heck out of it. It sets us up to knock down some really big opportunities and bring on some clients who, otherwise, may not have worked with us because we were still functioning on somewhat of a smaller company. A little less appealing to larger clients. One thing we're exploring right now, is actually introducing some hard-ticketing to the mix, which is fun.
It means I've been getting to look at ticketing printers. That's what I've been doing, is checking out that technology, seeing what works and what doesn't work, to make sure that we can meet the needs of all of our different clients, because we've done minimum marketing, and yet, there's all this really neat organic growth that I feel very lucky and blessed to have. Now, it gives us an opportunity to take all that organic stuff, and although it's kind of startup cliché, but put some fuel on the fire, honestly. We really have been working on developing this new platform and getting it out for the last year, and now that it's out, it's time.
It's almost like a renaissance, I keep saying. We got an opportunity here where we've got three years of good business and dedicated clients under our belt, but then we also have an opportunity to really hit the ground running in the same sort of energy that so many start-ups that come out of Startup Weekend have. Where you got all these really tasty goals in front of you, that you can just execute on.
Ben McDougal: And after a few years of building, it's probably nice to have a refreshment of that energy to continue building in a whole new light, almost.
Emma Peterson: We know what's worked, and what hasn't worked, and now that we have paired that all down, we've really been focusing on the what works, now we get to explore other avenues that relate directly to our company. I really like the idea of continuing to build up this army of educated, excited touring musicians and small to midsize venue owners, while building up branding credibility and just general market awareness, by making ourselves available to these larger festivals, that you get more eyes on. You know how it works.
Ben McDougal: Yeah, you mentioned the venues, the bands, the festivals. How do you approach, say, a really MVP-like prospect?
Emma Peterson: With a smile.
Ben McDougal: And that works every single time.
Emma Peterson: And it works every time. The cool thing is that we don't have a testimonials page on our website, right now, we will be launching that, but the truth of the matter is that we have a lot of really happy repeat clients that almost feel like, because of how we conduct our business, and because of how much we actually care and listen to what their needs are, we have this group of effectively sales team people that are just out there. Constantly pitching us, constantly telling their friends, and events that they attend. Telling those organizers to check out Tikly.
That's usually how we get in front of those initially, but then, from there, we'll build out a proposal, we'll create an event for them to take a look at. More than anything, we want to get in front of them, and introduce them to our team. Remove any false assumptions that they might have, clear up any confusions that they might have.
Ben McDougal: Or bad past experiences that I'm sure they've probably have had.
Emma Peterson: Sure. Make sure that they understand that what we say, it isn't just a marketing thing, it's really is free to sell tickets with us, and there really is no contractual obligation with us. All these negative feelings that most sellers have had with other ticketing companies, to be able to actually sit down with them, whether via Skype or in person, and say, "What you read was right." It takes us minutes to create an event, so please let us know if we can help. It's pretty neat.
Ben McDougal: That is so cool, and I know what you've been up to, but it's fun to hear an update. I have a lot more questions. I feel like we should continue this in another way, sometime very soon. I'll let you keep moving. The group is gathering largely, so I appreciate you sitting down. Any last twitter shout outs or URLs that you'd like to share?
Emma Peterson: No, I don't think so. Just follow our Facebook page for some exciting announcements. We're around, we're based in Gravitate, we want to be a part of the community, and any time anybody wants to grab coffee or a beer, I'm in and probably most of my team is in if you want them.
Ben McDougal: That sounds like a neat invitation. Emma, thanks for sitting down.
Emma Peterson: Thank you, Ben.
Ben McDougal: That was a neat conversation with Emma about Tikly and nearby I saw Jay Byers standing tall, and I had to grab him into the hot seat. We got Jay Byers sitting with us. Jay, welcome to this oddly experimental type of show. I'm eager to hear what you have to share. Why don't you tell us a little bit about your work, a little bit about yourself?
Jay Byers: Sure. It's great to be here. Very excited about all the things that Gravitate is doing. I'm really proud of Geoff for stepping up to make this happen. Startup City was a great thing, and really it moved this region forward in terms of start up community and Geoff really taking that baton, along with everyone who's part of Gravitate. Very, very excited to be here. Again, my name is Jay Byers, I'm CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Partnership is the regional, economic, development community, development organization serving Central Iowa. We do economic development in seven counties here. 21 affiliate chambers of commerce, and we have right now about 5300 regional members.
Ben McDougal: You're kind of a busy guy.
Jay Byers: There's a lot going on in Central Iowa, right now. It's very exciting to be part of the excitement.
Ben McDougal: When we put a magnifying glass on the startup community, I know you have some personal interests. I see your twit s. They're almost, every one out of five, is entrepreneurial, or Startup, or business development, obviously, too. Talk a little bit about what energizes you on the entrepreneurial front.
Jay Byers: Absolutely. I am very active with social media. I tweet a lot and I do tweet a lot about the startup community here in Central Iowa. Quite frankly, because there's a lot to talk about. A lot of what I tweet is what you see in the Des Moines Register, or Welch Avenue, or the Des Moines Business Record, and just what everybody is doing. It's just a lot of great things going on. With the Greater Des Moines Partnership and our economic development focus, we really have three primary focuses.
One is recruiting new businesses that come to central Iowa. Two, it's helping existing business expand, and three, and again, in no particular order, it's building up the entrepreneur ecosystem. That's a core part of our mission, so what's happening here, at Gravitate, is exactly what we'd like to see happening in Central Iowa.
Ben McDougal: Yesterday, at 1 Million Cups, it was an interesting point that was made in the fact that yes, this is called coworking, but in the most fundamental sense, it's economic development, that's happening. It's a neat thing that's going on here. I have a broad question for you. In your role, and with the work you're doing here in the state of Iowa, what does the word innovation mean to you?
Jay Byers: Its really a great question. It's really coming up with new ideas, new ways of doing things, and really, innovation, in and of itself, if you don't combine it with entrepreneurship, it doesn't mean a whole lot. Really, the fusion of entrepreneurship and innovation is really the key. How can you monetize great ideas? Whether it's innovation within existing companies, or starting new companies, when you're able to combine those two together, you're able to drive your economy forward.
Ben McDougal: That's awesome. I know you're on the speaker schedule for 1 Million Cups, and I'm guessing we'll have a full house for that conversation. We'll keep it short here, tonight, but I sure appreciate you taking the moment to share in a quick story. Any final thoughts?
Jay Byers: No. Again, I'm really happy to be here, really proud of Gravitate, really proud of Geoff for what he's done. Some of the things you're going to be seeing, you know, next month, the formal launch of the global insurance accelerator, super excited. I just spent a lot of personal time working on that. There's a lot of great ideas floating around the Cultivation Corridor what we can do within the ag space, and meshing that with what's happening in the tech industry, there's a lot of ideas we got floating around that could be real game changing things for your readers and listeners to think about.
I think there's also some really great opportunities within the manufacturing space, as well. There's a lot of things I'm thinking about, a lot of things we're thinking about at the partnership to really continue to build up the entrepreneur ecosystem and really defuse that with the existing target industries that we have. Really create a bigger explosion in Central Iowa than we already have.
Ben McDougal: That's outstanding, Jay. Thanks again, man, and have a great evening.
Jay Byers: Thanks again for having me.
Ben McDougal: All right. I thought an interesting segue would be to maintain the community builder, the city-oriented individual, so I grabbed Clyde Evans to chat a little bit about what he's up to, what he's building, and what he's all about. Clyde, welcome to this orange hot seat. Share a little bit about yourself and what you're up to, what you're building there here in West Des Moines.
Clyde Evans: Okay. Thanks, man. I appreciate this opportunity. A little bit about myself, I'm the community and economic development director for the city of West Des Moines. One of the really exciting projects that we have going on is a project that we're branding as the Valley Junction Innovation district. Right now, we have a group that is called the Iowa STEAM Innovation zone. Steam being stem and then A is for the arts in that. That's geared towards students, particularly grade school, junior high, high school to learn about STEM and the inter relationship with the arts.
They're going to be doing programming, starting this summer. Also, as part of the whole valid junction/innovation district, the West Des Moines business incubator will be relocating down the valley junction in this fall, into a building the city is graciously letting us occupy. The third element is the Phoenix Center for the Arts. The city of West Des Moines working with community housing initiatives was able to get a three million dollar grant from the state of Iowa, through the community development block grant program surplus funds. We're going to be developing that into seventeen lead work units geared towards artists.
Three fourths of the project has to be low-moderate income, then 25% will be geared towards market rate units. Within that building, we have a lot of interior space that can’t be converted to residential units, and we're looking to develop studio space there. Also, it has a gym, and a stage, and so we're looking at developing really a center for the arts. Not just visual arts, but also performance arts, and where right now I've ... talking to a lot of different groups about providing programming. One of the things that we can really bring is a lot of synergy to the area.
For instance, artists are really good at their craft. Artists sometimes, maybe they don't make such great business people, and the resources that we can bring to bear through the incubator would maybe help artists develop business plans, how to do profit and law statements. How to structure themselves so that they would be bankable. We see also some interplay with development of youth entrepreneurial programs, like this great project here, we're all about trying to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in the metro area. Everything is really all complementing each other, and it's fantastic to have this type of momentum.
Ben McDougal: That's awesome. That was well-put. Clean, and easy to understand. I have one question for you. With some of the work that you do, with the coworking space, and the startup community throughout the area. I'm curious, how would you describe the difference between a startup and a small business?
Clyde Evans: Typically, what we see in terms of startups you got two different people. You have some folks that are serial entrepreneurs. They're the guys that they've had many businesses, growing them to a certain point, turn around, and sell them. Then went on to the next thing. Then you have folks that, this is their first rodeo. They've never done anything like this before, maybe because of work necessities and stuff, they find themselves without a job, and say, "You know what? Now's a good time to do that one thing that I've always wanted to do and never had time to do."
Really, the startups generally take a lot more nurturing, a lot of the established small businesses, they kind of know where they're going, but they need help from time to time on certain elements. I think that it's really not a big difference between a startup and a small business, and really, Iowa, and this Des Moines metro area, we got a lot of big businesses, but it's the small businesses that really make things kick for us. 70 to 80% of all job growth comes from small businesses.
Less than a hundred employees. We certainly recognize the fact that if we don't have a good small business, that's good startup community, we're not going to be successful as a community and metro area or a state.
Ben McDougal: Cool. Great answer, and we'll quit there. We're keeping this nice and concise, I appreciate you sitting down. Definitely hope you enjoy the rest of your evening. Thanks for sitting down, Clyde.
Clyde Evans: Thanks so much, man.
Ben McDougal: We've accidentally come across an interesting combination of industry, community allies here, with Jay Byers, and Clyde Evans, and now we have Debi Durham sitting next to me. Debi, I am eager to hear more about your work, and some of the things that you're building. I'll turn the mike right over to you.
Debi Durham: Well, thank you. First of all, thanks for the opportunity to chat with you, to learn more about your background. I'm the director of economic development for the State of Iowa, I think I got the best job in the whole world. The reason why, is that if I have to summarize what it is I do, I am Iowa's chief sales person. I sell everything. Everything from products, to actually connections. When you look at what's happening in Iowa right now, I can guarantee there's no better time to be director of economic development for the state of Iowa than now.
Ben McDougal: We're getting out a lot of lists, and people that are accelerating a lot of neat ideas.
Debi Durham: You're talking about Iowa grows things. We feed the world, we're beginning the fuel the world anymore, so it feels only natural that we would grow company. What's happening in this whole startup movement, is just it's energizing, it's exciting, and so much of it is organic. I think the best thing I can do as director of economic development, is come alongside companies at those critical junctures. When they need just a little help for that next step. To open doors for them when I can do that as far as that connectivity of that human network and that human touch.
That's really what we do. We come alongside, we find out where the barriers are for people growing, we help to kind of smooth those rough edges out, if you will, to help them to that next level.
Ben McDougal: Interesting.
Debi Durham: We're there for them the whole time, and their biggest champion.
Ben McDougal: It's inspiring to hear the support, not from the top level, but like one of the top levels of the organizations that's fueling our state to have such a connected, but also meaningful line of communication and support and resources. I'm curious what you might share as a bit of insight for people who might be interested in starting something. Plugging into a community that they haven't been involved with before.
Debi Durham: Here's the first thing. I am very, very accessible. They simply need to reach out to me. They can get me by emailing, DEBI.DURHAM@IOWA.GOV. I'm very accessible.
Ben McDougal: Wow, showing emails.
Debi Durham: I answer all my emails. I will make the connection for them and to people that we work with and networks. To sit down to where we can do an appraisal of, here's where we are in my journey. As part of the journey, we have different tools and resources that we can connect people for. That's what we do. We do a very hands on, a very personal, and like to tell you, we're not about transactionally economic development. We're about building the relationship. We're also about building wealth, and the reason I love the startup community is because innovation and entrepreneurship is where true wealth actually is created.
Anything we can do, again, along the way to just help them through those difficult times, and be there, if nothing else. The other thing I think we have to do in Iowa, is we have to celebrate failure.
Ben McDougal: That's a conversation that comes up, but for some reason it doesn't happen enough.
Debi Durham: No. I think that we have to. We have to be able to tell the stories when it didn't work, and to celebrate that and encourage them to get back in the arena, if you will. I think there's way that I can help people do that, because a lot of our programs on the startup scene, we know we're not going to hit a home-run with everyone. We get that. We know we're going to see failures, and I am okay with that. But if we can minimize it by giving them the tools and resources at the right time, and we can save some that may have not gotten to that second level, then you know what? I feel like we've done our job.
Ben McDougal: That's a great thought. I really appreciate you sharing that, Debi. I have one more question for you, just because you seem full of great insight. Do you believe that an entrepreneur can properly develop two separate ideas, or two multiple, separate businesses at the same time?
Debi Durham: Yes, I do.
Ben McDougal: And we'll finish with that.
Debi Durham: Thank you. Give me a call.
Ben McDougal: Absolutely.
Debi Durham: I would very much like to hear more about what you’re doing.
Ben McDougal: Thanks, Debi. It was easy to spot, but I saw Don Frazer in the crowd, and I knew he needed to sit down and talk a little bit about what he was building. Don, welcome to this little hot seat that we've provided for the event. Thanks for stopping by.
Don Frazer: Thank you. It's my pleasure.
Ben McDougal: Yeah, Don. It's been fun getting to know each other over the years. I feel like we've known each other a long time. Whether it's golfing or whether it's in the startup community, tell us a little bit about yourself and maybe a short bit about what you're building right now.
Don Frazer: Okay, thanks. Spent most of my career as a community banker in rural Iowa, then when I moved to Waukee, I was working with an egg buyer tech startup. I started doing events in Startup City, and pitching, growing, et cetera, just to meet some of the startup community. Really enjoy it, just the vibrant community that we have here.
Ben McDougal: You've always talked about the energy that this community thrives for you. Not to put you on the spot, but you're on the older side of our community.
Don Frazer: I am.
Ben McDougal: It's always been neat to see how much you network, and how much you, not only fuel yourself, but also able to share your insight with people building cool things.
Don Frazer: It's been fun. I believe in giving back to the community. I'm a volunteer/mentor at the West Des Moines Business Incubator. Have met with a lot of the people who are in the incubator, and just give them one thing I try to do, is convince them that they shouldn't be afraid of their bankers. That the banker actually can help them. I help them get prepared for some meetings, et cetera. Doing that is fun, and a way to give back, and working with you as an organizer for 1 Million Cups is a fun time.
Ben McDougal: It's been great to have you join us. You were the MC this week. No, Matt was the MC this week. You were a couple of weeks ago. On the financial side, that's always something that people have questions about. What are some of your high level points of insight on the financial development for a company?
Don Frazer: We don't have time, but being an entrepreneur is high risk. Hopefully, high reward. Somebody has to be really brave to skip out and start your own business without knowing how it's going to work, if they're lucky enough to have a spouse that has a full-time job with benefits, that helps. Have a plan, figure out how much you can afford to risk. I was talking to somebody today in the incubator. They've spent two years plowing money into their product with no income, and happy to do that, but now it's the time to start selling, and then they have to figure out how long can the live their dream.
Ben McDougal: I think there's a difference between brave and blind. You have to understand the reality of the situation, and that if something is a bad idea, sometimes a quick no is better than a long, bad yes.
Don Frazer: Absolutely.
Ben McDougal: I think that can save a lot of people's time and money. You mentioned family, I want to talk quick last question for you. What kind of insight might you share in balancing life and work, and having a family, all at the same time?
Don Frazer: That's a challenge for anybody with a family, whether they got a traditional job, or a startup. The startup you might have more flexibility, but you're probably going to work more hours than you did in your prior job. You've got to establish some priorities, you got to take some time away and spend it with the family.
Ben McDougal: It was interesting. One time I was told that having a kid is like having a startup, and instead of money, you get paid with love.
Don Frazer: That makes sense. That makes sense.
Ben McDougal: All right, Don. I appreciate you sitting down. Thanks again for all you do in the community, and we'll see you around here, at least at 1 Million Cups next week.
Don Frazer: Sure. Thanks, man.
Ben McDougal: Thanks, Don. Jenice Whisenand sat down, and this is a neat opportunity, actually, because I've seen you at 1 Million Cups, I recognize that you're in the community, but I don't know much about you. What a neat opportunity for me to ask. Tell me a little bit more about yourself.
Jenice Whisenand: Absolutely, Ben. This is an exciting opportunity for me to tell you more about it. I'm , of course, and I work at the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce.
Ben McDougal: Oh my, okay!
Jenice Whisenand: I'm their membership director.
Ben McDougal: Nice.
Jenice Whisenand: 100% of my job is taking care of the members, and determining what is it that I can do to help them get set up to improve their business. What do they need to do? I'm 100% an advocate for them and their business.
Ben McDougal: That's interesting. We had a couple of community-oriented leaders already, sit down and share a little bit about the partnership, and West Des Moines, and economic development. What do you see Urbandale doing, specifically, that excites you as far as ... along with startups and business developments, just generally, like economic development happening in that community?
Jenice Whisenand: Something I want to tell you about, Ben is this year the IABI, the Iowa Institute of Business. Okay. They have selected Urbandale chamber of commerce to partner with. Every member of ours, that's 25 or less employees for 2015, gets a free IBI membership. It's huge. Not only you got, with the Urbandale Chamber, you got local business, and then you get the greater Des Moines partnership, which is a regional business. Then you got the ABI membership, so trifecta. You got the state wide chamber.
Ben McDougal: That's for groups under 25 of staff members.
Jenice Whisenand: Yup. 25 employees and under. It's been huge, especially for startups.
Ben McDougal: I was going to say. It feels like that can really fuel a startup community, then I guess I'm not as familiar with. I think Urbandale is close enough that it really compiles into the Des Moines general community, but I know West Des Moines has the incubator, and they're doing some coworking spaces. Are the things on the startup specific initiatives that Urbandale has their eye on, or that they're doing right now?
Jenice Whisenand: Well, I want to let you know, that for the Chamber, membership in Urbandale, 55% of it is Urbandale physical business is located. 45% of our membership is outside of Urbandale, because Urbandale is so focused. Each chamber you've seen one chamber, you've only seen one chamber. Urbandale is focused on business. Doing business with member, getting people up off the ground, we have so many individuals that start new businesses that join the chamber to be able to network, to grow their business, and then we got our entire Curtis Brown over at the city, doing the economic development. Urbandale, you can say we're landlocked, but we're really not. We go so far west.
Ben McDougal: That is amazing. I lived in Des Moines a long time, and we're building some houses on the west side of Urbandale, and I didn't even know that stuff existed. It really has expanded outside of being, like you said, landlocked around other communities. I have to think that that's exciting for Urbandale as a whole.
Jenice Whisenand: It really is. We've had Vermeer move in, we've had Interstate Battery move in. We've had some big players that have moved in and really became part of the community, part of the chamber. Then we got also, some, you talked about the Gravitate, but if you look at Regus office space, they're right there, they're a chamber member, they got a lot of good things going for them, too.
Ben McDougal: Along with your activity in the chamber, which I think is obviously an important way of connecting people, networking, sharing business opportunities, do you personally have a startup experience, or have you been an entrepreneur in the past, or where do you come from?
Jenice Whisenand: I actually do. I have a story.
Ben McDougal: Okay.
Jenice Whisenand: A boat dealership.
Ben McDougal: Interesting. In Iowa?
Jenice Whisenand: Oh yeah. In Polk City. My husband had always been in the boating industry, and he'd always worked for somebody else. Back in 2005 we started our own. We started it, we went through, got the floor planning, everything went great, it was over a million a year in sales, until 09 when the economy crashed. We got to build it, and we got to see it go away.
Ben McDougal: Go away. That's a nice way of saying it. Debi just was here before Don, and she was talking about how sometimes we need to highlight some of the going aways. That's a nice way of saying it.
Jenice Whisenand: You can do it gracefully.
Ben McDougal: Yeah, I think so, too. We'll have to talk more about that, sometime. For now I sure appreciate you sitting down.
Jenice Whisenand: Hey, thank you.
Ben McDougal: Definitely enjoy the rest of your evening.
Jenice Whisenand: All right, thanks Ben.
Ben McDougal: Thanks . All right, the fun continues here. My voice is still with me, the beer's been replenished, and it's a pleasure to now sit here with Justin Wise. A member here of the Gravitate coworking area. Definitely want to just hand over the mike to you and hear a little bit more about yourself, and also what you're building.
Justin Wise: I'm looking at Josh. We just had, long story short, our group is called Think Digital. That's our business. Long story short, we do social media education, digital marketing implementation, which is a fancy way of saying lots of times companies don't want to actually do the work of creating blog content. Creating e-mails, managing the social media. We do it for them. We get to know their business, we get to know them, and then we basically take their vision, translate it into content, and send that content out for them.
Ben McDougal: Here's a question, for you, because I come from a web-development retirement. How have you been able to have success presenting, marketing, and selling a non-physical product?
Justin Wise: It is very difficult. Really relates back to, can you tie the content you're creating for a client, back to measurable outcomes? We're not interested in bottom of the barrel, just get the content out there.
Ben McDougal: Use a stock photo.
Justin Wise: Yeah. You can use fiber.com to do that stuff. What we want to do is say, hey business, hey, organization, you have goals as a business, hopefully. You want to increase sales, increase engagements, increase awareness. We want to take those goals, and engineer a process with your content to accomplish those objectives. That's the value of social.
Ben McDougal: That's interesting. I know that you had an opportunity to travel a lot and see quite a few neat things, and speak as well, and I'm curious, what's one or two of the experiences that you had, maybe in the last year or two, that really stick out as special for you?
Justin Wise: I was presenting up in the Twin Cities. I don't know if this is special.
Ben McDougal: That's not very far away.
Justin Wise: No, it's not. But it stuck out to me. I was giving a workshop and it was basically on the basis of social media and business. In the front row, I noticed an older gentleman, he was probably 70, late 70s. He was old.
Ben McDougal: An antique, yo.
Justin Wise: He was old. I loved him because he was there, and he wanted to learn. Halfway through the presentation he throws his arm up, and he says, "I have to ask. You've been referencing Google. What is the Google?"
Ben McDougal: Oh, when they put 'The' in front of it, it's a dead give away.
Justin Wise: Oh, lord!
Ben McDougal: What a blank slate for you.
Justin Wise: Yeah, I don't quite know ...
Ben McDougal: It's a newly discovered animal.
Justin Wise: That's right. It's a zoney. I just learned about the zoney, it's a cross between a zebra and a pony.
Ben McDougal: Nice.
Justin Wise: It's a real animal.
Ben McDougal: Nice. Of course, it is.
Justin Wise: Anyway, it occurred to me, though, that I have a five year old son. He asked the other day, "What's gravity?" I'm like, "Well, it's gravity." What do you mean, what's gravity? It's gravity. But then you have to break it down in its simplest forms and tell him what gravity is, and I don't mean this in a pejorative way, I had to think through, okay, he has no context for this. Zero. For Google.
Ben McDougal: Right.
Justin Wise: How do you explain that to someone who has zero context? It was just helpful for me to say, "This isn't as easy as it comes to me, personally, for other people. Lots of times for the folks that we're serving." That stuck out to me. I'm also kind of shocked every time I work with people, how few organizations take their content seriously. Seth Godin said, "Content marketing is the only marketing we have left." It's the only marketing that works. It's permission based, and it's providing value for people. Those are a couple of things that really stick out in my mind.
Ben McDougal: Good points of insight. I have recently got into audio books, right? Now I can be super sophisticated and recommend books, because I don't read books.
Justin Wise: You already are sophisticated? C'mon.
Ben McDougal: Well, whatever. I read the book "Contagious," I'm curious if you've ever heard of that book or if you ...
Justin Wise: Is that by Jonah Lehrer?
Ben McDougal: No. Jonah Berger.
Justin Wise: Oh, Jonah Berger. Yeah. I have it. I've not read it but I have it.
Ben McDougal: I have to pass that along to you, because the premise is why things catch on. I really feel like that would be an interesting conversation that you would enjoy.
Justin Wise: I picked it up at the recommendation of a friend who said, "This is ..." and he said a couple of his posts go viral. I said, "If you are recommending this, I'm going to read it, because you've done this before."
Ben McDougal: Right. They talk about steps. Now we're getting a little bit over our time, so we won't be able to get into too much depth there, but it's a very interesting read. Or listen. I'll have to share that with you, next time we get together.
Justin Wise: Yeah, man.
Ben McDougal: Thanks for sitting down. I love always hearing updates from you, and keep going, my friend.
Justin Wise: My pleasure.
Ben McDougal: I'm here with Larry Anderson, and it's been good to get to know you, Larry. I'm curious to learn more a little bit about some of the other work that you do that I don't know about.
Larry Anderson: Sure.
Ben McDougal: I'll take it over to you, right away.
Larry Anderson: Awesome. Ben, like I said, I think it's great that you're doing this. It's very exciting. Man, I'm with Veridian Credit Union obviously. We're doing a lot of things down here at Gravitate, we're doing a lot of things with 1 Million Cups. I think what we realized was there's a lot of people doing a lot of great things in Des Moines, a lot of those people are starting businesses for themselves, they're going into business. They have this natural fit for, "What do I do for my account? Where do I go? Who do I look to?"
Ben McDougal: We were talking with Don earlier about, that the banker doesn't necessarily have to be like this evil guy. He can be a partner in this process.
Larry Anderson: Exactly right. To know who that is, to become familiar with someone that you can trust, we think it's important. From there, what we hope to do is really, truly partner with small businesses. With entrepreneurs that are branching on their own. What kind of questions do you have? How can we assist you? What types of things do you need for your business that we, maybe can help you with? Much like the partnership with Gravitate, how can we help make this space better for everyone? Elevate the entire process?
Ben McDougal: We can start by not running out of beer.
Larry Anderson: Right? My good friends at Shift, I just gave Bret a hard time. I said, I had to pour some Miller Light into my Shift cup, because you guys didn't spring for the extra keg.
Ben McDougal: Right, right. I told them Des Moines Startup Drinks was here, and I don't know if they expected an entirely super-packed house, either.
Larry Anderson: Who did expect this? I just talked to Geoff a minute ago or two, and I don't know that he was even expecting the sheer ... this is the most ties I think I've ever seen in this place.
Ben McDougal: Oh, yeah.
Larry Anderson: That's for sure. I'm guilty, unfortunately. I had a day of work today. What an incredible turnout, I have to agree, yes.
Ben McDougal: It's a packed house, man. I have a couple of questions I think it'd be fun to ask you, just because it's kind of random. If you had to choose one entrepreneur in our community to change places with, who might it be?
Larry Anderson: Wow. You put me on the spot.
Ben McDougal: I like doing that here and there.
Larry Anderson: I'm so envious of so many people that are doing so many awesome things. I really like, I have to be careful here. I have to be so careful here. I have this affinity for Emma Peterson. She knows so much that I'm just, every time I run into her, I'm always introducing her to the person that I am in with. I'm always like, "Emma and I, we go way back." I try to claim some sort of, Oh Emma and I are so tight. When really, it's just we shared a very small space with each other back at U&I, when we were both on those forensics and speech schemes.
Ben McDougal: That's interesting.
Larry Anderson: I was a debater, she was in speech. I get to claim that, now. I get this little claim to fame. The reason why, not only because of what she created with Tikly, which I think, it's something that was a) needed.
Ben McDougal: We talked to her earlier, actually.
Larry Anderson: Significant. I saw her sitting in this chair, and she had so many valuable things to say, so I'm not surprised that she was here. It was something meaningful, something unique, something that was needed, especially knowing that she has a background in music with The Nadas, who I've also grown close with over the years. I've had some opportunities that to drink Templeton Rye from Templeton on a Templeton Rye Tour bus with The Nadas back in the day. Getting a chance to do what she's done with them, in the music scene. I'm envious of what she's done as an entrepreneur, I'm envious of where her company has gone, now.
She's made it look effortless, but you know how hard she's worked to get where she is. Then, from there, what she's doing, she's getting asked to speak at all these incredible things. She's so much of an influential person, I can't pick one. I have to say, it would also be fun just to be a chick for a while, I guess. I don't know. That's on my bucket list. Be a girl for a while.
Ben McDougal: Yeah, well, hopefully, you'll figure that one out. It might take a while, but Larry, I appreciate the candid conversation, man. How you been plugging more and more into the startup community. We appreciate the support of your company as well as all that you're building, personally. Thanks for stopping by, man.
Larry Anderson: Yes. Thank you, Ben.
Geoff Wood: Hey there its Geoff again. Ben recorded so much good conversation with this show that we decided to break it into three parts. This is the end of Part 1, check in tomorrow for Part 2.