Episode 60 — Growth Hacker Scott Herren (Part 2)

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Geoff Wood: Welcome to the Welch Avenue Show, episode Number 60!

This is the second part of our conversation with Scott Herren, a growth hacker and entrepreneur from Des Moines. When I first interviewed Scott, I started to wrap up the show and he told me that he wanted to talk about some community building topics (an area where I have a lot of thoughts) so we decided to break that part out into Part 2 of this episode.

Before you listen, why don’t you do us a favor, go to bit.ly/welchavenueitunes rate us (5 stars!) and leave a review. Even if you listen in another podcast player, I use Instacast, Chris?

Chris New: Downcast is my podcatcher of choice. I’m going to call it a podcatcher

Geoff Wood: Even if you use Instacast, even if you use Downcast, this is important. It helps with discoverability and growth over the long term. Thanks a bunch. Now enjoy the second part of our conversation with Scott Herren.

Scott Herren: I do want to talk a little bit about … as you're the community builder of the startup community I do want to talk a little bit about the young people retention or re-coming back, I don't know what the correct word is for that.

Geoff Wood: Rebound?

Scott Herren: Yeah, sure, rebound, I like that. I'm not sure what the ... Crazy looking dude.

Geoff Wood: Lesko.com, for those of you that want to get all the government benefits you deserve, as the headline says.

Chris New: Last book was published in 2006 it looks like. Good info.

Scott Herren: I don't have a lot of good ideas but I'd love to hear what the startup community has for ideas and I know The Mustache is doing his part of bringing in or retaining talent as much as possible.

Geoff Wood: Governor Mustache?

Scott Herren: That would be The Mustache.

Geoff Wood: Yeah, I mean you're thinking the whole “brain drain” idea or just startup specifically?

Scott Herren: Kind of where we've been going with the innovation group and bringing in more talent and people are realizing that Des Moines isn't just a spot on the map, it's a good place to live and a good place to have a great job and make a heck of a lot of money compared to what you're going to get and what you're going to pay for out on the coast.

Geoff Wood: Yeah. At the same time you want to leave though, right?

Scott Herren: I do. That's why I feel like ... Not obligated by any means but I want to talk about it because I do intend on coming back in the future, just because I really like the community and the community is awesome. We just have to find out a way to portray that to other people that are hitting that age where they're ready to settle down and how do we ... Not convince them, but bring them back into the community and include them in the community while they're gone so that they can come back with welcome arms and it's not like we're resenting them because they left us for a while.

Everybody's got to have that hiatus time so it's nice to let them go for a little while and invite them to come back.

Geoff Wood: It's really interesting. I've talked to lots and lots of people about that specifically and the kind of “go away and then come back” thing, Andy Stoll, Mike Draper maybe, some of the guys I've talked to about that ... New Zealand has that, it's a cultural norm to spend a year traveling because it's such a small island and this is what they tell me, I don't actually know this. Such a small island that they need a diversity of ideas so they've developed this or they've evolved this idea that you have to go after college or high school or something and spend a year somewhere else and then bring that stuff back and it's expected.

I think there's probably a lot to say to that for Iowa too. We're a fairly homogeneous set of people here and a shrinking set, right? That would be good. I think the bigger problem isn't so much about letting ... dissuading people from leaving, because that's usually where the government talks about it, we lose all these people, brain drain, I think it's more about how do we bring people here who aren't from here.

Zack Mannheimer's story at the Social Club, his experiences and then the people he brought with him that have come from New York that had no roots in Iowa, have really done some interesting things in our community so how do we get that diverse viewpoint. When you look at places like Boulder and Austin and the startup communities that we want to learn from, they attract people from everywhere. People moved ... There's a reason. In Austin it might be the weather or SouthBy and the size of that. In Boulder it might be the mountains or the venture capital, kind of the … but we need to find things in Des Moines and Iowa that bring people here and become attractors.

Then I think you start getting the really interesting idea collisions that will create more ...

Scott Herren: Oh yeah.

Geoff Wood: Your experience growing ... You grew up in Des Moines area, right?

Scott Herren: Yeah.

Geoff Wood: Yeah, your experience growing up in Des Moines, pair that with somebody who grew up in New York then moved here. You guys meet and become friends and have this idea, but if it's you growing up in Des Moines and me growing up in Cedar Rapids and we meet together, we basically had the same experiences, that type of thing. I've looked at some of the population trend maps and it's ... I don't remember if it was a Forbes site or Inc. site, but they had after the 2010 Census they had ... They built charts, dynamic charts so you could click on any county in the country and see net migration.

People moved from Polk County to Boulder. They show blue is in and red is out and you click on Boulder and Austin and you see the whole country, and then you click on Polk County and Des Moines and you see the whole of Iowa. People come from all over the state to move here but not that many net gains from outside.

I think that's probably the biggest thing we have. How we do it, I don't know, but I think as we've seen with the conferences and things that we put on, you have to bring people here and get them to visit and physically see it for them to get it.

As we record this like The Bachelor thing is going on right now. I read something in The Register that said that The Bachelor ... I don't know if it was the Register but it was some publication locally, it said this might be good for Iowa to have this portrayed. Then listening to an NPR podcast that talked about it and they're like, it was the NPR music guy that was talking and he's from Wisconsin, lives in DC now but he's from Wisconsin. He's like, "They make Iowa look like a complete and utter hell hole," and later on he said like “I kind of get the feeling that this entire season is going to be about how terrible Iowa is”.

It's turning on that type of thing. There are no women in Iowa.

Chris New: Those who are in the know ... ding, ding, ding, so The Bachelor is from Iowa?

Geoff Wood: The current bachelor is from Arlington,Iowa in Northeast Iowa and he still farms there today, but I guess was a contestant ... I've never watched The Bachelor ...

Chris New: They're doing that thing like, so you want to go be a farm wife, kind of ...

Geoff Wood: They absolutely are.

Chris New: Looking down their nose to him.

Geoff Wood: Yeah ...

Scott Herren: I saw a similar post but it was talking about comparison with Shawn Johnson being on The Apprentice and how not everything ...

Geoff Wood: All the reality TV is Iowa ...

Scott Herren: Not everything that is reality that is whatever his name, Chris or something like that.

Geoff Wood: Something, yeah. Prince Farming is what The Register -ine was.

Scott Herren: That's a great title.

Geoff Wood: NPR called him, "The Fachelor," the farmer-bachelor.

Scott Herren: Even better. Yeah, we need to help portray it in good lights and I think especially with Shawn Johnson being on The Apprentice, that definitely doesn't hurt, and her Olympics run didn't hurt us, but ...

Geoff Wood: No, and I think that ... It's interesting because every time that there's a caucus here, bring in all the national media and they all hang out in the Marriott Hotel and they talk about it's like ... You can touch every piece of influential media member in the world in one hotel bar in Des Moines, and I guess it's really ... It's going to happen again here in a year, is that right? They're already starting. They've been talking about which candidates are coming through.

You read lots of stories at that point about how great people find Iowa. Their perception of Iowa was this, once they got here it was this and it's so great. Then you watch the stories that get on CNN and things like that and they're standing in cornfields and they're showing people when it's like this [snowy] out, that type of thing.

There's this actual perception of people that have been here and then there's this national brand of what they've made our state. Not that farming is bad, my in-laws farm and that's a big part of our family, but there's more to it than that. I think that's why we're not attracting people unless you want to marry the Farmer Bachelor, there's not reasons to come here, that's the perception that I think needs changing.

Scott Herren: We definitely get perceived on the 90% of what Iowa is, which is the farmland ...

Geoff Wood: But 90% of the physical Iowa.

Scott Herren: The physical Iowa.

Geoff Wood: Not 90% of the people. It's probably 90% of the wealth.

Chris New: Farming is 6% of the economy of Iowa. I remember that figure from a while back. It's something like only 6% of the economy. Which makes sense when you think about how many insurance companies ...

Scott Herren: I was going to say, the financial services are really a big player.

Geoff Wood: That is a place that we draw people, right, and I think financial tech and startups can be that. The SmartyPig’s, Dwolla’s, Workiva’s is like that's all that financial tech industry. That's a big thing for us to focus because if you ... That's the other thing. People need to feel like there's opportunity here so when Workiva going to IPO is an outlier and Dwolla raising 30 some million dollars in VC is an outlier. We need lots of those things here so that people know that if they get here and like it, there's other choices.

Scott Herren: We raised more money in Iowa than they raised on AngelList.

Geoff Wood: We did?

Scott Herren: Yeah, we raised 150 million in comparison to the 100 million that they raised on AngelList.

Geoff Wood: It's a little skewed because 110 million of that were 2 companies and they are companies ... Data centers and pharmaceutical, but this was a huge ... Yeah, talking about a post that I wrote a week or two ago, looking at all the venture capital investments that we attract in the last year, but 30 million of that, almost 150, was not those 2 companies, and I was talking with Jordan and Ben recently from Dwolla,who have been with Dwolla the whole time obviously, I remember when they raised their first million dollars and how abnormal that was to have that.

Scott Herren: That was crazy.

Geoff Wood: I wrote a post ... Probably Ben Milne wrote a post on SPN that has my byline where I was interviewing him about the raise and it was that unique that we did a 700 word post about what's it like to raise a million dollars. Last year it happened 14 times in Iowa. How awesome is that?

Scott Herren: That's awesome.

Geoff Wood: Maybe it's a bubble, maybe it's the economy group, maybe it's all those things, but regardless, for those of us in the community that have been watching this for the past couple years to be a place ...

I'm sure if anybody is listening to this point that's somewhere else like in Colorado, is like, “we have 14 raises a week”, or something like that ... million dollar raise.

Scott Herren: At the same time, here it's becoming less and less of an outlier. That hundred million dollar raise is awesome and still an outlier but it's getting closer and closer to not being an outlier, not something that's not unique ... Not unique but not crazy for us to think about.

Geoff Wood: We'll never be satisfied and people will always think there's not enough capital available. We have VC firms that are locating here. We have external VC like Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures on the coast that are coming and saying yeah, you can build there and you can leave your team there and do that type of thing. It's not a, oh you've got a good idea we're going to move you out of there. Some still do that, but ...

I think the future is bright, and we were just talking about tech there but I think you see it in culture. Kind of an unfortunately named article, but “Do the Most Hipster Thing Possible, Move to Des Moines”, thing that was in the National Journal, kind of illustrated it really well and ...

Scott Herren: Shoot, the East Village has a crap-ton of culture. I'm not saying you should be hipster to do that. You can do a lot of things.

Geoff Wood: I think that should be their branding, too “We have a crap-ton of culture”. One of my best friends from growing up lives in DC now and is very ... just finishing law school moving to San Francisco and when they're back in Iowa and they come visit us, we take them to the East Village or we go to Centro and places like that. Talking with him he's like ... Because he left in I guess '97 when we graduated high school, and he's like I just don't think of Iowa as having these types of things because these are big city things. He's an Iowan who has roots here, his parents still live in Cedar Rapids, but has that feel. We need to build those things up.

Scott Herren: Was it you that told me we have the same per capita culture equivalent of New York?

Geoff Wood: Wasn't me, but that might have been in that article. I feel like that's probably something from that article.

Scott Herren: Per capita we have the same amount of cultural activities or things like that.

Geoff Wood: The public art, the concerts, the things like that. If you go ... I went to a Trampled by Turtles concert on ... It was in the street outside of Wooly's last summer, two summers, I don't remember when it was. They put a stage in the inner section one block away from where Barack Obama did his final speech before the 2012 election, whatever election that was. The last one to kinda thank Iowans.

One block from there they set up the same stage or a similar stage, had street vendors with beer and that type of thing. It was so cool because I'm like, this ... Not having ever lived in New York but I like it, I feel like this is what it's like to live in Brooklyn and be able to go to concerts like this, you have the 3 story brick buildings that are 100 years old, skyline in the background behind you, this is a big city cool thing and I don't know that people nationally, for sure, people don't have the perspective that you do things like that here.

That's what I think we need to do. The tech, the culture, the sports, all those type of things.

Scott Herren: Really getting Iowa on the map.

Geoff Wood: Yeah, like you said it's not just about telling people not to leave and it's not just about bringing people back but it's finding people that want to come here in the first place, that's probably the biggest opportunity.

Scott Herren: Net gain, basically.

Geoff Wood: You can always come back. We came back but the minute that I landed in Indianapolis where we lived, it was like ... It didn't feel like it was home. I knew I had to come back.

Scott Herren: I probably won't have that feeling the minute I land in San Diego because it's going to be significantly warmer.

Geoff Wood: We moved in December from Iowa to Indiana, so we didn't have much of a change. The whole time we were there, I remember my Twitter bio at the time, not cognizant but it was like, I'm an Iowan in Indiana. That's how I referred to myself. I always felt that way. I would read The Register before I read The Star, that type of thing.

Chris New: I feel like we're talking about an Iowan rumspringa ... What is it ...

Geoff Wood: Actually it is like that.

Chris New: Go out, spread your wings and then you'll want to come back.

Scott Herren: Absolutely.

Geoff Wood: Except that there's no penalty. With that I think if you choose not to come back you can never come back right?

Scott Herren: Right.

Geoff Wood: If the Seth Green movies are to be believed that I've seen ...

Chris New: That's true. That's your entire experience. Was that Road Trip?

Scott Herren: No, Sex Drive.

Geoff Wood: Sex Drive, that's it. Is the bowling movie about that too? Kingpin?

Chris New: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. That kid ... I don't know if he was ...

Geoff Wood: Because he's the state of Iowa bowling champion?

Chris New: Or Pennsylvania.

Geoff Wood: No, it's Iowa.

Chris New: It was Iowa?

Geoff Wood: He was the state of Iowa ...

Chris New: Gosh.

Geoff Wood: I haven't seen that movie ... Munson ... Then he Munsoned it, isn't that what they call it? Yeah.

Chris New: Just because I hate to leave bad information out there, my 6% figure kind of split the difference. I was kind of right and wrong on average. The GDP of agriculture in the state of Iowa, 6.7% ... Or excuse me, 9.7%, so a little higher, but jobs were only 2% of the population, involved in agriculture, so there you go. My 6% was ... The average of economic figures.

Geoff Wood: No, that's very good. I was just going to say the top definition on Urban Dictionary, if we're making things accurate, I'm going to go to Urban Dictionary, it tells me that "to Munson" is derived from the film Kingpin, starring Woody Harrelson, whose character's last name is Munson. Also mention the Bloodhound Gang song Pennsylvania, the word describes someone who has everything going for them and when they reach the pinnacle of their success, they do something that causes them to lose it all.

Jerry had already made a million dollars gambling and was Munsoned at the crap table ... Craps table I suppose, not the crap table, but that's ...

Scott Herren: Close enough.

Geoff Wood: Urban Dictionary, you have an error. I'm pretty sure that Kingpin, wasn't he the State of Iowa champion?

Scott Herren: I'm pretty sure. I haven't seen that movie in a long time. I was too young for that.

Geoff Wood: Yeah, 1996 so I was a senior in high school when that movie came out. Almost 100. Yeah, Roy Munson, a bowling prodigy, wins the 1979 Iowa state amateur championship and plans to leave his fictional hometown of Ocelot, Iowa to go to the professional bowlers tour ...

Scott Herren: Ocelot, Iowa? That's awesome.

Geoff Wood: Actually that's a great name. I think I want to start assigning people to be from Ocelot, Iowa. We're just ...

Scott Herren: I'm going to tell everyone in San Diego that I'm from Ocelot, Iowa

Geoff Wood: That's perfect. We should probably wrap up, there's a Tech Brew to get to tonight. Thanks for joining us today.

Scott Herren: Thanks for having me.

Geoff Wood: Thanks for sitting in tomorrow on podcast and yeah, go from there.

Scott Herren: For sure.

Geoff Wood: Thanks man.