Here’s another great video from The Pivot (see the first one about Ecomom) that profiled Zappos and how they became the amazing customer service oriented online retailer that they are today. It’s a great look into Zappos and how Tony Hsieh thinks.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to the power of the internet, I came across Julian Shapiro who was writing an piece on his thoughts on the development of the Vegas Tech community. I told him I’d be happy to post his piece as a guest post on Vegas Startups once it was ready.
Julian is the founder of NameLayer.com, a domain name portfolio for tech entrepreneurs. You can follow him at @Shapiro.
For years, I’ve wondered what a city with a focus on community would look like if it were not the product of total corporate control. I’d love to be part of such a city if it were done “right.”
Fortunately for me (a tech entrepreneur), such a community would benefit greatly from a focus on tech, as it is a proven conduit to exponential job creation as well as localized innovation. Crucially important, however, is that the goal of downtown Las Vegas is not to recreate Silicon Valley, but rather to communally plant the seeds for an autonomous, living, and breathing city that will ultimately supercharge itself.
Only with this type of a platform can the next generational advancement in innovation be possible. If mankind is largely defined by innovation (not merely incremental adaptation) and social connection, then igniting social connections through a holistically communal approach will naturally amplify all the wonders of human ingenuity in the process.
The way you go about doing this is by simply connecting the dots. To do anything more is to not only overcomplicate the matter, but to unrealistically overextend oneself (as the communal seed planter). In the context of community building, “connecting the dots” translates to interconnecting passions instead of actively fostering passions: Instead of riling up individuals to partake in various subcommunities, you attract individuals with pre-existing, focused, and explosive passions that simply need to be given some kindling and a direction to head in.
The goal of this article is to raise awareness of the power of collective consciousness so that individuals are discouraged from simply waiting around for Zappos to “finish” executing its vision for its wonderful Downtown Project. After all, by definition, this is a community-wide undertaking.
1. Hope is not a strategy
Proactively educating and motivating
People won’t just serendipitously begin building and executing their businesses in ways that seamlessly benefit the community. No one is self-aware about absolutely everything they do. People need reminders; they need to be educated and motivated.
When businesses emerge with a collective knowledge and consideration for what’s taking place around them, you have the power – as the seed planters – to proactively replace certain outdated traditions with newer, more powerful ones.
Let’s take a look at a very small example: Why not educate all new restaurants about the latest web services and pitch them on the benefits of integrating an online table reservation and/or takeout system from day one? When this becomes a norm (a community-wide expectation) with clearly perceived benefits, it becomes naturalized such that incoming small business owners seeking exciting opportunities will begin thinking up ideas and technological co-ops on their own.
Imagine if you could walk down any block in downtown Las Vegas with your iPhone out and plan your entire lunch or dinner experience before you even arrive at the front doors of your office. Now apply that same power to the process of planning all of your work-related tasks for the day, and you start to realize how the big picture comes together.
Likewise, there are a lot of tech-related institutional practices that can heighten the efficiency and energy of a city when that city is being built upon a collective consideration for what’s going on around it. You leverage that consciousness by being vocal: If you have a soapbox and a slew of fantastic ideas, start getting discussions rolling. If you don’t have a soapbox, create one.
You can apply proactive education and motivation to so many aspects of city life:
- Biking instead of driving
- The proximity of crucial storefronts (supermarkets, doctors) to living areas
- Schools that employ effective and energized teaching methods – not simply what has come before them:
- Likewise, perform a nation-wide search for individuals who are gung-ho passionate about this way of teaching. Then, have those people get teaching degrees. In other words, you don’t have to start only with teachers who are already ingrained into the old system. Make your own rules.
- Prioritize the study of happiness – even starting at a young age. This isn’t a superficial attempt to appeal to Hsieh’s passions; it’s merely a response to the current educational system’s institutionalization of prioritizing career planning over the pursuit of genuine fulfillment.
- Giving storefronts tax deductions for each hour they stay open past 6pm:
- Why should enjoying life ever be constrained to society’s pre-existing notions, such as “work hours”? Life is so much more enjoyable with flexibility.
- Try to consider the hidden costs of everything. Yes, it requires a lot of thought, but its positive effects will be felt for centuries: As Kim Schaefer asks, “As Las Vegas has grown over the last 100 years, what are the things we’ve sacrificed to create the city that we now live in? There are the obvious costs, environmental and financial, of building a city in the middle of a desert, but what else have we lost along the way?“
A lot of great new people won’t just show up out of nowhere.
A jet link between Las Vegas and Silicon Valley is smart. It adds a level of sophistication and intrigue. But, more importantly, it removes a lot of excuses that people will have about geographical friction.
In what other ways can we remove friction? Well, let’s start by thinking about what the key elements are that keep people right where they are – the elements that convince people that packing their bags to go work a more interesting job in another city is an overwhelming undertaking:
- Not being around existing friends; losing touch with friends; having to make new friends
- Overwhelmed by new surroundings; feeling spatially and socially isolated in a new city
- Missing their home city’s unique culture; being intimidated by or uninterested in cultural change
Each one of these points should be proactively addressed by the “marketing department” of the destination community. With community already being priority numero uno to the Downtown Project, let’s just briefly focus on the third point:
- Cultural change: Unlike hiring for a company, you can’t vet for new citizens. However, just like a company, you can offer creative resources that show off what you’re about. I believe that every amount of energy and passion that went into accepting visitors with open arms at Zappos should be equally spent on having regular, clever, and strategically-planned tours around downtown Las Vegas. To take it a level further, however, it should be a “two-time commitment” on behalf of the visitors: At the end of every tour, each visitor should be told: “If you don’t plan on moving in the immediate future, we implore you to come back in 12 months – perhaps on your next casino vacation – and prepare to be blown away by how much this city has changed. You can also just check out the progress online!”
In other words, if there’s sufficient capital and drive to rapidly change downtown Las Vegas, this monumental momentum should be leveraged to evoke wonder out of those who are interested in relocating; use this massive differential as a marketing tool. Start by filming the current state of the downtown area: Peruse city blocks and showcase everything they have to offer. From early morning to late night, show it in its full glory and darkness. Then, every four months, have a film crew come back through and retrace their steps. Compile this footage into an ever-growing retro-comparison video walk-through for thousands to witness on YouTube. (You can even make specialized videos for the arts, community development, education, tech, and so on. Also, don’t forget to address factors like safety/crimerate, affordability, real estate value, climate, and public transportation.) When people see the changes being made, they’ll realize that moving to downtown Las Vegas is unlike moving to any other destination: The city is in a state of constant flux and growth. People would be relocating not just to experience a change, but they would be relocating to continue experiencing change. A living, breathing city.
2. Luck is not a factor
Methodology of approach
You won’t simply be stricken with the best of the best ideas – especially not for every type of small business that a city fuels itself on.
What will help is a strategy for systematically gathering and assessing ideas. This way, the best can naturally rise to the top where they will then be infused with individual vision.
As an example, let’s develop an idealistic approach for building a small business: Choose two or three thriving cities (anywhere in the world) that are as different from one another as possible – yet all of which reflect the lifestyle and communal foundations that you wish to infuse into your business and your community. With each of your chosen cities, repeat the following:
- 1. Visit Yelp.com (or the regional variant of Yelp).
- 2. Go through each and every business category.
- 3. Look at the highest rated destinations in each category.
- 4. Visit the top 5-10 of those destinations, per category, per city.
- Send a couple people who are very good at paying attention to not only the fine details in things but also the larger picture at hand.
- Have them take videos, pictures, and transcribed summaries on the pros and cons of each location.
- Have them compare the comments left in the Yelp reviews with their real-life experiences before synthesizing what the destinations specifically do that cause people to react so enthusiastically about what they experience.
- 5. Distill this entire collection of multi-city research into one master index.
- 6. (Optional) Repeat steps 1-5 for the worst rated destinations so that you can be reminded of what NOT to do.
- 7. Have highly energized brainstorming sessions about each business category, consulting the index as necessary.
The important thing to remember is that performing systematic research doesn’t detract from idiosyncratically and passionately pursuing development – it simply supercharges it. Research is the food that fuels the productive mind.
Attracting thought leaders
Keep it simple; just connect the dots. Don’t spend energy trying to woo 50,000 tech enthusiasts when you can spend 5% of that time wooing the people who the tech enthusiasts pay attention to.
What does someone like Tim Ferriss have that most of the top tech bloggers don’t? Influential, result-oriented clout. Yes, there are quite a few larger-than-life bloggers with lots of eyes on them, but someone like Ferriss converts those eyes into moving hands, whereas most just momentarily attract attention.
Do whatever you need to in order to get the Tim Ferrisses to not only whole-heartedly advocate downtown Las Vegas but to also relocate – at least part-time. After all, monkey see, monkey do; not monkey hear, monkey do.
For each industry, thoroughly research so that you always pinpoint the real thought leaders.
Regarding tech in particular, everything that can be said about attracting tech entrepreneurs has already been beautifully summed up by Rick Duggan:
- Respond more effectively to offers of help
- Give structure to those who prefer structure
- Ensure adequate supply of funding for deserving companies
- Facilitate founder speed dating
Just imagine living in a city that was home to the eclectic leaders in several dozen spaces, including yoga, music, arts, teaching, and so on. What would the vibe be like? How would such a massive amount of inspiration rub off on the community? Kids would grow up having leaders to admire in any space that they could possibly be passionate about. Consequently, success in their chosen field would always seem tangible – they wouldn’t know mediocrity.
This scenario might seem obnoxiously idealistic, but dumb it down a bit (if you must) and imagine applying it to all facets of inspiration. You’ll find yourself coming up with some very powerful ideas.
3. Fear is not an option
If you knew this development initiative was going to fail, leaving you to make the most of the little time and capital you had left, what’s the craziest – yet still incredibly clever and impactful – stuff that you’d try pulling off?
- You want to build a multi-block zipline? Why not build an aerial waterslide and sell waterproof briefcases at each end? When Las Vegas presents you with 117 degree temperatures, throw a waterslide in its face.
- You want to make downtown’s physical configuration convenient? Well, why not reorganize so that the downtown zone is a series of concentric “circles”? The outer-most circle is where the apartments are, then the next inner level would be the quick conveniences (groceries, haircut), then you have restaurants, then entertainment, then business, and finally a park in the middle where people can congregate. It’s like a sugary center to a multi-layered lollipop.
- You want to discourage driving cars? Well, why not encourage people to drive (road-certified) electric golf carts and go-karts all around the area? If everyone’s doing it, then the concern of being smashed to bits by a traditional car wouldn’t be too great…
It goes on and on. Don’t base ideas off of what you’re used to. Base ideas off of the most idealistic creations you can autonomously come up with. Only once you’ve done this should you then synthesize your ideal scenario with “reality” and make compromises.
Always start big.
Someone once passionately wrote, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” And what we’re talking about here is fostering the ideal environment for impassioned people to genuinely create themselves. That’s something I’d want to be a part of. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years. Throughout this time, the only concrete conclusion I’ve come to is that there can never fully be a blueprint – there can only be a starting point combined with good intentions and the genuine drive to see those intentions through.
The reason that there can never be a blueprint is that a community is not defined by its distinct subcommunities (because, divided, they’re just factions), but rather a community is defined by the spaces that naturally arise in between subcommunities. (Watch Zach Ware of the Downtown Project talk more about this concept here.) Those spaces filling themselves in is the sign of human ingenuity at work.
That’s where the greatest magic happens.
Rumgr Raises $500k from Tony Hsieh, Arun Rajan, Fred Mossler and Andrew Donner and Launches Officially
It’s been a big couple days for the team behind Rumgr: Dylan Bathurst, Ray Morgan and Alex Coleman. They officially launched Rumgr and they announced their first round of funding as well. This is the first Startup Weekend Las Vegas company to get funding. I still remember when I heard Dylan first pitch the idea. It’s come a long way since then.
As part of their official launch they’ve added some great new features like splitting comments and offers into two distinct actions. This might seem like a subtle change, but it’s a really smart move for Rumgr since it also sets the stage for them to build in a number of other features around paying for an item based on the offer that’s accepted.
I also love a number of the website features that have been added to Rumgr.com as they seem to have embraced what Mark Suster has recently called a Web Second, Mobile First strategy. As I think back on my chats with Dylan and Ray I think they’ll continue this thoughtful approach on what to add to the app and what to add to the website that will make Rumgr work better on both platforms.
According to Techcrunch, Rumgr raised $500k from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, Zappos CTO Arun Rajan, Fred Mossler, and Andrew Donner, CEO and owner of Resort Gaming Group.
Congrats to Dylan, Ray and Alex on their official launch and funding. All of Vegas Tech is looking forward to where they take the app from here.
The exciting news coming out today is about Paul Carr’s new startup company being based in Las Vegas. If you don’t know Paul Carr, then you must not follow tech and should go follow him on Twitter. Paul Carr is probably most famous for being a boisterous columnist for TechCrunch and if you don’t believe me, check out Paul Carr’s TechCrunch resignation letter. Here’s a short section from Paul’s blog post announcing his move to Las Vegas:
I’m starting a new company, with financial backing from Tony Hsieh (Zappos, Delivering Happiness) and Michael Arrington’s CrunchFund. We’re not ready to say too much about the specifics right now but — spoiler alert! — it will directly address an issue I’ve written passionately about for both TechCrunch and the Guardian.
There’s little doubt that Paul Carr will be an interesting addition to Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project. Paul Carr is quite familiar with Las Vegas after he did a month long Las Vegas diary where he visited a new Vegas hotel almost every night.
As a blogger myself, I’m interested to see what type of company Paul plans to start. Welcome to Las Vegas Paul! I look forward to meeting you at a future Las Vegas tech event.
Stewart Christensen, the force behind LaunchUp Las Vegas, posted a great summary of things that are happening in the tech and startup world in Las Vegas right now. He gave me permission to publish it on here for others to see all the great Las Vegas startup and tech happenings. If you have clarifications or things missing from the list below, let us know in the comments.
Originate is a tech incubator from LA that is opening an office here. Unlike a standard incubator they provide development talent or manufacturing connections, etc for the startups they bring in… They don’t provide funding.
Linq360: a co-office space in summerlin (kind a of a country club for companies) but if you get in it’s very connected. They are partners with Microsoft, HP, and a bunch of other large companies. They are focused on tech for the hospitality industry.
Linq360 incubator: they are also opening an incubator early next year. The incubator will not be exclusive to hospitality startups.
Zappos is starting an incubator.
I hear that the Vegas Valley Angels are looking for deals again.
Vegas is getting on the radar of people in silicon valley, angel investors, the big law firms that do a lot of startup advising, etc. (thanks in large part to startup weekend)
There are rumblings of some big name people in tech looking to make Vegas their home. Tom Anderson (myspace founder) already lives here (although he is kind of staying out of the tech scene right now). I have heard of others as well…
A co-working space in the works: http://www.vegascollective.com/
citizenspace.us has been talking about a co-working space in Neonopolis. Word on the street is that it will be opening late this month or early in September.
Startup weekend: http://lasvegas.startupweekend.org/ (the next one will probably be in November)
Ignite Vegas: http://www.ignitevegas.com/
Vegas Jelly (casual co-working): at the Beat coffee house downtown every other Thursday night. The next one is on 8/18 http://wiki.workatjelly.com/w/page/38951064/Las%20Vegas%20Jelly
List 1 of Vegas tech companies(some startups, some established): http://www.vegasstartups.com/2011/05/27/state-of-the-las-vegas-startups-union/
List 2 of Vegas tech co: http://www.vegasstartups.com/2011/08/11/state-of-the-las-vegas-startups-union-part-2/
Vegas tech calendar: http://vegastechevents.com/
This post was originally posted by John Lynn on his personal Las Vegas Startup Blog.
I’m really excited to tell you about Startup Weekend finally coming to Las Vegas. I’ve wanted to participate in Startup Weekend for quite a while. In fact, I was friends with one of the first people involved in Startup Weekend and I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit envious of him being part of it. Well, now it’s coming to Las Vegas.
If you don’t know what Startup Weekend is, it’s an intense 54 hour weekend of working on some cool project. You start with an idea and finish with a launched product. The basis for a potential business. Plus, we’ve already landed Zappos as a Startup Weekend Las Vegas sponsor and Kevin Rose (of Digg fame) as a judge. Plus, more announcements on the way.
Registration for Startup Weekend Las Vegas is open and only $75 for the Early Bird registration through May 25, 2011. It’s going to be a fun weekend, so go register now.
Ok, if you’re still not convinced, here’s the rest of the details about how the event works and a great video which captures the essence of Startup Weekend quite well.
| About SW |
Startup Weekend is a 501(c)3 non-profit that brings together the entrepreneurial, web development and design communities for one weekend with one goal: Going from idea to launch! Here’s a quick video of the recent events in Philly: watch. I believe it captures the essence of the Startup Weekend, a launchpad that we’re truly excited to bring to Vegas!
The weekend is easily broken down into Pitch, Build, Present. Friday is pitch night when anyone with an idea gets one minute to pitch to the crowd. The crowd votes on the top 8-10 ideas and we start to form teams and build. We build all day Saturday until around 4:00 on Sunday (with some awesome meals mixed in). Finally, Sunday is launch day where teams will have the opportunity to present their ideas to investors, industry leaders. A few awesome ideas and their entrepreneurs have even gone on to receive funding.
| Judges | Sunday (6/26) – 5 PM – 8:30 PM
There are so many ideas that come out of Startup Weekends. Some of them are wacky and a lot set out to rule the world. Judges are encouraged to give valuable advice/feedback in addition to just asking questions. We have a list of 5 basic criteria for the winners circle:
1. Execution (what teams have actually accomplished over the weekend; i.e. deliverable)
2. Presentation (self-explanatory)
3. Viability (financially speaking)
4. Innovation (is the concept unique? disruptive?)
5. Breakthrough Potential (maybe it’s popular among first adopters, but can it be scaled to a larger market?)
| Speakers | Friday (6/24) 7PM – 7:45PM
We’re going to have two speakers and a local startup do a demo before we begin pitching. Speakers will have 10 minutes of full on attention to speak on topics like: bootstrapping vs. raising funds, the local investment ecosystem and team dynamics and the importance of picking the right people and communicating effectively. The audience will then have 5 minutes of Q&A. Slides are ok but not required.
| Mentors |
Generally speaking, mentors spend about two hours on Saturday and/or Sunday meeting with teams or individuals. We plan on having some awesome ideas launched in Vegas, so we understand if you want to stay longer.
Saturday – 10AM to 6 PM and/or
Sunday – 10AM to 5PM
| Help Spread the word |
- Checkout startupweekend.org and lasvegas.startupweekend.org
- Follow us: @SWVegas
- Send anyone you feel would be interested in attending, sponsoring or judging our way at:firstname.lastname@example.org.
6:00pm – Registration starts (pizza served)
7:00pm – Kickoff & Speakers
7:30pm – Pitches Begin – (60 seconds per person)
9:00pm – Attendees vote for the top ideas
9:15pm – Teams start forming and discussing ideas
10:00pm – 1:00am – Teams begin to work
[Recharge on Fremont E]
9:00am – Doors open. Breakfast & coffee
9:30am – Teams continue working. Mentors arrive and begin working with teams.
12:00pm – Lunch
6:30pm – Dinner
7:30pm – Mid weekend check-in, status reports, call for help
12:00 midnight – Finished for the day. Stay and work as late as the venue will allow.
[Recharge on Fremont E]
9:00am – Doors open. Breakfast & coffee
11:00pm – Lunch
12:30pm – Mentors arrive…
3:00pm – Gut check. Start prepping for presentations
4:00pm – Dinner
5:00pm – FINAL PRESENTATIONS
7:30pm – Judging & awards
8:30pm – Wrap-up
9:00pm – Wrap Party
This post was originally posted by John Lynn on his personal Las Vegas Startup Blog.
I had this little link stored away in my draft posts. It’s an article about a man named Michael Tchong who sees Las Vegas as a future Silicon Valley. The article is a nice read and does a good job talking about the challenges of internet startups in Las Vegas. However, I agree that there’s some real potential here in Las Vegas for entrepreneurship and specifically internet startups.
I did a little more digging and found Michael Tchong’s website called ubercool (nice name). He also has a twitter account by the same name and it even lists Las Vegas, NV as it’s location. So, I guess he does live in Las Vegas according to Twitter. Although, if you look at his speaking schedule on his website, it looks like he travels a whole lot. He does seem to have a pretty interesting background and so I hope that one day I get to meet him.
It’s fun to think about Silicon Las Vegas. There are some tremendous upsides to living in Las Vegas versus Silicon Valley. Not the least of which is the now very inexpensive housing. Of course, there are some challenges as well. This quote from the article linked at the top is one of the largest ones:
Information technology and Web publishing employees comprise less than 1 percent of our workforce, according to the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV, meaning Las Vegas isn’t exactly a tech hotbed.
Of course, the fact that UNLV categorizes them as information technology and web publishing (who uses that term?) should say something about the area as well. There’s so little activity they don’t even know how to categorize it.
However, the article is right that Las Vegas could use a few more Zappos like companies to make their home here. While the jobs from those companies would be good. There’s even a greater value of having technology companies like Google and Yahoo located in a city, because many of their employees will end up quiting and starting their own companies. Or they will leave the large tech companies and provide the future work force for the smaller internet startups.
If I were in Las Vegas politics, I’d be working to bring some of those large tech companies to Las Vegas. It would be worth the cost.