2016: The Year of Growth

Check out last year’s final post to see how far I’ve come since the end of 2015.

It’s time to step back and reflect on the past 12 months, now that we’ve come of the end of the busiest years I’ve had since graduate school a decade ago. To write this post, I’ve gone back and looked over the things that I’ve accomplished since January 1, and the list is pretty impressive. The list is quite different from last year – most of my activities last year involved meeting people and becoming acquainted with the business and startup community in eastern Iowa. I attended significantly more 1 Million Cups and a bunch of networking events in 2015 than I did this year. If the entrepreneurial community in eastern Iowa can be thought of as a room, I spent 2015 unlocking the door and crossing the threshold, and 2016 involved getting to work building the machines in the room.

It’s not as though I removed all networking from my schedule in 2016. On the contrary – there were events like the Young Entrepreneur Convention in Des Moines and the Global Accelerator Network Rally in Denver where I was able to connect with entrepreneurs outside eastern Iowa. But compared to last year, I spent much more time working on client projects and building businesses than I had in 2015. That’s a good thing – I laid the groundwork for 2016 by networking in 2015.

This year started out with the birth of my younger daughter at the end of January. With the way the entrepreneurial calendar works here in eastern Iowa, she couldn’t have been born at a better time. There’s usually a lull in events in the dead of winter, which works out well for both of my daughters’ birthdays – one at the end of January and the other at the beginning of February. It’s hard to believe that my younger daughter is not even a year old, and she’s walking around and “helping” me with chores around the house. She’s grown so much in the last 11 months!

Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids was the first entrepreneurial event of the year, just before my wife was done with her maternity leave. This was my second Startup Weekend, and it was a much different experience than Startup Weekend Iowa City had been the November previous. There were so many good ideas this time around that it was a bit difficult to choose the team on which I wanted to work. ASAP Venues was a great idea, but the competition was pretty stiff, so we didn’t end up winning anything. Regardless, it was a great experience.

Shortly after, Team Sexy Life began Venture School. David and I had already been through previous Venture School cohorts, but Chris had not. Looking back, we had done a far bit of cajoling to get Chris to go as far as Venture School – deep down, he really had not wanted to go as far as he did with the project. I can’t speak for him, but it seemed like he had a good experience going through the program. We ended up winning best pitch (again, thanks to Chris), and David and I took that as a sign that we should continue pursuing Sexy Life. We took the summer off and regrouped the project in the fall with a few new team members.

Speaking of Venture School, the project associated with my other experience in the program completely pivoted from a high-end pizza place to a small drive-through barbecue hut. I had an inkling that Tom was going to pivot the idea from pizza to barbecue, but I didn’t think he was going to move away from the high-end restaurant concept. All of a sudden, he was moving forward with the small drive-through concept, and he enlisted my help again to help get the hut up and running. Never did I think that I’d be the technical advisor for a small restaurant, putting together the IT infrastructure and setting up the point of sale unit for the restaurant! Tom still relies on me to update the hut’s Web site, and I’m still wanting to get up to the hut to try out some of the barbecue. Perhaps next year, when the weather is warmer…

In April, I made it into Des Moines for the Young Entrepreneur Convention. I had won a free ticket to this event through Startup Weekend Iowa City in November 2015. It sounded like a solid concept, so I thought that I’d show up and do a bit of customer discovery for Sexy Life while I was there. All in all, it was a good convention – a bit rough around the edges in places, but you expect that for the first year of a convention. The mix of breakout sessions was probably 75% educational and 25% people trying to sell you things. I think it will be a bit easier to filter out the 25% at next year’s convention – I just have to do a bit more research before I get there. I’ve already purchased my ticket for the 2017 convention, and it will be fun to see how many people are there that I met in 2016!

Toward the end of Venture School, Team Sexy Life held two events called the Sexy Life Social Hour. We did a better job advertising the second one, and the turnout was much better there. We were able to perform a decent amount of customer discovery, and we were able to gain some decent insights from the events. I’m hoping that we relaunch the Sexy Life Social Hour as we start to release our product in a couple of months – possibly as something supplemental that can help us extend the Sexy Life brand. We’ve also talked about doing some sort of Sexy Life podcast – I think that the social hour and podcast could go hand-in-hand if we advertise the social hour enough in the community. It would be a great way to get out into the community and drum up some business.

David and I took the summer off from working on Sexy Life because we both had some pretty major things going on. I had taken on a couple of massive Web design and development projects and was asked to help with QuickScore, a corporate innovation project at the Iowa Startup Accelerator, which started at the beginning of August. Just getting these projects going took a massive chunk of the summer, and lasted throughout the fall – still going on when David and I started working on Sexy Life again. Only in the last couple of weeks have I finally caught back up where I need to be here at the end of the year. I now know my work limits, and that I need to say “no” a lot more… but, I didn’t want to turn down the opportunity to participate in the Iowa Startup Accelerator.

Even though I wasn’t on one of the official teams, I had an amazing time working in the Iowa Startup Accelerator, and I learned a great deal in the little bit of time I was able to devote to the program. In addition, being part of the ISA allowed me to participate in the Global Accelerator Network Rally in Denver at the beginning of October. Much of the information was more relevant to what David and I are doing with Sexy Life than it was to a corporate innovation project like QuickScore, so much of the rally was well worth attending. Like the Young Entrepreneur Convention, probably about 75% of the sessions were useful. I opted out of the 25% of sessions that didn’t seem as good a use of our time or where people were trying to sell things and spent the time on the phone doing customer discovery or working on other projects. Again, this was the first year for the rally, so I hope that if they have another one, they smooth out some of the rough edges and work a bit better on some of the schedule-related problems that occurred during the convention.

October was a ridiculously busy month. A couple of weeks after returning from Denver, I served as a coach at the fall edition of The University of Iowa Startup Games – Startup Weekend for college students. It was an incredible honor to be asked to be a coach at this event, to be able to help guide these students toward viable businesses. Mentally, I had to take a step back and ask myself if I really had come this far in two years. Am I really qualified to be dishing out advice and helping others understand the lean business model and the basics of customer discovery? Am I really qualified to be here? But then, I had to remind myself that the organizers of the event would not have asked me to be there if they didn’t think I had the qualifications to be a coach. Still, it’s easy to have self-doubt in situations like this – especially my first time being asked to help with Startup Games.

One of the awesome things to come out of the Startup Games experience was to be asked to be a community mentor by the folks at the Iowa City Area Development Group. I guess I did well enough as a coach that I was given two different early startups to help guide through the process of business development – one startup in the community and another startup at the university (who I helped coach during Startup Games, in fact!)

To round out the year of growth, I participated in Startup Weekend Iowa City back in late November and attended the Venture School Surge Summit in Des Moines at the beginning of December. This year’s Startup Weekend Iowa City was themed, unlike last year. The theme was “fashion, technology, and wearables.” I wanted to see how a themed Startup Weekend would work, and I thought that it went quite well! Little did I know that I’d end up with another project coming out of the weekend, with my team wanting to continue working on the Dress Me Please app next year! The Surge Summit was a great refresher of much of the information from Venture School, and was a fun excursion for part of Team Sexy Life.

I knew that 2016 had been busy, but I couldn’t believe how much I had accomplished and attended until I went back through and wrote everything down on a piece of paper. However, even as crazy as 2016 was, 2017 is setting up to match or beat everything 2016 threw at me! Here’s a list of what’s coming up for the next 12 months:

  • Startup Weekends in Decatur, Illinois; Cedar Rapids; and Iowa City (this time with a gaming and e-sports theme) – so far, I’ve been recruited to take part in three upcoming Startup Weekend events: one in Decatur, Illinois, where the rest of Team Dress Me Please lives, in February; the return of Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids at the beginning of March; and another themed Startup Weekend Iowa City in April.

  • Open Coffee Iowa City – about a month ago, I was handed the keys to Open Coffee Iowa City after the former facilitator decided to move back to Florida. I’m not sure why, but the crowd for Open Coffee has been dwindling over the last few months. I am putting together a questionnaire and a bit of a marketing blitz in order to grow the event again.

  • Young Entrepreneur Convention and Elevator Pitch Competition – I am going to attend this event again in April, and this time, I am going to participate in the elevator pitch competition for the benefit of Sexy Life. David and I have decided to start raising a bit of extra money for Sexy Life through pitch competitions – for the time we put in mastering a pitch, we could win some serious money for the business!

  • Venture School Surge Summit and Pitch Competition – David and I are also planning to participate in the Surge Summit pitch competition at the next event in Des Moines in April. The Surge Summit is the Friday leading up to the beginning of the Young Entrepreneur Convention, so the timing is absolutely perfect!

  • EntreFEST and Flyover Fashion Fest – EntreFEST is coming back to Iowa City after a one-year hiatus. It was one of the events that I wish I’d been able to attend fully in 2015 when I was just starting my freelance firm. Back then, I was only able to attend the rooftop fashion show. In 2017, the organizers of the rooftop fashion show have timed their event to coincide with EntreFEST. More perfect timing in 2017!

  • Denver Startup Week – Had I not attended the GAN Rally this year, I would have taken my yearly trip to Denver a couple of weeks earlier and attended at least part of Denver Startup Week. I am going to make it this year, because it sounds like it was a great event and should be even better this year. I am going to keep an eye on this, just in case there is any opportunity for me to pitch Sexy Life during this event.

  • The official launch of Sexy Life – The moment is nearly here! We’re actually going to get this thing launched! It’s been over a year in the making, but I think we have developed some pretty solid ideas for the official launch in early 2017. Stay tuned for more information in the next two months.

  • Dress Me Please – As Sexy Life finally launches, Dress Me Please begins the task of accumulating all of the information we found during Startup Weekend and putting everything into the Business Model Canvas. This project is on hiatus at least until late January or early February, so stay tuned for more information on this as well.

  • 1 Million Cups around the Midwest – One of the things that I had meant to do this past summer was to make it to 1 Million Cups events throughout the Midwest. As the projects began to pile up, traveling was one of the first things to be cut from my schedule. Not so in 2017. I want to make it to at least 5 other 1 Million Cups locations, possibly to present Sexy Life to other audiences. I want to see if David is onboard with this idea – I think it would be a great way to hype our product after our official launch! Even if I don’t attend to pitch, I’d like to attend just to meet other entrepreneurs in markets other than the Creative Corridor.

  • Coaching Startup Games – I just received an e-mail about helping with the spring Startup Games event. Unfortunately, it’s the same weekend as Gamicon in Cedar Rapids. I’d like to help in some way, possibly just for a short time during the weekend. I’ll have more on how I’m going to balance both events coming up closer to the end of February.

  • Possibly helping to lead a hackathon in Iowa City in the fall – Of all the things I’ve placed on this list, this is the least developed. Ian Castillo and I got to talking after 1 Million Cups a few weeks ago about how much fun the DevIowa Hackathon was a couple of years ago, and how it would be fun to recreate that in an event in September or October. Unfortunately, it’s going to involve getting a lot of buy-in from a lot of different stakeholders. We’re going to start contacting stakeholders once the spring semester starts at the university to see if we can turn this thing into a reality.

  • My older daughter starting kindergarten and my younger daughter starting dance class – I may have placed this in the final position on the list, but it’s probably the most important point on the list. I can’t believe how quickly my kids are growing up, and I’ve had so much fun watching them grow. My older daughter turns 5 in a few weeks and my younger finally turns 1 at the end of January. This means that the older one is going to finish preschool in the spring and move to “big kid school” in just a matter of months. The younger one is going to pass the 18-month old threshold required to start Creative Movement, the dance class for the smallest kids (she’ll be 20 months old when the class starts.) I can’t believe that I’ve been a stay/work-at-home dad for half a decade now… where has the time gone?

2016 was great, but 2017 is going to be so much fun! I’m looking forward to every minute of it. Perhaps I’ll find a minute or two in there to catch my breath or get to one of the many projects I still have sitting on my desk here in the home office. I have a stack of articles to read, a major backlog of podcasts to consume, and a couple of books on Ruby on Rails to sift through (as much guff as I get for building everything in PHP, I figured that I’d learn another language!) When everything thaws out in the spring, the yard needs some love as well. There’s never a dull moment, and I hope you’ve enjoyed following along over the past year and continue to enjoy following along into next year. As always, I’d love to hear from you. Shoot me an e-mail from my Web site’s contact page or corner me when I’m out and about.

Thank you everyone for your support, and here’s to a happy 2017!