We’re presenting at the MIT Startup Demo 2007 event tonight, and as part of that presentation, they ask that we describe how we started our company, what resources we use and ultimately, which we recommend. At the same time, we see similar questions on the Seattle Tech Startups email list (highly recommended, by the way, for Seattle entrepreneurs). So, with no further ado, here’s our list of people, organizations and business tools that are helping us get TeachStreet off the ground. (NOTE: As our business is about connecting people, we’ve “eaten our own dog food” and tried to do business with people who we’ve connected with through other people we trust. And, for a complete list of Seattle Startup Resources, visit the Seattle Tech Wiki.
- See Seattle Tech Wiki (above)
Attorney / Advisor:
- Beacon Law Advisors (Chris Hurley / Brian Richmond) – Chris came highly recommended by a past co-worker/lawyer – BLA’s legal assistance has been fantastic, but maybe even more important for aspiring entrepreneurs is that they’ve also filled the role of advisor across many areas. All of the principal attorneys at Beacon have personal startup experience; that’s invaluable.
- BAE Law Group (now Jackson Lewis) has been incredibly helpful with immigration attorney work — if you have any green card/visa issues, just call them.
Banker / Payroll Service:
- Wells Fargo (Madison Park Branch) – I do my personal banking at Wells, and am happy with their service, so I was inclined to have our banking all in one interface. The customer service with all of the staff we’ve worked with has been outstanding — in fact, our personal handling is amazing, given the size of Wells. Our account manager sat down with us and helped open all accounts, and has personally gotten involved whenever we’ve botched something with funds transfers, payroll, etc. (it’s inevitable).
- Regarding the payroll service, we’re not raving fans on that end. Wells has a client install that is quite clunky, and we’ve had a number of snafus on tax mistakes, repeated manual checks (when we thought we set up direct deposit) and other little things. There are likely better alternatives. I’ve heard good things about www.paycycle.com, but honestly, I’ve also heard that mistakes on payroll are inevitable because of the number of setup options for each employee. What’s nice is that we have our account manager and an unbelievably helpful and understanding customer service support team dedicated to Wells Fargo Payroll that helps us clean up any messes that we make!
- Square One Bank – we’ve recently set up a separate account with this firm, that has been a big supporter of Microsoft BizSpark, TechStars, and others.
- Our current placeholder site was designed by Keith Rondinelli at Woodhouse Creative in New York/Jersey — I worked with Keith at JibJab, and he’s a fantastic designer who works incredibly well via remote location (easy to work with, incredibly thorough, etc.) At the same time, that makes him in high demand! But, if you have well-defined work and don’t need someone in house, I couldn’t more highly recommend him. (keith -at- woodhousecreative -dot- com)
- For our to-be-launched website, we’re combining an in-house full-time UI/UX designer with assistance from a local external resource (who we have prior experience with). Name not disclosed because they just may have a full-time job as well 😉
Email / Calendar / Chat
- Google Apps for your Domain – For $50/person/month, we get virtually infinite email storage for employees, private calendaring, chat, and easy-to-use collaboration tools like Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Yes, we still use Microsoft Office products for some work (powerpoint presentations, mostly… but we also use Word for our business plan and other docs, and then often convert to PDFs to distribute), but the majority of our in-office work is coordinated over email/google docs/etc. Sometimes it’s been a little hard to get external folks to use Google Docs we send them, but after a mini walk-through, most folks are taking to it with ease.
- Good luck 🙂 Seriously, it is a grueling process, and rumor has it that it never ends. I’ve probably made initial presentations to more than 150 individuals, angels, VCs, and more. All of them require personal email follow ups with a variety of different attachments (executive summaries, business plans, term sheets, convertible note documents, etc.) and often lead to multiple additional interactions. In the end, the hit rate/close rate is probably less than 10%, but that just highlights the importance of keeping this part of your daily routine. You get valuable feedback and advice from just about everyone, and if you make it part of the process, almost everyone makes introductions to someone else (potential employees, contractors, investors, or advisors).
- We had most of our success with friends and family, but we’re probably now at 40-50% external investors and I expect that most all of our future investors will be more 3rd-party, as we move to a live website with demo-able software. In the early goings, when most of what you have is a business plan and a pitch, you’d be best served focusing on folks who know you and your team — remember, that’s really what they’re investing in at that point!
- One individual I’ll call out who’s been incredibly helpful to me over the years is Janis Machala at Paladin Partners — (no, we have no fundraising or advisory relationship — she’s just given freely of her time and contacts over the years, and she deserves recognition for all she does for entrepreneurs) If you have needs in the advisor/consulting/fundraising/recruiting space, she should be one of your first calls.
- Once you’ve raised your seed funding, you’ll likely want to reach out to the local angel groups (Alliance of Angels, Puget Sound Venture Club, Keiretsu Forum, and others) and there are a host of local VCs (I’ll spare you the list…)
- We found all of our employees (7 in total, as of December 2007) via word-of-mouth introductions or past work experiences. But, that doesn’t mean it was a painless/fast process. We did place a few ads on Craigslist and in other spots, but the candidates were of a totally different caliber. I highly recommend that you work your personal network — you’ll find people who are more engaged/motivated, and who you have valuable feedback on, from people you trust, going in (and they’ll know more about you as well).
- HostMySite is taking care of our current placeholder site — they’ve been incredibly responsive for a lightweight site, and have been easy to use.
- Locally owned and operated WowRack has been fantastic as our long-term webhost.
- We haven’t made a decision yet on our longer-term hosting provider — we’re looking at all the usual suspects, including EngineYard, Joyent, RackSpace, etc. — any suggestions appreciated (if you’re a raving fan).
- AHT Insurance – we were referred to Ned Sander at AHT by our attorney (are you seeing a trend here? Chris Hurley at Beacon Law rocks — he saved us a massive amount of time with high-quality referrals to folks who know how to treat startups with amazing customer service). AHT handles everything from getting you set up with health insurance for employees (they gave us multiple options, but we chose Regence), and will also be helping us with D&O and E&O Insurance, when the time’s right. (nsander -at- ahtins -dot- com). Our other personal contact at AHT is Shelley Welch — her customer service should be cloned! (swelch -at- ahtins -dot- com)
- Parker Smith & Feek Insurance, in Bellevue — referred here, and was really impressed with their responsiveness and knowledge. Maybe more ideally suited for startups that are a little farther along, or maybe preferable if you’re over on the East side! Contact John Schmidt (jfschmidt -at- psfinc -dot- com), Nick Montera (namontera -at- psfinc -dot- com) or Jeff Murphy (jsmurphy -at- psfinc -dot- com).
- Amazon.com – ’nuff said (and get yourself an Amazon Prime membership — pays for itself with free/fast shipping)
- Craigslist – ’nuff said 2x (we found our microwave, first 8 chairs, coffee machine, fridge, filing cabinets, office supplies and tons more for less than $200 and a few hours of hard work)
Real Estate / Property Assistance
- We made a go of it trying to work out of coffee shops, and my house — but, it just didn’t work. Felt like the money we were saving was being far outweighed by decreased productivity.
- Clay Nielsen at WA Partners came highly recommended by our attorney, and also by other startups — I know that Clay works with massive organization/businesses (folks like Amazon), but treated us with the same level of respect and promptness. He showed us all of the properties in our space range (<2,000 SF, preferably downtown, <$20/SF) and ultimately negotiated a much better deal than was originally quoted. (clayn -at- wapartners -dot- com)
- If you’re very early on, and want something that bridges coffeeshops and your own full-time space, Seattle’s fortunate to have two intermediate providers:
- Office Nomads, located on Capitol Hill, provides shared office space for independent workers, telecommuters and contractors. They have daily or monthly memberships/fees, and customers get all the tools and systems of a modern office. Check them out at www.officenomads.com
Startup Support Groups
- Seattle Tech Startups — I’d rate the email topics/thread an 8 out of 10 on utility (and that compares to most list-serves that get a 2 out of 10) — unless of course you get caught in a flame war between bitter entrepreneurs and angels/VCs… those are the days you need to quickly delete 🙂
- Seattle Startup Index – monthly listing of startups around town, some rough traffic estimates, etc. — compiled by Sampa’s Marcelo Calbucci
- Open Coffee Club — every Tuesday at 8:30am at Louisa’s Coffee on Eastlake — Andy Sack got this going, and it was helpful for me as I got TeachStreet started. I admit that my attendance has trailed off as busy-ness has escalated, but it’s very supportive.
- Lunch 2.0 – monthly group meetings at different startups around town.
- StartPad – Mike Koss got this going, to try to help organize threads/resources — and also provides co-working space (see above) and other networking opportunities.
- Required Reading / Local Blogs:
- John Cook
- Brier Dudley
- I’ll stop there… honestly, there are so many… get yourself a Google Reader set up, and start to build your daily reading list…
Software / Dev Environment
- Ruby on Rails / Postgres / Mysql — ’nuff said 3x. My hunch is that most of the folks reading this are fairly technical, and will have their mind made up regarding their dev environment.
Web Development Assistance
- Our placeholder website was built by Mark and Kitty at Sage Computer Services — we’ve worked with them before at Unitus, and couldn’t more highly recommend them. In fact, we wonder when they find time to sleep!
- Email Service Provider — we’ll likely live to regret this decision, but after a large amount of research, we’ve decided to build our Email solution in-house. We’d be remiss if we didn’t give a shout-out to the folks at WhatCounts, here in Seattle — David Geller and his team were incredibly responsive, and I’d bet that we end up working with them when our email needs become more pronounced.
- We’re making use of a number of Amazon Services, including the Associates Program (for referral fees), Mechanical Turk (for outsourcing some data collection and other routine/repetitive activities that require human judgment); we’re also assessing other web services such as S3 (Storage) and EC2.
Friends, Family and Loved Ones
- Yes, they warrant their own bullet point! All we can tell you is, be honest with your friends, family and loved ones up-front. Your startup is going to take a massive effort on everyone’s part, and that includes the folks who will cope with your absence(s), assist with bug testing, suffer endless late night and early morning networking meetings, and serve as your overall cheerleading/morale backbone.
I’m sure we missed a bit here — let us know via comments, direct emails or the good ol’ telephone what we missed.