Six Ways To Help Strengthen Seattle's Startup Ecosystem

HBS Startup Club Update

I wanted to provide an update on the current thinking for the HBS Startup Club and provide an opportunity for you to get involved if this opportunity resonates with you. While this applies to members of the Harvard Business School community, we are open to working with anyone who is passionate about startups. Please note we recently expanded club membership beyond MBA alums and now includes executive education and all members of the HBS community. Signup now if you are interested in joining the club!

i believe startup innovation is becoming more decentralized and will be less concentrated in Silicon Valley in the near future. While the Bay Area will continue to produce more great startups, I believe this will be less so in the future. There are many structural problems in the Valley not the least of which is that the high cost of living makes it almost impossible to bootstrap a startup there. I see Seattle and other secondary markets contributing a greater percentage of successful startups in the future. Capital is increasingly interested in leaving the Valley or at least diversifying outside its borders. Seattle seems like a natural place for risk capital to flow. If we create more amazing startups in Seattle, we will attract more capital investment.

I created the HBS Startup Club a few months ago under the assumption that the 1,207 HBS alums living in Seattle might be able to help strengthen the startup ecosystem. As you know, Seattle lags behind other markets in venture funding and startup creation and experiences “brain drain” when founders move to the Bay Area to make their dreams come true. Since I’ve decided to build my startups in Seattle, I have a personal interest in improving the ecosystem here. A rising tide lifts all boats!

As with most startups, the initial assumption turned out to be incorrect. As it turns out, there really aren’t very many HBS alums that are actively building early-stage startups in Seattle. After a great meetup with Karim from Nucamp Coding Bootcamp it left me wondering, what is the purpose of this group? How can we help HBS founders in Seattle if there aren’t that many of them? Is this the best way to improve the ecosystem?

After some consideration and reluctance to be too self-serving, I came to realize the best way to strengthen the ecosystem is to get help from the HBS community to build InsightStudios into the most successful startup studio on the planet. If we are successful in creating 150 awesome startups, we will have a huge impact. Is there a better way to improve the ecosystem than creating a bunch of successful startups?

InsightStudios Vision

InsightStudios is a startup studio that is building startups using a proven methodology for finding product-market fit and a scalable, repeatable business model.

I developed this method based on 20 years experience building startups. InsightStudios is my second startup studio. The first was Maverick Direct Marketing, a studio in Chicago that created five profitable startups in a row. Our 100% success rate in building startups is unheard of in the industry. To this day, investors don’t believe this performance and they don’t think it’s sustainable. I disagree.

There are three lines of business for InsightStudios today.

1. A Startup School called Insight Academy where founders can learn our method and apply it to their startup situation

2. A Startup Studio where we develop new startup ideas that come from our first-hand experience with the problem we are solving

3. A Seed Fund which funds internal and external startup ideas that have been developed using our methodology

When we put these three lines of business together, it creates a powerful force for startup creation and success.

Our studio strategy is to develop B2B2C startups. Our B2B startups are marketing infrastructure companies that help consumer startups acquire customers. Our B2C startups are consumer operating companies that solve meaningful problems for consumers. Both our infrastructure and operating companies work closely together to create real synergy in a way that dramatically increases the odds of startup success.

An example is Datalove.us and uBaby.com, which are currently working together as mutually-beneficial beta customers for each other to help refine their models and find a path to scalability. Datalove and uBaby learn from each other. Since they are sister companies, they share performance data to help find the optimum point for both businesses. Datalove learns how to create value for uBaby and uBaby learns how to create value for Datalove. This close synergy creates a competitive advantage and is why our first studio had such a high success rate.

The Ask - Get Involved & Make A Difference

Here’s my ask to the HBS community in Seattle - I’d like you to get involved and help manifest InsightStudios into the positive force for creation that I know it can be.

In exchange for your help, you will earn equity in InsightStudios.

There are several ways you can get involved in InsightStudios.

1. Join A Sweat Equity Team

The Sweat Equity Team is an opportunity to work on one of our startup projects within InsightStudios as a co-founder of the project. Sweat Equity Team members earn equity in the studio while learning how to apply our methodology to create a successful startup. Once the startup project generates sufficient evidence, we will secure funding for the project and spin it out of the studio as a newco startup.

The Sweat Equity Team works great for people who are employed but want to gain valuable startup experience. Team members can work 10, 20 or 40 hours per week depending on their personal situation. Most team members work on projects as a side hustle and some are half time or full time.

Here is our current pipeline of awesome startup ideas and projects:

- Datalove.us, a life event data platform that creates custom audiences on eight direct marketing channels including all of the large social media platforms. Has revenue.

- uBaby.com, an e-commerce site that sells innovative products and services that help alleviate feelings of overwhelment that most parents experience in their lifestyle transition. Is building an MVP.

- Parentville, a social media and services app for new parents who have kids aged 2 to 18. This is NextDoor for parents. Is concept stage.

- Insight Academy, a startup school and new kind of incubator / accelerator. We have a scalable, online course called the Founder Workbench, in-person classes like the Startup Bootcamp as well as Founder Coaching, Fundraising and other services for external founders. Has revenue.

- LegitID, a blockchain-enabled, mobile identity verification application that enables users to signup for sites that anonymously and house all their personal data in a secure, biometrically controlled platform. Concept stage. Has 20 users signed up.

- Dealcoin, a decentralized loyalty platform that allows users to earn loyalty points across brands, exchange between brands and liquidate points on an open exchange. Concept stage.

- ComeWith, a new way to expand your offline social circle using events and activities that meet your interests; a cure for loneliness; a more intimate version of meetup

- AI Dating, a dating app based on deep learning algorithms that intelligently curates better matches and helps you find your true soulmate

- MyIndie.Stream, a music discovery and distribution platform that re-invents how music is licensed in a way that allows independent artists to make a good living making music we love

Those are the ideas that have an initial hypothesis. All of these ideas come from my first-hand experience with the problem we are solving. There are many more ideas but it seems like this is enough to focus on for now.

HBS members who are interested can apply to join a Sweat Equity Team around these ideas or create a new one.

 

2. Join The Mastermind Group

I am assembling a Mastermind team around InsightStudios to help us manifest this exciting business. If you’re not familiar with the Mastermind concept, you can read about it here.

HBS members can apply to join our Mastermind group and make a significant contribution to our progress. The Mastermind is a close-knit group of individuals who are passionate about InsightStudio’s mission and want to help create this awesome startup platform.

 

3. Develop A Partnership Strategy & Execute

We haven’t figured out how to work with local seed funds, investors, incubators, and accelerators. We have a lot of ideas along these lines but we need some help to put a plan together and execute it.

The focus of this task is to develop a thoughtful partnership strategy that expands our pool of startups, founders and investors. This is a key part of our strategy and we need smart people working on this.

 

4. Develop Strategy For Working With Enterprises In Seattle And Execute

I started InsightStudios in Chicago before moving to Seattle. At that time, I was teaching project teams in the enterprise how to innovate like a startup. We had success selling our Three-day Startup Bootcamp and acquired several F500 companies in the Midwest, including Procter & Gamble, John Deere, SC Johnson, American Family Insurance, and CUNA Mutual Company.

I have a feeling there is something more we can do with enterprise companies to help them deal with the threat of disruption in their existing markets. I’d like to develop a program where these large companies can pay us to build startups for them in a “sponsored studio” model. I’d like to find someone with passion and experience in this area to help turn it into something meaningful.

We have a page on the site for the enterprise but we need to flush this out more and develop a compelling plan of attack.

 

5. Craft A Focused Fundraising Strategy And Execute

I spent three months pitching last fall trying to raise funds for InsightStudios. This raise was not successful primarily because of the challenges in raising money for a new startup studio. Investors generally want to invest in specific startups. They don’t want to invest in a team that has potential to create startups.

In addition, our studio structure is highly disruptive to venture capital as we don’t use general partners in anyway. We’ve collapsed the value chain from entrepreneur-GP-LP to just entrepreneur-LP. The venture guys are scared of us because if we are successful, they are out of business.

Currently, we are bootstrapping startups with the intention of raising money for each project as it gains traction and generates evidence. This is the hard way to go about it so I’d like some help in figuring out a better way to fund the studio.

 

6. Take An Insight Academy Course And Apply It To Your Startup Idea

If you would like to develop your own idea, you can signup for the Insight Academy and I’ll teach you everything I’ve learned about building successful startups. After you get evidence in the form of customer traction, you can join the studio as an external startup and gain access to our investors and seed fund.

InsightStudios has pitch events, demo days and other ways to access qualified investors who want to back great startup ideas. Qualifying founders and startups that come into the studio through the Insight Academy program will have preferred status for accessing studio resources.

 

There you have it! Six powerful ways you can help InsightStudios grow and strengthen the Seattle ecosystem!

Learn More At Our Next Meetup!

I’m hosting an open meetup on Wed, February 27th at Thinkspace in Westlake for HBS alums who want to join us on our amazing and satisfying adventure.

Signup now if you’re interested in learning more and joining the discussion.

Thank you for your willingness to join this exciting project. We appreciate it and we are looking forward to working with you!

Dave Linhardt