executive coaches - whoopass

Startup Community Leaders or Leavers?

I’ve always been suspect of startup community leaders. In fact, when Tien Wong accused me of being a startup community leader the other day, I was so offended I almost asked him to turn in his can of WhoopAss.

Let’s look at a history of startup community leaders in DC and keep score:

  • Startup Community Leaders Who Are Leavers:
      • Mario Morino – DCs first startup community leader at the end of the 90s and beginning of the aughts. He left town for his hometown of Cleveland over 15 years ago.
      • LaunchBox Digital – How could these guys fail with such a strong first cohort (see article)
      • Frank Gruber – Ran DC-Focused Tech Cocktail and left town in 2013 to become a Las Vegas community leader in 2013
      • Jen Consalvo – Also ran DC-Focused Tech Cocktail and left town in 2013 to become a Las Vegas community leader in 2013
      • Justin Thorpe – Was a force behind DC-Tech Meetup, DC-Tech Facebook Group left town in 2013 to work with Frank and Jen and came back a year later as a civilian
      • Michael Myernick – Co-founded Proudly Made and a DC-Tech Meetup organizer raised $1.2 million for his “startup,” Spinnakr and then snuck out of town without a peep after he took our money.  Investors have not heard a peep from this snake since and we sure would like to write that Spinnakr Turd off this year on our taxes.
      • Peter Corbett – The force behind his own hype and the guy who created DC Week and who laughably threatened others if they tried to use that name, sold his company and moved to New York where people in the NYC thank DC for taking the slightly unfair side of that trade. They gave us the Trumpian Ego in a trade for the Corbettian Ego. DC lost on that deal by a hair. Peter is not quite as prolific a tweeter as Mr. Trump (see some highlights of his bombast here).  By the way, did you know that Peter took a bath in ice (I just can’t get enough of that picture)
      • Paul Singh – The junky results, results junkie who espoused applying the Money Ball (more like Monkey Ball) rule of large numbers to a small number market (surprise surprise that failed), the guy who would say, that his Crystal Tech Accelerator was going to lead to the extinction of the VC. VCs are still here but Disruption and Crystal Tech are no more. Yes that Paul Singh who not surprisingly fell on his face as he literally left town like a medicine show salesman in the night in a trailer. What’s that Cher song? Gypsies Tramps and Thieves.

    • Steve Case – After taking a black eye for his errant investment in the failed original incarnation of 1776 Steve is spending little time in DC. Instead  of working to MDGA… Make DC Great Again, Case embarked on a PR adulation tour, Rise of the Rest, to garner the adoration of the masses in start-up wannabe cities that aren’t Silicon Valley. In Rise of the Rest, Steve is spreading his energy, aura, chakra, and moola like a thin layer of margarine (fake butter) never stopping long enough in DC to make a difference.  (see article).
  • Startup Community Leavers Who Threw In The Towel
    • Evan Burfield – Former Startup DC and co-founder of 1776. Evan didn’t actually throw in the towel as much as the towel was thrown at him (see post)
    • Donna Harris – Former co-founder of 1776. Donna seemed to have had enough cleaning up after Evan and having to do the heavy lifting at 1776, she left before the house of cards caved-in.
    • Jonathon Perrelli – Founder of the failed Fort accelerator, founder of the failed Fortify VC he retired from failing a community to emerge as failing as an entrepreneur where he’s working on the best water bottle since sliced bread? Huh? Perrelli has spent 3.5 years and 5 million dollars and still hasn’t been able to complete his over-priced, over-engineered, under-needed, water container. Shit Jonnie, do you know how many dixie cups you could buy with $5 million (see article)? Answer: Over 95 million Dixie Cups, batteries not included.
    • Asher Epstein – Ran the University of Maryland Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship until from 2004 – 2012 when he left to become an entrepreneur.
    • Elana Fien – Took over from Asher in 2012 and left last month,JuVotginiaoly 2018 for private industry.
  • Startup Community Leaders Still Slogging It Out
    • Julie Lenzer – Former Executive Director for the Maryland Center of Entrepreneurship, former Co-Chair of Startup Maryland, current Cheif Innovation Officer at UM Ventures.
    • Jonathan Aberman – Former Chair Startup Virginia, a guest columnist at the Washington Business Journal and Chairman and Managing Direct and Director of Tandem NSI.  Oh and rock/blues musician with a great guitar collection.
    • Jeff Reid – Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative, where Jeff was the founded August 2009
    • Jim Chung – Vice President of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at George Washington University since 2010

Besides Lenzer, Aberman, Ried, and Chung, I can think of no startup community leader who has demonstrated any staying power of any note. To these 4 Quixotic community leaders… keep attacking those windmills. I salute you.

Yet, as community leadership goes, I ask this question. Who are the Startup Community Leaders in Silicon Valley? How about NYC or Austin? You don’t know? Maybe that’s what’s wrong here. Startup communities aren’t led. Successful entrepreneurial ecosystems require no leaders. Entrepreneurship is anarchy and entrepreneurs… anarchists that don’t play follow the leader. Startup eco-systems aren’t like symphonies that require an orchestra conductor. Startups are more like improvising jazz musicians. The music evolves organically without direction or leadership.

Maybe some cities are meant to be startup ecosystems and other towns are meant to be government towns, filled with government workers, lobbyists, political activists, and government contractors spiced with a few good startups.