Today I’m ecstatic to announce that Seattle 2.0 has a new home: GeekWire. It’s a perfect match and you can read more on the GeekWire blog post. This is a 5-year chapter on my life, and as such, I feel the need to write a post for myself so I can read it 20 years from now and I’m sharing it with you.
It was a personal pain
When I left Microsoft to build my first startup, Seattle was lagging in online resources for tech entrepreneurs. No blogs, no online calendars, no list of lawyers or recruiters, few and far between events. After attending more NWEN Breakfasts and MITEF Dinners than a normal person should, I’ve met enough people and became clear that they were seeking the same thing I was: to build a community, share ideas and find resources. This is when in late 2006 I bought the domain seattle20.com and a few months later I was posting about events I found out that I thought would be interesting for tech entrepreneurs.
2007: List of Events & Startups
It was just a blog, with a few blog posts a week, each with a tip for an event in town. Not long after I started Seattle 2.0, John Cook compiled a list of tech startups in Seattle (at the time, 64 in total). Greg Linden, a founder of one of those startups, ranked them by their Alexa ranking and I took the idea and compiled a monthly Startup Index in Seattle, each month adding new startups, compiling the index and publishing under the brand “Seattle Startup Index”. On the first few months of the index I searched for new startups, added them to the list and compiled the rank, a very manual and boring process.
2008: Momentum & Content
Then, something happened. I didn’t have to search for events anymore. Event organizers were reaching out to me. I didn’t have to find out new startups anymore. Founders were sending their links to me. We also started to create more content on the blog, initially with me writing articles, then a few folks writing guests posts and in September of 2008, after a meeting with Alyssa Royse, we decided to create a team of blog contributors. We never paid money to anyone to write on Seattle 2.0, but we gave them something else: an audience to their voice.
It was clear that Seattle 2.0 had momentum and it was become a busy task.
2009: Awards & Beyond
Right about that time, my first startup (Sampa) was struggling to find a business model, despite the (limited) product success we had -- in a different blog post you can read that story. Danielle Morrill had joined the Seattle 2.0 contributor team and she was full of energy and boundless ideas. I remember sending an email in early 2009 to about 6 people, including Danielle, Alyssa, Andy Sack and a few others about the concept of creating an Award for the tech startup community. The email was about having fun, going to a bar and have a super informal event. In a few days, the ambition went from that to create a full-fledge Awards event. Danielle was crazy enough to go all-in with me on this endeavor. It was a stunning success. It launched Seattle 2.0 into a whole new sphere and my personal reputation as the community builder of tech startups in Seattle. I give a lot of credit for the tremendous speech Glenn Kelman delivered at that Award and for him to be fool enough to believe and support on a rookie event organizer who wanted to build a stronger community.
I actually give myself a lot less credit to the success of the Seattle 2.0 Awards than people might think. It was like people were thirsty for water and I was the truck driver who dropped a case of water bottles there. Anyone could have done it if they had seen the need and stepped up to the plate.
It’s a business! It’ll be huge!
So the time had come to abandon “just a blog” and build a bit more of a site so that I didn’t have to spend time doing manual work and possibly build Seattle 2.0 into a real business. I was just shutting down Sampa and I thought I could create a model of online content and resources and startup events, make it successful in Seattle and then expand it to other cities.
The second event I did was StartupDay. It was also an unbelievably successful for my standards. First of all, I didn’t lose money. Second, attendees, sponsors and speakers gave amazing positive comment on the event. I did many unusual things, like start the event late-ish (10:00 am), do it on a Saturday (so people didn’t have to explain at work why they were attending an event on how to build a tech startup), 20-minute talks (so the speakers were forced to deliver only the goods and none of the fillings), and build the talks in a progressive series as if you were reading a book on how to build a startup (from the “why do it?” to “when/what” to “how” to what happens afterward). Rich Barton was the closing keynote speaker and he was extremely important for the success of the event, both to bring reputation and credibility to help sell tickets, but also as an amazing keynote speaker who brought it home.
2010: It’s not for me
Between September of 2009 and January of 2010, Seattle 2.0 was my full time job, and then something unexpected happened. Remember the dream of building Seattle 2.0 into an online content/resources and events business? Yeah, I hated that business. I’m a product guy and that business was a services business. Despite the growth and early success, I was just not cut to do it. I thought I was the Melody Biringer (founder of CRAVE) of the Tech Startup world, but I was not. (BTW, Melody was critical in helping me figure out how to build successful events).
Then I decided to bring a person to run Seattle 2.0. I spent time looking for this person and on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve 2009 (I can’t remember for sure) I went to Danielle Morrill’s house in the morning while she cooked lunch to talk about people who could run Seattle 2.0. She mentioned Jennifer Cabala, who she met through Seattle’s Social Media Club. I’ve met Jennifer once at an SMC event.
I had coffee with Jennifer and I’ve got a good feeling. Jennifer was a professional newscaster for many years, working for KING5, and she was ready for something new on her career. Jennifer didn’t have a lot of experience running a business, but I decided to make a bet. After a couple of months, Jennifer joined Seattle 2.0 full-time. In 2010 we did 3 events and expanded the site, contributors and a lot more. Jennifer brought discipline to the blog and pushed the website to be better. Turned out we weren’t able to build the business both of us wanted and at the same time Jennifer got an amazing offer to work at Startup Weekend from Marc Nager. I was an advisor to Startup Weekend and Marc and I had supported each other many times in the past. I gave Jennifer my full support on this move.
2011: No more events… Well, just a few more
So in early 2011 I was back running Seattle 2.0 while working a full-time job. I had decided not to do more events. They were very stressful and the financial risk was huge (it’s as easy to make $20K on an event as it’s to lose $20K and you don’t know where you’ll land until the week of the event after you committed yourself to it). However, I didn’t listen to myself and I decided to do the Seattle 2.0 Awards once more. Well, not really. The story is more like this: Dave Schappell sent me an email in January and asked if I had an event for Mark Suster to speak at. I told him if I did the Awards he would be great at it, and then the Awards was back on.
It’s not focused enough if you have two targets
A few weeks after I set the Seattle 2.0 Awards 2011 in motion, I joined Russell Benaroya in building EveryMove. The more I worked on EveryMove, the less time I had to Seattle 2.0. Once EveryMove joined the TechStars program, then everything went downhill for Seattle 2.0. I had no time to blog, to publish the Startup Index, to manage the job board and contributors, to promote the site, etc. I was destroying the amazing community and asset I created by neglecting it. It was painful to feel it could die. So I went on a hunt for the next CEO of Seattle 2.0, or someone who could acquire it.
The Anatomy of an Acquisition
The first offer to acquire Seattle 2.0 I received was in mid-2010. It was an OK offer, but the deal fell through a few weeks later. From mid-2010 to mid-2011 I received 3 different offers to buy Seattle 2.0. We never found the mid-point where everyone was happy. I also received some interests from people who would like to run Seattle 2.0 for me. A few of those I would never have at the helm of Seattle 2.0 because they lacked the culture fit to what I was trying to build.
In early September (a few weeks into the TechStars program), I sent an email to a few folks asking to advice on what to do. Jonathan Sposato, one of the co-founders of GeekWire and prolific entrepreneur, asked to meet with me. Jonathan and I have two (maybe three) parallels life. Jonathan was a TechStars mentor to EveryMove (now an advisor and investor). We’ve met and exchange several emails. I shared all the assets of Seattle 2.0, financials and other pertinent information. He circled back with his team and a few weeks later Jonathan said GeekWire was interested in acquiring Seattle 2.0. Once that’s done, we had to understand how the assets would be leverage by GeekWire and what value would be assigned to the acquisition. It took probably 8 weeks to do all that and we found a place where everyone was happy.
Because we were at the same page, the final contract took just a few back-and-forth to get it right. I signed it. Jonathan signed it. The deal is done.
What’s next for Seattle 2.0?
GeekWire will continue to produce and host the Seattle 2.0 Awards and StartupDay. Many of the services, resources and tools on Seattle 2.0 will be migrated to GeekWire over time. You should expect what you got on Seattle 2.0, but better, faster and more awesome. I will be involved in a limited capacity to help on a smooth transition, supporting it, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I have a financial interest over the next 3 years on the success of GeekWire.
There is no way I could have done what I did without the support and contributing work from many, many individuals. I’ll certainly miss at least a dozen folks on this post, but I must acknowledge many.
Danielle Morrill: No one has done more for Seattle 2.0 to be what it’s than Danielle. She was all-in at a time that most was critical. If Twilio hadn’t taken her from Seattle, she would likely be the CEO of Seattle 2.0 today and be expanding it to 12 different markets in 3 different countries. She’s unstoppable at building communities.
Jennifer Cabala: Jennifer took a huge risk by leaving her high-paying stable job to an uncertain low-paying position. She is a true entrepreneur because she understood the trade-off between getting a little less for a few years yet learn orders of magnitude more by doing something completely new. She took a leap for herself and for me, and I hope I didn’t disappoint her.
Dave Schappell: Dave was an unbelievable supporter. He sent a heart-felt email to STS (thousands of startup folks) pleading for them to support, sponsor, attend and promote the first Seattle 2.0 Awards. I didn’t ask for it. He just did. And since then he has been doing a significant amount of behind the scenes to make sure all the events were successful.
Alyssa Royse: Alyssa was an early inspiration for Seattle 2.0 with an unbelievable can-do attitude and gave me the courage to build the content and bring in contributors.
Andy Sack: Andy was an advisor to my first startup and we had a good relationship. But after the first Seattle 2.0 Awards in 2009, just as I was walking off the stage, Andy came to me with an enormous smile and full of joy, gave me a hug and told me how amazing the Awards were and how happy he was. After that, he has been an amazing supporter, even offering to invest on Seattle 2.0 (that never came to be because I couldn’t figure out a structure where that would make sense).
Jordana Ayer: Except by a few folks, most people on startupland don’t know my wife. But she has unknowingly sponsored and invested on Seattle 2.0 and its events, while I figure out how not to lose buckets of money on each of those events.
John Cook: John gave the inspiration to the Seattle Startup Index, which boosted our traffic to whole new levels. He could have considered Seattle 2.0 a treat and never published a link or reference to us, but he didn’t. He covered all our events (btw, his coverage of the Seattle 2.0 Awards were just freaking awesome) and helped where he could (Todd, you helped too!)
Jonathan Sposato: Maybe it’s because Jonathan got 4 out of 10 Awards during the first Seattle 2.0 Awards, but Jonathan has been a friend and supporter on multiple ways. He spoke on multiple events, made introductions when I needed and he’s an awesome gentleman.
Melody Biringer: Melody and I were together on the EO Accelerator program. She’s the founder of CRAVE, which most women reading this post probably know about, and most men never heard of. She’s a rock star at building community and events around women interests across the globe. She helped me with the basics of how to create a successful event. If it weren’t for Melody, the first Seattle 2.0 Awards would likely have been a disaster!
There are a few more folks I should thank, and I’m sorry I won’t write a paragraph why I’m thanking you, but you, I and many others know why. You spoke, sponsored or helped at one of the events. You wrote guest blog posts. You sponsored the website or other initiative. You promoted the crap of something when I need it. Or, you just told me to do it, and I did.
Many thanks to:
Aaron Franklin, Alex Algard , Alex Berg, Alex Castro, Andy Liu, Annie Eissler, Anthony Stevens , Arun Mistry, Ben Elowitz, Ben Elowitz, Ben Huh, Berry Zimmerman, Betsy Aoki, Bill Bromfield, Bill Bryant, Bob Crimmins, Boedian Lumanau, Brad Feld, Brenna Rogers, Brett Laffel, Brian Westbrook, Brier Dudley, Brook Wessel, Charlie Carter, Chris DeVore, Chris Dishman, Chris Hopf, Chris Hurley, Clay Nielsen, Colin Wong, Craig Sherman, Dan Shapiro, Dave McClure, Dave Remer, Daryn Nakhuda, David Aronchick, David Geller, David Sheldon, Don Dodge, Emily Shrock, Enrique Godreau, Eric Koester, Garry Tan, Gerry Langeler, Glenn Kelman, Greg Gottesman, Greg Linden, Hadi Partovi, Hillel Cooperman, Hiram Machado, Jacob Mullins, Jan Miksovsky, Janis Machala, Jeff Barr, Jeff Lawson, Jennifer Pitts, Jenny Lam, Jeremy Freeland, Jesse Proudman, Joe Heitzeberg, Joel Ard, Josh Petersen, Karl da Gama Campos, Keith Smith, Kelly Smith, Ken Myer, Kevin Leneway, Kevin Morrill, Konstantin Guericke, Ksenia Oustiougova, Lauren Hall-Stigerts, Lyndi Thompson, Lynn Edwards, Mark Alan Effinger, Mark Suster, Mark Tranter, Mary Abdian, Mason Boswell, Matt Hulett, Matt McIlwain, Matt Paulin, Megan Casey, Megan Muir, Mike Matieu, Mithun Dhar, Monica Harrington, Nathan Parcells, Neil Patel, Paul Gross, Paul Rusyn, Paul Shoemaker, Peter Cancelmo, Rajeev Goel, Rand Fishkin, Rashmi Sinha, Rebecca Lovell, Renate Kroll, Rich Barton, Richard Luck, Richard Vershave, Rodica Buzescu, Roy Leban, Russell Benaroya, Sasha Pasulka, Scott Oki, Scott Porad, Shannon Swift, Shauna Causey, Shayan Zadeh, Shelly Farnham, Steve Fisher, Steve Stratz, Sunny Gupta, T.A. McCann, Todd Bishop, Todd Hooper, Tolis Dimopoulos, Tony Wright, Tory Duffy, Vin Ricci, Vivek Bhaskaran and William Carleton.