About the Author: Ben Milne is the co-founder and CEO of Des Moines-based Dwolla, an online cash-based platform that allows users to exchange money between people and businesses for a flat rate of $.25. You can find him on twitter, @bpmilne or at his website, benmilne.com. (Photo by Anna Jones.)
Note: Four months ago, I wrote that Dwolla and Ben Milne were part of the inspiration for Thinc Iowa. As we’re now just over a week away and Milne is one of our nine speakers, we’ve asked him to share his thoughts on why he’s involved in the inaugural event taking place in his home city. Milne most recently spoke at the Future of Mobile conference in London and is speaking today at the Kauffman Foundation‘s Midwest Entrepreneur’s Summit at Chicago Ideas Week. – Geoff Wood, Silicon Prairie News
I went through a few other abrasive titles to this prior to landing on this one. For those of you that don’t know me, my inner dialogue is typically a little more obtuse, especially when I’m excited about something.
I’ve been at ground zero and this idea of fusing startups with corporations is why I didn’t go broke. It actually happens!
Two years ago I was in a small town working on the last company I founded. It was doing more than $1M in annual sales. I had no venture investors, I had no partners, and quite frankly it was the way since I was ~22… None of you knew my name or what I was doing and that’s not all bad.
It pretty much says that although I knew how to grow revenue as I built the company, I had no idea what to do with it and no idea how to tell our story. I also had no idea how to do business with larger companies or leverage anyone else’s distribution model.
This is not some declaration about where I’ve come from, but a testament to the importance of a single connection, the news, and having people around you to tell your story. For me, that voice was Silicon Prairie News (SPN). My life has been different since the first time I did an interview with these guys a year or so ago.
SPN paved the way for Dwolla to do business with companies much larger than Dwolla. Many more have since paved the way as well.
Because of SPN, and a little work, I get to speak all over the world about what’s in my head. I get to spend every day of my life working on products I’m completely obsessing over with a brilliant team of people right in Des Moines, Iowa.
Without SPN doing one story, I probably never would have gotten Dwolla out to a national audience without heading to the Valley. I attribute my ability to stay here this long directly with its existence. SPN gave Dwolla and me a voice that we never had prior, regardless of what I did or how hard I worked. Since then, the world has opened up in ways I never thought realistically possible and I still can’t believe some of the rooms I find myself in. It all started with SPN running one little video about Dwolla.
This speaks to the core of why Thinc Iowa is so important to me: community.
SPN doing a story gave me inherent credibility. That inherent credibility translated into the opportunity to pitch. The opportunity to pitch helped me find mentors. Those mentors helped me find rooms with the right people to pitch. Those rooms eventually led to a deal. That deal led to a company’s growth and has put us in a position that I’m not sure I’ll ever be in, again.
Pitching + mentor + advisors + investors = a bigger team with the help of much larger companies. Our first real investors and partners weren’t VCs, they were actual companies who employ hundreds of people. A little startup idea with some corporate help made Dwolla happen.
That’s the whole idea of the conference, no? 🙂
Some of our clientele now range from people grabbing a coffee to billion-dollar financial institutions and those crossroads all started right here.
I’m far from successful, but I might be useful as an example of how opening your mouth, having confidence in your idea (even if people tell you it’s “too big”) and showing up for meetings on time can get you somewhere around here.
You might even end up in the room with a few of your idols just because you tried it.
Building companies is an evolving road map. What you need is forever shifting and who you need is typically different from the last time you needed something. The Prairie has been infinitely good to me and I don’t really want to share with you what I pulled off, but what the area did for me and how it did it. I don’t intend to ask for permission to use people’s names and which is how I screwed it up the first time.
For the Prairie to grow we have to pull the veil away from how this stuff works. We have to stop being secretive about what is working and just learn to share it with one another. I have a tendency to walk a fine line of being what people tell me is overly respectful and pissing people off. I doubt this is going to be much different.
In all my travels and in everything I’ve seen in NY, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and everywhere else… I get what makes the Prairie unique and I see what needs to be done to cultivate it. If you choose to listen… I plan to put it in bright lights wrapped in f-bombs, so you can’t miss it.
What you do with it from there is up to you.
If nothing else, Pinterest is sick and you should jump at the chance to hear his story. 😉