Ben Milne is the founder and CEO of Dwolla, an Internet-powered payment network. Over the past five years, Milne’s taken an idea—money should move for less—and turned it into the manifesto and driving force behind his Des Moines-based company, which now boasts an annual run rate of $1 billion.
According to Ben Milne, one of the biggest mistakes a founder can make is to abandon the Silicon Prairie and its Midwestern roots.
And he should know. Without the community surrounding his Des Moines-based company, Milne said Dwolla probably wouldn’t be thriving today.
“Had we not stayed here, we would not have made the friendships with people in this room,” he said. “Had we not stayed here, I think we would have failed.”
As the final speaker on the first day of Big Omaha, Milne stressed the value he sees in the Silicon Prairie community and how his refusal to leave Iowa has impacted his company.
“I didn’t just bail,” he said. “I didn’t leave town. I didn’t go to (Silicon) Valley. There were a lot of the investors that originally told us we would have to leave, and I said ‘You’re not the right investor.’ “
Coming off the announcement that Dwolla would be opening an office in San Francisco, Milne talked about the value of exploring different geographic skillsets. Though he is still quick to add that while innovators on the coasts may have more publicized strengths, the Silicon Prairie has a lot to offer.
“There’s a hell of a lot of people between New York and San Francisco and a ton of them have big ass brains,” he said.
Milne admitted that when he started Dwolla he had no knowledge about finance, banking or what it meant to start a company. But he didn’t let that stop him.
“I have an Internet connection, which means all the world’s knowledge is free for me,” he said. “You don’t need a professor to tell you how to Google.”
Milne is no stranger to the Big Series: he spoke at Thinc Iowa 2011 when his company only had about 12 employees. Now the Dwolla team hovers near 40.
Recently named one of Forbe’s “12 most disruptive names in business,” Milne has built his company the idea that the way money is exchanged can be completely transformed.
“My personal opinion is f–k normal,” he said. “It’s just not important. I think if you’re going to build something meaningful you can’t be worried about what is normal. Your life is going to be abnormal, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
— Dave Link (@dave_link) May 9, 2013
— Marcus Nelson (@marcusnelson) May 9, 2013
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