Nine people, one boot and four lessons about starting up in Iowa

A few weeks ago, I opened my email on a Monday night to find a message from Dwolla's director of communications Jordan Lampe. Union Square Venture's general manager Brittany Laughlin (left) was headed to Des Moines for the day to chat with the Dwolla staff, but Jordan had something else in mind as well. "What

Eight Des Moines startup community members and a general manager of Union Square Ventures met for beers June 19 at Hessen Haus (above).

A few weeks ago, I opened my email on a Monday night to find a message from Dwolla‘s director of communications Jordan LampeUnion Square Venture‘s general manager Brittany Laughlin (left) was headed to Des Moines for the day to chat with the Dwolla staff, but Jordan had something else in mind as well. 

“What if we did something like this?” he asked, referencing a link to Mac Chafkin’s recent Fast Company article where nine of Fast Company‘s 100 Most Creative People of 2013 got together for a dinner party to discuss industry trends and challenges.

So that’s what we did. But instead of hosting a dinner party, we headed to Des Moines’ Hessen Haus to share a boot and chat about the Des Moines startup scene––for better and for worse––over beers. 

The attendees

The lessons

Though we talked about a lot of things (some more on topic than others), here are four of the lessons I learned from our conversation:

  1. Don’t be afraid to fail – While we might pride ourselves in being “Iowa nice,” it can sometimes get in the way of having honest conversations about tough business times. The impetus to pretend like everything is rosy when things, well, suck, is a challenge many members of our group understood all too well. Finding a way to talk about our failures could be equally as valuable as celebrating our victories.
  2. Learn to be “bilingual” – It’s no secret that developers and marketing professionals don’t always speak the same language, but learning to be “bilingual” can take a lot of stress out of the situation. Knowing how to communicate an overall vision effectively is something everyone can improve on.
  3. Iowa’s coda: “Don’t be first, be second” – Possibly one of the problems we discussed for the longest amount of time was finding funding sources for companies in Des Moines and Iowa in general. While Iowa is full of potential investors, many of them don’t necessarily want to be the first to invest in a new venture.
  4. Build a cult – I’m not saying you need to go as far as building a commune somewhere in the Iowa countryside––though it may or may not have been proposed––but it’s still important to find a core group of people to join your startup’s “cult.” Surrounding yourself and your company with people who are willing to support you (not just be mindless followers) is crucial and a community that needs fostering regardless of location.

 

Credits: Hessen Haus photo from hessenhaus.com. Brittany Laughlin photo from Twitter.

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