Why we fly home to mentor at Startup Weekend every year

I'm a big believer that the best place to start your company is your home town. Often times, however, the best place to grow your company is somewhere else. That has been the case for us at Zapier. In October 2011, we debuted at the inaugural Startup Weekend Columbia (Missouri). Eight months later, we earned

About the author: Wade Foster is the co-founder and CEO of Zapier, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup that got its start in 2011 at the inaugural Startup Weekend Columbia. Zapier went on to participate in Y Combinator and raise $1.3 million from Bessemer Venture Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and others. The startup now has a team of seven and is proud to say three of them are based in the Silicon Prairie.

I’m a big believer that the best place to start your company is your home town. Often times, however, the best place to grow your company is somewhere else. That has been the case for us at Zapier.

In October 2011, we debuted at the inaugural Startup Weekend Columbia (Missouri). Eight months later, we earned an invitation to participate in Y Combinator. The opportunity, which required a move to Silicon Valley, was something we couldn’t pass up—not only is the accelerator based there, but so too are many of our integration partners.

Most of our Midwestern friends were supportive of the move, but there were certainly whispers from individuals who were bitter that we left—an experience for many Silicon Prairie expats.

Zapier co-founder Mike Knoop goes beyond mentoring and participates in one of Charity Dares’ first campaigns, eating a habanero pepper for Watsi.

Company, then community

An entrepreneur’s job is to focus 100 percent on the success of their company. Time spent worrying about community building as a tiny startup is time you aren’t spending ensuring your company will survive past tomorrow. A startup is a full-time job and so is community building. Trying to do both would be a disservice to the community. After all, the best thing you can do for your startup community is to be a success story yourself.

But for three days a year, we shift that philosophy and pour every ounce of energy into helping Startup Weekend Columbia be a success. My co-founders, Mike and Bryan, and I fly back from California on our own dime. We sponsor five developers to attend so every team has a better shot at working with one. We sponsor drinks so participants and spectators alike can enjoy a tasty beverage. But most importantly, we give our time. Over the course of the 54-hour event, we each spend almost 40 hours at Museao helping teams with their ideas, target market profile, customer acquisition strategies, product development, tech stack and pitches. And sometimes, we just get out of their way and let them be awesome.

So why do we change our tune once a year to help out CoMo?

1. While we may have moved our company, CoMo is still our startup’s hometown. And it’s hard not to love the birthplace of Shakespeare’s Pizza. 🙂

2. Two of our teammates live in Columbia. We want to support the ecosystem for them and any other future CoMo teammates we may have.

3. We get to see old friends and colleagues. The Thursday night pre-party is a great way to catch up with individuals who might not participating over the weekend.

4. We want to give back to the community that gave us our start. We owe a ton to people like Brant Bukowsky, Brent Beshore, Steve Powell, Jamie Canine, John Hall, Jake Halliday and countless other Columbia entrepreneurs who helped show us the ropes.

5. We want to help out a city we may eventually move back to. While it may not be soon, I personally would love to come back to CoMo some day and start a company that becomes as much a fixture of the community as Veterans United.

6. We’re not that much older than the new batch of Startup Weekend companies so our two years of experience is more relevant to them than a banker’s 30 years.

7. Because it’s just really, really fun.

So while I would implore entrepreneurs to spend 99 percent of their time making sure their companies are successful, I would also encourage them to think intelligently about giving back to the community that made them successful. Don’t do it haphazardly. Make it count—even if it is only one sleep-deprived, code-filled weekend a year.


Credits: Photos courtesy Zapier.


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