Prairie Portraits: Derek Homann
The Prairie Portraits series features founders, funders and community builders from Nebraska's innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Meet Workshop Co-founder & COO Derek Homann
Co-founder & COO at Workshop / Serial entrepreneur
How would you describe the startup culture in Nebraska?
I’d say it’s fairly small, but seems to be growing. There are a number of new companies doing interesting things and there seems to be a new-ish core group of people who are really excited about putting on events to help connect and showcase startups and the community in general.
There was some decent momentum in this area 10-12 years ago and it kind of slowed down, but it’s definitely picking back up quite a bit now. Things like 1 Million Cups, the new and improved SPN, Startup Omaha Week, The Startup Job Mixers, Scale Omaha, and a bunch of other things I’m forgetting about are really great for the community and help more people get exposed to other like minded people in the area.
How do you balance taking risks and making calculated decisions in pursuit of innovation?
I don’t really have a great framework for this, but generally just talking to a lot of people in the industry you are targeting with your software or product seems to be the thing that will help you develop a strong conviction for what problems they are trying to solve. If you have some pretty consistent signals it feels less risky to me to try to address them with a product/service.
I also think that with software in particular, your product is a living thing, so you can fairly easily change things that don’t resonate with your potential customers. As long as you’re making changes based on feedback that is directionally correct, there’s a good chance you will eventually get to something people love. It only really feels like a risk to me if you don’t plan to keep iterating on your product and marketing/sales message.
How do you define success and what metrics do you pay the most attention to?
For me, success is both quantitative and qualitative. On the quantitative side, I look at things like topline revenue growth, our net revenue retention, how many leads and demos we generate, our average days to close, and average sales price. For most of those metrics, we only set goals for them once we establish a baseline first and then we just work to make sure the metrics are going in the right direction. One of the nice things about recurring revenue businesses is that it all snowballs and if you just keep at it, things will all work out (financially at least).
On the qualitative side, success just looks like working on hard problems with other smart/creative/talented/optimistic people and achieving things together as a team. If you aren’t having some fun along the way, then it’s not really worth spending time on in my opinion.
What are the top one or two challenges / opportunities Nebraska startups face?
There are a lot of challenges for startups everywhere, but in Nebraska there aren’t yet a ton of super successful tech companies that have created alumni that went on to try to start their own businesses. You obviously can be successful without being an alumni of a successful company, but I do see a good number of people in other markets who did a tour of duty at another early-stage company before they went out on their own.
Having that experience helps a lot when it comes to understanding if your company is on the right track or not because you have some previous experience to compare it against. I also think there are a lot of random things you pick up via osmosis when you’re working at an early-stage company that can end up helping you down the road when you go to start your own business.
What is one emerging industry or technology that you believe will have a significant impact on the Nebraska startup ecosystem in the next few years?
I know a lot of people want to say “what is Nebraska known for?” when it comes to the startups here. But I don’t super love that. I actually think the most impactful thing in the future of startups in Nebraska will just be people building off of previous successes in the area.
If someone creates a super successful AI company here, you will probably see more AI companies spawn out of that because you’ll have a number of current/former employees who now have expertise in that area. For example, you see a bunch of medical staffing firms that are successful because they’re training employees who start seeing success in their role and then go start their own company because they know how to do it now. Then they train new employees who continue the cycle.
So all that to say is that I think it could literally be ANY industry or technology that creates a significant impact on our region. Only time will tell.
We’ll share event highlights, founder profiles and feature stories digging into all things related to Nebraska startups and small businesses. Delivered on Wednesdays.