Monday night marked the first ExitEvent Startup Social where it was public knowledge that I was no longer in charge. To be honest, I've actually not been in charge for a couple of them now, but with the news having broken earlier this month of ExitEvent's acquisition by American Underground, there was no more false pretense, so to speak.
Now, I can't say I spent a whole lot of time between the acquisition and the formal announcement worrying about whether or not things would change. This is due to two reasons:
1) The team at American Underground and I spent a lot of time making sure that what I didn't want to change would not.
2) We then spent an inordinate amount of time making sure that everything else would.
I like change. Change is good.
Those changes are starting to play out. They were noticeable Monday night in downtown Raleigh, where over 130 entrepreneurs and investors from all over the Triangle came out to the new American Underground @Raleigh facility. There they enjoyed a selection of half-a dozen local craft beers provided by Tasty Beverage and, for the first time ever at an ExitEvent Startup Social, wine.
Last week, I was in lurking in the back of a room (which is usually where you'll find me), listening to a rather successful entrepreneur give a talk to a bunch of young entrepreneurs, most of whom were students. At one point, he made this careful distinction:
"I'm not that guy. I'm not the visionary. I'm the number two. I'm the guy that you give me the idea and I'll get it started."
He then asked how many Number Twos were in the audience. Given that the room was full of students, and that most young entrepreneurs think they're the second coming of Elon Musk, I expected crickets. Instead, much to my surprise, several hands went up, including one young entrepreneur who had made a presentation earlier in the evening.
I was aware of the distinction, of course. The Number Two is the person behind the founder or founders who takes the idea and creates the product or gets it to market or otherwise makes it tangible and successful.
But I had never really given it much thought. Like most tech-founders or tech-CEOs, I've been both the visionary and the Number Two, sometimes at the same time, for the entirety of my career. I've had pretty much equal amounts of success and failure in both roles.
So I tend to take that distinction for granted. I had certainly never heard an entrepreneur with a solid amount of success admit to being "just" the execution guy.
Everyone loves the idea, the home run, the slam dunk. But the world wouldn't move without the producer. Think of Moneyball and Brad Pitt's Billy Beane begging a team of has-beens and never-wases to focus on getting on base. Closer to home, think of Dean Smith and the tradition he created to "point to the passer" when a star player scores. --Read On
Well, one thing to note is there was acquisition interest almost from the beginning. I'm a working entrepreneur, and ExitEvent was something I started because I was convinced it needed to exist. Because I'm an entrepreneur, I built it like a startup -- that's pretty much all I know. I don't know how to run foundations or dot-orgs, I know how to build and run companies. But because I'm a working entrepreneur, I knew I could never devote more than 3-5 hours a week to the cause.
I invited 12 founders to the first ExitEvent Startup Social, and 50 showed up. When I first opened up the network, requests came in rushes. When I first put content up on the site, the audience exploded. It was always more than I could handle, and the sacrifice was to keep ExitEvent underpowered. This sucked, because for over two years I knew it could be more than it was. Turning away business is a good problem to have, but when that business is making startups better, it's not a good problem at all. It's just a problem that needs a solution. Stat.
It took the better part of those two years for me to swallow my pride and decide that there was probably someone out there who could do ExitEvent better than me. In any case, I knew there were several people out there who could devote more time to it, because they were already coming to me. So this past summer I started seriously listening to what the options were, and thankfully, one set of options made perfect sense.
I've known Adam Klein since he was doing really cool things at the Durham Chamber, making a lot of something out of next-to-nothing. With each project he took on, there was always more to it than what the average person saw, and when he went over to American Underground, he brought that ethos with him. Today, American Underground isn't just about a place for startups to sit. It's a lot more than that. I'm not sure anyone has the exact handle on what it'll become, but now it has a voice. --Read On