Highlights from Boulder Startup Week: Zayo’s Founders Fireside

“The Front Range is special when it comes to starting companies. But my passion isn’t just starting companies, it’s scaling-up companies and helping others scale their companies by getting them on a path for long term impact and success. I think Colorado has so much to offer, and I think the interplay between Boulder and Denver makes it even more powerful. Where Boulder is a great place to come up with ideas and launch companies, the broader Denver community contributes to the ability to scale up. It attracts talent that wants to be a part of this beautiful community we have. Smart people, creative people, people who want to collaborate with one another. It’s one of the best communities we can imagine.”

– Dan Caruso, Chairman and CEO of Zayo

Advice and Inspiration from Boulder Business Founders

Good beer and great conversation. What a way for Zayo to help kick off Boulder Startup Week last month at the Bohemian Biergarten. Chairman and CEO Dan Caruso hosted a Founders Fireside Chat with entrepreneurs Wendy Lea and David Norman, who shared their stories, providing ample advice and inspiration for the audience. Wendy Lea has an impressive background as a founder of four companies and startup mentor for Techstars and other organizations. David Norman, is the CEO and Founder of Arryved, a company that has developed a point of sale technology for the craft beer industry.

Here’s a summary of their dialogue, edited for space and clarity.

From left: Wendy Lea; David Norman; Dan Caruso.

Dan: Wendy, your earliest successful startup was OnTarget. Tell us about how it was born.

Wendy: Yes, I was co-founder of OnTarget, which was very focused on sales, marketing, and channel methodologies for the high technology sector. It was a services firm that was tech-enabled and integrated with the largest CRM companies in the world. While we were growing the company from scratch we had a partnership with Siebel Systems to help us get to market fast. We went from zero to $50 million without taking any outside capital.

Dan: David, tell us about Arryved. How was it born?

David: I was sitting at Avery (Brewery) in Gunbarrel and wanted to create technology where you could order at the table and pay at the table. When I was at Google we had a lot of discussion about how to streamline the payment process, which inspired us to build a consumer app to allow to pay at the table. Uber had blazed the trail for this consumer behavior for people. When we started, we didn’t want to talk to owners to discuss the problem. We wanted to talk to the staff on the floor. Our success came from the fact that we were operating in a viral industry, both the craft beer and service industry where everyone likes to talk about best practices. We want to keep our ear to the customer, which really drives our passion today.

Dan: Can you tell us more about your experience at Google?

David: I love Google, always will. As an engineer, I wanted to do more to put technology in people’s hands instead of just building things that never get launched. This is what drove me to go off on my own.

Dan: Wendy, tell us a little bit about your experience with Techstars and why it had such a great impact on companies like SendGrid and DigitalOcean. What does it bring to the community?

Wendy: After the experience at OnTarget, my husband and I moved to Boulder.  While here we became active in the Tech community.  I learned so much sitting with entrepreneurs from all stages and hearing what they were doing. After a few years, I moved to Silicon Valley to continue my dig into the early stage startup world, then became an angel investor and mentor to startups. Through it all, I’ve always felt very privileged to be part of the Techstars community and then over the last two years served on the Techstars board. We at Techstars ourselves in the middle of an interesting inflection point for the corporates. As they see startups disrupting markets and bring innovation to internal processes they must look for new ways to innovate — driving organic growth as well as internal efficiency. We are very well served to help them with that. We’ve built the largest global network of entrepreneurs that help corporations innovate and cities, states, and regions build ecosystems that look like this (Boulder). It’s really cool and about 30% of my time is spent working actively as a board member and anywhere I can help bring value to our entrepreneurs and corporate partners too.

Dan: David I want to talk about team and culture, what do you look for? How important is culture and how do you nurture it?

David: For me, culture is number one. Investors are going to be looking at you and the style you bring. But it also resonates down through the rest of the staff. I never call myself a CEO ever in front of my staff. Almost all of our leadership team and staff had a background in the service industry before they joined Arryved. It’s important for empathy. We focus on two key areas when we hire: one is naturally inquisitive people. One of the questions of our hiring panel is “What do you work on and think about on your own?” We want to know what they have trained themselves on. Tinkerers do incredibly well in a startup environment. Another thing that we value is staying calm under pressure. Of course, everyone is a hard worker, understanding what you’re building is toward a greater vision. My employees want to see something they built in someone else’s hands just as I do.

Dan: Wendy you’ve been very involved in startup innovation, specifically a project in Cincinnati called Cintrifuse. What do find is unique and different about the Boulder community?

Wendy: One unique factor here is the university. CU contributes to the startup ecosystem, and I began to understand that after living here. There must be a natural pathway between the local university and startups. That’s one thing, by providing mutual support for one another that door can be opened more effectively and efficiently. The second factor is the engagement of large companies who need folks like you, talented, entrepreneurial-minded digital natives willing to take a risk to bring a new business idea to life!

Dan: David, what can you say to inspire those who want to become entrepreneurs?

David: A lot of people come into this not knowing what it really means, I have the benefit of having one failed venture in my past and learning from those around me. Have a vision, and work towards the vision. If you can’t convey that passion about your business to someone else, it’s going to take a lot longer to get things done.

Dan: Thank you all for joining us at Boulder Startup Week. One thing I’ll leave you with: you may have a reason for being a part of this week that has to do with your journey. There are a lot of people who are looking for others to learn from and lean on, so any opportunity you have to nurture someone else could mean a lot.