Demo Day: Advice from ‘The Godfathers’ of Seattle tech (Video)

Andy Sack of TechStars Seattle

A few weeks ago, Andy Sack and other members of TechStars made a plea to the entrepreneurial titans of Seattle to attend Demo Day, the investment pitch session in which 10 startup companies from the incubator strut their stuff. It was a bold attempt to get the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and other so-called “godfathers” more engaged with Seattle’s startup community.

Well, at yesterday’s Demo Day, a few notables showed up. And while there was no Gates (he’s at the G20 Summit in France) or Bezos (he’s probably too busy making billions at Amazon), VoiceStream and Western Wireless founder John Stanton; Expedia and Zillow founder Rich Barton; Madrona Venture Group’s Tom Alberg; and aQuantive founder and early Amazon.com investor Nick Hanauer addressed the crowd.

Here are each of their remarks, with an emotional introduction by Sack who notes how critical it is to have people who are willing to “take the risks to change the world.” (Transcribed excerpts below).

Here are excerpts from each of the guys, introduced as the godfathers of Seattle tech:

John Stanton

Stanton: The wireless pioneer compared the economic environment of today with that of the late 1970s when he first moved to the Seattle area. “Today is the same time. It’s a lousy economy in a lot of ways. There aren’t great opportunities at big companies. You are likely to get slotted into a position where you are not going to be able to grow, and really take charge of an area.

Start your own business. It is a great time to do it. I only wish that there was something like TechStars that existed when we were getting started, because the opportunity to get that head start — in effect an entrepreneur university — is profound.”

Tom Alberg

Alberg: “Well, godfathers has some mixed metaphor messages. But I think everybody on the stage here has been involved in some billion dollar companies, but the other common element with us is that we all started small.

We all made very small investments in companies that grew into bigger companies. Everyone on stage here has worked enormously hard to build those companies, and, frankly, everyone is still making small investments hoping they will turn into big ones.”

Rich Barton

Barton: The Expedia and Zillow founder echoed some of the comments he made at the GeekWire Meetup last month, encouraging entrepreneurs to “think big.” But before he got into that, Barton cited the recently released infographic which showed that members of TechStars were having 63 percent less sex when compared to when they started the program. Barton told the crowd “that it doesn’t get a lot better” and encouraged the entrepreneurs, even though they may be running 90 miles per hour, to “stop, and bend over and smell a flower every once in a while.”

He added: “Take big swings. Think big…. It takes just as much as work to make a big swing and swing for the fences, as it does to try to bunt.”

Nick Hanauer on Marchex

Nick Hanauer

Hanauer: “We take for granted in this place and in this country, a culture of innovation and risk taking. But in many places, both in this country and around the world, these behaviors are freakish. And we here benefit enormously from the fact that you people — both as investors and entrepreneurs — are willing to take the leap, to take risks, to innovate, to cut against the grain.

And my message here is that you can not take these for granted. They are rare. They are important. And they are worth propagating. And by doing them, you encourage others to do them and we create this magical feedback loop and this ecosystem that Andy referenced that will benefit both this place and this country for a very long time. So thank you for what you do.”

Previously on GeekWire: My five favorite pitches from the TechStars Seattle Demo Day

Editor’s note: GeekWire community manager Red Russak produced the video.  GeekWire’s Rebecca Lovell and Jonathan Sposato are serving as mentors in the TechStars’ program

  • http://twitter.com/AndySack Andy Sack

    Thanks for writing this John. It was a great event and I was really glad these four “godfathers” came out to support the blossoming seattle entrepreneur ecosystem. Thanks to John, Tom, Nick and Rich!!