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Zvi Band Relationships are our most important asset.

The @ProudlyMadeInDC Movement – Kickstarting a Startup Community in DC

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As mentioned previously, I’m co-founder of ProudlyMadeinDC, a central site showcasing DC’s startups, showing to the world, and to ourselves, that DC is an up-and-coming startup hub. We started it as a small side project, but it’s grown to become  real movement, helping to power the rise of DC startups. I presented at Ignite DC 6 (slides below, full video coming soon), so what I have below is, for the most part, my talk.

I’m here to talk about the efforts to rebuild a startup community in the dc area and how just one step by anyone can help make a difference. Because an awkward guy like me might appear to be the most unfit for the job.

I went to school in the region, and they did an awesome job of ensuring that we all were funneled into cubicles at a beltway bandit. It was only then I started learning about the whole concept of a start-up outside of the corporate bubble.

But I didn’t know anyone who involved in the start-up world. So I read voraciously. Every book, blog, and newsgroup I could. But still, I lacked the personal contact and war stories of a peer community to help me venture out on my own.

Three years ago, I stumbled across a wiki for barcamp DC. Here was a completely volunteer organized event, that help me meet so many entrepeneurs. Many of these people I am still in contact with today, and consider them my mentors, peers, and friends.

But it seemed that every founder walked around with a chip on their shoulder because they weren’t in the valley. And because of that their chances of survival were slim. VCs weren’t investing, media wouldn’t cover them, and there wasn’t much of a peer community.

Fastforward to today. Our community has grown. What’s great about most of these events is they aren’t organized for any major financial or PR gain. They’re organized by one or two people to get a bunch of like minded folks together.

While a small group of people actively try to improve the community, far too many find solace in complaints via Twitter and Facebook about the inability to start a company in our nation’s capital.

If you’ve spent any time in DC you’ve run into these people. While I’m not telling you to join an artists’ commune any time soon, their manifesto has always resonated with me. If you see a problem, stop complaining about it and do something to solve it. Isn’t that what every entrepreneur aims to do?

When Brad Feld, a VC who helped build Boulder as a startup hub, came to DC, he had no idea that Living Social is a local company. Lesson #1: No one was really talking about DC’s startups. So we knew that marketing DC is one thing that we could improve upon.

There are a number of events and resources in DC available for entrepreneurs. But figuring out where to begin is a daunting task. Lesson #2: Provide some kid of beachhead to guide newcomers to the right resources.

It was finally time to stop talking. With just one Red Bull fueled night, I was surprised with the outcome. 2 months ago, today, actually, I emailed my co-founder of what became Proudly Mady in DC with the first version of our directory.

The lean startup methodology teaches you to launch as quickly as possible. We had lots of big ideas for what we wanted to do, and debated the what-ifs – but we quickly put an end to that, opting instead to just jump off, and figure out the rest as we plummet to our demise.

Launch day is always a rush. About a week after the first version of the site, we started publicizing. And by “publicizing” I actually mean posting on Facebook and emailing about a dozen people.

What we learned was that if there’s a community backing you, your idea grows legs, really quickly. Thousands of visits and hundreds of tweets later, our directory of over 100 startups had made its mark. We can now sit andwatch visitors come to our site, and check out the startups on the list.

When we built the site, we set up a single email address where anyone could reach out. Since the launch day, emails have been pouring in from new startups, experienced entrepreneurs, and newcomers who just want to get involved. We do our best to guide them on the right path.

You won’t get it right. You may have much more grandiose plans. And you may have a lot of critics, as we did. But we made that first step, took a few hours of our time, and made something that has provided a 10-fold return to the community.

what’s next? What can you do? We’re at a critical time in making DC into a startup hub. We need to work better together, across different groups. We need to build that herd, support that new startup, because if we can improve the community as a whole, we can make it a better place to bring our own dreams into reality.

The next phase is the DC Tech Meetup, a place where anyone who’s involved with startup or wants to be, or just wants to support startups, can work together. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lean startup enthusiast, VC, hacker, lawyer, founder, whatever. We need you and everyone you know.

It sounds like your standard cliche advice to go out and just do something. But to make a community happen, it’s going to take all of us making one small step. The next time you think that something is hard in DC, stop complaining, and figure out a way to make it better.

For us, it started with just two people. We can now happily say that we have formed a supportive community around us and our idea. Find one or two people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and and decide together what your first step is. There’s no way to build a community alone. Thank you.

Really, it’s an amazing time to be involved in the startup community. There’s electricity in the air that wasn’t here six months ago. The conversation is no longer about whether or not a startup can survive in DC, it’s changed for the positive. People are leaving their silos, and figuring out how they can work together. It’s great to see.

ProudlyMadeinDC is still booming. We’re getting tons of email every week, from new entrepreneurs looking to get involved, startups asking to be listed, and people/organizations who just want to help. It’s amazing to have our fingers on the pulse of entrepreneurship here, and meet so many amazing people.

And now the next step is the DC Tech Meetup, which I’m a co-founder of: http://www.meetup.com/DC-Tech-Meetup

What are you going to do to help?

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UPDATE: Here is the video:

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By Zvi
Zvi Band Relationships are our most important asset.

Zvi Band

Founder of Contactually.
I'm also passionate about growing the DC startup community, and I've founded Proudly Made in DC and the DC Tech Meetup.