Startup America Partnership, Austin-style

I was invited to attend a luncheon this past Friday hosted by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Austin Technology Partnership to discuss the soon-to-launch Startup America Partnership Austin program.  Startup America is a national program launched this past January at the White House and founded by the Case and Kauffman Foundations to further entrepreneurship across the country.  It’s mission is to provide entrepreneurs with the resources they need to conceive, launch and grow new companies and it is taking a local approach to mobilize resources supported by the muscle of a national brand.  There are some heavyweight influencers tied to this effort including Steve Case, Michael Dell, Reed Hastings (Netflix), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn) and Magic Johnson.

Austin, through the leadership of the Austin Chamber, is taking a pioneer role in being one of the first handful of communities to officially launch its program under the SA brand.  The idea is to gather expertise, talent, customers, services and capital and package these resources at highly discounted rates and/or unique offerings to assist entrepreneurs at various stages of their company’s development.  Another large part of the Austin mission is to create a net inflow of entrepreneurs from other cities to choose and build their companies in Austin.

I was introduced at the lunch by John Price, a friend, serial Austin entrepreneur and Chair of SA Austin, who is spearheading much of the launch effort for Startup Austin in conjunction with other local organizations including the Chamber and SXSW.  In many ways, the story of my new company BlackLocus and its relocation from Pittsburgh to Austin combined with my relocation from Los Angeles, reinforces what Startup Austin is trying to achieve on a broader scale – promote entrepreneurship not just by home growing it, but also by attracting talent from other places in the country to start and grow their companies in Austin.

I’m excited to work with John in any way I can to assist in bringing additional talent and new businesses to Austin.

Texas Venture Labs / Austin Technology Incubator

My new company, Blacklocus, is an Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) company and we presented yesterday at the Texas Venture Labs Expo in Austin.  I stopped by to hear the pitches of 5 graduating companies, including ours.  I was deeply impressed by the presenting companies, at least 3 of them are truly innovating massive industries including online commerce (us!), nuclear power and combustion engines.  These programs are examples of increasing efforts by the University of Texas to integrate with the local business community to develop entrepreneurs, facilitate investment and commercialize research generated through the University.

Now that we are fully relocated to Austin, I’m really energized to get more involved.  There are several objectives I have for “getting involved” with the local entrepreneurial technology community:

  • Build the BlackLocus brand locally through thought leadership, mentoring and recruiting outreach.  The more we promote our vision and progress, the more attractive we will become to partners, customers and employee candidates.
  • Do my part to further entrepreneurship and development of high growth companies in Austin.  This community has so much to offer for entrepreneurs, venture investment, existing companies looking to relocate and I’d like to become involved in initiatives that promote and actualize those attributes.  Capital Factory and Startup America are examples of successful and far reaching programs to promote our city and develop successful new companies.  There is a real talent shortage here, as in many high tech hubs across the country, and it really is a zero sum game that we need to solve.
  • Actively invest in promising high-growth startups.  As I’ve written about previously, I’m active but picky in my search for investments in new companies where I have something to offer in addition to capital.

Yesterday was a great introduction to a few programs dedicated for furthering local entrepreneurship and I look forward to becoming far more integrated over the coming months.

The Eagle Has Landed… In Texas

After an adventure that resembled something close to Chevy Chase’s Vacation, although no Christie Brinkley tailing us in a Ferrari, we finally made it to Austin.  Baby Jack did pretty good save for a few end-of-day meltdowns.  We made it manageable for him by capping our daily mileage to 425 miles over 4 driving days.  Now we have to hang out until Saturday when the movers arrive to relieve us of Inflatable Mattress Back Syndrome.  Finally, I’m looking forward to settling in to my new role as President of Blacklocus next week!

A sad note, unfortunately we lost our beloved Shetland Sheepdog Jackson during our stopover in Scottsdale.  His health had seen a rapid decline over the past month and he got to the point where he couldn’t keep any food down, so we had to say goodbye and send him on his way to the Rainbow Bridge while we were in Scottsdale.  Jackson was a faithful companion for Renee over the past 10 years, he will be missed.

Klaus and Jackson hangin' at Venice Beach

Do You Sell Products Online?

I spent the past two days at the Innovate Conference in San Francisco put on by X.commerce, the new “open” eCommerce platform created by Magento, GSI Commerce, Paypal, Ebay, Adobe and with deep Facebook, Kenshoo (online marketing), Milo (local search) and Redlaser (barcode scanning) integration.  Magento and GSI Commerce are the two leading platforms for online merchants to set up their website and sell their goods online.  The launch of X.commerce is a game-changer for online retail in several ways:

  • It is a veritable one-stop shop for anyone who sells product online to create their consumer interface and upload inventory, integrate with Ebay, obtain user analytics from Adobe, create advertising and social outreach campaigns and track conversion, launch international (multi-language) platforms, create a Facebook store and enable single click payments through Paypal.  These things alone are not special, but now merchants have the ability to set all of this up with nearly single button clicks.  A merchant can go from having no online presence to having all of these features and more literally in an afternoon.
  • The X.commerce platform is “open”, which creates opportunities for developers to create new applications for merchants and sell them through the app store.  Some lucky few will have the opportunity to partner with X.commerce directly to offer services to merchants.  This is where my new company, BlackLocus, intends to focus.  Because we provide merchants with a pricing engine, including insight on competitors pricing across the web and recommendations on how to price each product, we are a natural and valuable participant on the X.commerce platform.  The benefit to us?  Instantaneous access and distribution to hundreds of thousands of merchants on the current Magento and GSI Commerce and future X.commerce platforms.

This was an extremely useful few days enabling me to quickly get up to speed on what’s happening in eCommerce, the importance of social, the blurring of online & offline and the trends focusing on mobile devices.  I’m beginning to form a point of view about how and where BlackLocus fits into this ecosystem and am energized to get started with the founders to build a great business.  There is much to do!

Mission Accomplished!

Jack seeing me off just before the race

This past weekend, we took a family trip to Las Vegas for three reasons – to visit some of Renee’s family, to do a “dry run” of having Jack in a car for a 5-hour stretch in anticipation of our upcoming move and finally, so that I could participate in the Las Vegas Gran Fondo, a road cycling race through the Red Rock Canyon area.  Believe it or not, we actually had a great, energizing weekend on all fronts.

Jack did great… as long as the car was moving.  He only started to get fussy when we returned to LA and hit the inevitable stop-and-go traffic that defines this place.  Renee really enjoyed seeing members of her family, including some that she had not seen since her childhood.  And I had a great race on Saturday, completing 100 miles and 8000 feet of climbing in just over 6 hours.  Somehow, I managed to finish in first place among roughly 60 riders.  Jack wanted to enter the race as you can see, but was disqualified since he had 4 wheels instead of 2.

 

Jack disqualified for using 4 wheels

All in all, a wonderful trip which gives us some confidence for our upcoming cross-country move  to Texas 9 days from today.

Love What You Do

In the words of Steve Jobs a great quote sent to me yesterday by my new partner Rodrigo:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.  If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.  Don’t settle.  As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.  And, like any great relationship, it just gets better as the years roll on.”

The world, not just the tech world, lost a true visionary and inspiring leader yesterday.  Just think about the past 10 years and the positive impact Apple’s products have had on most of our lives – Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.  How many of you found out about Job’s passing on one of his devices?  I did.

Even if Jobs has not been iconic for you personally, I highly recommend taking 15 minutes to view his Stanford commencement speech from 2005 imbedded below.  One of the best, most direct “experience life” speeches, not just about enjoying your work but truly enjoying life – and poignant given his passing.

What’s Next? Part 3: Moving to Austin, TX!

I am ecstatic to announce that I’ll be joining a promising young startup in Austin, TX called BlackLocus as their President effective November 1.  BL was founded at Carnegie Mellon University in 2009 by 3 incredibly smart and innovative individuals – Rodrigo, Francisco and Lukas.  They’ve built technology that enables retailers who sell products online to optimize pricing at the product level in an automated way and in real-time, based on what competitors are charging, internal margin requirements, profit goals, etc.  It’s clear from customer interest, even among large retailers, that they are on to something unique and valuable.  The broader mission is to simplify, automate and profit maximize eCommerce.  A lofty goal indeed and I love how these guys think big.  The team was recently funded by VCs Silverton Partners and DFJ Mercury.

My role with the company will be to run the day to day operations and go-to-market strategy and execution, including hiring the leadership team (Analytics, Product, PR/Marketing, Recruiting/HR, Support and Sales/BD), acquire customers, generate meaningful revenue and establish the company as a thought leader in its space.  I couldn’t be more excited to join Rodrigo, Francisco and Lukas to help them execute on their vision.

What a journey its been over the past 4 months.  And I really do mean journey.  You can read the two previous installments of this process, Part 1 and Part 2.  I have actually really enjoyed the process, re-connecting with folks and meeting really interesting people in the various geographies I was pursuing.  It has been refreshing to take an external view and build some meaningful relationships after being so heads down at TrueCar for the past 4 years.  I’m looking forward to keeping that external focus and really getting involved in the Austin tech community.

This was a really tough decision given that there were multiple opportunities and they were all quite different – different geographies (Boulder, Austin, LA, SF), different roles (CEO, President, COO) and different stages of development (Seed, Post A-round, Pre-IPO).  An oversimplification, but it came down to two primary criteria for me – 1) the quality of the idea and absolutely huge market potential and 2) the team at BL, including the investors at Silverton and DFJ.

And, it will be great to be located in Austin with my brother and his family.  The Taylor caravan departs Los Angeles for Austin in just a few weeks.

Thanks to all my friends, family and others who were supportive and helpful along the way.  Let the new adventure begin!

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