8 Powerful Pieces of Advice from Startup Voodoo 2015

We’re passionate about startups. But you already know that. We’ve talked about them here, here, here and also here. We post about startups all the time here.

Last year, we took our love for startups to new heights when Elasticity partner, Aaron Perlut, co-founded a conference just for them: Startup Voodoo. This year’s was Thursday.

SV redirects the spotlight from Silicon Valley to Saint Louis, bringing together programming and competition that demonstrates the important role the Midwest plays in our country’s overall innovation ecosystem.

Together, SV keynote speakers and panelists shared a seemingly endless stream of advice with innovators and investors in the audience. Here, we’ve compiled some of the most compelling insights from this year’s conference. What follows are eight pieces of advice for startups from Startup Voodoo 2015:

  1. Opening Keynote Robert Scoble: Frictionless thinking

“Technology lets us provide a new level of service. For example, The Ritz would look through your trash after you left, and should they find a Snickers candy wrapper in there, the next time you check in, a Snickers would be on your pillow. Kind of freaky, huh?” said Robert.

Robert’s opening keynote address took us on an adventure through the world of emerging technology, discussing sacrificed privacy in the name of utility. One takeaway: Early stage companies should utilize technology to better anticipate what people want. We no longer have to scour trash cans to get information. In fact, there is now sophisticated technology that can find the equivalent to your customer’s Snickers bar.

  1. Panel: What’s next in cyber security innovation?

All panelists agreed: We need to do a better job cultivating cyber security enthusiasts from a younger age. It is imperative that we nurture talent through our education system. Panelists found that schools are generally turned off by talk of hacking, but in reality, they should be embracing it. Hosting events like GlobalHack help to identify young talent and lock in a path for them early.

Cyber Security Panel at Startup Voodoo

Bonus advice from this panel discussion:

“If you are a startup outsourcing your email, there is a bad law that states your emails are only private for 180 days. That means your host can hand that information over to anyone after that time period. If you’re emailing about things with any degree of secrecy, your email should be within your walls,” said David Strom.

  1. Conversation: Debbie Barta of Simplified Commerce by MasterCard: Thinking like a startup inside a global corporation

Debbie Barta fielded a question from the audience about creating a culture that supports failure — a critical component for a successful startup. Debbie feels these types of work environments are built from the top down. Debbie stressed how important CEO-level support is. CEO buy-in can make or break an innovation or labs team — financially or otherwise.

She shared that within MasterCard Labs, they fail fast and fail smart. MasterCard’s CEO Ajay Banga admits that what has worked in the past does not necessarily predict the future. This mantra itself breeds innovative thinking and further fosters collaboration and out-of-the-box solutions.

  1. Panel: Startups innovating communications technologies for corporate America

Though not specifically related to the panel topic, moderator Jason Falls asked the panelists if they were at an inherent advantage being located in the Midwest.


The answer: Yes.

Beyond cost of living and being a central location, Jonathan Erwin from Red e App made the point that here in the Midwest, we have unprecedented access to enterprise. Typically there is some degree of separation between startups and enterprise, but not here. Here, there is a better sense of community and more connectivity to corporate America.

  1. Keynote: Maxine Clarke, founder of Build-A-Bear

Maxine Clark of Build-A-BearNo one wants to think about mortality — yours or your company’s. Make smart hiring decisions. Maxine has a CEO who she trusts and believes in, and that helps her sleep at night. Thinking about who you hire and who you train and who you partner with — very important. Thinking about what is your exit plan vs. what is your succession plan — not important.

  1. Panel: Accelerating startups with executives from top U.S. accelerators

Accelerator participants often agree that capital isn’t even the best part of an accelerator. Panelists shared that programming and connectivity are the real benefits people get most excited about.

Specifically, Mara Lewis from Start Co. in Memphis, Tennessee, expressed the importance of connecting early stage companies with mentors. She used herself as an example, explaining how helpful it would have been early on if a more experienced entrepreneur had told her “her baby was ugly.”

  1. Keynote: Erik Moore, founder, Base Ventures

Erik’s keynote was moving and personal, but here’s his standout piece of advice: People won’t always remember what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. He implores startups to make investors feel something, because that is how they’ll break through the noise, cut through the clutter and become memorable. 

  1. Closing Keynote: Sam Altman, Y Combinator

If there is one mistake Sam Altman sees startups make all too often, it’s being afraid of a large tech company. He says that 99 percent of the time, startups die of suicide, not murder. They obsess over competitors and get distracted, thinking failure is imminent. His advice? Don’t worry about previous failures or future competitors. If the market is there, you can always find a way to win.

The industry experts in attendance provided other incredible pieces of advice. For videos, photos and additional information on Startup Voodoo 2015 visit www.StartupVoodoo.com.

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