The 3 Latest Reasons to Get Excited About St. Louis Startups

There have been a whole lot of exciting announcements recently in the St. Louis startup scene.

First there’s the Regional Enterpreneurship Initiative, supported by a number of local public and private organizations, intended to invest a total of $100 million into the local startup ecosystem over the next five years. Techli reports:

“A year ago, I asked what we needed to provide the best environment to help our best startups grow,” said St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley. “The answer came back with a resounding, ‘Get them more money.’  So, today, we are saying we need the money, and we are putting an aggressive plan in place to raise that capital.  This guarantees the best new companies will stay in St. Louis and thrive for years to come.”

slide-1-638This comes just days after the St. Louis Tech Startup Report was published by ITEN, highlighting the current strength of the St. Louis startup ecosystem. We’re already doing pretty well, according to the report, and hopefully the REI will only cause the St. Louis startup scene to get bigger and better.

And proving there’s a cool new St. Louis startup launching every day, just yesterday we saw the launch of St. Louis startup Muzio, a social media curation app that “allows users to organize photos, videos, audio clips, notes and quotes in a simple and elegant package.”

Co-founders Reshma Chamberlin and Elizabeth Buchanan were featured in the St. Louis Business Journal.



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The Top 1 Way to Improve the Performance of your Startup

“Starting a company is hard. It’s not easy. It’s not for the faint of heart. There’s a million ways to fail, and only one way to succeed,” said Tom Cox of Coolfire Solutions, as he addressed a room of St. Louis startup entrepreneurs at the February meetup of StartLouis.

There’s a ton of advice out there for would-be entrepreneurs just getting started, and a lot of it’s confusing and contradictory. Cox, on the other hand, offered his audience what he called the Top 1 ways to improve performance of your startup: “Build something great that people love.”

That’s what Cox did at Coolfire Solutions. Coolfire Solutions is a software development shop dedicated to creating simple and functional technology that directly improves the lives of the people who use it. Coolfire makes solutions that are easy for anyone to use, not just techies.

The best way to get people to love your product is to make it very easy to adopt, hard to forget, and impossible to live without, according to Cox. “Don’t write a user manual for your product. If you have to create a user manual, you’ve already failed. Make sure when people pick up your product, they already know how to use it,” said Cox.

Back in 2006 when he founded his company, Cox gathered a great team of technologists and artists, or as he put it, “My goal in 2006: Create a team of people who can change the world and then get out of their way. My goal in 2013: Lead a team of people who can change the world, and then get out of their way.”

Some products the Coolfire team has created are Viewpoint, a simple and easy to use iPad reader for SharePoint; RONIN, a real-time tactical situational awareness app for the military; and Reconn, a mobile SATCOM toolkit that weighs 10lbs.

In addition to advising that St. Louis entrepreneurs create great products that people love, Cox also emphasized how important it is for entrepreneurs to love what they are doing. “Find what you’re passionate about. Come up with a way to make it amazingly better. Figure out how to monetize it. Do it in that order. Don’t skip any steps,” said Cox. Because finding something you believe will make money, and then trying to get passionate about it later, won’t work.

“I’ll leave you with this question,” said Cox to the St. Louis startup community. “What are you going to build? Is it going to be great? Is it going to be something people will love? And if so, why aren’t you already building it?”


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2013 Is Already Booking Up Fast

I just updated my my Google calendar for the next three months, and I’m already exhausted just looking at it. In addition to my monthly meetups C4: Comic Creators Coffee Club and StartLouis, there are also a lot of local and regional events I’m interested in attending. We’ve got comics, anime, video games, and startups:

Plus, we’ve got the C4 comic anthology deadline on Feb. 6, and then I have to edit that book and get it printed. Rocketbot has a comic anthology that I want to submit to, with a deadline in early February as well. And I’ve been wanting to start going to the STL WordPress Meetup (I keep missing it, and WordCamp was so fun).

Clearly I need to find a way to clone myself.

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Declaration of Internet Freedom Bus Tour Visits STL

So last night the founder of Reddit was in town and gave an epic talk on freedom on the Internet. Where were you?

A little background: Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, has been campaigning for Internet freedom in the Declaration of Internet Freedom Bus Tour: From Denver to Danville. Internet freedom has recently come under fire in the US from the proposed SOPA and PIPA acts. The Bus Tour is intended to visit a number of cities, including sites of the presidential and vice-presidential debates, to talk to people about the importance of a free and unrestricted Internet.

The Bus Tour’s visit to St. Louis was hosted by StartLouis: The St. Louis Startup Circle; and BuildGuildSTL, at the T-REx Incubator in Downtown St. Louis. The Bus did a tour of small local businesses that grew from the Internet before coming to the talk at the T-REx.  

Erik Martin, general manager of Reddit, kicked it off with a slideshow of the Internet Bus Tour so far. “One of the things we wanted to do on this tour was get as many people as possible to physically sign this beautiful document of Declaration of Internet Freedom. It might be the first magic marker signed document in the Library of Congress,” joked Martin.

Martin and Ohanian talked about all the people they’ve met on the tour so far — each and every one of whom has a story about how a free and open Internet has improved their lives. 

“The Silicon Valley myth — the idea that this kind of innovation is only happening there, needs to go away,” said Ohanian, when discussing the vibrant startup communities in Boulder, Colorado, and other cities.

Alexis Ohanian went off on a short tangent in the middle of the night. “Does St. Louis have an official song? A jam,” Ohanian asked the crowd. “Nelly!” came the reply.

So that’s how over 100 people mangled the chorus to “It’s Getting Hot in Here” to a poor woman on speakerphone, whose only crime was supporting Internet freedom — she was a donor to Reddit’s crowdfunded campaign to pay for part of Declaration of Internet Freedom Bus Tour, and won a “drunkdial” from the Reddit team.  

Martin and Ohanian talked about their next idea as well — Geek Day, a scheduled “flash mob” where geeks representing every district in the country would set appointments and go see their state senators and representatives in Washington, to talk about issues important to the tech/geek/startup communities across the country.

“You should have every politician representing you in DC on speed dial. Because they work for you,” said Ohanian. He then told us about how a group of school kids in Nebraska peer pressured him into actually making that call, when Ohanian made that statement to those students.  There’s an app for that, apparently.

After the talk, everyone was invited to Urban Chestnut Brewery, where Ohanian and Martin sampled St. Louis microbrews and played the locally-created iPhone drinking game, Circle of Death, designed by IDC Projects.

The Bus Tour left this morning for their next stop, Louisville, Kentucky. But not before having breakfast at St. Louis landmark Uncle Bill’s Pancake House.  I’m curious to find out what stories about St. Louis the reddit team will tell at their subsequent stops. Because we’re doing some cool stuff here in town with our startup community and our tech community.  

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STL Losing Another Cool Company is closing its St. Louis office after being acquired by, according to the Post-Dispatch.

Woot is an Internet-based seller with a business model of only selling one deeply discounted item per day, in limited quantities. Sounds doomed to failure, but due to some awesome marketing and copywriting on Woot’s part, they’ve built a devoted following, a culture, even.

Woot only employed about 20 people here in town, but its not the loss of jobs so much as the loss of potential. Woot was one more place that young, geeky writers like myself could get work writing about fun, geeky stuff. It was a place that valued innovation above the tried and true, and we don’t have enough companies like that.

Woot’s loss is just one more example of an ongoing issue — St. Louis’ inability to attract and keep startups.

Currently, the awesome Square Inc., manufacturer of devices that let you accept credit card payments, also has a small operations office here in town. But who knows how long that will last.

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Take Credit Card Payments With Your iPhone

I love living in the future. Anyone who sells at ren faires, outdoor festivals, sci-fi conventions, take note: you can turn an iPhone, iPad or Android phone into a credit card reader with the Square Card Reader: Seriously, how cool is that?

Someone on my Facebook pointed out that using an iPhone doesn’t exactly scream Middle Ages. My response: “Hey, they’ve already got signs up at Ren Faires that say ‘Accepting Lord Mastercard, Lady Visa, and New World Express.’ The iPhone at least has a much smaller footprint than those clunky credit card hand scanners. And let’s face it, the types of geeks who sell stuff at Ren Faire are exactly the types of geeks who buy iPhones and Androids.”

I’m wondering how cost effective it would be for a solo creative like myself. I’ll probably check it out in the next few months.

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