Prairie Portrait: Shane Reiser of Kohort
Name: Shane Reiser
Title: Director of Marketing at Kohort and Co-founder at Startup Genome
Residence: Omaha, Neb.
Intro music: "Fort Knox," by Goldfish
Silicon Prairie News: For those unfamiliar with Kohort, what's your pitch for the service and why it would make sense for their group?
Shane Reiser: Kohort is a new take on group management. Right now Kohort has the basics — you can start a group, invite people, manage your membership list and have Discussions with your members (which are integrated with email). The vision is to build a truly engaging, easy-to-use group management platform that gives organizers everything they need. The mission to enable group organizers of any type to spend more time actually leading their group and less time managing tools. I believe that groups of people change the world, and that's why I'm excited about the impact Kohort can make.
SPN: What was your impetus for embarking on the Startup Genome project?
SR: Primarily, I want to help community leaders like Christian Renaud in DSM and the SPN team here in Omaha have an even greater impact in their local startup community. Right now, entrepreneurs simply don't know how to get plugged into their local ecosystem, existing data sources are outdated, and there's no good way to visualize an ecosystem in order to better understand its health and identify the gaps. We want to start by creating the most accurate database in the world, then build useful reports, filtering and visualizations, all the while keeping it open and free for everyone and always in the hands of the community to leverage locally however they want.
SPN: What are three of your greatest successes and one of your most epic (and preferably comedic) failures in your extensive experience as an event organizer?
SR: My proudest moments as an organizer were all at a personal level. One that stands out in particular was watching a girl named Carmen have a moment of triumph at the end of the third Startup Weekend in NYC. A few weeks before the event, she emailed me saying that she wanted to go, but was worried that she didn't have valuable skills and that no one would pick her to be on a team. She remained pessimistic, but I was able to encourage her to buy a ticket. When we met on Friday, she was very unsure of herself and doubting her choice to attend. But she got energized during the Friday pitch session, jumped up and pitched an idea, formed a team, and by Sunday night she was leading her team and doing the final pitch with a massive smile on her face. During her pitch she thanked me for encouraging her and said the event had changed her life in a meaningful way. I teared up. That was the moment I decided to join Startup Weekend full time. My biggest failure as an event organizer — responding aggressively to someone who was criticizing my event in a blog post comment. The internet is written in ink, and my embarrassing comment is still out there for all to see. I may have been in the right, but I let my emotions get the best of me and I handled it unprofessionally. Silence would have been a better solution. Others in the community were already defending the event — I should have let them handle it. I think the lesson is: no matter how selfless your intentions are, haters gonna hate. Never respond to that email or that blog post comment while you are still fuming and not thinking straight. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, call a friend. Then just run an awesome event and prove them wrong through your actions.
SPN: In the past couple years you've lived in Omaha and Des Moines, lived in Seattle and frequently commuted to New York. With that perspective, how would you say the Midwest cities stack up as startup communities — what's one strength of each city and one area that each could improve?
SR: New York is the best city in the world. It's got it all: a critical mass resulting in massive amounts of serendipity, a healthy amount of "community enablers" (e.g. accelerators, action-oriented events, etc.), lots of talent, a culture of risk-taking, access to capital, superb educational institutions, etc. Things NYC can do better: better mentorship, recruiting more dev talent, and a more deliberate effort by community leaders to plan their events and programs together (they don't talk to each other enough). The Midwest shines in the way it supports and encourages individuals who are just starting out, but it lacks in resources for companies in scale or growth cycles, and of course there's very little serendipity here. At a higher level — and at the risk of telling you what you already know — there are more folks in the Midwest that talk about starting companies than folks who start companies. Too much talking and not enough action out here in Silicon Prairie. I don't think that should be a surprise to anyone here. Everyone is waiting for the "right time" or the "right opportunity." Not enough skydivers here. That's true almost anywhere, though, with the exception of the big three (SF, NYC, Boston). Seattle, I thought, had loads of impressive talent but was very fragmented. Luckily their local community leader — Red Russak — has stepped up to the challenge recently and is bringing their community together like never before.
SPN: Having experienced so many new cities in recent years, what's your routine for becoming acclimated to a new hometown?
SR: I like to immediately provide value shortly after moving to a new city by planning an event. Here in NE, I'm helping with Startup Weekend Lincoln and Startup Weekend Omaha, and I'm planning an event that Omaha hasn't seen yet. It's a great way to get connected fast. Other tips: I go through LinkedIn and ask for introductions to people in the new city four or five weeks before I move there, then I make it a priority to have coffee with all those people within the first month. At each of those meetings, I ask for one valuable intro to someone else in town. When I get to town, I always go to at least one mobile developer's meetup so I can get plugged in with the local dev community. I also hunt down the founders of the top five or six startups in town and have coffee meetings with them in which they do all the talking and I just ask questions. I try to hire local for my side projects, I bike everywhere I can to get a feel for the land, and I try as many new restaurants as I can because I love new food and local restaurants are great conversation starters. Also important — I form my own opinions about people as opposed to blindly adopting the perspectives that people have of others in the community (perspectives that are often shared openly without prompt).
Credits: Photo courtesy of Reiser.
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