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Interview With Nick Hughes, Founder And CEO Of Founders Live

An Interview with Nick Hughes, Founder and CEO of Founders Live

As the creator of Founders Live, Nick Hughes is a successful entrepreneur with business achievements in social media, digital payments, and e-commerce. In addition to creating the global entrepreneur network Founders Live, Nick stays busy as an advisor to numerous startups and occasionally takes positions in sales or biz dev roles if needed. Previously, he founded the mobile payment startup Seconds as well as helping start Coinme, a company built around expanding bitcoin and digital transactions into the physical realm via Bitcoin ATM’s. As a sought-after adviser, entrepreneurial speaker and writer with guest appearances on popular technology and media outlets, Nick enjoys helping others discover their unique entrepreneurial path.

WTIA asked Nick a few questions about his experience in creating Founders Live, and advice for the local startup ecosystem in Seattle and Bellevue.

Tell us more about Founders Live, both the event series and the network.

Founders Live is the global venue that gives modern entrepreneurs the opportunity to earn recognition, taste fame, connect with other entrepreneurs, and truly become rockstars.

More specifically, Founders Live is a community and media channel created to inspire, educate, and entertain entrepreneurs around the world. The Founders Live experience includes unique and unforgettable 99-second pitch competitions in select cities, which create local founder celebrities and opens additional pockets of creativity and entrepreneurial activity. That combined with an online network delivering curated articles, videos, interviews, livestreamed expert talks, company-building resources, and private member messaging, make us world class entrepreneurs.

Our goal with Founders Live is to bring entrepreneurship to the masses. With an unpredictable economy today, everyone – in some way shape or form – must adapt to these changes with an entrepreneurial mentality in order to thrive in today’s world. Whether online or off, over beers or over broadband, the Founders Live mission remains the same: to power the future of creativity and innovation through entrepreneurship. This is Founders Live, and this is where world-class entrepreneurs are made.

How did you come up with the unique 99-second pitch format to Founders Live?

Back in March 2014, a simple Friday evening gathering was created for the Seattle startup community, but with a little twist. I wanted to create a fun and casual networking event, but at the same time offer an opportunity for early-stage founders to announce something they recently launched to a roomful of aspiring entrepreneurs, potential partners, and employees. What started as a simple monthly gathering emerged into a must-see event with a cult-like following in the city of Seattle. Feature Friday, as it was known at the time, became a rite of passage for Seattle founders – giving their 99-second company pitch in front of more than 100 of their peers – gaining both recognition for being a leader in their community as well as learning valuable feedback from the audience.

The time limit is very deliberate. Each presenter only gets up to 99 seconds (one minute, 39 seconds) to describe their startup company. This is not an investor pitch; it is a customer and consumer-facing pitch. Think of it more as a value proposition pitch which explains who you are, what your company does, what problem it solves, what solution you are offering, and why the audience should care. This all can be accomplished within 99 seconds if a founder prepares accordingly. The way I see it, if you cannot encapsulate your value proposition and make it understandable to the layman, you and your company are in trouble.

Immediately after the 99 seconds are up, the presenter is allotted four minutes of questions and answers with the audience where they can address aspects of their company in more detail. Common questions include: “Who is your target customer?”, “What’s your business model?”, “Tell us more about the underlying technology?”, and “How much traction do you have, and where?” It’s pretty cool!

Why did we establish the 99-second format? Well, people have shorten(ing) attention spans. It’s unique. It’s brandable. It’s a challenge to condense what founders are building into 99 seconds, thus the experience is very rewarding when they accomplish it. And the video clips of the pitches are pretty much social media ready and easy to digest if watched later.

What inspired you to create Founders Live?

I noticed a growing disconnect between insulated early stage startup circles and the more general global business population. Specifically, local business networking events lacked uniqueness, authenticity, and inspiration. Pitch events tended to be too long, and often lose audience attention. I also noticed how disconnected the pockets of local entrepreneurial activity are around the world. During research, I determined that most social media platforms were ill suited for entrepreneurs who desire connection, content, and relevant experiences. Combining it all, I was hard pressed to find a centralized environment to connect with other entrepreneurs around the world, highlight emerging entrepreneurial talent, discover relevant and up-to-date content, and have it all within a brand that tied together the detached and separate local startup cultures into the wider global entrepreneurial community.

Steve Jobs once observed “Look around you, everything you see – from the chair you are sitting in, to the cup your coffee is in, to the building covering our heads, to the cars we drove here in – everything was at one time just a vision in someone’s mind before it was created. Everything around us was created by someone with a vision to make the world a better place.” I feel entrepreneurship and creativity are paramount to society’s progress and security. I think our future depends on today’s young leaders – especially business leaders. Founders Live takes upon itself a responsibility to create virtual and physical spaces for people to gather, learn, celebrate, and explore entrepreneurship in hopes to make the world a better place. Given that we are living in unprecedented times – any direction we turn we see uncertainty surrounding our present and future – the Founders Live mission to spread the joy, entertainment and education of entrepreneurship is a large and important responsibility. We at Founders Live don’t take it lightly. But we do have fun in the process!

Talk about the evolution from a standalone event in Feature Friday to an entrepreneur’s network.

Coincidentally, in early 2016, I had another revelation. Although the event in Seattle was going well and my writing, videos, and other posts were gaining traction with followers, they lacked a certain shared community element I desired as a fledgling founder. The entrepreneurial path is lonely, and I thought I couldn’t be the only one desiring connection to other founders. I wanted a virtual place where others could join me in trading secrets, telling crazy stories, and sharing bits of wisdom and entrepreneurial experiences with each other.

Founders Live, the brand – as it is today, – was launched in May 2016 with the aim to inspire, educate, and entertain entrepreneurs around the world. Pretty quickly after I launched the Founders Live brand, I noticed a similarity between Feature Friday and this new online community. They both celebrated entrepreneurship and brought people together, connecting like-minded individuals around topics, products, and companies they were passionate about. The only difference was one was virtual with no borders, and one was a hyper local community event serving as a beacon of light and inspiration for entrepreneurs in the Seattle area. In the fall of 2016, I made the decision to combine these two entities into one entrepreneurial focused brand called Founders Live, and bring it to various corners of the world.

By combining locally organized pitch competitions with an online community, Founders Live celebrates entrepreneurship and brings people together, connecting like-minded individuals around informative entrepreneurial talks, AMA’s, industry topics, products, and companies they are passionate about. My driving force is for the Founders Live brand to serve as a beacon of light and inspiration for entrepreneurs worldwide. For it to continue to empower leaders in other cities to create their own Founders Live events in celebration of their local entrepreneurial community, initiating a movement to burst open additional pockets of creativity and entrepreneurial activity around the world. And now here we are!

In regards to Founders Live- was there a light switch moment when you realized this could be more than just a local event series?

Yes. The following story unexpectedly changed my view of the company, my life’s work and apparently someone else’s path as well…

In the summer of 2016, I was introduced to Leslie by a mutual friend. Leslie is a married woman in her late-30’s with a very young daughter, who recently quit her full time job to pursue her dream to create a company. Her idea was Venture Kits, which creates products for young kids with the aim to teach them at a very young age how to run their own company and be an entrepreneur. Their kits include art creations to be sold on sidewalks in the summer, and they are working on many others. “That’s a brilliant idea, I love it,” I said on the phone when we initially got to know each other. I mentioned I hold a cool monthly startup event, and offered her a spot to pitch in front of 100+ people and compete with a handful of other local startups. She brushed it off; her presence on the phone felt as if she didn’t believe she was worth offering the spot to. I continued, “Look, you’ll at least get some feedback from others if they like the idea or not.” She was incredibly nervous and scared. Her voice cracked, and said “Oh, I don’t think I could do that. I’m not ready.” I insisted she consider it, and we ended the call by agreeing she’d get back to me the next week with her decision. A week later she emailed me and said “Alright yes, I’ll do it!”

So as the event starts, Leslie shows up with her little daughter in tow. “I couldn’t find a sitter, so I brought her with me!” she said. And I’m thinking, “Oh great; this is a happy hour event and a crying baby is all we need.” When it was Leslie’s turn, she steps up on stage and looks at the audience, her eyes squinting as the lights are shining directly in her eyes. She’s fidgeting a bit, so I can tell she is very nervous, I imagine she’s thinking to herself “Do I really even belong here?” Then she starts her presentation. “This is Mary, she’s eight years old.” With a turn of a switch, Leslie is instantly relaxed, on great pace, and has the audience glued to her every word.

She’s nailing it, I say silently to myself. When she finished, the crowd erupted, clapping and hollering in celebration like the Seahawks had just scored a touchdown. At that moment I knew she was going to win the night’s event. Leslie delivered a perfect pitch, was two seconds within the buzzer, and when the voting took place, she won by a landslide. You could literally see the tears in her eyes when I brought her back up on stage to accept her victory and talk more about Venture Kits.

As she told me later, that experience drastically changed her life, her confidence in Venture Kits, the trajectory of her company, and herself as a leader. Leslie sold out of her holiday run of kits in Fall 2016, and is now well on her way to building a successful company. I was blown away, and shivers ran down my spine at what I just experienced. It was at that moment I knew Founders Live was going to be a big deal, impacting many people in many cities around the world. There are literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Leslie’s out there who just need the opportunity to overcome their fears and be held up by their community as a leader. Founders Live – online and offline – is the perfect venue for it and we intend to change millions of lives in the years to come.

Founders Live is expanding into other cities.  What drove you to expand, and how are you going about that expansion?

Founders Live growth hinges on the ability to expand the signature event into new cities, spreading its influence and gaining members along the way. Just as the story above illustrates, there are so many people in need of inspiration, education, entertainment, and opportunity. We had to find a model that could be replicated and expanded out to other cities. Starting in January 2017, Founders Live reworked many details of the operations and began establishing contacts and connections in other cities around the U.S. We are now in high-growth mode.

Founders Live is expanding across the world and is currently live in 15 cities including Seattle, Portland, Austin, Boulder, New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver BC, numerous cities in Africa! By the end of 2018, we will be operating live monthly events in 40+ cities, reaching tens of thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs and urban trendsetters each month. We’re projecting to reach millions globally within a few years. We do this by identifying and on-boarding local leaders in specific cities who organize and run the event each month as a volunteer. It’s a really fun process, meeting all these new people who emerge as City Leaders in their local startup communities.

You’re very active in the Washington startup community, but now you’re getting more and more insight into other startup ecosystems. Looking at the national startup ecosystem, how does Seattle and Bellevue fit in? What do you think are some of Seattle and Bellevue’s strengths and weaknesses?  

Seattle and the entire Puget Sound region is very blessed with an incredibly strong entrepreneurial infrastructure. Can it improve? Of course. But when you look at all the large tech companies who are establishing offices here, the engineering talent available, a few of the largest and most influential companies in the world, and the many events and accelerators that educate and support the entrepreneurial ecosystem, all of this combines into a world-class entrepreneurial community. If I had to point to one aspect that could use some work it would be for all of us – founders, advisors, investors – to think bigger! And for the investment community to have stronger appetite for risk/reward at the earlier stages of the startup journey. You know, when a young startup company needs operating capital and support the most.

After spending time in other communities, what’s one thing that Washington founders could learn from people in other areas?

Be more direct. It’s very “Seattle” to be casual, passive, and soft when interacting with cofounders, partners, customers, etc… I’m not saying be rude or any of that, but Seattleites could be a bit more direct with their interactions, responses and feedback.  

If a company wants to participate in Founders Live, how do they contact you?

Nick@founderslive.com or find me on Founders Live, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

Author

  • Nick Ellingson

    Nick Ellingson started his career in software sales on the Eastside before joining the WTIA team. Now he finds new members for the WTIA community, listening to feedback about events and resources, and finding fun and creative ways to get more people involved with WTIA. In his personal time, he can be found playing video games, playing basketball, reading, writing, or spending time with friends. If the Chicago Bulls are playing, he's watching.

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