Ben Milne’s 2019 Forecast

Hopes for our community in 2019

This year was a bit of a blur. Many of you likely feel the same way. Looking back at that blur, reflection can be quite difficult. Looking forward, thinking about how we improve can also be somewhat exhausting at times. Our community did a lot right in 2018 and I also think we’re entering a new, more mature, phase.

Jake asked me to write a bit about hopes that I had for the community in 2019 and it took a while to get enough headspace to consider the question. These types of blogs can be self-serving and feel a bit like someone shouting from a soapbox.

Saying a thing doesn’t mean much. Doing a thing though, can mean everything. The humbling part about trying so hard to be a part of a growing a community is accepting that doing a thing doesn’t really mean it’ll work. Doing a new thing is the risk we take in hopes that it’ll create value.

This article is me doing a thing. Sharing where I hope we go next year, together.

More connectivity

We need to increase the number of our connections. Inside and outside of our communities.

While Dwolla has continued to push on Monetery for this purpose. It’s not enough, and I’m grateful for the events TAI and the DSM Partnership have continued. One of these days maybe we can even convince Dare Mighty Things to bring an event here. These events draw incredible attention to the community but more importantly it creates connections that give folks here opportunities they never would have had otherwise.

I met a number of people who helped change my trajectory in the early Dwolla days through SPN focused events and serendipitous moments. This stuff is happening all over the state. From Entrefest to R3. We need more of it and while I recognize there is a critical mass to events that create connectivity, I don’t think we’ve hit the apex yet.

Less barriers

Everywhere you can, remove a barrier. Everywhere you can, don’t ask yourself what would make a team feel good but what information they need to have to do their job better.

Knowledge barriers and knowing what’s next in a deal, or anything else, can hold people and ideas back. We need to work more openly together to continually remove barriers for teams in the community, no matter what they are working on. A great example of the impact this can have is happening in Ames. Company after company is now coming out of Ames, building teams, earning customers, and paving their own way.

My contribution to this lately has been The One Page Term Sheet. This was a bit of a challenge to myself to consider what barrier I could help remove. I’m working on a deal right now and I’m going to use the one page term sheet. There are hundreds of similar items that I’m hopeful our community will learn to give away, so to speak.

Giving the thing away helps remove barriers for others. Removing barriers for others helps us all grow and iterate faster. In some cases that means fail faster and that’s ok. As long as what we learn is also distributed back into the community, we all get better.

When knowledge is hoarded it might benefit 1-2 people, but we need far more than 1-2 people to do really well so our community can grow. We need entire teams and towns to grow.

More giving

I always bite myself with this because I end up actually taking on more than I can handle when I jump into time with the community. I’ve always struggled with too much or too little but I’ll keep struggling with it this year because I know it’s important.

It’s always a fine line but I’d just encourage everyone to give first. To give an hour to mentor someone who isn’t paying you. To give feedback to a peer in another organization that will benefit them, but not you.

Taking time to elevate others when you have the opportunity to bring people together does more than you can imagine for those who you elevate. No matter how high you climb, you’re always chasing someone or something and we all need a little help once in a while.

Our community is going to grow, and I can’t help but feel as though the leaders who also act as teachers in the community are going to benefit the greater good.  

More Reporting

One of the reasons this organization was created was to cover stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told. It’s absolutely imperative that it continues, with other news outlets like the newly created Innovation Iowa newsletter at the Business Record, to ensure that the greatest discoveries our community has can be discovered by those outside of the community.

The media is the megaphone that shares what’s best about our communities. I’m hopeful we’ll see more from the Des Moines Register this year in terms of tech coverage. Not only because people want to read it but it brings jobs to our communities and those jobs result in readers.

I helped start Clay & Milk and will continue to send it early news and share stories I think are meaningful. I do this because I think the community is still underserved. There are still great technology stories going untold and I’m hopeful we will start seeing more localized publications pop up in IC/Ames/CF this year. More innovations being shared, wherever they are, make it more likely they’ll be discovered.

For example, if the events leading to Banno’s sale were more widely and locally reported from founding to exit, there would have been a lot of learning lessons for the rest of us. First things first though, someone has to report on what is going.

If/when great innovations are discovered, they might grow. If they grow, they create jobs. If they can learn to do that outside of city centers maybe we start moving the needle on some of the issues with job growth in rural communities right now.

More early stage deal flow

This is one I struggle with but I’d be really excited if someone did the following… I see a constant gap in process/funding between post accelerator and $1M in ARR. For companies who don’t have family money to pull from, it’s often the gap that requires them to leave the state.

In an ideal world, we’d see this solved through a $10M seed fund that deploys $1-$2M per year, not solely focused on Iowa but based here. This means it’s a 5 year fund and likely would do $50K-$100K checks to anchor a round. The fund would also likely standardize the paper for deals that happen later. And yes, that’s not a big enough fund to warrant a big management fee so you’d have to have an operator who cares deeply about the community and making sure the terms and companies are right. That’s a very special person.

While I lack the funds and the time to pull something like that off, I’m hopeful someone locally runs with it and enjoys tremendous returns.

The confidence to celebrate one anothers wins.

Small communities come with odd things. Sometimes petty things. We forget to celebrate our peers and get eager about competing with one another rather than helping one another. That inward focus and competition can be as unhealthy in communities as it can be at home.

This manifests itself in really unhealthy ways and I’m hopeful in 2019 we can all work to be honest with one another to celebrate the wins and learn from the losses together.

At some point we’ll feel like we’re celebrating too much and that’s a good indication we’re succeeding together. The parties will get paired back so we don’t miss the next quarter.

I’d like to give some special kudos to Sam Schill and Aaron Horn. Two people I’ve seen go to great lengths to support others because it helped. Outside of Des Moines, I see Lesa Mitchell and Andy Stohl giving first and giving often. They constantly inspire me to be better.

As a starting point, if you’re not sure where to start, I’d encourage you to thank someone that you’ve seen celebrate the wins of others and show gratitude for that action. It’s selfless and it begets growth in the community.

All in all, I wish you all a very prosperous 2019 filled with experiences that help you grow as people. I’m hopeful those experiences include a community that gives you the safety to share what worked and didn’t so we can all grow together.