A Fireside Chat with Derek Andersen

January Event Review: A Fireside Chat with Derek Andersen, founder and CEO of Startup Grind

By Dan Galatin

January 2015 Event

Derek Andersen was the subject of a freewheeling, lively interview at the January 7th SVPMA meeting.  He fielded questions on startups, bootstrapping, entrepreneurship and many other topics from host Ian Sweeney and the audience.

Ian and Derek began by chatting about how Derek’s background and career path brought him to where he is today.  Derek grew up in an entrepreneurial family and moved often as a youngster, which he credits with helping him learn how to get along with anybody.  He knew early on that he wanted to be an entrepreneur.  He started his career with Electronic Arts. He admired many of the people he worked with at EA but didn’t feel that he was being rewarded commensurately with how hard he was working.  This disconnect, coupled with a desire to “control my own destiny” and not do the same thing over and over, led him to realize that he needed to move on.

Next, Derek developed and launched Steve Young Football, which got significant funding but ultimately was unsuccessful because it “wasn’t fun” to play.  Derek began Startup Grind as a side-project while working on his next company.  He realized that he was enjoying Startup Grind more than his full-time gig, and also experienced a higher level of passion from participants in the group.  He transitioned to working on Startup Grind full-time.  Groups were launched in New York and Los Angeles, he started charging admission, and the organization has grown to include 120 cities in 60 countries.

According to Derek, Startup Grind’s “product” is in effect the experience of attending the group’s events.  He treats the planning and preparation of each event meticulously, like a product launch.  Startup Grind’s vision is “to educate every entrepreneur in the world.”  The Startup Grind concept was successful initially because it resonated with Derek as an entrepreneur.  Its values are what make it unique.  Having a clear statement of values attracted the right people: individuals with intellect and networking capabilities, people whom Derek wanted to spend time with.  Derek zealously guards Startup Grind’s brand integrity: he never pays speakers and is very selective about entering partnerships.

Ian asked Derek what the absolute lowest point on his journey was.  Derek answered that it was the unsuccessful launch of Steve Young Football.  The lesson learned? Don’t throw time and energy at something you don’t care about.

Derek referenced Steve Blank as a mentor a number of times throughout the interview.  When asked how to find potential customers for your idea, Derek replied, ask people to pay to build it!  When prospects demure or say no, that’s when you really start learning about why your idea falls short and what kind of product will address customer needs.  (Derek acknowledged the difficulty of applying this method to the consumer space, which he termed “a lottery.”)

An audience member asked Derek how to know when to walk away from an idea.  Derek admitted that such a decision can be “devastating.”  Having a strong set of mentors can help.  Derek’s parting advice was “don’t be motivated by fear.”

Derek’s enthusiasm and energy was reflected in the story of his professional journey.  Like most people who strive to fulfill their passions, he’s had his ups and downs.  Clearly, he has no regrets about pursuing what he loves to do.

Dan Galatin has over 20 years of combined experience in product management and software engineering.  He is Co-Director of Communications for the SVPMA and can be contacted at dgalatin@yahoo.com.

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