Early stage businesses need more than cash — they need the tools to grow, said the hosts of the KC-based Startup Hustle podcast.
“Good ideas in startups move faster when they’re supported by successful business people in the community,” said podcast co-host Matt DeCoursey, announcing the plan late Wednesday to award $50,000 in tech resources, split between two participants in next week’s Pure Pitch Rally during Techweek Kansas City.
The prizes come courtesy of Full Scale, the high-growth talent development startup helmed by DeCoursey and co-founder Matt Watson, who also co-hosts the Startup Hustle podcast. Winners will be chosen from among the eight startups already vying for $80,000 in cash and $500,000 in Amazon AWS Activate credits Oct. 10 at the Pure Pitch Rally.
“That 25-grand in development and business resources [for each of the two selected Pure Pitch companies] is roughly a couple of developers for three months,” said Watson, noting work could run the gamut from creative design to SEO testing, depending on the companies’ needs.
Resources awarded by the Startup Hustle duo come with no strings attached, much like a grant, DeCoursey said, keeping with the theme of the fast-paced Pure Pitch event. Now in its third year, the invite-only gathering features a room of angel investors, entrepreneurs and executives — many of whom serve as “land sharks,” who each give $1,000 to companies of their choice, but take no equity in exchange.
“We’re not taking any ownership position or anything like that. It’s straight going back to the startup community, which I’m proud of,” DeCoursey said.
Companies participating this year were vetted through a steering committee that narrowed more than three dozen applicants to eight startups, said Watson and DeCoursey.
“I’m hoping that we don’t make two people really happy and piss off six others, but I feel like that’s probably somewhat inevitable, isn’t it?” DeCoursey joked on the podcast.
“I feel like that’s all I do in my entire life these days,” Watson riffed.
The podcast duo lauded the Pure Pitch Rally as a labor of love for its founder Karen Fenaroli, CEO and managing director of Fenaroli & Associates. The feeling of gratitude is mutual, said Fenaroli.
“Full Scale could be the single most important sponsor to our Pure Pitch Rally,” she said. “Each winner needs tech scale up and my friends Matt DeCoursey and Matt Watson have the global genius talent to leverage our cash and their brains. This KC company is one of the gems for mission social entrepreneurism.”
DeCoursey and Watson are excited to work with the Pure Pitch competition’s most promising startups, they said.
“They’re not all going to survive. They’re not all going to be billion-dollar companies or anything, but I’m sure some of them will go on and be successful,” Watson said. “Hopefully we can pick a couple and make a big impact for them, and really help them get some resources and move their companies forward.”
Two mics, two Matts
The Startup Hustle podcast began in December 2017 “for reasons of therapy,” DeCoursey told Startland.
“After 10 years or a lifetime of entrepreneurship, you have scars,” he added, referencing his career as a serial founder — notably the man behind cloud-based computer software firm GigaBook — and business author.
“It’s kind of beers and tears, and a gripe session about being entrepreneurs,” said Watson, describing the podcast in which the two share stories about their journeys, as well as fostering transparent and candid conversations with expert guests from Kansas City and beyond.
Co-host Watson is a key source of insight and expertise on the show, DeCoursey said, alluding to the $150 million acquisition in 2012 of VinSolutions, one of Watson’s previous ventures.
“Don’t let your head get to big here,” he said, as Watson sat across a boardroom table in the Startup Hustle podcast’s makeshift studio, “but Matt is a local legend for a lot of people when it comes to building a business, and what VinSolutions did, and it’s all deserved.”
The two met when DeCoursey was seeking entrepreneur stories for his best-selling book, “Million Dollar Bedroom,” he said. They quickly realized they shared many of the same issues, DeCoursey and Watson agreed.
“There are so many pitfalls and holes and mistakes that entrepreneurs make over and over, and I said, ‘Let’s share that.’ Everybody has a book about ‘This is how I became a billionaire,’ but what about a book about all the dumb stuff you did along the way that was really expensive and painful and time-consuming or distracting?” DeCoursey said.
The seeds for Startup Hustle were planted.
And today the podcast has 70 episodes and downloads in more than 140 countries, DeCoursey said.
Andrew Morgans, founder of KC-based Marknology, a bootstrapped digital marketing firm specializing in Amazon sales, as well as apparel company Landlocked, is among the podcast’s repeat guests. Joining in the show’s banter has been about more than showcasing his own businesses, Morgans said.
“Matt DeCoursey has now become a mentor after our second session,” he said. “[DeCoursey] has really stepped in, as someone who understands how my world works in business, and has provided not only someone to bounce my ideas off of, but someone that gives great advice as well as just getting access to his time is a great gift.”
“They are already highlighting local Kansas City experts in nearly every field,” Morgans added. “So not only are they coming out with great content, but highlighting other Kansas Citians as well as themselves.”
Both DeCoursey and Watson are proud to so prominently represent their hometown on the show, they said, noting a 50-50 split in the podcast’s domestic and international listeners.
“Kansas City gets overlooked, but there are a lot of really smart and innovative people here,” DeCoursey said. “We’re bringing an international spotlight to what people are doing in Kansas City. … It’s odd. Nigeria is like No. 9 on our list of most downloads — people in Africa listening to Startup Hustle.”
A full-scale talent pipeline
The most valuable tool for any company is human talent, said DeCoursey.
“In Kansas City, one of the things that’s really problematic right now is that startup founders and software companies literally have empty desks,” he said. “There’s not enough people to do the work.”
Even firms that can afford to use expensive staffing agencies are struggling to fill positions with qualified workers — especially beyond entry-level talent, Watson added.
“It’s hell right now,” he said.
And while tech might be a small portion of a business — at Watson’s VinSolutions, for example, only 10 to 20 percent of the staff was on the software development team — growth comes to a screeching halt without those high-skill, niche workers, DeCoursey and Watson said.
Expanding on a solution DeCoursey began developing for GigaBook in 2009, the co-founders’ Full Scale operation now boasts more than 60 tech workers in Cebu City, Philippines — talent meant to augment existing staff at client companies and their own.
“As we’ve taken on more of a global level of business, the fact is, the internet never closes,” DeCoursey said. “We need people and engineers 24 hours a day. The internet has an insatiable appetite for attention, and so do complex software products.”
Full Scale leased the entire floor of a skyscraper in Cebu City this summer, with plans to hire another 150 people for its software development operation, he said. The Cebu City team works remotely with clients through a process Full Scale calls guided development.
“It’s not nameless and faceless,” DeCoursey said. “Our team becomes your team. They’re like having someone local who just happens to be working from home that day.”
For many startups, it’s the best solution to attack the negative employment rate for tech workers in Kansas City and beyond, the co-founders said.
“According to the State of Kansas, last year the whole state graduated just 338 computer science graduates,” DeCoursey said.
“Cerner alone will hire more than that,” Watson added.
Cebu City is Silicon Valley of the Philippines, they said, describing a culture with strong parallels to American society and high proficiency in the English language.
“But they have a different mentality,” DeCoursey noted. “At the University of Cebu, their mascot is the Webmaster. That really kind of says it all. There’s 60 million people in the Philippines and their major export is labor — online labor, call centers, developers. Here, we tell people to grow up and become a doctor, a lawyer, a businessperson or something like that. But they say, ‘Why don’t you grow up to become a top programmer?’”
It’s not about eliminating a local team in lieu of less expensive workers in another country, he added. It’s about finding a way to scale — and survive — with limited talent resources, DeCoursey said.
“We have people who are like, ‘You’re sending jobs overseas.’ I’m not,” he said. “I’m saving jobs. Because we can’t grow if these jobs aren’t filled.”
Awarding Full Scale services to winners at the Pure Pitch Rally is just the beginning, DeCoursey and Watson said of their plans to give back to Kansas City. The duo has at least two more — tightly guarded — resource rollouts conceived and already in the works.