By Elke Hautala
“Galvanize – to cause (people) to become so exited or concerned about an issue, idea, etc., that they want to do something about it.”
It’s also the name of a chain of new co-working spaces one of which has sprung up in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood. A shiny ebb and flow of steel and glass amongst the 19th Century stone storefronts.
With this definition, it’s an apt location for an organization known as Seattle Startup Grind. Founded in the heart of Silicon Valley, it has grown to a global network “designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs.”
Seattle innovator Mike Grabham saw an ad for Startup Grind five years ago and decided to contact them on a whim.
“I wanted to get more involved … create more stuff people could learn from,” Mike said. He asked who was organizing it in the Seattle market. The answer was, no one – you should do it.
At that time the organization was still finding their way and determining what worked best for the entrepreneurial community. Now they have over 240 chapters and are the “largest organization in the world touching entrepreneurs.” Mike became the founding director here in Seattle.
One of their primary events for networking and learning here in Seattle are the Fireside Chats. It’s a name that harkens back to the past and FDR’s radio conversations during the tumultuous 1930s and 1940s.
The modern day gatherings, held at Galvanize, give seasoned and beginning business owners a place to not only expand their network but also see a presentation by a successful entrepreneur.
Past “Chats” have included CEO’s from such diverse fields as restaurants, tech, venture capital and even the Seattle Sounders. Those looking to learn can enrich their own path with topics from planning and investment to management and marketing.
“I like to control my own destiny.”
Mike is explaining to me why he got into the business game in the first place.
“You have the ability to create something out of thin air – like the Package Guard – it’s very interesting to me.”
The Package Guard evolved from the real world problem of an item being stolen from his front porch. Fast-forward a couple of years, and one successful Kickstarter later, “a tangible product” has evolved.
We’ve all had that epiphany moment at one point in our lives when we’re sure we’ve dreamed up the next big idea that’s going to change the world. Mike has actually followed through on these dreams.
He has founded, run and sold multiple successful ventures. His parents were entrepreneurs so the spirit of start-ups runs in his blood.
“My first job was painting fences when I was 9 years old.” He goes on to tell me how he made t-shirts in high school and has had his own business most of his life. For him, there was no other route to choose from – business was what he knew best.
He attributes his continued achievement to his persistence no matter what he was taking on from playing basketball in high school (not the best athlete but he worked really hard) to Seattle Start up Grind (never missed a month since he’s started).
“Fail as fast as you can,” Mike says when I ask him about advice for those looking to follow in his footsteps.
“There’s no way you can not fail …(you’re) not going to be right every time.” He explains that though many people dread failure it’s a big part of the entrepreneurial life.
Jordan Ritter, CEO of Atlas Informatics, (also a recent Fireside Chat speaker) told him that within cognitive science there’s evidence that with failure you actually create new neural pathways but with success you don’t.
His best piece of advice for those ready to step into the fray?
“Who have you talked to who would pay money for the product?” When it comes down to it, it has to be an idea, item or a concept that people need and are willing to pay for.
Also, it may sound like a cliché but it really is all about the networking.
“We should teach how to network in college,” Mike says. He continues that you need a network of diverse people to be successful but also having a network of friends is part of what makes the self-employed life fun.
One of the other elements of having a well-rounded business life that brings value to the community is giving back. Mike waxes poetic on the importance of doing so while he tells me about his non-profit, Survive the Streets.
It began as a simple trip with his wife on Thanksgiving 1998; they saw a need and handed out food and socks to the homeless people near their apartment in Seattle. They’ve been doing it every year since then and it has grown and evolved with them.
The current iteration is similar to a pop up store where everything is free he tells me. The type of place where the homeless can feel visible and cared for if just for one day – it includes breakfast and a personal shopper.
“It’s a real thing, it’s fun and near and dear to my wife’s and my heart,” Mike says. He even has a plan for helping homeless youth.
What path will he choose next? Whatever he does decide to tackle you can be sure that it will shock and excite Seattle into action. Sometimes all it takes is a first step. As Mike says, “Just keep showing up …normally good things will happen.”