Yesterday in St. Louis, two vastly different, yet surprisingly similar panel discussions took place. In the morning, Washington University hosted a panel called Fast Advice for your Growing Business. It featured executives from top companies in the St. Louis area, including Daugherty Business Solutions, World Wide Technology, Cosentry and Soft Surroundings.
Tuesday evening, area startup entrepreneurs gathered for StartLouis, a meetup group that occurs on the second Tuesday of every month. Their panel discussion, moderated by Techli’s own Edward Domain, featured top startup entrepreneurs from Pushup Social, LeadWarmer, Bonfyre, and RoverTown.
While the two events were vastly different, the messages shared more commonality than you might think.
First, all panelists spoke to the importance of hiring passionate people. Chris Scaglione, Regional Vice President at Cosentry, stated, “We hire based on culture first, skills second. St. Louis is full of passionate people, which is a key to our success.” Dan Lohman, founder of Pushup, compliments that thought, stating, “Developers in my experience don’t just develop for money. It’s the environment, believing in the product, working on a great team. It’s the whole package.”
Both panels also echoed the challenge they’re having in hiring local talent. Brad Butler, Director at Daugherty Business Solutions, recognized that St. Louis has been a great community for his company, but they still need more software engineers locally. Ann Marr, Vice President of Human Resources at World Wide Technology, agreed, stating, “Challenge is finding the right people to fill the right roles. Even though we’re a tech company, St. Louis is not seen that way.”
Where the two panelists differ is in how to grow. StartLouis panelists emphasized the importance of maintaining focus. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Narrow down to what you’re great at, then be the best at that. “Sometimes I have too many ideas,” shared Ron Story of LeadWarmer. “It’s one thing I struggle with. Focus on one thing, and be the best at that one thing.”
Lohman of Pushup agreed with Story, adding on, “Don’t engineer for the exception. Ask people about it. Get your idea out there. Then, you’re not wasting time building something that no one wants.”
If you’re familiar with the startup scene, this advice makes sense. It’s about moving forward with a minimum viable product. It’s the move fast and break things mentality. Experiment, as one panelist looks at it. “It’s all one big science experiment,” said Mark Sawyier, CEO of Bonfyre. “Now, it’s all about closing deals for us.”
As a company matures and grows, however, it’s more about ‘thoughtful risk management’ as Butler of Daugherty shared. “We’re investing in growing our sales team. We’re prepared to diversify through new sales opportunities,” he said. “Our challenge is to get smarter, faster. Tech is always changing. We must adapt to the market and lead solutions that provide value to our clients.”
All panelists at Washington University’s discussion echoed those thoughts. “Keyword is balance. Know what you’re great at without being too narrow. Take some risks,” said Scaglione of Cosentry.
There were many great “nuggets” during both discussions. I live-tweeted both events, the morning’s discussion on @DaughertyTweets and the evening discussion on my own handle @CarynTomer. Here’s a quick snapshot of key advice shared by the panelists.
What would you add?