Encouraging Austin Entrepreneurs to Think Big

thinkbigbhBy LAURA LOREK
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Do Austin entrepreneurs think big enough?

That’s a question Silicon Hills News has heard debated in several forums for the past six years. The conclusion is often that Austin needs bigger thinkers.

But at the “Think Big! With Mike Maples Jr., Jimmy Treybig and Brett Hurt,” panel discussion put on by Capital Factory at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz Monday night, it seems like the needle may have moved a bit more from talking about big thinking to putting big ideas into action.

At least, according to Brett Hurt, a serial entrepreneur and investor, who plans to create the world’s largest data platform at Data.World, entrepreneurs are thinking bigger. Hurt launched the “social network for data people” in June with $14 million in funding. He previously founded and took public Bazaarvoice and founded and sold Coremetrics for $300 million. He’s also a seed investor in 45 startups and 11 VC funds.

“Austin is on this journey where it’s thinking bigger and bigger,” Hurt said.

“Our goal with Data.World is to create the most meaningful, the most abundant and basically the most important data resource in the world,” he said. “That is a huge mission…Part of the reason I launched this business and it may sound crazy to you guys but it’s not crazy to me is that I want to help put Austin more on the map. I think this business at scale is going to change the world in a massive, massive way.”

That’s the kind of thinking that appeals to Maples Jr., managing director of Floodgate, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. He once again advocated for Austin to come up with a Thunder Lizard, which he calls a $100 billion startup. He first talked about Thunder Lizards in 2009 at Capital Factory Demo Day. He also discussed Thunder Lizards at the Austin Technology Council’s CEO summit in 2013 and at the Austin Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 A-List Awards and earlier this year at the Longhorn Startup Demo Day at UT.

In addition to Maples Jr. and Hurt, Treybig, founder of Tandem Computers, also joined the panel discussion which was moderated by Stephen Straus, an Austin entrepreneur and investor. Treybig is currently venture partner for New Enterprise Associates, one of the largest venture capital companies in the world.

Here’s a few takeaways from the discussion.

AUSTIN NEEDS MORE BIG EXITS – “My thought about Austin is we do not have enough big liquidity events,” Treybig said. Big exits put money in the pockets of employees and it’s good for the community because those employees are more likely to go and start a new venture, he said.

BIG MISSIONS – “Fundamentally, what I’m looking for in thinking big, does the team involved think of the mission of their company on that kind of level or are they just doing a startup.,” said Maples Jr., managing partner at Floodgate. He referenced the NASA teams who worked diligently on the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, during which Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. They cut through crap and got things done, he said.

LOCATION DOESN’T MATTER – “I think every company is its own snowflake,” Maples Jr. said. “Bill Gates didn’t need to be in Silicon Valley to start Microsoft. Jeff Bezos didn’t need to be in Silicon Valley to start Amazon. Great companies happen because of great founders not because of where they are or who the VCs are or any of that nonsense. What it comes down to is great founders pursuing their passion, executing with brutal precision and bringing people along with them and the rest of the world to their point of view. And so it’s not about whether Austin thinks big. It’s about who can we find in Austin or anywhere who wants to create that Thunder Lizard amazing company that changes things and changes people’s point of view.”

VC FUNDING GAP – Treybig and Hurt said there is a funding gap for financing big ideas in Austin. Maples said the funding gap is a myth.

MIGRATION OF ENTREPENEURS TO AUSTIN – “Every month, I meet with someone who blows me away who moved here that is thinking huge,” Hurt said. “They have the capital. They’ve been successful. Now they are moving to Austin and now they are on to their next big idea.”

SERIAL ENTREPRENEURS – Serial entrepreneurs get better and better and become bigger and bigger as they become more successful” Hurt said. “In terms of my own evolution as an entrepreneur I have started to think bigger with each iteration.“

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