Over the past 76 weeks, former 500 Startups Partner Paul Singh has lived out of his 1930s Airstream trailer, crossing the country with his partner Dana Duncan on their Results Junkie North American Tech Tour. 

Their purpose? Finding the best startups in the country outside of Silicon Valley. 

Paul recently spoke at OPO Startups during a multi-event stop in the St. Louis region organized by Venture Café-STL.

(Disclosure: my company is a member of OPO Startups.)

After his presentation, he was kind enough to share his top three takeaways with me regarding what he has learned during his time on the road.  

Here they are:  

1. "Ambition is equally distributed across the country." 

Silicon Valley isn't the only place where you can find ambitious entrepreneurs. The cities Paul mentioned as having high-potential startups included the St. Louis region; Lansing, Michigan; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Great Falls, Montana; and several other small to mid-sized cities and towns spread across America.

Paul also noted that there has been a nationwide explosion in small venture capital funds, making money easier (though not "easy") to come by. 

However, while ambition is everywhere and cash is easier to come by, the skills needed to fuel those entrepreneurial dreams are in shorter supply. That's why Paul has invested in coding camps--and why he believes it should be a priority of the educational system and economic developers to fill this gap.  

2. "We need to celebrate the $1,000 side hustle." 

"Economic development focuses too much on big companies," said Sing. "Here's the thing: Once a company has seven employees, it is rooted in its location. The employees aren't moving. We need to identify and celebrate the person who has the $1,000-a-month side hustle, and help them grow. They are the foundation of local economies." 

Too often local economies and startup ecosystems focus on the need to recruit huge employers or create the next billion-dollar unicorn.

That's like winning the lottery.

Rather than that approach, Singh argues that economic developers should focus on helping entrepreneurs grow their business from a side hustle to an job-creating enterprise.

3. "Entrepreneurs need to ask crisper questions, and focus on traction." 

"This isn't a value judgement, but if you are an entrepreneur outside of New York or Silicon Valley and you happen to get in front of an investor from those places, realize that the pace is different," said Singh. "Ask crisp questions and don't inquire about information you could otherwise find on Google. And focus on traction with customers, not your product features. Put yourselves in the shoes of the investor. How is your startup going to ensure a return on their capital?" 

Singh has spent more than a year-and-a-half giving good advice to startups across the country.

However, his greatest contribution may not even be his advice.

It may be that his tour is a further testament to the fact that there are a whole lot of ambitious entrepreneurs and high-potential startups outside of Silicon Valley.   

Published on: Aug 25, 2017