2015: The Startup Party is Over

Yeah. I said it. The guy who accidentally made a name for himself to a lot of people by getting entrepreneurs and investors out for a beer more often is calling the end of the party.

But it’s not like that. Not even close.

One of the reasons I started ExitEvent, that thing that began with a monthly free-beer get-together and evolved into a self-perpetuating network and media source, was that there was way too much noise in the startup system here.

ExitEvent, and its “verified entrepreneur” foundation, was meant to be a way to get the cream to rise to the top – and by cream I mean those startups that were pursuing product launches, customers, and revenue, not pitch contests, publicity, and press.

Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with any of that, just like there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with sugar. It’s just that when the sugar-to-substance ratio gets too high, value becomes an afterthought, and you’re left with a quagmire of wantrepreneurism and feel-good back-patting.

Levels of wantrepreneurism and feel-good back-patting took a nose dive in 2014, and that trend will continue in 2015.

In fact, there are quite a number of trends you’re going to see in 2015 in startup in the Triangle, and while they may sound like negatives at first, the end result is actually addition by subtraction. The less noise, the more signal.

Public Pitching is (finally) done

I couldn’t be happier about this one. Again, please don’t get me wrong. I love hearing pitches from startups. When I was a younger entrepreneur, I learned a lot just by hearing real startups pitch to real investors, either at someplace like SEVC or the old Startup Factory public pitch days. UNC still does a very cool educational thing with their annual Carolina Challenge Pitch Party.

But those public pitches were set up for a non-public purpose – to get people who could write checks to write checks, or in the latter case, for the educational value of the students. The public could attend, sure, but it wasn’t the main attraction.

Somewhere along the Triangle startup timeline, the public-pitch-as-entertainment vehicle got adopted as a means to an event. Pitches are not entertainment, and when they are, it devalues the pitch, the entrepreneur, and the public.

The Triangle is now in a position in which if a startup is ready to pitch to an investor, the public shouldn’t be there. This is because the startup is going to have to drop knowledge they may not want the public to know. Furthermore, an entrepreneur that far along is going to have neither the time nor the inclination to pitch to the public. And if a startup is willing to pitch to people who can’t write checks, I’m sorry, but the pitch isn’t going to be very good.

Startup isn’t American Idol.

Focus will shift completely from social metrics to revenue

At some point I’m going to make the call that Twitter is done. It’s not now. It might even look like now, but there’s still something there. What isn’t there is a vehicle to customer acquisition, and that was proven again and again in 2014.

The same is true of Facebook likes, Instagram campaigns, viral contests, and so on and so forth. True, a good campaign can be developed around social media, but in 2014, it has to be a good campaign, not a mediocre campaign hoping to ride the no-longer-cresting crest of the social wave.

I’ve never cared how many Twitter followers ExitEvent had, but I checked in with Google AdSense every day. You can tell that in 2014 we collectively stopped talking about social metrics as a measure of success.

We’re going to get repeat entrepreneurs

I’m very excited about this one. Aaron Houghton’s BoostSuite was founded well before 2014, but it was probably the first high-profile repeat entrepreneur story in the Triangle since Bob Young founded Lulu.

In 2014, a number of new ventures by former founders started making noise. Scott Moody’s K4 Connect, Eric Boggs’ RevBoss, and Jason Bradicich’s JoosyCloud were just a few, and there are more behind them.

Further, you’re going to see more folks leaving startups to start startups of their own. That’s just a natural outgrowth.

Events will be fewer and more valuable

I don’t have hard evidence of this, but it definitely feels like there were fewer startup events in the Triangle this year, and I’m not sure I missed them. The ones that are still around (and remember, I’m biased toward the ExitEvent Startup Social) are still worth going to, I think even more so.

I’ve always said: Free beer gets them to show up, the value of the event gets them to come back. Natural selection as the Triangle evolves means you can’t just throw something on Meetup and expect turnout. Pro Tip: Don’t do a public pitch event.

Investors are coming, and they won’t believe the hype

I’ve seen this happen a couple times already in 2014. Outside investors are coming here at a growing clip and have made a number of investments locally. But ask any one of them, and they’ll tell you they feel like they found the world’s best kept startup secret.

In other words, all the noise we think we’re making about our awesome scene is not getting the reach we think it’s getting. But investors are coming, more and more each month, and they’ll have no idea what we’re about.

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve said this: Being big in Raleigh means nothing in New York.

All the social media metrics in the world aren’t going to change that. But the more we put customer and revenue numbers in front of those investors, the less that’s going to matter.

One or two big successes that nobody saw coming

This is just for fun, but we’re to the point now where we no longer have that small town mentality and not everyone knows everyone else’s business. Don’t be surprised to see big investments or huge customer numbers for a startup or two you hadn’t heard about yet.

I actually can’t wait for that to happen.

So I look at all of the above not so much as predictions, but as targets. And like I said, they’re all positives, the result of success. The reason that these phenomena can even happen in the first place is solely due to the progress of more than a handful of the startups in the startup community.

And that’s ultimately how we’ll judge the Triangle startup community in 2015, because it’s how we’ve always judged it up until now. It’s pretty simple, really. Just ask: “How are the startups doing?”

Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. He is VP of Product at Automated Insights and the founder of startup network and news resource ExitEvent. Follow him at @jproco or read him at http://joeprocopio.com