Editor’s note: “Your code does not lead to hugs,” the failure of today is the experience that leads to success tomorrow and other great startup advice at Dig South as reported exclusive for WRAL TechWire by veteran entrepreneur Jim Roberts.

CHARLESTON, S.C. – After 15 years of networking throughout the South, these conferences can feel like High School reunions. Your old friends can introduce you to the new person in the network and you get to lean on their credibility and you both feel very comfortable very quickly and get down to business in helping each other learn best practices. The Dig South Conference in Charleston, SC has this feel along with their excellent reputation for southern hospitality in this beautiful port city.

YikYak experience

YikYak is one of the best known startups created in South Carolina in many years, especially outside of Charleston. (It eventually moved to Atlanta.) Founded by two students at Furman University in Greenville, their app went viral very quickly and at Dig South Wednesday, one of the founders gave the audience a Millennials 101 class.

This young YikYak founder, Brooks Buffington, had the look of Mark Zuckerberg, without the social awkwardness, but a slight vulnerability as he described the emotions of making things personal for the users of YikYak. He had some common sense advice for the audience of startups and techies who need to get their apps used by millennials:

Millennials can smell BS from a mile away so you better be authentic. If they look under the hood and they feel you are fake and forced, your brand will not work and it is damn near impossible to regain the trust. (Trust / Chipotle?)
You must make extra effort be personal. The YikYak email outreach attempts to existing campus organization leaders used the name of the recipient in the subject line, included some personal touch about that recipient and some insight into the organization. Those recipients were much more responsive and made more effort to assist the YikYak brand.

The mascot of YikYak plays a HUGE role in branding the company. Even when people are complaining about something in an online form, the YikYak mascot is present on the screen and it seems to defuse the heat of the message from the sender a bit.

Hard to be mad at a Yak?

He ended his presentation by freezing the end of his video with a clip of the Yik Yak mascot receiving a hug from a young woman at an outside event.

Buffington said, “ You can’t code your way to a hug of your mascot”, meaning you have to make an effort to be present and personal to meet your audience. Again, the young woman in the picture did not actually know the person inside the mascot costume. Much like my son does not know the person he wants to hug inside the Cow costume at “Moo Cow Chicken”, AKA Chic Fil A.

Startup funding challenges

In a panel of investors we heard common themes that we struggle with in Wilmington, N.C..

  • Southern tech entrepreneurs lack a track record of experience. Fewer serial entrepreneurs.
  • The South has yet to learn real risk tolerance and still has fear of failure .
  • “Failure today is the experience that helps you succeed tomorrow”
  • The South has an opportunity to take advantage of “cheaper”.
  • Cheaper talent, cheaper real estate and cheaper valuations
  • Some of the most promising and largest cities in the South are still fragmented where the top influencers do not know each other and that has an impact of growth of startup ecosystems.
  • Cities like DC have benefited by the creation of a one stop shop for startup resources and contacts such as 1776.

What do entrepreneurs need to learn about the venture capital industry?
The timing of your deal, may not be right no matter how great the idea. As Gary Vaynerchuk will say Thursday, the Market is never wrong.

You HAVE , HAVE, HAVE to know the potential investor before you NEED the money. You have to invest the time to get to know the local and regional investors BEFORE you start the company. You can’t say I need to raise $500,000 in the next 30 days. That is not enough time when you have not invested the time over the previous 30 months to get to know the investor community.

You HAVE to be referred into the investor. The blind application to the venture fund NEVER gets a check. Have your well connected lawyer and accountant be your referral into their friends at the venture fund. The lawyers know they need to do these so you can pay your legal bills as their client.

And my other favorite quote of the day was from John Cambier of Durham-based IDEA Fund Partners who quoted an executive from Red Hat Software in Raleigh. “Your solution needs to be twice as good and half as expensive to get the attention of an investor”.

WOW. quite a statement!.

Old friends

I had not been to a South Carolina based startup event in at least 10 years, but John Warner of SwampFox and John Moore of Greenville’s NEXT organization are still around. Both of these old friends were welcoming with Southern Hospitality like a cold sweet tea. #StartupYall

Thursday is likely to be very different, Gary Vaynerchuk speaks. Will we play drinking games for the first FBomb and New York Jets on NFL draft day references of the day? Did you know VaynerMedia has an office in Gig City, Chattanooga, Tennessee? The ‘Nooga better be on your radar!

About the author

If you are curious about the Wilmington, North Carolina startup scene or want to attend our events, you can Like our Facebook page or continue to read my writings for WRALTechWirehttps://www.facebook.com/Network-for-Entrepreneurs-in-Wilmington-100592556974172/

Jim R. Roberts is a professional connector that has started several Entrepreneur Support Organizations in North Carolina. He is currently the Founder of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) and the Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE) in Wilmington, North Carolina. He tweets at @RedSpireUSNC