Is the startup fire that has risen in ferocity over the past five years about to burn out – or at least cool off? Scot Wingo, co-founder of ChannelAdvisor who now runs a new startup, Spiffy, and is an active angel investor, snuffed the idea of a cool down.

“I’d say we’re definitely higher than we ever have been,” he declared when ask about the level of enthusiasm among entrepreneurs.

Further, Wingo expects to see more startups to continue to emerge even if the U.S. economy surges to 3 percent or higher annual growth.

This interview is the latest in the “State of Startups” series from WRAL TechWire, the purpose of which is to examine in detail what’s happening across North Carolina’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. In addition to in-depth profiles of the major metropolitan areas (parts 1-3 published this week focus on the Triad), we also are reaching out to knowledgeable players to get their assessment of what’s happening now as well as what they expect in 2018 and beyond.

First off is Wingo, who has earned his startup spurs by taken ChannelAdvisor from startup to IPO despite the 2002 Internet winter and then through the 2009 Great Recession. He’s now an investor and a CEO after deciding to run one of his startups, on-demand car maintenance provider Spiffy. But Wingo continues to monitor the startup scene, always keeping an eye out for potential deals.

Here’s our Q&A:

  • Do you see any indications that the number of startups is showing any sign of slowing down?

“I have this ‘tweener’ list where I track folks that are doing over $1 million and/or have 10+ employees. Every year I update the list it grows at least 20 percent.

Anecdotally we have more earlier stage startups (below that tweener level) – so many I can’t even begin to track them.

  • Based on your experiences as an investor what do you believe the level of enthusiasm is among entrepreneurs?

I’d say we’re definitely higher than we ever have been.

One of the differences that I’ve noticed is we went a period around 2010 after the Facebook IPO where there were a lot of folks chasing ideas that didn’t make a ton of sense – like creating yet another social network.

Today the early stage folks really stand out because they are solving clear pain points, have products and in many cases early customers.

So not only do we have a record quantity, but the quality is really solid.

  • What’s the enthusiasm among those who are thinking about starting a new venture?

It’s very high and as mentioned. The cost to build great products/services has come down due to cloud computing and what-not, so they are getting from idea to MVP (Minimum Viable Product) very quickly.

  • Do you see any signs that coworking spaces may be overbuilt, so to speak, with ongoing expansions and a new site coming in 2019 from WeWork?

When I visit the coworking spaces, I see the opposite, people are on top of each other, there are long waiting lists to get in.

I think we could easily triple the amount of space and not have a problem based on my experience.

  • If the economy continues to grow at a 3 percent or higher rate, will this keep the startup enthusiasm strong? Or could the opposite occur as entrepreneurs decide to stay at their current job?

Let’s say the economy grew a crazy amount like 5-6 percent, I actually don’t think that changes things.

Folks are leaving bigger companies, not because of a primary financial reason, but for these X reasons:

1. Be your own boss – the uberification of our economy has created a whole group that knows what its like to be your own boss – make your schedule, work your hours, bring your dog to work, etc.

2. Better work environment – These coworking spaces are modern, have great amenities are the opposite of cubicle-ville that you have in corp america

3. Security – this is counterintuitive, but corp america has been outsourcing and laying off at a pretty good clip. This makes you nervous as an employee. Being your own boss, at least you know everything and are making a decision vs. having it decided for you and feeling helpless.

4. Impact and Intellectual curiosity – A lot of the early stage folks I meet are technical and when they work for these big companies they feel like they have almost no impact and they don’t feel challenged by their roll. Starting a company as a technical founder you have huge impact and the ability to chase whatever technical curiosity you want. We’re seeing a ton of AR/VR, IoT and things like that which you would rarely have a chance to work on at a big company.


State of Startups: The series so far

  • Winston-Salem’s emerging strength
  • Greensboro’s ecosystem grows yet needs cash
  • The Triad is showing ‘mega’ momentum
  • The Startup series: An overview of our plans