Globally renowned entrepreneur Adam Muniz, Chapter Director of New Haven Startup Grind, spoke with Innovation Destination Harford Website Curator Nan Price about his experiences as a serial entrepreneur, how he became involved with Startup Grind, and his plans to expand the entrepreneurial community into other areas of Connecticut.
PRICE: How did you become involved with the startup scene?
MUNIZ: I’m from Sydney, Australia. When I was 18 I founded three companies within three years, all involved in fashion, technology, media, and public relations.
The first startup was an online store I created entirely from scratch. I sold a curated selection of high-end runway designers from New York to Paris. Designers became interested in the site and asked me to build them websites, so I used the content management system I had developed to launch a creative and digital agency. I would sell the platform plus a bunch of add-ons particular to each designer. It was very versatile. The third startup used content I aggregated from attending Fashion Week events around the world. I captured the show content and sold it back to media providers, magazines, newspapers, and bloggers.
PRICE: This was all when you were still relatively young. So you had the entrepreneurial spirit early on.
MUNIZ: You bring up a good point. People ask me where I got that. I don’t have an answer. What I can say is that I had businesses even before that. I was building computers when I was 10 years old. I was buying and selling items of clothing at local markets and on eBay. I was importing things from America when I was 14 or 15. I don’t know where I got it; my parents certainly weren’t entrepreneurial.
PRICE: You just have the entrepreneurial bug.
MUNIZ: Something like that.
PRICE: How did you learn about Startup Grind?
MUNIZ: In 2012 I went to Silicon Valley because I was trying to launch a different startup. I had the three companies going and I wanted to create a fourth one. Because I started the three companies from nothing, I wanted to start my fourth one with venture capital (VC) money.
I spent three months in Silicon Valley developing a product and speaking with VCs. I was networking and meeting a lot of people. Then I heard about the Startup Grind events. The first event I went to featured VC speaker Ann Miura-Ko of Floodgate, who is touted as the most powerful woman in startups. I was really inspired by the speaker and the people who were there were inspiring too. There’s a networking component to the events. I met heaps of quality people. I got a bunch of leads and met more VCs following the event.
I approached the founder of Startup Grind and asked if I could do a Startup Grind event in Australia. He said they hadn’t done that before, but he would send through branding materials and told me to run with it.
When I came on, I was one of the first 20 cities with a Startup Grind chapter. Startup Grind globally has been growing every year. Within two years, we had 40 cities. Within the third year we had 85. In the fourth year I think we grew to 130. In our fifth year we have 200 cities including 20 in Africa, and three in Iran of all places. In the United States, we’re in at least 45 cities, including New York and Boston. So we’re affecting entrepreneurs everywhere.
PRICE: When did Startup Grind actually start up?
MUNIZ: The global organization started in Silicon Valley in 2010. I started Sydney, Australia in 2012 and the New Haven chapter in January 2015. It really kicked off at the second event, which was August last year.
PRICE: So 200 cities, and I read Startup Grind has 400,000 members. That’s all within five years. That’s really monumental.
MUNIZ: It is! We’re all amazed by the success from starting in a garage to becoming the world’s largest entrepreneurial community. It’s kind of crazy.
PRICE: Let’s talk about Startup Grind New Haven. How did you end up in the United States and, more specifically, in Connecticut?
MUNIZ: My businesses led me to traveling to New York a lot. That’s where I met my girlfriend who is studying at Yale University. I had made some trips to Connecticut and decided to base myself here after being inspired by the success stories coming out of New Haven, such as Ben Silbermann of Pinterest.
I came to Connecticut knowing no one other than my girlfriend. I wanted to start a community—and what do you need in a community? You need an event, you need a space, you need mentors, and you need some money.
So I built an event catered to people who are thinking about being entrepreneurs or who are entrepreneurs but maybe need to be educated a little bit or be inspired to continue their journey.
PRICE: How are you meeting these people and building the Startup Grind community in Connecticut?
MUNIZ: Through networking. We meet people at events or even co-working spaces. Startup Grind is an event that is by the community for the community. So we meet people who are already on their journey and we reach out to the community around us.
In New Haven specifically, I have partnerships with the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which acted as leveraging tools for me to get the message out. The EDC and the Chamber of Commerce have email lists of 5,000 to 10,000 people who are either young professionals or in small businesses. So that was a great starting point.
Also, I work at The Grove co-working space in New Haven, which sends out details to its members. Yale Entrepreneurial Institute has just come on board as a partner, too, so now the Startup Grind events are reaching Yale entrepreneurs past and present.
I also developed my own list of local startups and local influencers. So I reach out to people directly. I have an email list that has a collection of these people and also previous attendees. I organized a Startup Weekend event at Yale before Startup Grind, so I had list of contacts from there as well.
So that’s how I started here in New Haven—I reached out to organizations that already had networks. I also sit on the Board of Governors for TAN RC and I’m on the advisory board at Gateway Community College in New Haven.
Likewise in Hartford, I did my research and made sure to connect with the right people at the start, much like I did in New Haven. I reached out to the MetroHartford Alliance, the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI) at the University of Connecticut, CTNext, and reSET.
PRICE: How is Startup Grind finding different speakers and presenters for its events?
MUNIZ: Our affiliation with Google for Entrepreneurs gives us leverage with people who have spoken at many events around the world. As a Director, I develop my own list of speakers and then actively pursue them whichever way possible—mutual connections, introductions, hustle, etc.
The main way is just cold emailing, believe it or not. Everyone asks me how we get such an impressive lineup of speakers? For example, we recently featured David Rose, the founder of New York Angels and we’re lining up Dean Kamen, the inventor of Segway. Honestly it’s cold emailing. It’s as simple as that. We have a great name; it’s well known in the community, so when people see an email coming from Startup Grind I think it has some credibility.
I also think it also has a lot to do with partnerships. You partner with the right people who believe in your message early on and you build on that. We didn’t start with Google but that name added a lot of respect.
PRICE: How is Startup Grind funded?
MUNIZ: Our revenue model is sponsorships, we don’t take any cash out of the events and they don’t make any money. We’re not here to make money. Attendees pay $10 to $15 to attend the events. This covers basic costs to put the event on, provide food, drinks, staff, etc. We don’t pay for speakers at all.
Globally, however, Google for Entrepreneurs assists with powering the resources and tools we use, such as internal communications and the ticketing website, which is a huge fee when you’re talking about 400,000 people.
PRICE: What would you say is the most important thing a startup can do?
MUNIZ: I think it’s a bit of everything. You need to be aware of what’s around you. You should get yourself out there. It’s really important for startups to talk to people about their products, to get first-person responses about what they’re doing—market research, in a way. It’s about going out and meeting people, whether they are investors or engineers.
A good mix of people come to the Startup Grind events. That’s the one good thing about having a well-known headline speaker. It crosses the boundaries between people’s backgrounds. Events are one thing I would say someone who is an entrepreneur should go to.
Self-education is important, whether that’s going to a Startup Grind event, listening to a podcast, or reading The Lean Startup by Eric Reis. When I was an entrepreneur I found value in attending events. But I also found value in doing online classes and meeting people outside the events.
PRICE: What types of challenges have you experienced as an entrepreneur?
MUNIZ: When I started back in 2006, there were very limited resources. Being an entrepreneur back then, at least in Australia, was kind of unknown. There were no books. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss was really the only book that was out. So I read that, but I had not much mentorship. I had a lot of learning to do. I had to do it alone, so I made a lot of mistakes early on. Plus I was really young. There were issues around age and maturity and people not taking me seriously.
If I had had an event to go to maybe I would’ve felt more confident. If I had met a mentor at an event who assisted me with some of my mistakes, maybe I could’ve been even more successful. Getting down to the bottom of it, I guess I wanted a sense of community when I was starting out and I didn’t have it. That’s where I found value.
PRICE: Tell us what’s in store for the future.
MUNIZ: Startup Grind globally has a yearly conference. All the directors converge at this one event. We just had one in in Europe in June. We had the current executive chairman of Google and the founders of Slack and Basecamp—really big people. As a global organization will be doing these large events more frequently. So that’s the direction on the global side of things.
On the local side, we’ll be launching Startup Grind chapters in Hartford and Stamford in September. Startup Grind New Haven will be branded as Startup Grind Connecticut, it won’t be divided up. I have my base here, but what’s going to happen is that list of people and partners will then expand into other cities. We hope to cross pollinate them between each other, because there’s a bit of a disconnect. For instance, as the community in Hartford grows, Hartford people will start getting information about New Haven, New Haven people will start getting information about Stamford and vice versa.
PRICE: It sounds like a lot will be happening in the next few months.
MUNIZ: I’m really excited. Hartford is a super interesting place. There are lots of students from many universities and the whole insurance background is interesting to me. How do I kind of crack that? There is also a lot of health tech and biomedical. I’m looking forward to maybe hosting a speaker in that space. My objective is to add value into the current landscape. It’s going to be cool.
Learn more about Startup Grind New Haven and find information about upcoming speakers and events by visiting www.startupgrind.com/new-haven.