When I started Walnut St. Labs it was based on instincts—with a half-a-dash of empirical data. Kinda risky. But I had a back up plan: 23 North Digital—a digital innovation consultancy. I launched it at the same time and have been running it simultaneously along with Walnut St. Labs. And to my surprise, WSL + 23ND became BFFS. They enhanced each other. Here’s a shot-glass worth of a recap for both sides of the house.
Year 1, 2014 Recaps
Walnut St. Labs
Over 3,000 people through our doors.
4 startups in our incubator
23 North Digital
35 clients – big to small
3 new media properties/products
Developed an in-house video production team
1 + 1 = 3
So, to bolster the WSL mission, I’ve decided to bring the two sides together. Going forward, 23 North Digital will run as Walnut St. Labs’ services arm. The added advantage is that the revenue that 23 North Digital drives will directly benefit the long-term strategy of Walnut St. Labs, which includes events, the coworking space, as well as the incubator—and a few other items we’ll be talking to you about very soon.
Then Mary Walked In
One thing I love about the Lab is the serendipity that it creates. A key strategic decision I made in 2014 was for 23 North Digital to merge with Brandywine Creative—led by Mary Fisher. Mary is the consummate multi-tasker and has an almost pathological attention to detail 🙂 Mary turbo-charged 23 North Digital through operational excellence, management awesomeness and most importantly, 100% commitment to the goal of growth. There aren’t too many people willing to jump onto a careening experiment, but I’m glad she did. Mary Fisher will assume the role of Chief Operating Officer across Walnut St. Labs, including all business lines: 23 North Digital, Coworking, Events, and the Incubator. If you have a question, she knows the answer. Connect with Mary if you haven’t already.
Welcome to Walnut St. Labs, Mary Fisher! Let’s continue to get $*&t done!
“If we don’t engage women and underrepresented groups, the U.S. is going to be in trouble. By 2020, there is going to be a job deficit of 1 million workers in the tech industry.”
Tracey Welson-Rossman is working hard to change those stats. She founded TechGirlz.org and chairs the Women’s Tech Summit in Philly, and is also the Chief Marketing Officer at Chariot Solutions, an IT consulting firm. She wasn’t always passionate about tech, though. “My path in my career has been highly curved. If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I graduated, I’d have said an executive at a high-level women’s clothing store, married to my high school sweetheart. None of that happened.”
First Steps “I’m a type A, sometimes a type A+.”
Her first job was for Philly clothing maven Strawbridge and Clothier, where she loved the excitement but not the striation of the corporate ladder. “If you were innovating, it didn’t matter. I’m a type A, sometimes a type A+. I’ve always been rewarded for doing good work. What I was being told here, though, was that I had to wait my turn. And that didn’t sit well with me.”
She moved on, joining QVC when the company was in the beginning stages of building its empire. It didn’t take her long to realize it wasn’t a good fit. “I was seen as a maverick. Which was not a compliment there.”
On the Road to Entrepreneurship “The people you work with are really important to your overall happiness, whether you realize it or not.”
ValPak Tracey reconnected with one of her old profs at Drexel, which led her to her first foray into entrepreneurship, working in sales for ValPak. She applied her work ethic to the new industry. “I’m a planner. I planned my first birth to be between sales deadlines.” Within a year, she was making more money than she had in retail. And yet ValPak left her restless, too, which taught her the lesson of making sure you understand what drives your employees.
KangaKab Her next move was to buy KangaKab, a NJ-based transportation system for kids, in 1996. “At the time, running the company was the most challenging thing I’d ever done.” But Tracey was a bit lonely. Although she liked the people she worked with, she felt she couldn’t share with them. The feeling was a harbinger for her transition to the next phase of her career, and her life.
She sold KangaKab in 2000. “If I hadn’t bought KangaKab, I would’ve just rolled through my career being ordinary.”
You Can’t Do It on Your Own “In the team, there is power. Vision will only get you so far. Execution is where you fall down.”
Something clicked when she walked into the offices of Skylight Systems, an accounting software firm just down the street from her house. “I felt like I’d known most of the people in a prior life.” The move led to her latest venture, Chariot. “We had an incredible team there but not a business. So we decided to build one. The company needed Java development, and we had some developers who were getting really good at it.”
Chariot started out when the economy was terrible. “Starting at the bottom, you have nowhere to go but up.”
This July, Chariot will celebrate its 13th anniversary. “It’s a team effort. We have a focused mission and message, a strong culture. It’s not all been perfect. We’ve made mistakes, we’ve gotten lucky, and we’re still here.”
Activism and the Philly Tech Community “This is Philly. We don’t flip companies here. We build them.”
Always passionate about Philly, Tracey is a founder and board member of Philly Startup Leaders, as well as chair of the Women in Tech Summit. She also started TechGirlz, a nonprofit that supports 11 to 14 year-old girls learning about careers in tech.
“We’re creating a community of women and girls to change the conversation about what’s going on. At Chariot, we see this parade of men coming in, but not women. TechGirlz gives us a way to talk about that, and to solve the gender disparity in tech.”
The program has been growing. At their first event this year, they had a 50-person waitlist. “We have some of the girls who started with us in middle school teaching for us now that they’re in high school. Girls want to be there, even if it’s their parents making them come.”
Tracey’s measure of success for TechGirlz is eventual obsolescence. “My goal is that TechGirlz won’t exist in 5 years. That there won’t be a gender issue. We’re creating this culture where girls belong here.”
Peter Strid has a hunch we are all pretty bad at using LinkedIn. When he asks the 75-person crowd who uses it, almost every hand goes up. “OK, now who considers themselves effective, or has gotten a sale from it?” All hands, save one, go down.
His latest venture, PeopleLinx, harnesses the power of social networks to help large organizations manage their branding, content, and relationships. “ If I’ve got two sales reps, one of them using social, and the other not, I’m going to bet on the guy who’s using it. The numbers shake out.”
As immersed in startup life as he is today, he would counsel you against leaping into a startup first thing. “If I was kid out of college, I wouldn’t go work for a startup. I’d find out how a big company works, and translate that to startups.”
It is this path that has led him to success with PeopleLinx.
His Non-startup Startup Life “Taking a risk to get into a startup is made much easier by understanding how big companies work.”
Peter found inspiration in former GE chairman Jack Welsh’s book, Jack: Straight From The Gut. “I thought it was such an amazing organization.” He got a job in GE healthcare as part of their imaging division. “Here I was selling 5,000 pound nuclear imaging devices. My business card said ‘Nuclear Specialist.’ My friends loved that.”
“Understanding how GE works, the politics, how a deal is structured, what the contracts look like, has prepared me to make PeopleLinx a success.”
On Hiring Interns “It’s wrong to hire an intern to run your social media.”
Part of Peter’s job often includes educating potential clients. “People used to think it was a good idea to hire an intern to run their social media. Wrong! Taking a big, established brand identity like KPMG and giving it to someone inexperienced is a bad idea. People have realized that.”
He describes social as a “three-legged stool for enterprises: It’s what you look like (your profile), what content you post, and who is in your network. If any of those three ‘legs’ are missing, then the stool falls over. The top of the stool is measurement, ROI.”
“If you have 100,000 followers on LinkedIn, it’s one thing. But what if you have 5,000 employees, each with 300-400 connections? Your reach is huge. When you recruit for new jobs, you want to hire the people connected to your network. They stay longer, they’re happier, and there is a lower cost of acquisition for the enterprise.”
On Getting the Most out of Your Content “We are going to repurpose the shit out of that thing.”
Peter and his team recently wrote a white paper based on a survey they conducted through Survey Monkey. “It took a little bit of time, but it created massive SEO for us. We packed it with data and statistics, and we are going to repurpose the shit out of that thing. We’ll use the individual pieces from it in all our social media blasts to drive traffic back to that one document.”
“If no one knows about your idea, that thing will sit on a shelf and wither away. Tying social media into your idea is a component of success.”
New Advisor: Terry Kerwin, Attorney at Fox Rothschild
We are excited to welcome Terry Kerwin as an advisor for Walnut St. Labs.
Terry is a business attorney who works with clients across a range of industries. He regularly advises start-up, emerging growth and middle market businesses on corporate matters from formation to exit, including entity structure, governance issues, intellectual property protection and transfer, contract preparation and review, corporate finance (including angel, private equity and venture capital transactions), and mergers and acquisitions.
He is a member of Fox Rothschild’s Technology & Venture Finance Practice Group and a founding member of its Nonprofit Organizations Practice Group.
Terry serves as a member of the Steering Committee and Early Stage Company Selection Committee for the 2013 IMPACT Venture Summit hosted by the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technology (PACT), and annually takes part in Early Stage East and ACG’s M&A East, as well as DreamIt Ventures’ Philadelphia-based business incubator program.
He has a variety of competencies that are invaluable to us. We look forward to collaborating and growing rapidly together. This is the beginning of a long and meaningful relationship.