John Metcalf of Startup District talks about creating a community for entrepreneurs in Austin
What is your background?
I grew up in San Antonio. I was homeschooled. I've been getting in trouble on the Internet since AOL days.
I came to UT in 2002 as an undergrad. I was excited about Austin being a startup city but when I was at UT I didn’t really feel like it was a part of a startup community. About halfway through school I started working with a Silicon Valley company called Radar.net. They were angel funded by Joi Ito and Reid Hoffman and later found funding with MDV & DFJ. When they asked me what I'd be up to after graduation, I told them and everyone else I didn't want a job. I wanted to startup in Austin. I prefer to work for myself.
What is the Startup District?
To bring startups and people with a startup-mentality in proximity -- concentrating us.
While I was in school I kept looking for the tech community I thought was here. I went to all the tech events I could and while there was a community there, it wasn’t the same kind as I found in Silicon Valley. The people I met were talking about different things. I finally found a glimpse of what I was looking for when Dusty Reagan started a Jelly in Austin.
What is a Jelly?
It’s a concept that started a year and a half ago in New York, where some independent folks used a wiki to organize their meet ups in coffee shops so they could work together as a group. It's called a Jelly because they came up with the idea while eating Jelly Beans. The idea is to co-locate entrepreneurs or freelancers so they can work, collaborate, and learn from each other. Austin was one of the first cities to have an extension of that. There’s one that meets every Friday at Café Caffeine on South Congress. At these Jellys, I found a good group of young, progressive entrepreneurs.
So how is the Startup District going?
We've place an anchor.
The group I met at Jelly, Dusty Reagan, David Walker, Cesar Torres, and I realized after a couple weeks of Jellying that this was something special, and we could benefit from this type of environment everyday.
With the community's support, the four of us opened a coworking space called Conjunctured on East 7th.
How much does a membership cost?
There are three levels. The top level is $425/month and gives the member unlimited access. Then there are lower levels at $325 and $125 per month.
The people who join are interested in working around other people.
How did you come up with the name for this?
My friend Dane Hurtubise said “Startup District” first. We were talking about Austin's Warehouse District. Dane said "what Austin needs is a district for startups, not clubs."
Why did you start it?
I felt the type of talent in Austin that would thrive in a startup was leaving town for one of the coasts or going to work for a large company. UT is breeding people to enter into the corporate work force. There needs to be an alternative place for these people to go work.
What is your goal for the Startup District?
To build a community of entrepreneurs who build startup companies and eventually, they could act as an incubator for future startups. In addition, the city could recognize it as an economic zone as an incentive for startups to stay here.
It sounds a little like a YCombinator program. How does the Startup District compare?
I had the opportunity to join Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston at YCombinator in Cambridge last week for dinner.
I think we need to build the community first and then we can start a program similar to YCombinator or TechStars.