5 Minutes with “Guru” Seth Godin to Kick Off Denver Startup Week

9/16/13Follow @MichaelXBD

Seth Godin wants you to hurry. Not to get a million Twitter followers and become the next Miley Cyrus, but to take advantage of a moment of upheaval that is allowing entrepreneurs to start companies like never before.

And he wants you to hurry because that moment might be passing.

Godin, a bestselling author, widely read blogger, and entrepreneur with several startups and exits under his belt, was in town Monday to help kickoff Denver Startup Week.

While Godin is often called a “marketing guru,” the phrase fails to sum up his resume or what he writes. His subject is “the post-industrial revolution” and the profound ways it has changed how we communicate and share ideas and how companies connect with customers and each other.

Godin’s career has spanned the rise of the Internet. In fact, he wrote one of the first books introducing readers to great stuff online, which was published just as Yahoo launched a directory that made such books unnecessary. It worked out for Godin in the end, though, as he founded Yoyodyne, which he sold to Yahoo for about $30 million in stock in 1998. His latest company is Squidoo.com.

I got the chance to interview Godin briefly before his speech. He praised Denver and the activity that’s going on in Colorado, but if he had one message to remember, it was to hurry.

“If you understand that this is a brief moment in time that will not be around for much longer, you will understand the imperative and hurry,” Godin said.

The forces that make it easier than ever to start a company mean that more companies are getting started, and that might not be a completely good thing, he said.

“Once everyone starts playing with these tools, it becomes harder to make anything interesting. Once the easy problems are solved, you have to now go solve harder problems. As we’ve seen in every industry, it never lasts forever.”

Below are Godin’s comments during my five-minute interview with him this morning. While I’ve made some very minor edits for clarity, Godin’s answers were remarkably clear and grammatically precise paragraphs. Maybe that clarity helps him write about a book a year and fill his blog with a steady stream of posts.

Why come to Denver?

“I was just so impressed by the quality and scale of what they’ve put together here, and the fact that entrepreneurs are acting like powerful underdogs and really pushing themselves to make a difference.”

How the landscape has changed for tech companies

“I would say the biggest change is it’s more like Legos now. For us to send 5,000 e-mails in one day was a spectacular achievement in 1996. Now MailChimp will do it for you for $1.93. Most of the building blocks for you to build a website, to build a mobile app, are hosted in the cloud and able to do the housekeeping that used to be incredibly difficult.

“Because of the power of the ideavirus, a startup can go from unknown to a million users in two weeks. That wasn’t possible before.”

The advice Godin gives to startups that want to go from being unknown to having a million users

“I don’t think they should. Just because they can doesn’t mean they should. I think that the media has sort of taught us if you’re not Mark [Zuckerberg], you’re a failure. I don’t think that’s true. I think the challenge is to become profitable and an indispensable part of a community that needs you, and the scale will come after that. If you sacrifice those two things just to get scale, then you end up becoming Miley Cyrus, which might make you popular for a week, but it’s not a business.

“The advice is the same for just about everybody, you have a small circle of people who will give you one shot, your family and friends. Let them known what you’re doing. If it’s amazing, they’ll tell their friends. If it’s not, make it better.”

Geography’s (lack of) importance

“Geography is dramatically overrated. Twenty people in a room are enough to make a startup community happen, if they’re the right 20 people and they stick with it. I think it’s great that there are buildings and shared spaces and mayoral proclamations, but ultimately it comes down to an individual who wants to be part of a movement, and you don’t need very many people to make a difference.”

On shrinking from the moment

“There are more places to hide than ever before. If you’re looking for places to hide, and distractions to help you hide, I can’t help you. But if you understand that this is a brief moment in time that will not be around for much longer, you will understand the imperative and hurry.

“Once everyone starts playing with these tools, it becomes harder to make anything interesting. Once the easy problems are solved, you have to now go solve harder problems. As we’ve seen in every industry, it never lasts forever.”

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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