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Q&A: Doug Craver takes a breather to talk about Cleveland's tech environment

Cleveland Entrepreneur Doug Craver. Photos | Bob Perkoski
Cleveland Entrepreneur Doug Craver. Photos | Bob Perkoski

When he's not flying around the country attending conferences, or on the streets mentoring up-and-coming entrepreneurs, Doug Craver can be found at his office on a floating barge on Lake Erie -- formerly the Hornblowers restaurant and now the home of LeanDog SoftwarehiVelocity tracked him down to ask what he's into right now, what the economic landscape in Cleveland could look like in 10 years and how tech entrepreneurs could play a part in that.

What are you doing these days?

I am focused specifically on working with non-profits and startups. Some of them need to ramp up operations quickly. Eighty percent of business startups can be up and running within 24 hours, with basic infrastructure. The power of the Internet is being able to get up and running very quickly. I have a knack for staying on top of those things.

What's got you fired up at the moment?

I am on the organizing committee for startup weekend retreat called Cleveland Startup Weekend, as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week. It's a very powerful event, where we get 130 entrepreneurs -- entrepreneurial-minded people, marketing and development people -- to get teams together and put together some winning ideas. Everybody has a chance to pitch an idea. The winner gets some seed-funding, I think it was $2,500 last year. It's a very cool weekend because, if you know anything about startups, you need a lot of pieces and parts to make a team happen. Here, we get 130 extremely capable people, who work day and night on ideas, and hatch businesses over one weekend. It's strategic doing. You can talk about an idea or start working on it. We have big expectations. I am also excited about Knotice, spun out of one of my companies in 2003. They've been extremely successful. They are the 11th-fastest growing company in northeast Ohio right now.

What is Ohio's niche in this shifting economy?

We can never compete with Silicon Valley or Austin (Texas) or even Boston dollar for dollar. Ohio will never compete with a place like California. We need to be using agile software development. What is agile software development? It's very practical and literal. It's is a group of software development methodologies based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams. I am a big evangelist because it allows rapid development and delivers a more stable product. We need to make this a part of our startup culture. 

If all goes well in the technology field, what could Cleveland look like in say 10 years?

Now that's a loaded question. Considering northeast Ohio spends something like approximately $1 million a week on economic development it should look pretty good, right? But assuming all goes well, I'm confident the spirit of entrepreneurism will prevail and become more ingrained here despite the challenges. If local government gets out of the way and Cleveland becomes more business-friendly, we'll see a dynamic landscape of green, biomedical, healthcare, IT and other tech ventures.

How could the area position itself to make sure that happens?

First, we must find a way to reverse the increase in poverty -- one in three Clevelanders lives in poverty -- and turn the school system around. You can't have sustained progress until these are addressed. We must stop institutionalizing our problems -- non-profits are Cleveland's number one industry -- and embrace open source economic development versus our current command and control model. The focus should be on creating value first instead of a tech start-up's potential for attracting additional funding. If you create value first everything else will follow, including new jobs and the successful exits we need that create even more value -- i.e. more start-ups. Finally, we need to simplify the landscape of quasi-public/private funders and make it more accessible for tech startups. We need money-chasing ideas, as in more developed tech startup markets, not ideas wasting critical time-to-market chasing money.

You're a CEO, a serial entrepreneur and have lots of hobbies. Why is it important for you to make time to help out at JumpStart?

I am involved with JumpStart through a lot of my networking, their support of Startup Weekend Cleveland, and being connected with the technology startup folks is important. It's a street-level, organic type of ecosystem. I have gotten a real key understanding of the different type of startups here -- how that process evolves and feeds off of each other and continues to define itself in the marketplace. I have been involved with startups since 1990, so I like to help leverage JumpStart's initiatives however I can. They have a great knowledge base for tech startups, in addition to potential funding.

What's your advice for young entrepreneurs thinking about starting up a business?

Make sure you're coachable, know your market and get motivated by those who don't see the upside in your venture. Build your network, especially in regards to potential hires, but make sure you're talking to the right people who have the background to add value to whatever you're engaging them for. Don't get married to an idea and think your needs are different than other startups. Chances are your first idea won't be the one you build your business around. Get a bigger bang with your capital by getting training in and implementing Agile Software Development and Lean Project Management principles. Combined with newer rapid development programming languages like Ruby on Rails and using low-cost SaaS Applications to drive your operations, you'll burn less money while getting your product online quicker with Minimum Marketable Features and fewer bugs so you can start getting critical customer feedback and accelerate your rush to revenue.

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