We hear it from politicians, the media, and just about everyone else: “We need more good jobs!”
And yet nobody is telling us how to create good jobs.
After successfully starting and growing a multibillion-dollar company in Silicon Valley, Martin Babinec returned to his home in Upstate New York where he then realized there were a number of forces at play in Silicon Valley—forces he hadn’t appreciated—that had helped him succeed as an entrepreneur. Since then, he’s been on a journey to understand the importance of community dynamics in the creation of new businesses. He’s found a growing divergence between magnet cities—brimming with talent and new businesses—and talent exporting cities—where bright young minds leave in search of better opportunities.
Martin wrote More Good Jobs to be the playbook for turning a community into a magnet city, helping local entrepreneurs to start and grow companies and, in doing so, creating more good jobs for everyone in our communities. I recently caught up with Martin to learn what inspired him to write the book and his favorite lesson he shares with readers.
What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?
Running as an independent for Congress in 2016 brought me into contact with thousands of new people and made me realize how low the level of awareness was on just how job creation works. Every day I was out there talking about it, having thousands of interactions with a broad spectrum of new people over the course of the campaign.
There was interest, but what I was saying was so counter to what they were hearing from the media and government, people had a hard time grasping it. Post election, once the team supporting me confirmed they were ready to continue, my thoughts began turning towards how best to start scaling up the message visibility to a broader audience.
With so much bombardment from short form content (e.g. social media), the book format presented a path with both depth of message and a longer shelf life.
What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?
In places like Silicon Valley, you can walk into any public event for entrepreneurs and be confident that you’ll have the opportunity to connect with experienced entrepreneurs and community business leaders face-to-face. Any interested young entrepreneur can identify the successful entrepreneurs in the community and get in touch with them for the right reason.
In Talent Exporting Cities, entrepreneurs are more likely to spend inordinate amounts of time in their office—focused on only their business—without engaging in the broader community. Even if their company is growing, the rookie entrepreneurs who could be learning and taking inspiration from those further down the path don’t have the exposure to see how others could be helping them with their own company-building effort.
Building a culture where successful entrepreneurs carve out slices of time to attend community events and activities, and actually talk to people, is the crucial first step to creating a culture that supports innovation economy companies. To begin to build this culture, our job as leaders is to draw successful entrepreneurs out of hiding and into the public sphere.
In the Hudson Valley, I met an entrepreneur named Kale Kaposhilin who fit this mold exactly: his business was growing, but rarely visible to others. His low profile was a missed opportunity for both his company and the community. Upstate Venture Connect (UVC), my nonprofit connecting high-growth founders with the people and resources needed for success, engaged in a dialogue to help Kale explore his interests and how we might help support him in a community-building effort. Kale settled on launching a tech meetup group. He organized it, publicized it, and executed it beautifully. Lo and behold, among the event’s attendees were hundreds of neighboring entrepreneurs whom Kale never even knew existed.
By creating an opportunity to bring people together in the right structured format—and then marketing it effectively, Kale drew out people who had previously been stuck working in their homes and small offices. It doesn’t take too many events where people are regularly bumping into each other with creative collisions like this before relationships form that become the basis for spreading the startup community culture and attracting more new people into the fold.
What’s a story of how you’ve applied this idea in the Upstate NY community?
UVC is not an events organization, but we put lots of energy towards our annual conference that brings community leaders together from the entire Upstate region. For that event, having a headliner with magnetic pull is a home run. Having a super successful entrepreneur with a community building message is a grand slam. Here’s an example of what I mean.
At UVC’s 2018 annual Upstate Unleashed, our keynote speaker was Marc Randolph, the founding CEO of Netflix. This man is as opportunity-rich as you could possibly imagine. How did we get him to go cross-country to speak in Upstate New York?
My process began with research to identify high-profile alumni from Upstate colleges, and I discovered Marc Randolph was a graduate of Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.
I immediately put him on our target list and set out to find a way to connect with him by being referred by a trusted source who knew us both. Since there were about a half dozen possible intermediaries I identified through LinkedIn, my next step was to contact each one to see who knew Marc well enough to queue up an intro for me. One of those outreach contacts was to First Round Capital partner Bill Trenchard, mentioned earlier in the chapter. Bill confirmed his strength of relationship was there with Marc, and he put my request for contact in motion.
After several email exchanges with Marc over a few months, we had a get-acquainted phone call, then a personal meeting while I was in the Bay Area. There I pitched him on giving the keynote for the Upstate Unleashed conference, and he agreed.
I succeeded because I made gradual progress with him by keeping him informed of our activities, and I didn’t harangue him too early. Even with the original introduction from Bill Trenchard, if my first interaction was an email request asking him to keynote the UVC conference he’d never heard of, there is little chance he would have been interested.
It takes entrepreneurs to be out front leading in the building of a startup community. Others may assist, but finding the paths that unlock an entrepreneur’s interest to step up is the challenge leaders have to take head on. Make it easy and inviting for more entrepreneurs to participate.
If you can get an entire community of entrepreneurs to be leading the charge—now that’s an unstoppable force that will drive the creation of a whole lot of more good jobs!