Six months ago I published “Gregslist” of Arizona software companies on my website, greghead.com. It started as my personal list of local software companies, built as I reached out to founders and CEOs to offer help and make connections. Since then, Gregslist has grown into a popular directory of over 300 Phoenix software companies viewed by 15,000 people and shared thousands of times. I update the list personally, adding 10-20 companies a month as I discover them.
Here are some things I learned from this labor of love. These are lessons for any startup trying to change a perception or do something new.
People tell me: “Your list is so obvious and useful. I can’t believe nobody did this before.” I’m not surprised it didn’t happen before. No one was asking for such a list and nobody was doing the hard work to build a useful resource. I only realized the need after meeting individually with more than 50 local software founders.
I saw the need and built it in my spare time, despite some people telling me it was a silly idea. Only when I launched the list and added companies each week did it become obvious to others.
Lesson: Find an important problem that people aren’t Googling yet, then be first to solve it.
I have been an executive leader in the software business in Phoenix for 20 years. We’re not Silicon Valley for sure, but the local mindset was the opposite: “We’re not a software town. You can’t build a big company here. We don’t do that here.” Really? Says who?
I got tired of hearing those words from smart leaders and top talent (also known as Our Future), so I decided to do something about it. I proved that there is, in fact, a ton of activity in the software industry in Phoenix. You can’t argue otherwise when you view the list of 300 companies who employ 20,000 people with almost $1 billion in invested capital.
Now people tell me “There’s a lot going on in Arizona. I think it’s going to be a software hub someday.” Yep. Not much changed, but with my list word is now spreading that there is real action in Arizona.
Lesson: With the right lever, entrenched mindsets can be changed, even by one person.
It’s easy to assume that the answer to every question already exists on the internet, created by companies, crowd-sourced communities or computer-driven “bots.” In this case, it took a savvy expert who cares (me) to create a valuable list and get people using it. I curate the data manually, that’s why I called it Gregslist – so people know there is a person behind it.
Think about it: the data was already available in many forms, but it wasn’t useful, accurate or displayed in a meaningful way. The list of 300 cool companies has become a trusted resource for local job-seekers, investors, service providers and the founders. Visitors to the page now average 15 minutes per visit, the highest I have ever seen for a single website page.
Lesson: Experts who care can make a difference.
There are many directories that list all startups or big companies, including LinkedIn, Crunchbase and AngelList. I deliberately limited my list to just software companies in Arizona. It only includes commercial software companies that primarily sell a SaaS (software as a service) application, platform or mobile app. I tell people “No” every week when asked to list their tech services company, web development shop or non-software startup. I also say “No” to product ideas that aren’t associated with viable companies yet.
Why so many limitations? Why limit the list at all? The real power of Gregslist is that it demonstrates we have a thriving and active software industry in Arizona. It also provides a useful way to learn about and connect with each company. The “customers” for the list are the job-seekers, investors, service providers and software founders who want to find and engage with software companies in town. Adding non-software companies to the list actually makes the list less useful to the people who use it.
Lesson: The more you focus, the more your message is heard by the right audience.
Local company listings used to be generated and sold by media businesses, like the Business Journal’s Book of Lists or business research companies. Now I can create an accurate directory in my spare time and publish it for free. No charge, no advertising. The useful content (previously sold) is used for attraction–to bring together a community of entrepreneurs, investors, service providers and job-seekers. Now I am viewed as a credible expert and quoted in the media.
Media (magazines, directories, books, radio) are simply content curated by companies and sold as a product. Now most content is given away by people and businesses as a way to attract and educate their audience–as marketing. The best of these blogs, videos, podcasts and free books meets or exceeds the quality of the content previously sold by media companies.
Lesson: Anyone can create high-quality content to attract and engage a big audience.