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Des Moines, Iowa
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"What do I do", you ask?

Geoff Wood

I always cringe a bit when people ask me: What do you do? Typically, it's a filler question. It's one of those you're required to ask when you meet someone new. If what they do is interesting, you'll ask follow up questions. I hate answering it.

It's not that what I do isn't interesting (if it wasn't, I wouldn't being doing it) it just doesn't fit into a simple box like "I'm a lawyer" or "I'm in insurance".

No, for me the answer is usually:

I'm involved in several things, mostly technology startups. I'm the Des Moines contributer to Silicon Prairie News, an online industry publication sharing news on high tech, high growth technology companies, creative endeavors and startups in general. I also co-lead my own startup, VolunteerLocal. We provide online software to manage and recruit volunteers at events of all sizes, such as the HyVee Triathlon and Des Moines Arts Festival. I'm also on the team at Palisade Systems, a networking startup with technology to make sure that information like health records, Social Security numbers, and Credit Card numbers that aren't supposed to leave your company don't do so (either accidentally or maliciously).

As you can see, it's not a quick answer. I don't even get into things like "I write for several blogs around the Internet" or that "I co-founded a Digg-inspired website call Zanatic where you can share and rate sports stories" or even that "I co-host a weekly a podcast called PrairieCast."

Sometimes, I just drop the "I'm an entrepreneur" line, which by definition is true but at the same time it's lacking. If I'm lucky, I can get away with just the first sentence "I'm involved in several things, mostly technology startups" which is more descriptive but either way the next question leads to the earlier paragraph.

I don't mean to complain, it's just something I've noticed a lot recently. I think that I just happen to have chosen a style of work (workstyle?) that isn't very common, yet, so the social norm doesn't fit. However, I'm not the only one. There are several us with a similar workstyle in my social circles and I imagine (and hope) that there will only be more in the future.

Announcing Zanatic.com

Geoff Wood

My good friends Travis and Brent have been working on a project for the last several months called Zanatic. Zanatic, a play on the word "fanatic", is a site in the spirit of Digg, Reddit, and Hacker News but dedicated directly the discussion of sports online. I joined them in a co-founder to role to assist in the long strategy of the business, which we named Authority Interactive, LLC.

We're all long time users of sports message board communities and think that Zanatic is a logical extension of that niche of internet users. We've previously worked together (along with another friend, Nick) to launch an internet property, Campus Authority, Inc, where we all had a lot of fun and we hope that Zanatic is much the same thing. A fun little side business to operate part-time in conjunction with our day-to-day responsibilities (in my case, VolunteerLocal and Silicon Prairie News).

People still listen to radio (and read the newspaper)

Geoff Wood

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to join some other Des Moines entrepreneurs as guests on a local talk radio show. I wasn't sure what to expect since it was mid-morning on a holiday (New Year's Day) and I wasn't even able to be in studio, we were at my in-laws for a late family Christmas celebration so I had to call in from a rural part of Iowa on an AT&T cell phone.

However, it was a great experience. I think it was the Jan Mickelson show, but Mr. Mickelson was on vacation and the show had a guest host sitting in. The topic was entrepreneurship in Des Moines in 2010 and I was invited by Alexander Grgurich of Foundry Coworking, along with Ben Milne of Dwolla, Joey Hinke of JA Hinke & Co, and a few others.

It was a fun experience and it's already lead to an opportunity, as I was already contacted be a local church men's group interested in bringing in someone to talk about the same topic. Several friends and acquaintances have reached out to tell me that they heard me on the radio proving that it's still an effective medium for telling your story.

Personally, in the age of TiVo, I prefer to listen to podcasts where I can stop and start the programming as I move about my day and don't miss anything. I also like to listen to them on my schedule, rather than the traditional model of tuning in at a certain time.

Continuing on the theme of mainstream media, I've had a ton of folks tell me they saw the profile in Juice last week. Interestingly, many of these folks are barely in the upper bounds of Juice's demographic (25-34) or already beyond it. Many of them pointed out that "they rarely look at Juice" which makes me think that either 1) the cover story on the Top 100 area restaurants was a great attention grabber or 2) my friends have a compulsion for looking at party pictures that they're afraid to admit. Either way, it was a great opportunity and I'm very glad that Brianne and her colleagues wanted to do it.

Highlights of Highlight Midwest

Geoff Wood

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the Highlight Midwest (hashtag: #hmdm) event in Des Moines. Highlight Midwest is a regional event that started last year in Kansas City, with the idea of "highlighting" the good entrepreneurial stories from across the Midwest - specifically from the Des Moines, Kansas City and Omaha. Logic would indicate that next year's event will be in Omaha but organizer's have been strangely avoiding stating that as fact.

The majority of the conference featured small businesses owners and entrepreneurs presenting to their peers in hopes of both getting the word out and hopefully spurring collaboration in the future.

I had the chance to sit in Ben Milne's presentation on Dwolla, his new money transfer company in Des Moines that I've been keeping an eye on, as well as one about RockDex, a company spread between Kansas City and Omaha, that tracks information on music play and interest in new media.

I also threw my 2 cents in as my friends Dusty Davidson and Jeff Slobotski, the founders of Silicon Prairie News, talked about the future role of their great service (that I'm proud to be a part of) in raising the tide for innovators in our little region of the country.

By far, my favorite part of the day (in addition to the comped bar by Ames' own Olde Main Brewing Company that opened at noon!) was the keynote speakers. There were three keynotes, one each from the noted cities: Simon Kuo from LightThread in Kansas City, Mike Draper(1) from SMASH in Des Moines and Joe Olsen(2) from PhenomBlue in Omaha. Each is an innovator on an (inter)national scale and the Midwest is better for having them.

It's unfortunate that they were scheduled for 4:30-6:00 PM on a Friday afternoon because a lot of the out-of-state folks had already taken off. However, for those of us that stuck around, we were treated to great presentations. They were inspiring, identifiable and each had a challenge for the future. I had the chance to grab a little video from each and I'll have it up on SPN soon.

Danny Schrieber, the man behind the content at SPN, did a fun video project that day where he grabbed attendees and asked them to: introduce themselves, tell us their "Highlight of the Midwest" and who they met at the conference that they'd like to have lunch with. He cut them together and here's the result.

 

Renda from the Des Moines Register was at the event and took a ton of photos, check them out here.

(1)Mike graciously did an interview with me for SPN - check it out here (2)Joe's a great guy who helped me network in Omaha when it looked like Hope was bound for Creighton rather than Drake. 

Contributing to SiliconPrairieNews.com from Des Moines

Geoff Wood

Several week ago, I mentioned SiliconPrairieNews.com an online publication based in Omaha that documents the creative class in the Midwest (in this post).

The guys at SPN (Jeff, Dusty, and Danny) were very helpful to me in getting to know the entrepreneurial scene in Omaha when it looked like we would be moving there so Hope could attend Creighton Law.
When she decided on Drake Law instead so that we could move to Des Moines, I kept in touch with SPN and we decided it would make some sense for me to sign on as a contributor to their publication and proclaiming all the good things the creative class is doing in greater Des Moines, specifically.
I've been having a good time and it's been a great reason to network in the community. Check out my first few video stories below: