Red Russak – Founder of StartupSeattle

Red is the founder of StartupSeattle, a partnership to connect the startup community in Seattle. He also curates for StartupDigest and has a passion for tech startups, public service and whiskey.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on StartupSeattle, a partnership with Startup Weekend, Microsoft BizSpark, TechStars and Founders Co-op, to create a scalable, replicable set of web and offline resources in the greater Seattle area, and to become the hub of the city’s technology startup activities.

Where did the idea for StartupCity come from?

I was originally inspired by a 2011 startup awards show, where Mark Suster gave a talk on how to take the Seattle startup community to the next level. His talk inspired me to build a business/community based on the question, “How do we add momentum to already great community?” From there, organizations like Seattle2.0 (acquired by GeekWire) and StartupWeekend, as well as local mentors, helped uncover much-needed resources for Seattle’s startup community.

What does your typical day look like?

I wake up, around 7:00 a.m., to an Apricot Standard Poodle staring at me head-on. Doing the best that I can to not wake up my wife, I sneak out of the room, let the dog out and attempt to convince myself to work out–only to end up checking e-mails. By 8:30 I manage to shower and head to my office, a tech incubator called Founders Co-op and home to TechStars Seattle. I usually have a meeting set within minutes of arriving. The rest of the day is dedicated to working with the “StartSmart” team, meeting with startups, coordinating with event organizers, and making valuable connections. When night rolls around, there’s usually an event to attend, but most nights I do my best to get home before 8:00 p.m. to spend quality time back where the day began.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Keep things lean and validate that your idea will work however you can. If I have an idea, I’ll usually bug three or four of my co-working neighbors. If the idea sticks, I figure out the next level (typically an early stage prototype), which sometimes manifests on a piece of paper, though usually does so on a landing page. For those of you who can’t code, check out KickOffLabs or LaunchRock as an easy solution. From there, feedback is my best friend while I’m building up a working prototype.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The “lean” movement made popular by Eric Ries, paired with the “pay-it-forward” mentality you see in startup communities.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

“Worst” is a harsh word. I tend to think of past jobs as great learning experiences. My first job out of college involved selling comedy club tickets in Times Square in New York City. I made enough to pay for meals, learned a lot about sales, and gained an appreciation for fast-paced work environments.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Given how expensive college was, I’d major in business and concentrate on accounting and marketing. I probably would have found a way to incorporate computer science, given the value of knowing code.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Be aware of time wasted and stay focused.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I found out fairly quickly that feedback comes in many forms, including in ways that can easily be perceived as negative. I’ve always believed that when people poke fun at you, they’re simply proud of the fact that they know you–only, they choose to insult rather than compliment. Applying that same philosophy to business, everybody has their own methods for providing feedback, and I’m always happy when someone takes the time to provide me with any at all.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Dynamic event tags; I would like to see event name tags that, when tapped with a phone (RFID?), will pull up an app that allows me to send pre-existing template e-mails to users. E-mails would include place, time and custom message options. This would remove the need for post-event follow-up and wasted business cards, and would prevent missed opportunities. (PS: If you build this, I’m happy to invest and open up my Rolodex.)

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I like the mystery of nature and would change nothing. The challenge of working with ever-changing surroundings is what keeps us going. Cheers to endless possibilities.

Tell us a secret.

My real name isn’t Red.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

  1. WordPress. It’s a great publishing platform, and for anybody with an idea, it’s an easy way to launch a website and talk about it.
  2. Google Apps is an affordable set of tools to manage e-mail, documents and shared calendars for your team.
  3. TextExpander. Type more with less effort using macros and expanding custom keyboard shortcuts into frequently-used text and pictures. Since installing the program, I have saved 16 hours. Time is precious, so in my book, this is a huge win!

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Do More Faster by David Cohen and Brad Feld. For the average ADHD, driven entrepreneur, this book guides you through every aspect of a startup, through the teachings of successful entrepreneurs. It’s a great source of inspiration and lives up to its title in that it’s a quick read.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Twitter can get pretty noisy, even by those I would regard as most influential. Given my interests in Seattle, community and startups: @CrashDev, @BFeld, and of course, @RedRussak (#shamelessplug).

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

A few nights ago, around 2:00 a.m., my dog decided to pass gas and it sounded incredibly, well, human. This time, I could blame it on the dog!

Who is your hero?

My father, Larry Russak. A savvy business man and philanthropist, he loves to say, “a lazy man does the job twice” and “any job worth doing is worth doing well!” I’ve come a long way from taking out the garbage and cleaning my room, but his advice will be a guiding force that I hope to pass on to my children one day.

What is more important: shipping an item or shipping a vision?

It’s a balance! Depending on your audience, sometimes your vision will sell the product, and in other cases, it will be the item that proves you can accomplish the overall vision!

What does it mean to have a “work-life-balance?”

It means finding time to enjoy those things that matter to you most and then making sure to not take them for granted.


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