John Boylan’s Conversation. This Month: Startup Culture

| December 7, 2014 | 0 Comments
December 16, 2014 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
1508 11th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122

John Boylan’s Next Conversation

This episode: “Startup Culture

Tuesday, December 16, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

To link to this announcement, you can do so at


Important Announcement: In the past, those sitting at the edges of the room at Vermillion may have had trouble hearing because of a big, noisy, walk-in cooler that would go into grinding mode every now and again. That cooler is dead and gone, replaced by a very quiet refrigerator. Vermillion is a lot quieter.


Note on the Film! conversation: A good number of movies were referenced during last month’s conversation. I’ve listed some of them at the end of this message.


The Summary

This month we’re talking startups and the whirl of ideas, dreams, discoveries, and even art that surrounds them. Read on for details.


The Guests (see bios below.)

Susie Lee, artist, entrepreneur, CEO of Siren

Brett Greene, marketer, blogger, and co-founder of New Tech Seattle

Red Russak, startup enthusiast and co-founder of New Tech Seattle

Rebecca Lovell, startup advocate, mentor


The Story

For most of us, the world of startups hovers just outside of view, something that happens in the background, especially if we’re not intrepid entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

For me, after 15 years of web publishing at Microsoft, I left the company a few months ago. Since then, I’ve been doing some freelance work and figuring out what comes next.

So recently I went to New Tech Seattle, a monthly tech startup meetup organized by two of our guests, Red Russak and Brett Greene. Each event has two parts, a social hour and a presentation. In the presentation section, very smart people do quick talks about their startup. The social hour is a high-energy gathering filled with some people looking for work or startup funding, others looking to hire expertise and talent, still others trying to break in with what they hope is a killer idea, and a surprising number of saintly folks who are just there to help, to mentor.

It’s a little like a singles bar, but rather than looking for that perfect someone, people here are looking for a future. I’ve heard the question as to why the art world doesn’t have something similar, but I think it may, at art openings or before the doors open at On the Boards performances: “Hey, I want you to meet someone….” What I find fascinating is the huge amount of imagination and creativity that go into the startup business plans and marketing efforts. You can see some of the top startups at the Geekwire 200.

Writing in his blog in September, MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito described the “Blade Runner meets wild west” hardware startup culture in Shenzen, China. It’s a wild, crowded, dynamic scene of DIY innovation. Something like that would never happen in Seattle. Or would it? And would we want it?

I’ve spoken to a number of people involved with startups. Some are amazingly brilliant and dynamic and are quite adept at finding—or creating—a niche to fill. Others remind me of the hapless proprietor of the Scotch Boutique, an old and classic Saturday Night Life sketch about a mall store that sells only Scotch tape. (I tried to find the clip, but could only find the script for the sequence. It is painfully funny.)

That sense of “are you sure this is a good idea?” isn’t limited to the tiny, just-out-of-the-gate companies. The political site Talking Points Memo recently featured this in-depth analysis of the economics of Uber. It is long, but definitely worth a read. The writer looks at niche markets, economics of scale, and the deep differences between Uber and, say, Amazon and Ebay, and makes a case for the idea that Uber may only be able to grow as long as the public and its competitors are convinced of its invincibility. Without that…?

We’ve put together a great group: Greene and Russak, along with the City of Seattle’s startup advocate Rebecca Lovell, and artist Susie Lee, who among many other things has done a lot to create a discussion of startups with her women-centric dating app, Siren.

We have lot to talk about. Do come.


My Links

Essays and Comment


JBoylan Projects


The Guests in Detail

Susie Lee is a visual artist and CEO of Siren. Her work explores intimacy and connection through technology, fluidly embedding new media across many platforms. Recognized as Emerging Artist of the Year for the “intelligence, emotion and sensuality” of her work, Lee was also named “Artist to Watch” by ARTnews.  Her work has been exhibited and commissioned in the US and abroad, in such venues as the Mitchell Center for the Arts, Denver Art Museum, Frye Art Museum, Blanton Museum, and Crystal Bridges Museum of Art and is included in notable public collections. A graduate of Yale, Columbia and UW with degrees in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, science education, and fine arts, Lee launched Siren in Seattle recently to connect people creatively and safely. Siren has gained significant momentum in the public imagination and press, with over 100 media links, including the front page of the Seattle Times, CNN, Cosmopolitan, King5, KOMO, Geekwire, The Stranger, Engadget, The Washington Post, and ThinkProgress. Siren will be launched nationally soon.


Rebecca Lovell is the City of Seattle’s Startup Advocate, working to connect startups to resources, expand opportunities in entrepreneurship , and measure and promote our success. She also serves as a mentor for Techstars, 9 Mile Labs, and Founder Institute, and is an instructor on venture capital investing in the UW Foster MBA Program. She is on the advisory board of Reveal as well as the UW Foster Employer Advisory board, and has coached, screened and mentored hundreds of startups in Seattle. Prior roles include Program Director, Alliance of Angels, Executive Director, Northwest Entrepreneur Network, Chief Business Officer, GeekWire and interim CEO for Vittana. She brings 20 years of operating and management experience to her leadership roles in both for-profit and non-profit sectors. Recognized as of the top 100 women in Tech from the Puget Sound Business Journal, and Tech Flash’s “Do Gooder of the Year,” she is endlessly devoted to entrepreneurship and karaoke.


Brett Greene believes in connecting people, companies and communities to drive innovation and opportunity for others. What matters most is knowing what you want to do, who you want to do it with, and making great things happen daily. Brett believes in surrounding yourself with people who inspire you, helping those who are hungry for inspiration, and taking care of people and the planet while being successful, making profits, and giving back every day.

Brett has been engaged in community building, marketing strategy and execution, brand development, lead generation, mentoring, and digital communication services for 20+ years. He helps companies define their passions, purpose, and goals to genuinely move their needles.

Brett has created premium consumer experiences to build the digital presence of brands ranging from startups and the City of Los Angeles to Fortune 500 companies. His marketing strategies have achieved business objectives in industries including technology, ecommerce, mobile & cloud-based applications, food & beverage, events, entertainment & government.

He has worked with the investors & founders of Docstoc, Klout & hundreds of startups and mentored Techstars, Founder Institute, Startup Weekend NEXT, and LOHAS companies. He is also Co-Founder of New Tech Seattle and New Tech Eastside where 10 early to late stage companies present to 700+ attendees monthly.

Brett has appeared on NBC Television as a social media expert and blogs at Huffington Post, Social Media Today, All Things WOMM (WOMMA), and Blind Influence. He has spoken nationally for organizations including Blog World, Puget Sound Business Journal, PodCamp, LOHAS Forum, Davinci Institute, Colorado University, & Denver University’s MBA Program.


Red Russak is a startup enthusiast and accomplished sales professional focused on B2B mobile SaaS offerings for global SMBs, Enterprises and F500. One writer described him this way:

“Red Russak is the Sultan of Startups. In the Seattle startup scene, Red Russak is a force to be reckoned with. By day, he heads up business development for Seattle startup Apptentive, but in the evenings he’s a champion for the hundreds of other startups residing within the city limits. […] Through several years of hard work, Red has built a solid community of folks who respect and support each other, even when their ideas and concepts may compete.”


From the Film! Conversation (a partial list):

Surviving Cliffside (US, 2014)

Fandry (India, 2013)

Enough Said (US, 2013)

Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (Australia, 1988)

Stations of the Elevated (US, 1981)

To Sleep with Anger (US, 1990)

Killer of Sheep (US, 1977)


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