Episode 2: Creating a Culture of Community

The holiday season is here, and with that comes a renewed focus on the importance of community.

In the latest Pipeline podcast, Banzai CEO, Joe Davy, and Package Guard creator and founder, Mike Grabham, discuss the value of the community within the startup world. Mike’s impressive background with Startup Grin gives him insight into the global impact of startups and the value of creating a professional community within your network (near and far). As the founder of the nonprofit Survive the Streets (along with his wife Patty), Mike sees firsthand the necessity of giving back to the community around us. Check out the latest episode and learn how startups can contribute to the community and create a culture of giving from day 1.

Follow Mike on Twitter@grabmike and learn more about Survive the Streets by visiting survivethestreets.org.

You can read the full Pipeline Podcast transcript below:

Joe: Thanks for joining us this week for Banzai Pipeline podcast. Today we have Mike Grabham who is the founder of Package Guard and also the founder of Survive the Streets which is a great local Seattle nonprofit. Mike thanks for being with us this week.

Mike: Thank you. I appreciate being here and look forward to sharing what I you know.

Joe: Yeah awesome. Before we talk about anything else I mean you’ve had some really incredible roles over the years and you’ve done so many different interesting things entrepreneurially. One of the things you’ve done that is really cool is you’ve been part of the Startup Grind and you also have your own TV show that you’ve done where you’ve interviewed tons of people like way more than I’ve ever had. How has that been and what have you enjoyed about that or what have you learned from that?

Mike: You know it’s great. It’s what I like to call the most fun 3 hours of my month because it takes you three hours to do an event right?

Joe:  Right. For half an hour interview.

Mike: But it really is the most fun part of my month. I get to meet really interesting people. I’ve interviewed well over 100 people, mostly tech leaders of some kind, whether an angel investor or founder, and I get to hear great stories. I get to learn a lot a lot of stuff which is of course a big thing for me. Learning from people who have done things already is super interesting for me. I get to meet other interesting people because interesting people go to the event.

Joe: Startup Grind is like a global organization, right?

Mike: Startup Grind is huge. When I started Startup Grind six years ago, it was like chapter 10. There was nothing. There was no infrastructure. There was no process. No one knew what they were doing. Derek the founder just said, “Hey, this is what I was successful with in Mountain View you want to give a shot?”. Fast forward six years and I’ve done it every single month, but now there’s 450 chapters around the world, in every major city you can imagine. It truly is amazing what’s happened with that. It will touch well over a million people this year.

Joe: Well that’s huge.

Mike: Yeah, it’s truly amazing.

Joe: It’s an interesting way to remember that there’s more happening than just outside this little bubble. You don’t normally think of Istanbul or Paris as being startup scenes. There are startups there and there are companies that are doing really interesting things.

Mike: Absolutely, you and I have talked about this separately that the U.S. has a very inward focus. We think everything is about the U.S.

Joe: Isn’t it?

Mike: I’m sure it is. Tel Aviv has one of the most outstanding ecosystems for startups. I just spoke at the Microsoft Garage. They had an offsite and they invited me to come speak about ecosystems and one of their best locations is Tel Aviv. There are cities all over the place that are doing great things. Lisbon Portugal, Barcelona, are doing great. I mean there’s lots of cities doing amazing things.

Joe: What do you see as being the standout thing from the cities that have these exceptional communities?

Mike: There’s two things I believe that are critically important. One is, there’s a recycling of money. Say Joe has a successful startup. You sell it for 20 million,10 million, 50 million, whatever the number is. But you reinvest part of that in the ecosystem, right?

Joe: So, you’re getting that compound return in the ecosystem?

Mike:  In the ecosystem, right. You’re reinvesting it, that’s super important.

Joe: And Silicon Valley has mastered that almost, to a fault.

Mike: Almost to a fault, like you could bump into anyone in a coffee shop and they have access to write you a check for 25k for your startup. It is truly amazing down there in the valley. The ecosystem has to have that component that supports recycling of money. The second thing that I think is super important is the ability for people to come together and learn from each other, because that’s really what it’s about. Think about the first time you did a startup or the first time I did, I didn’t know diddly. I didn’t know anything.

Joe: Oh yeah. I knew nothing.

Mike: Most of us don’t. You think you’re so smart and you especially if you’re successful out the gate. But that’s not the case. People need to learn from other people and when you can help others be successful, when you have more successes it’s better for the ecosystem.

Joe: Rising tide lifts all ships.

Joe: Tell me about your company. You founded Package Guard a year or two years ago?

Mike: Yeah, two years ago I started the very early prototype. Package Guard helps protect packages from being stolen off your front doorstep.

Joe: It’s a really cool and necessary product.

Mike: Yes, it is really interesting. I have a nonprofit, Survive the Streets. We order a bunch of gear, warm weather gear around basically November every year and we have this big Thanksgiving Day event where we give it all away. Well one year we got a box of coats stolen that was intended for that event. And that’s how I came off the idea. They took it from our front porch, a box of coats from Wal-Mart I ordered. There were about 20 coats in the box. It took us several days to figure out we even lost it because we had so much stuff being delivered. But that’s where the idea came from. Now we’re still tweaking the product. We’re rereleasing it again next month for the holiday season. It’s been quite the road and hardware is hard for a reason and but it’s fun.

Joe: For people who are listening, can you explain how the product works and what it what it does?

Mike: Super simple. It’s about the size of a frisbee and sits on your front porch. It says place package here on the top of it. Right now, we’re seeing about 92 percent of all packages that are deliveries show up on the device and aren’t placed somewhere else. When that package lands on the device, it’s an IoT device so it connects your Wi-Fi. It sends your alerts, says “Hey Joe you got a package”.

Joe: Do you have a mobile app or something?

Mike: Yeah you get a mobile app that says “hey you got a package” you get a SMS as well. You can include anyone in your house. They can have the same app and get the same alerts. You can also include a neighbor. If I’m your neighbor. You’re out of town and I get your alert. I can just go pick it up for you. You don’t have to tell me to do and I’ll know when it’s there. And if some bad person walks by and sees the package on your doorstep and walks by and picks up the package and starts to walk away with it, which is the normally the process. There’s a loud alarm within the device that goes off every second it’s lifted off of the device. It’s really a theft deterrent. It doesn’t necessarily stop it, but it definitely alerts the neighborhood, like holy cow there’s something bad happening. The thief no longer just walks up casually and walks away casually. It’s a really interesting product that I think is the first iteration of how to protect our packages from being stolen.

Joe: It’s funny that you mention that Survived the Streets was related to Package Guard. You guys have a deal at Package Guard where you’re contributing back to Survive the Streets, right?

Mike: Absolutely. Every Package Guard we sell we donate a dollar back to Survive the Streets. My belief and my theory is that without Survive the Streets, I wouldn’t have Package Guard because it wouldn’t have ever been invented. I give them a dollar for every time we sell a package.

Joe: Tell me more about Survive the Streets, because homelessness is a big problem here in Seattle. You guys are one of the groups that’s really doing something directly to address the problem.

Mike: It’s our 19th year. Every year that Patty and I have lived here in Seattle we’ve done this event.

Joe: Tell us how you guys got started with this.

Mike: Patty, my wife is Canadian. When we moved to Seattle she’d never had a Thanksgiving, American Thanksgiving. It’s not the same in Canada, they just don’t quite do it like we do. I made this big Thanksgiving dinner because I like to cook, and I made a great Thanksgiving dinner, just the two of us in this little apartment over in East Lake. When we finished we had a ton of food, so much leftover, Patty was like, “what do we do with all this food?” I was like, “leftovers.” She was like, “no why don’t we take a couple plates down with the homeless guys that they’re hanging around the street.” There are three guys that hung out there pretty frequently. We walk down gave them three plates of food and stood there and hung out with them and talked with them for a few minutes. And we said, “What could you use to make your life a little better?” Without even thinking they said, “socks if we could just have socks. That would be awesome.” We were so stunned, like just socks? They were like “socks would be great, socks, gloves maybe but socks would be great.” So that’s how it all started. The next day we went out and bought socks and we handed it to them, like 3-4 pairs of socks each. So that’s how it started.

Joe: Which you know doesn’t cost very much.

Mike: Ten, twelve dollars, right? So, the next year, similar thing, we cooked an extra Thanksgiving dinner. We plated it up. We could make about 15 to 18 plates of food out of another whole turkey. We took that around, drove around, and gave those out and gave people socks and gloves. So that was our Thanksgiving morning and it had just grown from that. Fast forward 19 years. Now we do a popup store where we invite the homeless that live in shelters.

Joe: You have a store front like down here in Seattle like in Pioneer Square area?

Mike: It’s a little pop up retail store on Thanksgiving morning. That’s the only time we have it. We do it in the basement of Galvanize, they’re great supporters of this.

Mike: We’ll have 30-40 volunteers helping us do this. It’s not a small thing by any stretch anymore. We have hats, gloves, socks, sleeping bags, bags, backpacks, all those things you need to just survive in the winter months and just survive in general. We have racks of them and we invite them in from shelters. They have sign-up sheets in all these shelters in Pioneer Square. We have a list of 400 people. 250 will show up and they’ll walk through a line, they will have personal shoppers. We have a person who walks with them to help them put coats on and try things on. Everything’s free. We give them breakfast, we have a food truck there to give them breakfast that morning as well.

Joe: This is supported by the community?

Mike: We do a big fundraising event in early November, this year November 3rd. We do it at a wine tasting room at Rotie Cellars down in SODO. We’ll have 125-150 people there. Many of my friends, a fair amount people in the tech community, come down support it. We have an auction mostly wine and restaurant related things and travel.

Joe: This is coming up soon?

Mike: Yes, it is coming up in November 3rd, 2018.

Joe: Oh good. People who are listening. If you’re in Seattle. You go to this.

Mike: We have a lot of fun and it’s survivethestreets.org. You can sign up there. You can get a ticket there. You can donate there. You can do it all you want there and learn all about Survive the Streets. Yeah, we have it every year and it’s super fun.

Joe: Mike, you mentioned the with Package Guard, part of the idea came from Survive the Streets. You give one dollar per Package Guard. How do you do that culturally in a company to build that culture of giving from the very beginning?

Mike: Here’s the thing that I think is super relevant because we all want to buy from companies that we like and we like companies that give back.

Joe:  And that share our values.

Mike: Yes and have shared values. I don’t have to fake it. I mean my wife and I we’ve always done what we do and that’s just who we are as individuals. Here’s my belief. When the company is profitable you can give more money right? And we can start that from the very get go and build it into the PNL statement. And that’s really what I’ve done at Package Guard. It’s just built into the PNL statement. It’s a dollar.

Joe: If you wait till you’re shipping 10 million a year at something then it’s going to cost you a lot of money.

Mike: Exactly. It sometimes will never happen because things get in the way and if you get an investor or something changes in your process, right?

Joe:  Right. All of a sudden, your board doesn’t want to do it, whatever it is.

Mike: So I built it right into the first day right. There was no discussion. I even had one of my investors say, why don’t you do that once your profitable? I was like, sorry. This is how we do it. Everyone knows that. Everyone that is hired, everyone that works with me knows that, and it’s just how it is. There is no choice of “hey should we do that?”. We do it as part of just being good human beings Maybe you have three or four founders. How do we want to do it is the question, but it’s not whether we’re doing it. It’s how do you want to do it? Gary Rubens an angel investor here in town started this give back from the founder concept where when he invests money you agree to give a portion of your company back to something else when it’s sold way down the road. In 10 years, you’re going to give back 1 percent of blah blah blah. Gary’s on both sides of that. He’s saying that with part of my proceeds he gets back, he will do it, and you agree to do the same thing. It’s a very cool idea. I think more people should do that. When you have the idea it’s not are we doing it, it’s how do we want to do it.

Joe: It’s like defining that culture upfront. There are some things that are fundamental and if you start when you’re really small then it’s much easier to do then if you wait until you’re big and then try to steer the ship.

Mike: Think about it. And you had 50 employees and you’ve got four or five stakeholders obviously and those 50 employees and you may have 25 stakeholders plus 50 employees and you have a board or advisory board or investors and all those all those people now have a weight into the decision. That makes it much harder than it’s just you and me starting our company saying, “Hey Joe where how do you want to give back in this?”.

 Joe: You’ve been doing the marketing sales leadership for a while right at least as long as you were doing Survive the Streets. What are the trends or the interesting things that are happening now?

Mike: I think chat bots are interesting. I think they’re doing some things. I’m using them for a couple different companies. Package Guard being one of them. They’re super helpful easy to drive leads, almost free. Not free, but almost free.

Joe: A lot cheaper than paying a person. Yes exactly.

Mike:  It’s automated right? You don’t really have to do anything. With Package Guard were seeing four or five leads a day that cost almost zero. It’s just the way we set up certain systems. It’s almost zero. You can do that with most products. I think chat bots are super interesting. I think that’s going to continue to change things and make things easier.

Mike: I also think the use of humans will be more interesting because we’re using less of them. So, when they do you get used, I think that’s really a benefit. Especially for service-based businesses because people are moving away from it, so the people are going to keep that are actually going to have a bit of an advantage.

Joe: Do you think this plays into this ABM trend that people are doing?

Mike: Everyone’s driving costs down so they don’t want to spend money on humans. Right, I get it. But at the end of the day we humans, we want it immediately, especially millennials, they’ve always gotten it immediately. They just have such high expectations that you almost need automation to manage it. Because you just can’t manage it so instantaneous. I think that’s the good and the bad of having human interaction. I don’t know that you can actually do it all the time specifically for some consumer driven products. I think it’s almost impossible.

Joe: How did you get interested in this to begin with? Was there like a moment for you or where you’re like oh you know this is the stuff that really turns me on, like I’m really interested.

Mike: Absolutely. The AOL1.0 disk that we got in the mail.

Joe:  Yeah, which I think everybody got about a billion of those. probably. Imagine the carbon footprint of AOL disks.

Mike: That’s what turned the switch for me. I got it in the mail and I threw it in my computer and I was like holy crap this is really interesting stuff. That’s why I moved from Phoenix to Seattle, just because of that. I was like this is really interesting. I want to get more involved in this technology thing. Because we didn’t know what that was quite then.

Joe: What advice would you give to 1998 Mike about what to do?

Mike: I would say you know always try to find smart people that you can hang around with and not necessarily just in your business life but also your social life. Surround yourself with smart people and people you find interesting to you personally. You need to find them interesting, you need to want to hang out with them and ask them questions and learn from each other. We all have our things that we are we find interesting in one another. I think that is super important. I don’t think I did that well, especially early on. I’ve done better in the last five, ten years but I did a crappy job at best the first from ‘98 through 2008, I don’t think I really did a good job of surrounding myself with smart people, engaging with smart people, whether I knew them or not. I think that was the thing that I would come back to say to the 1998 Mike. Make sure you’re building that. Find some good mentors. Why I started Startup Grind was reason to get more involved in the startup community. Smart people will give you 15 minutes, 30 minutes at least once. Now if they find you smart enough to continue the conversation that’s great and you can have other ones but they’ll always, at least in Seattle, someone almost always give you 30 minutes. I think that is the big piece of advice that I would give anyone, myself included, spend some time on it. You got to make an effort at that, it just doesn’t does this fall in your lap.

Joe:  Mix a lot of sense.

Mike: You’ll learn you’ll learn faster you you’ll learn better by being around smarter people. That kind of kind of obvious.

Joe:  Mike, thanks for doing this with us today. Mike, how can people reach you?

Mike: Twitter account. It’s just @grabmike. My website is michaelgrabham.com. The nonprofit my wife and I run is survivethestreets.org. The Package Guard is packageguard.com. Type in Mike Grabham Startup Grind and you’ll see a 100 videos.

Joe: So check out Mike for Startup Grind, Survive the Streets, Package Guard Follow Mike on Twitter @grabmike. Mike, thanks again.

Mike: Thanks Joe.

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