An open letter to DC, MD, and VA entrepreneurs about Bootstrap Maryland

March 29, 2009 by Jared Goralnick

PrintTo the Greater DC & Baltimore Technology Community:

You may have heard about the Bootstrap Maryland Conference.  Here’s a little background on why I’m holding this event, and how I hope it will add value to our community. If you’re not interested in the back-story but are curious about the event, you can skip to

I’ve written this post because I’ve received a lot of inquiries (some excited, some wondering why they weren’t notified earlier); I want to address those questions and open up the discussion.

My Own Background: Seeking Out Business Advice

I’ve been running a business for about 7 years, and when I started there wasn’t much good information locally for people building technology companies.  There was business networking, there were business consultants operating for a fee, and there were organizations aimed at advising traditional businesses…but I wasn’t aware of a group or course that knew how to help a 20 year old with a technical degree to build a company.  So first time through, I got a lot of things wrong with my business.

A year and a half ago, when my team began working on AwayFind, we stumbled around a bit.  We found many new challenges in transitioning to a product company, and were continually surprised by the scale of our financial, marketing, and technical efforts. It took time to find people who could ‘tell it like it is’, confirm that we weren’t alone, and point us to the resources (some local, many online) that we needed.

Changes in the Region

While we’ve been building AwayFind, the DC, MD, and NoVA technology communities have grown rapidly, especially in the 20- and 30-something demographic:

  • Organizations have sprouted up all over the place.  They have varying focuses, such as web development, design, social media, and business networking
  • An early stage incubator launched and other incubators have begun focusing more on younger technology startups
  • Coworking and other movements (such as the various un-conferences) have come to our cities, further helping us to share ideas and build peer networks

In short, the face of this community has changed for the better…and now there is so much more opportunity to find peers and mentors. It’s a more inviting and supportive environment.  Though I didn’t name the specific organizations (you know who you are), I applaud you for giving so much of your energy and serving as a resource for the entrepreneurs and soon-to-be entrepreneurs in this region.

No, my “applause” doesn’t quite cut it: if it weren’t for you all, I couldn’t live here. I get a little sniffily when I consider how vibrant and giving the community here is. I feel like a part of something greater, especially with all the passion and optimism (and you should think about that optimism: it ain’t like that in the rest of the country). Thank you all for doing so much to shape the community the last few years.

A Need for Business Education

However, I still believe there’s a need for education and peer groups that focus specifically on the logistical, financial, and tactical business decisions that serve as roadblocks to launching and succeeding in building a technology business. There’s a whole bunch of misinformation, old information, and fear to debunk. And further, it doesn’t take boatloads of cash, an MBA, or a large rolodex to succeed. That is why I’m holding the Bootstrap Maryland Conference.

But that’s not all.  Two recent experiences have pushed me to make this happen:

  • I’ve been traveling a great deal: to conferences, to startup hubs, to incubators, and to venture events both domestic and abroad. Outside of this region, there are more people and events focused on helping others with the best business practices of growing technology companies. And in the most successful regions there are deeper ties between the university and business communities
  • I recently attended a sizable event that was intended to energize the student community into building more technology companies. There were two areas where it could have been improved: (1) its advice could have been more current, and thus more applicable to today’s technology companies, particularly with the speed of the web; and, (2) its speakers could have been closer in age to the attendees, so that the attendees could have better identified with the speakers (and possibly been that much more inspired by them)

Bootstrap Maryland’s Focus

Bootstrap Maryland will focus on helping entrepreneurs with the unique business challenges of building a technology company today.  It will involve the university community whenever possible.  And at the first Conference, most of the speakers will be indistinguishable from the generally-younger attendees, to illustrate just how possible and (in some ways) easy it is to build a sustainable business.

Bootstrap Maryland is not just for bootstrapped startups; it will address a broad array of lean principles for building technology companies, particularly with small teams. While some of the topics at the conference (or possibly at future events) may overlap with other community groups, the underlying theme is what’s best for the business of a startup; for instance, though the first conference will explore technology and social media, these topics will be addressed at a high level under the lens of “what decisions in technology or marketing will seriously impact the future of my business?”

One more thing: I’ve been working (and traveling for work) a little bit too much lately, and  I should have paused for a moment to contact more people and let them know about this event in advance.  I know many of you want to be involved…and I have no intention of doing this alone.  I really hope it doesn’t sound like I’m doing this for personal gain.  And as for the first round of panelists, selecting them was the most difficult part: while I’m confident that they’re very qualified, it was very difficult to narrow it down to the list that is there now.  If I overlooked or failed to contact a person or group, please know that I want to work with you.  Just email me or comment below and we’ll find a way for you to play a part.  And if this event is a success, perhaps we’ll find an opportunity to do something more together.

Please Sign Up and Please Help Spread the Word

If you do have the time, please come along on May 2nd to the conference.  And if you have a blog, a Twitter account, or a friend that might benefit, please spread the word.  The site is and on Twitter it’s @bootstrapmd.

Thank you for hearing me out, and I hope to see you there.  I welcome any thoughts, questions, or suggestions.

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7 Responses to “An open letter to DC, MD, and VA entrepreneurs about Bootstrap Maryland”

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  1. usegraymatter (Renee ? Lemley)

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  1. Jeff Tong

    Thanks for all the help Jared. You’ve definitely been one of my personal role models in this wide ranging field of Web2.0. Hopefully we’ll have tons of attendees and many more that want to come to the next one!

    Hoping to work with you on many more projects in the future.

  2. @Stephen

    Hi Jared, I think we spoke about this in January, and I really would love to be there but I will be in Chicago at SOBCon. We should talk after because I would love to share in lessons learned.

  3. Bob

    Hope the event goes well. We’ll be thinking about you guys while we are shooting during this year’s 48 Hour Film Festival.

  4. Lisa Rawlings

    Jared, thank you so much for taking the initiative to put on Bootstrap Maryland. I run the Hillman Entrepreneurs Program at Prince George’s Community College, a scholarship program for students of any major who start at PGCC and transfer to University of Maryland. You and your excellent panelists opened my eyes to how out of date my views on teaching entrepreneurship are. Congratulations on a great event!

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