SEATTLE -- Thousands try it every year, hoping to get hooked. Hundreds tried to score at the Seattle rock club the Showbox Sodo Friday, cramming into corners and dimply lit rooms. Their drug of choice: a tech startup business.
“It’s exhilarating,” said Dave Cotter, a veteran startup junkie.
A room full of earnest entrepreneurs packed Geekwire’s Startup Day Conference at the Showbox. They pushed their products, apps and other innovations, and posed for investors who could help feed their habits.
“It’s hardcore,” said Cotter. “When the opportunity comes, you have to go for it.”
Opportunity, however, is often fleeting. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that up to 75% of tech startups stop dead in their tracks. Venture capital analysts say the numbers are more like 30% to 40%. Regardless, in order to make it in this world you have to crave success like a drug.
“It’s kind of like a dopamine hit when you get going,” said Cotter, who is currently working on his second startup. Like many in the game, Cotter left the safety and comfort of senior management at Amazon for a taste of the action. He believes that, like addiction, the startup mentality might be in your DNA.
“Whether it comes to you in the crib or when you’re 40, when you get the itch you really, really gotta go scratch it.”
As with any addiction, however, it’s rarely healthy. The soaring highs come with devastating lows. Cotter ended up divorced and distant from his three kids. One day he suffered a stroke that could’ve killed him.
“I freaked out,” he said. “I was laying there along in a hospital bed. It was a very, very empty feeling.”
The experience gave Cotter new perspective. His latest startup is SquareHub, a social media app that keeps families connected. The new venture helped bring his family closer together, as well.
“If I'm gonna get sucked in, because every now and then I still want the hit, I get sucked in because I'm getting messages from my 14-year-old daughter,” said Cotter. “I love the fact that she's using the app. We talk about ways to make it better.”
At 43, Cotter says he is now in “startup recovery.”
“I could’ve died,” he said. “So, now I ask people what would they do if they had an hour to live? Who would they call? What matters most to them? We need to make real priorities in our lives.”
Cotter captivated the crowd with his stories from the Showbox stage Friday. He advised all those craving the rush at the Geekwire conference to make their drug of choice something that truly matters.
“For me the simple answer is family. That's it. That's the dopamine hit.”