The Durham Convention Center was filled with more than 175 faces from the Triangle tech community yesterday as they gathered for GrepBeat’s inaugural Grep-a-palooza tech conference.
The event, sponsored by ExtensisHR, Wyrick Robbins, Dualboot Partners, Robinson Bradshaw, HPG and Michael Best, offered attendees a variety of panels and keynote discussions. Grep-a-palooza was also the first tech conference many attended since the coronavirus pandemic began disrupting in-person networking events starting in March 2020.
At the morning keynote, Todd Olson, Pendo’s CEO and Co-Founder, chatted with GrepBeat managing editor Pete McEntegart about Pendo’s path to unicorn status and its success as a company that now employs more than 900 people.
Pendo gained its first paying customer in October 2014, and they still are a customer today, Olson said. But as a “paranoid human being” Olson didn’t feel like Pendo had really “made it” for a while. After talking to an entry-level sales rep who was able to close a deal in one call, Olson could fully see Pendo was on a successful track.
The next panel featured partners from Triangle-based VC firms, Bull City Ventures’ David Jones, Cofounders Capital’s Tim McLoughlin and IDEA Fund’s Joe Darcy, moderated by CED’s Hunter Young.
The group discussed the current market’s volatility and how it could impact startups in the Triangle.
“The winners will win and the losers will lose in early stage,” Darcy said. “There’s so much volatility. There’s so much uncertainty when you’re starting a company in those earliest days, and it takes time for that downstream pressure.”
Grep-a-palooza also featured a Shark Tank style pitch competition we dubbed GrepTank. Triangle-based Allergood, ChalkTalk.PT and Plum competed for the hypothetical funding from the judges, VentureSouth’s Alex Biermann, Carolina Angel Network’s Jan Davis and active angel investor Mark Easley.
In the end, the judges chose to give $1M (in theoretical money) to Allergood and designate $500K to Plum, while holding $500K as “dry powder” for ChalkTalk if it hit certain milestones. Meanwhile, the audience chose allergy-free grocery platform Allergood as their winner by a large margin.
During the Growth Stage panel that featured Written Word Media CEO Ricci Wolman, WorkDove CEO Melissa Phillippi, Seguno Chris Geiss—with Spiffy CEO Scot Wingo moderating—the group discussed how to tell when you’ve reached product-market fit.
Wolman said founders really have to examine what their own assumptions are about product-market fit.
“Sometimes you fall in love with an idea that you have or what you think your product is or where you think you should be growing, and it’s really important to listen to the customer,” Wolman said.
At the Start the Presses! Panel, business journalists Chantal Allam (from WRAL TechWire) and Lauren Ohnesorge (from Triangle Business Journal) as well as Sarah Segal, who runs Segal Communications, gave founders their best tips for attracting media attention and coverage.
The last session before the After-Party just a few hundred yards away at Bull McCabe’s spotlighted Bandwidth’s CEO David Morken, the closing keynote speaker. Morken discussed Bandwidth’s trajectory from the time he started it fresh out of the Marines and how he has created two imperatives or ‘commandments’ that guide his company and its culture.
The commandments: All employees must accomplish their missions and love their “Bandmates,” or co-workers.
Bandwidth has also been notable for its in-person working policy even as several larger companies have elected to continue working remotely or offering more flexible, hybrid schedules for employees. Morken explained why this wasn’t an ironic policy given Bandwidth’s company goal of powering communication across different mediums.
“We value and power human connection,” Morken said. “The most priceless human connection is right here together. We want to provide video if we can, voice if we can, text if we can. But it all comes back to what we think is priceless.”
See you next year at Grep-a-palooza 2023!