Miami natives build a tech ecosystem that fosters creativity, loyalty

Entrepreneur and Startup Grind host Jason Ibarra asked Will Weinraub, founder of Live Ninja, about his experience launching a startup in Miami. Both Ibarra and Weinraub are Miami natives. Photo by Preston Tesvich.

Miami natives are strengthening the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem by fostering loyalty and creativity in the emerging tech community.

More than 40 South Florida entrepreneurs traveled to Venture Hive in downtown Miami Tuesday night to participate in Startup Grind and hear about successful efforts from local startups.

Startup Grind is a collection of hyper-local conversations that aim to inspire, educate, and connect entrepreneurs across the globe. Startup Grind Miami, which debuted in March, hosts conversations in entrepreneurship each month powered by Google for Entrepreneurs and supported by Knight Foundation.

Two Miami natives contributed to the narrative by discussing what it means to invest your life’s work in the city. Startup Grind host Jason Ibarra asked Will Weinraub, founder of Live Ninja, about growing a Miami-based startup in the video chat space. He emphasized that even when Live Ninja chose to expand into the commercial market and compete with the Amazon Mayday experience online as Katana, a customer service chat that integrates into any website, Live Ninja continues to stay true to their core mission, to rethink employment by connecting people with experts on almost any topic.

“We’ve developed a new way to solve the job problem,” he said. “We’re less of a nine-to-five generation and more of a generation that’s Ubering while Airbnbing. At Live Ninja, we want to help eliminate unemployment by modernizing what it means to be employed.”

Weinraub emphasized that the most successful businesses are mission-driven companies and that it’s important to identify and communicate the “why” of what you do to potential venture capitalists. He shared that his very first $25,000 venture capitalist check came as a result of attending Incubate Miami in 2012 when angel investor Marco Giberti gave a speech on the ugly “cold sweat” truth of what’s required of an entrepreneur.

“He was leaving the event and I remember actually running to the elevator,” Weinraub said. “It was one of those moments where you slip your foot into the door and, right there, I gave him an actual elevator pitch.”

The validation that came as a result of receiving that initial investment from someone highly connected, he said, is what is required to build momentum. Prior to seeking investment, he said that entrepreneurs must first show proof that at least one or two customers have bought and are using the service. Second, know that taking the investment is like committing to a seven-year marriage. Third, do three times the due diligence that they are doing on you and have the best lawyer review your contracts. 

“I had two requirements,”  he said. “They had to be an entrepreneur themselves and I had to see myself having a beer with them even when [negative events] went down.”

Weinraub said he has turned down money from venture capitalists who did not meet that criteria  and that the same values translate to his hiring process. He said that creating a strong internal culture “where everyone has your back” and “can express their creativity” is what ultimately catalyzes the company’s success.

As an example, he said weekly Live Ninja entrepreneur meetups called “Waffle Wednesdays,” now sponsored by Knight Foundation, came as a result of his staff walking through Target and seeing a $5 waffle maker on the shelf. They entertained the idea of getting together as a team over waffles. The experience was something the staff enjoyed and wanted to share with other business professionals in the area.

“We decided to open it up to the community,” Weinraub said. “Now, we have more than 40 people come in each Wednesday and we encourage anyone to present their ideas at the mic in the front of the room.”

Weinraub concluded the conversation by inviting all Startup Grind attendees to come have a waffle each Wednesday at 9 a.m. He encouraged entrepreneurs to continue to foster a the emerging startup ecosystem by supporting one another at local pitch events such as Tech Cocktail, in addition to attending speaker events like Startup Grind.

Jenna Buehler is a Miami-based freelance writer.

Videos of the Startup Grind conversations are available on the group’s website. Tech Cocktail and Refresh Miami will host a holiday party and ceremony recognizing Miami startups, Friday, Dec. 12, at The Stage in the Miami Design District. Tickets are available on the Tech Cocktail website.