Punch Profiles: People to Know / 13 Questions with Globe Trotting Entrepreneur, Innovator, Disrupter & CEO of iStrategyLabs Peter Corbett
Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about how we at the Punch have intentions to go in the deep end with D.C.’s startup and technology community. She said, “Yes, people not from here don’t understand how Tysons Corner and Reston have all these tech businesses!” I held my hand up. “No, no.Â I am not speaking of outside the Beltway, I am talking about inside the Beltway.” She shook her head. She didn’t know of what I meant.Â She, along with many others still believe that the only startups and techy circles lurk along the Dulles Toll Road, going as far east as that Star Wars looking eye sore called Tysons Corner.Â In actuality, there is a world of new/old/young/seasoned talent which is gathering, rumbling, creating at a faster pace than back in the day (I loved with and through the ’90′s boom-bust).Â Money, talent, collaboration, mentorship, and bravery are the names of this game and you can find all of this lurking this time in Dupont Circle, around the Verizon Center and other ‘hoods within the District proper.
It’s been happening for years now and for those in the know, you know there is one (or a few) names that are beacons of light. The go-to’s. The leaders of the pack. One such fountainhead is Peter Corbett the founder and head honcho at iStrategyLabs. Peter, a globe trotting disrupter, gave us a few moments of his time and here’s what he had to say about D.C.’s rise of the machines:
Pamela’s Punch:Â You have the reputation as THE “go-to” guy when it comes to innovative startups, branding, “disruptive” technology, and entrepreneurship. Obviously you’ve earned that title for a reason beginning with being an 8 year old hacker. Tell us a bit about your background.
Peter Corbett: More like 9 years old, but who’s counting? I started out as a kid with a weird mix of interests – I loved computers, loved design, was constantly building things with technology or my hands, and was very socialable at the same time. However, I was never really the best at anything – which was difficult for me because I wanted to be the best. I wanted to win. But you don’t win awards for begging just ‘pretty good at a lot of stuff’. I eventually went to business school at Emory as an undergrad, started a concert production/promotion company and became a fashion TV producer in NYC right after school. After working in TV and then a few ad agencies, I got laid off and started iStrategyLabs. Thankfully, being “pretty good at a lot of stuff” is exactly what you need in order to be a successful entrepreneur — that and a huge amount of hard work.
PP:Â Your company iStrategyLabs which you founded four years ago is reminiscent of the happy energetic, creative cool ’90′s, when the internet boom was blossoming. How do you keep that culture alive today when it was so shunned after the bust?
PC:Â Is it? If anything we’re more like the year 2020 around here — or at least we’re stuck in the 80′s. The skinny jeans, MJ worship and synth beats at ISL are enough to kill Cyndi Lauper. We don’t have to worry about keep a post-boom/bust culture alive, because none of our staff lived through that first internet boom. I graduated a couple years after 9/11 — which means I personally didn’t go through that roller-coaster.
PP:Â Give us a snapshot of the lay of the land in DC. What’s going on in the startup tech world?
PC:Â I could write a book really. Let me put it this way – for the 7 years I’ve been in DC I’ve seen the whole ecosystem go from nothing to really something. Up until about a year ago even, I could tell you about almost every interesting company, and every interesting person in the start scene who was working on something cool. Now – there’s just way to much to keep up with it all. There’s over 200 startups listed on proudlymadeindc.com; there are over 700 startups in DC/MD/VA with around half in the city itself. There are 10s of 1000s of designers, developers and entrepreneurs that attend things like DCWEEK (http://digitalcapitalweek.org) and DC Tech Meetup (http://meetup.com/dc-tech-meetup). There’s more money than there are entrepreneurs to raise it. This place is on fire.
PP:Â Tell us about some of the major players in this arena.
PC:Â The Big Deal: LivingSocial is the biggest, hottest startup in the DC Ecosystem. I don’t need to explain that one I suppose.
The Green Team: OPOWER is a booming startup that’s likely to go public in the next year or so – they’re using analytics and behavioral psychology to reduce power consumption. Pretty rad.
The Money: GoreTech is the hometown hero when it comes to VC. They were early in LivingSocial, and I believe were the best performing VC fund nationally in 2011. We’ve also got Acceleprize, The Fort, Endeavor and Dingman Angels to round out the super early stage/angel investment tier.
PP:Â This is DC, so we have to ask an obvious question. What can you tell us about the recent policies passed which help (or not) to foster new companies within DC?
PC:Â DC recently passed a $32 tax break for LivingSocial to keep them in the District — fast growing companies like these get courted by other municipalities all the time. In September, DC might pass a bill to reduce the capital gains tax for tech investors and entrepreneurs. We’ll see…
PP:Â Is this helping to attract and retain these startups?
PC:Â For sure. LivingSocial is staying. If tax reform passes, DC will no longer be at a disadvantage to MD and VA — therefore making it more likely for startups and their investors to be based in DC.
PP:Â As someone who lived in NoVa and was part of the telecom/internet/technology boom/bust, how can expect a different experience now?
PC:Â Well – I don’t know what life is like in Virginia, but I can tell you the DC Tech scene is a lot more casual than NoVa. There are more fixies, mustaches and tattoos than there are khaki’s and ties. It’s also likely to be more difference both in terms of ethnicity and gender.
PP:Â How do we know the boom/bust cycle won’t happen again?
PC:Â We don’t. I’d bet money on it that it will happen again.
PP:Â Why the shift from outside the Beltway to inside the Beltway? We hear Dupont Circle and Chinatown is thriving, even VC’s are lurking around. What gives?
PC:Â There are a few things at work – for one, there’s a massive influx of young people moving to DC from all over the place. Young people want to be close to each other – and the density of a city is what they seek. So DC is benefiting from that simple macro trend. The second thing is more intentional – my fellow community organizers and I have been pushing and pushing for more density among the startup community for years. Over time, Dupont Circle and Chinatown have been come the places where startups have gravitated in order to be close to one another. The VC’s are downtown a bit more now, but they’re still spending way too much time in Mclean/Potomac. They need to be in the mix with entrepreneurs that they don’t know yet – and who are not in their typical networks.
PP:Â As a globetrotter (we follow your travels on Facebook and Twitter) what is the perception of our nation’s capital and the startup world?
PC:Â Most people only know DC as a place of politics and government. Those who’ve actually spent any time here, and met someone in the tech/creative community know there’s a lot more. I view it as one of my jobs to spread the world globally about what’s happening here. It’s working slowly but surely.
PP:Â What are the 5 things you need to know if you are an emerging entrepreneur in DC?
PC:Â I’ll give you 10. You can read them all on this HackPad: https://hackpad.com/EYfL7X7gepL#How-to-Hack-the-DC-Tech-Ecosystem
PP:Â What’s next for iStrategyLabs?
PC:Â We’re moving into a new, big office space at 1630 Connecticut Ave – we’re staying in Dupont, but we’re getting ready to take the company from 20 folks, to 40 or 50+ in the next couple years.
PP:Â What’s next for you?
PC:Â Well, I’ll be heading to Summer Davos in China in September, and then joining a delegation of tech entrepreneurs and investors in Moscow to build bridges between our communities. I’ll then head to Berlin, Tallinn, and Zagreb. I’m excited for the Fall — if in the lease because it’s just too damn hot out there these days.
Follow Peter on Twitter @Corbett3000.
Pamela Lynne Sorensen is the founder of Pamela’s Punch, a leading source of information for the “who, what, when, and where” of Washington, DC’s elite social, professional, and philanthropic scene, which she founded in November of 2006. In 2012 she launched Pacific Punch, based in Los Angeles. Pamela comes from an extensive background in sales and business development from a variety of industries, has been involved with charities and fundraising for a number of years and holds several Board and leadership positions. She currently resides in Arlington, Virginia and when she’s not out on the town, she’s reading or writing while sipping fine wine, or traveling the country and the world ISO adventures, beauty, fun, food, style, libations, music, and the good life. Follow her on Twitter at @pamelaspunch.