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When Edward Domain announced last week that Lab 1500 founders Jan Christian Andersen and Dan Lohman had come on board as partners with Techli, it was projected that the partnership would both strengthen the popular startup media website and expand its reach to new markets.
This weekend or Monday will see the debut of a new feature that will play a significant role in that expansion, The Domain Tech Report—a series of in-depth video interviews profiling local entrepreneurs that have been building the local ecosystem from the ground up.
Having experimented with different ways of reporting tech news with limited resources, Domain saw that local-coverage video seemed to really resonate with people, bringing Techli much more attention—and page hits—than it ever got from editorial. The first four episodes have already been shot and will air weekly. “Videos are really going to give us a chance,” says Domain. “People seem to respond to it better.”
As Techli expands into new markets, news and videos from other cities will be aggregated on the Techli website. Visitors will be able to easily navigate to get the tech news from any city they want. According to Andersen—who’s stepping into the role of CEO—the company could be adding Nashville and Kansas City by the end of the year, then other cities down the road. In addition to easier navigation, the site will have a much cleaner look and it will be much easier for staff to interact with readers. Even with expansion, the company’s main focus will remain almost hyper-local. “St. Louis is our home,” Andersen says.“St. Louis has supported us.”
You cannot overstate the importance of Techli to the St. Louis startup community. As Domain points out, entrepreneurs need capital and resources, and one thing investors and venture capitalists like is finding out what’s going on in the ecosystem as a whole as they look for a metaphorical pond to swim in. Even now, Techli’s biggest source of traffic is San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
“Even though we’re telling the story of St. Louis to St. Louis, we’re also telling the story of St. Louis to the nation as a whole,” Domain says. “This illustrates to people that St. Louis is where good ideas and innovation come from, and it all leads to an overarching narrative that the city is not only a driving force, but a good place to be. Techli is helping the entrepreneurial community by getting the story out beyond St. Louis.” Because getting the story out, inevitably, brings investment.
The Human Touch
There’s a human side to the Techli story. Just a few months ago, Ed Domain was a dead man. On his way to a parade by taxi, the driver was texting. The rest of the story plays like a public service message from the Ad Council. A van stuck the cab head on. “I thought that might have been it,” Domain says. “Dan and Jan played a big part in keeping Techli alive.” As it happened, Lohman and Andersen were already in talks with Domain about a Techli partnership, so they stepped in and managed the website during the six months Domain spent in the hospital recovering from serious injuries.
When he made his first public appearance recently at the Startup Business Challenge, he received the kind of rousing ovation reserved for the famous. “That’s another example of St. Louisans pulling for their own,” Domain says. “I’ve only been here for a year-and-a-half, and six months of that I spent in the hospital. The reception I got just really blew me away.”
Like any entrepreneur, there have been other obstacles along the way. Domain first named his website Flyover Geeks—a play on the notion that any place that isn’t NY or California is flyover country—but the SEO was terrible. Nobody could find it, and it got more searches for airfare than tech.
Whatever the obstacle, Domain recommends perseverance. “I definitely believe it’s a matter of sticking with your vision even when things are really looking dark,” Domain says. “Make your own luck. The longer you’re in it, the more opportunities you’re going to have to really have a breakthrough.”