How to win at Seattle: 5 strategies from Glowforge CEO Dan Shapiro

Twenty years ago, Dan Shapiro graduated from college and moved to Redmond to start a job at Microsoft. His goal? To work there for a couple years, then move back to Oregon and go to law school.

Four successful Seattle startups later — one of which, Glowforge, had the biggest 30-day crowdfunding campaign in history — and Dan is a local tech legend.

In a city that can feel plagued by a reputation for “freezing” people out, how did Dan manage to get in and make an impact? On Tuesday night, about 90 eager Seattleites filed into Impact Hub Seattle to hear about Dan’s journey and, just maybe, learn the secrets behind his success at Part I of The Evergrey’s Sparked Series.

Throughout his conversation with The Evergrey editor Mónica Guzmán, Dan credited much of his success to “dumb, stupid luck.”

But through his insights and anecdotes from those early Seattle days, the backbone of Dan’s approach to the city became clear. It didn’t feel like luck. It felt like intentional actions based on five core strategies.

‘Raise your hand if you want to run your own thing someday.’ Lots of current and future entrepreneurs turned out to Tuesday’s How to Win at Seattle event with Glowforge CEO Dan Shapiro. (Photo by Alex Garland)

Go to stuff.

Dan launched his life here with two self-imposed rules: 1. Say “yes” to everything people invite you to do, and 2. Spend at least one night a week in downtown Seattle. Sure, not every “yes” was a win for Dan (he joined a hockey team at Microsoft even though he didn’t know how to skate), but it’s how he really started making connections.

Budget for balance.

Dan talked about the importance of budgeting both time and money. Since he had his now 8-year-old twins, Dan’s rules have changed. He keeps a loose “budget” of four nights per week at home and three nights at events to avoid constantly pitting work against family. On a financial note, he stressed the importance of taking only “calculated risks” when you can afford any outcome of the decision you make.

Make yourself uncomfortable.

Dan met the Google employee who made the offer to acquire Sparkbuy, one of his startups, on a plane thanks to another rule he forced upon himself: If he’s on a flight to Silicon Valley or he gets bumped up to first class, he has to start a conversation with the person sitting next to him.

Find communities.

Attendee Ken Thickman posed a crucial question for Dan during the Q & A: With life balance in mind, how does a person decide what events are worth attending? Dan noted the “differences between raw networking events and events surrounding a topic that can connect like-minded people.” One of his earliest community-building Seattle experiences was participating in the first-ever Ignite Seattle event.

Seize the coincidence.

In Dan’s words, “The way you create meaning and opportunity in this city—and anywhere—is by taking advantage of coincidences. Sometimes that’s the opening you can go through to make the opportunity.” Don’t let those serendipitous moments slip by without acting on them.

A good place to start your own journey to Seattle success may lie in the questions Dan Shapiro asked himself 20 years ago: “How am I going to connect? What sort of place am I going to make for myself?

Stay tuned for tickets to the next speaker in the Evergrey Sparked Series: Nikkita Oliver, mayoral candidate and holder of countless other inspirational titles (spoken word artist, lawyer and community activist, to name three). She’ll join Mónica on stage in June.

Thanks to our sponsor, Wealthsimple, for making the Evergrey Sparked Series possible, to Impact Hub Seattle for hosting us, to readers Al Boss and Daria Kroupoderova for helping out as volunteers, and to Alex Garland for these awesome pics.