Un-Conferences (which I still dont “get”), StartupWeekend and other events meant to drive interaction are exploding on the scene as well.
What does it all mean? Read the rest of this entry »
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As I get ready for StartupWeekend DC (buying a new camera, setting up meetings with friends and business associates, charging the video camera, and…wait there is one more thing…oh yeah…thinking about what role I will take), I saw a tweet from Gwen Bell about a blog post she wrote about StartupWeekend Boston. The tweet seems to imply that her post was going to be constructive, but critical. So, knowing what I did about StartupWeekend Boston (Not much except for what I read and what people told me), I waited until I had read and respond to her post.
After reading Room for Improvement: StartupWeekend, I felt that a simple comment would not provide me enough room to both respond to her views on StartupWeekend and add my own. So, a blog post began forming….It would be great if other people continued the conversation here, at Gwen’s blog or via a blog post of their own….I have indented Gwen’s blog post and responded beneath the quoted portion.
Let me begin this post by expressing my gratitude to the Startup Weekend Boston crowd that came out over the weekend.
My first thoughts was “wow.” This is going to be completely different from what I am come to expect from Gwen. She tends to be very positive, and this opening line laid the groundwork for what I now expected to be an honest and open account of Gwen’s thoughts whether critical, positive, constructive or negative. My second thought was “awesome.”
I want to first admit that I played a major part in what I think went wrong this weekend. It will become more apparent as you read where I think I failed, but as a leader, I have a lot to learn. I?m constantly working on speaking up about my concerns more quickly, and in a more effective manner.
Its great that Gwen wants to take ownership for some of the faults of StartupWeekend Boston and knowing where someone feels they personally made mistakes is so helpful in learning, growing and improving. I guess what I am not sure I understand is does Gwen view herself as a leader in StartupWeekend? I imagine that is a feeling many people have going into a StartupWeekend, but isnt the whole point collaboration with the lack of defined leaders? In fact, Andrew himself considers himself a facilitator, and views himself as someone who keeps the group on track, etc. as I surmised from my own experience and Gwen’s comment on the TechCrunch UK article:
…During SW Boston, for instance, he played the role of Supervisor, Motivator, Video Camera Man, Clean Up Crew, and more. He is above no one, nor is he below them…
Not someone who leads the group. If StartupWeekend is a room full of chiefs, its no surprise that only one Weekend launched a working product. That doesnt mean there are people that are looked to for answers from each group (team leads), but if one comes to StartupWeekend expecting to be a leader, you will be disappointed and bitter.
Locals Must Outnumber Out-of-Towners
…the fact that some saw the weekend more as a vacation was detrimental to the group. I don?t mind that some saw it as a vacation; I do mind that they appeared to commit and then disappeared less than halfway through the weekend.
…We should cap the number of people coming in from beyond a 100-mile radius at, say, twelve….In addition to that rule, I don?t think you should be permitted to pitch your idea if you?re an out-of-towner….
I wholeheartedly agree. I specifically did not choose Boston to go to because so many Boulderites were going. I chose DC because of my local ties to the community and that I feel still part of that community, even 10 years after moving away from DC.
It was also no surprise that Gwen’s idea was chosen. 1) She is a super cool chick and very passionate about the idea; 2) There were way too many Boulderites; 3) The other idea (which I personally liked better for its long term viability), was more esoteric and would take a bit more effort to truly monetize.
I hesitantly posted an idea for DC. I asked them first before I did, and I still feel weird about it. Luckily, it wasnt chosen. (I did add a second idea, one I had while in DC 10 years ago, and so I thought it was okay).
Also, in DC, I plan to not participate beyond blogging unless asked. Its their event, not mine. I come with preconceived notions that dont need to be applied. Will I throw down if asked? Of course I will, but my skills arent technical, so its a bit easier to help out.
Create Success Metrics & Refer to Them Often
…Is the fact that we got to launch this weekend enough for people?…We can now accept signups but have nothing to follow up with…
For some reason this really sticks in my craw. Deskhappy did not launch. It was little more than an snazzy splashpage. ScrollTalk is still the only application to launch–really launch. You can signup and use it. VoSnap is the only other application that is alive (albeit it took several months, and there is still a lot of work to do).
…We need a Milestone Board that goes up Friday night and people contribute to whenever they want. When a milestone is reached, it should be checked off…
I really, really like this idea, except that people shouldnt be able to contribute whatever/whenever they want. It will get silly. Perhaps there are overall group goals, and then individual team goals? Regardless, kudos to Gwen for this idea.
….Is Startup Weekend (as a business) already successful?….
From a revenue standpoint? No way. But as a business that has a clear product, deliverables and identity? Absolutely. Will it be a $100 million business? Probably never. Will it be a nice lifestyle business? Most likely. Right now Andrew is learning something new at each weekend:
- Boulder: the 7 minute meetings were key. Clear direction for the developers is key.
- Toronto: Clarity of organization. Bill of Rights launched.
- Hamburg: StartupWeekend doesnt need Andrew in attendance, but in spirit.
- NYC: When to schedule, how many people are needed for a successful weekend. Transparency.
- Houston: When the event is run by bloggers, the business will be for bloggers. Meaning, the business will be reflective of the attendees rather than the local community.
- West Lafayette: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Simple ideas are the best for launch.
- Boston: Having your friends participate is great, but not for productivity. 100 blog posts is about the right amount of transparency. Jeff should never tweet drunk.
Thats what a startup does. It moves, it shakes, it fails, it changes and welcomes change. If Andrew is making a major mistake it is that he is trying to please all the people all of the time. But, seriously, he is 23. Name two business owners (except for Facebook Kid) that made no mistakes as a 23 year old business owner. I’ll wait.
Why not kill the company?
…Very few of the participants have continued to meet up with consistency after the weekend ends….
There are five people who at some level are participating in the future of VoSnap. Things have settled down into the life of a nights and weekends startup, which is pretty boring, and therefore communication to the outside world has become a trickle. In addition, this was by design. There is no way 58 people could have continued to run a company.
Let?s include a page in the PB Wikis that are set up for each weekend to keep running tabs on milestones and celebrate each one, however seemingly trivial.
This I am not sure if I agree with. Frankly, I only care about the success of VoSnap and StartupWeekend. It should be the goal of the core team that moves forward with each group to keep those groups apprised of progress. An occasional email or blog post should about do it. Plus it should be active, not passive.
Should the idea be killed at the end of the weekend? No. It would be like writing a novel and throwing it out because you dont have an ending. There is still value in what was done.
The 5/45/50 Split Question
Is 45% enough of an incentive for those left to do the rest of the work (hundreds or thousands more hours of work, even), enough?
I always thought it was either 47.5%/5%/47.5% or 50% was left for whoever took it forward. But, no entrepreneur does it solely for the money. Any entrepreneur worth his or her salt will believe they can add enough value that owning only a small portion of the company will be more than enough. After all, most founders will own 8 – 15% of the company once a liquidity event occurs.
We have a Founder?s Bill of Rights, but what if we created a Founder?s Bill of Expectations. …You should be forced to give up your shares if you?re not going to be a team player…
This is close to what Toronto attempted to do with equating hours to shares. I think at the end of the day being there is enough for founders shares. After all, there were several people in Boulder that participated for the full weekend that I wish didnt, and several that I wished participated more. Im sure there were people at the Boulder event (I got 4 complaints! I dare anyone to beat that record!) that wished I didnt get equity.
If its going to be an event, then it should be just an event. It should not matter whether you get equity or not. And who judges your worth? Andrew? He would shoot himself if he had to do that. Who becomes the equity police?
One of the problems with StartupWeekend is that it needs to decide if its an event or a barn raising. Does the forming of the company matter, or just the attempt? Andrew needs to either decide this, or each city needs to decide this prior to the event. This ambiguity is what left such a bad taste in people’s mouths after Boulder.
Designated Roles Kill Creativity
…If you want a title, go work for a corporation. If you?re unwilling to wear multiple hats during the weekend, think twice before signing up….
Titles serve two purposes: 1) clearly define a persons role; 2) clearly define a persons place. They have a definite place in StartupWeekend if used for the first purpose; no place if they are used for #2.
….Should you do what you?re talented at or do want you want to do at Startup Weekend?….
I struggle with this a ton. I am a BizDev guy through and through. I love it, revel in it, do it every day at work and in my spare time. I wish I could code or design. I can market with the best of them. I can run a company (done that a couple of times). I wish I could do some of the legal work.
But, at the end of the day, I can only do what I can do. DC will be the first time I get to do something slightly different. I get to be a blogger. I can pretend to be Erica O’Grady, Robert Scoble or even Perez Hilton for a weekend. Will I do it as well as those three? Will I even do it as well as David Cohen or Jeff Ledoux. Hell if I know, but I want to try. If StartupWeekend pigeon-holed me into BizDev, I would have stopped being involved and, frankly, a bit bitter.
…I was needed as a designer at Vosnap because there were none…
Ouch. Shout outs to Jeff, Charley, and other other 4-5 folks that threw in during the design effort. I know Paul didnt mean to offend, but ouch. (By a point of disclosure: Gwen and Paul are partners in PlungeArtist, who did my header bar, which I love. If you need design work. Call them.)
…People should come in hoping to do what they enjoy, expecting to do what they do best, but be satisfied if they are needed for something they don?t want to do at all…
While I guess I agree, my issue is how does that foster community? It would foster a bunch of bitter folks. Better spending some time on figuring out who was coming and roles prior to the event (again, something that Toronto did–over zealously–but did). Remember, in Boulder, our PR team has two biotech folks on it, our bizdev team had designers on it, our UX team had business analysts on it, etc. In some cases that worked, in others it did not.
What is missing from this is the personal goals set by the participants. What if I came to Boulder looking for a job (people would say – nice work Micah! Good Luck at Lijit.) What if Eric came to Boulder to show that he was more than a Java project manager, and so worked in PR? What is wrong with that?
Cubicle Life Kills Creativity
1) Miscommunication and lack of communication between groups
2) Shit talking
I would have love to have learned more about the above three items through the blog. Mini-coups? Feels like an inside reference that needs more clarity.
On that note, a lot of shit-talking has been eliminated in past weekends because we were UStreaming the event. A live feed keeps you honest, however Big Brother it is. If you know what you?re about to say may be on the record for eternity, you might think twice before making a disparaging remark. You learn to keep things positive.
Which is also not the answer. I forgot about the camera most of the time, and even when I did remember it my mouth opened and spoke before my brain told it to stop. And keeping things positive is NOT THE RIGHT THING TO DO. No startup ever was successful because there was no conflict. Conflict brings resolution; resolution breeds solutions; solutions breed revenue. (Hopefully). I specifically asked Jeff when he was doing the Inside StartupWeekend pieces (which I expect will continue in DC) to ask three questions: 1) positive (what do you like about the weekend?); 2) negative (what has been the biggest disappointment?); 3) positive/random/funny: (what is the smell like?) This would provide a real view beyond “StartupWeekend is Awesome.”
Communication is the most important element to building community during the weekend…
Again, it needs to be determined if StartupWeekend is about community or business building. Most companies have and need a separate space for privacy (whether its to take a break from the noise, or to have a private conversation), I think StartupWeekend needs this as well. Although open space is nice, it has its downfalls as well.
It seems as StartupWeekend matures, more and more people are putting forth their thoughts and beliefs on what the weekend should be. I called for more transparency and Andrew responded. I imagine Gwen’s blog post will spur the same amount of change.
As for my last thought on StartupWeekend, it really is one of those events you cant watch. Its like hockey on TV, painful to see. You need to go to really understand why Gwen, Jeff, Paul and many others including myself are so passionate about an idea developed over coffee (probably at Trident) by a 23 year old designer who revels in community. If that is the case, perhaps there needs to be a smaller window to the outside world during them? Perhaps a single live blog and nothing more. No tweets, no video, no press.
And, even more so, the event needs to become less about Andrew Hyde and more about its reason for life: showcasing local talent, fostering community and relationships and MOST IMPORTANTLY…launching a f-kin company in 52 hours. Find a StartupWeekend in your neighborhood (or adopted neighborhood) and sign up.
Last night I was speaking with a friend about a couple of issues he was experiencing both professionally and personally. We talked through several options, and near the end of it, I decided that the best thing to do was to talk in person.
So, this morning, I put Billie and Taylor into the car, packed a backpack full of water and poop bags, and headed up to Boulder. Three of us met at a trailhead, and we started the hike.
Initially, the thought was to hike for about an hour, we would all be able to vent to each other, offer support and suggestions, and at the conclusion, we would separate, one to go work, me to a hot yoga class, and the third went wee wee wee, all the way home. (Im making one of those up).
As we started hiking, dogs and all, we decided to take a path that we hadnt before. That path continued away from the trail head, and after about two hours ended at a sign that said, “Attention hikers! The trail dead ends here. The rest is private property. Proceed and die.” (I made one of those sentences up.)
Instead of turning around, already having decided to forgo our subsequent plans, we began to forge our own trail. We climbed over and down rocks, through cactus and brier, and after about another hour, finally reconnected with a lower trail. Each one of us sore, beat up, cut up, tired and thirsty, we began the trek back to the car, not realizing it was probably around a mile away (I am not making that up.)
We got back to the car, grabbed some food, and separated after four hours. What was originally planned to be a quick 1 hour hike (maybe a mile in total), became a 4 hour, 4.5 mile scurry and climb.
But, at the end, we all agreed it was a great day. And the conversation I have heard after the hike didnt include any of the lousy parts. In terms of transparency, we really werent transparent at all publicly. As far as most people know, the hike was great from beginning to end. There was little communication (and interest) about the entire trip.
Toronto, based on Andrew Hyde’s comments and Brill’s comments, was not the most fun. During the weekend itself, there was little to no communication to the outside world. Other than a few blog posts at the end of the weekend, the only thing I could think about it, was that it generally sucked, and that it was not a positive experience for anyone.
Transparent, it was not.
NYC, on the other hand, seems to be going much more smoothly. Currently, there are 25 blog posts about the weekend activities. Toronto had 15 posts. Currently, there are 29 tweets from NYC, and there were 8 from SWTO.
There are multiple blogs following NYC, and the general feeling is one of abject postivitity. Andrew even posted a bunch of photos he took to his own Andrew Hyde blog.
But, where are the mistakes? Where are the errors? Where is the process?
NYC, Transparent you are not.
I understand that StartupWeekend is a work in progress, and I am a huge supporter of the concept and of Andrew himself. So much so, that I am going to travel to DC, on my dime, just to be around (I feel like its their weekend, and I can be called on for advice, but I really shouldnt have a material role in the weekend).
But, part of the beauty of this concept is transparency. The biggest disappointment for myself ,and many others at SW Boulder, was that while everything seemed to be great, we didnt launch. There was little indication–internally or externally–that was going to be the case. Sure, we made a major error, and to Andrew’s credit, he blogged about it. But the mix of disappointment and anger in the follow up posts is clearly there because the failure was a surprise.
At the end of the day, if StartupWeekend is going to be a success, and if its going to continue to be the global phenomenon it has become (There are cities in Europe signing up!) it has to bet its future on transparency. There has to be clear vision into the process itself, because the companies created during StartupWeekend dont matter–only the process does. Until everyone can see the process clearly and transparently, StartupWeekend will continue to be a nice experiment that a small number of people enjoy on select weekends, and like every other buzz-filled event, it will die.