Category Archives: Startup
In February I wrote a blog post about the lack of support for technology co-founders in BC, Canada.
I have decided to pull together an open source program/set of courses to educate/grow/upgrade technology cofounders, to increase their chances of success in their role. The first step will be to collect ideas/experience/wisdom from the community and then pull it into a bunch of classes that a person can work through at their own pace. It is my intention to build it so anyone could actually run it as face to face classes, in their local area.
Create an open source resource/courses/program that people can run in their local area to educate/grow/upgrade technology cofounders, to increase their chances of success in their role as a technology cofounder and grow into a full CTO role.
There are many, many programs that support the business/leader/ceo co-founder but few I know to support technology co-founders.
To help technology co-founders avoid mistakes, learn from others experience and build the quality product
Target audience Technology co-founder of a startup (Startup levels) with the intention of building a fast prototype to prove the concept.
To stay platform/technology agnostic
I will start with a level one startup and build through the others
Please share this link and come and contribute to the program at
this is a wiki in which will collect all the ideas, suggestions for people we should interview, good resources you have already found and learned from..
We need the views of:
- those thinking about creating their own startup,
- those who are in it creating their first production,
- those who have supported technologists on their journey,
- those who have done it several times.
We don’t care if you have succeeded or failed share it! We need all your questions and experiences
If only somewhere Vancouver,BC would offer a course in Startup Engineering/Architecture?
but maybe it could be something better, that trains up developers into potential tech co-founders? Where they can build more then just a web app, with their best coding language, where they are prepared to bring other developers on board, where the basics of dev ops are discussed, when the architecture was thought through. We seem to do a lot to grow our potential CEO/business lead co-founders, but what about the tech/dev co-founders?
but where are offerings in BC for technology? Most of these offering concentrate on finding the “right” business model.
Most the tech/dev meet up groups concentrate on one religion, sorry language or another…
So what could this offering look like?
What else would you suggest?
It feels a real technology gap, which people have to learn and fail by doing.. could there be a way of bringing this together, growing more tech co-founders?
Related example includes: Bitmaker Labs offers one approach.
Another Alternative is Dev Bootcamp pointed out to me by Dean Prelazzi (BCIC), thank you :–)
Quora also has a couple interesting discussion on what is web application architecture -
My favourite books on his are soooo out of date:
Key Players who could make a difference
So I have e-mailed the key players in Vancouver, asking their thoughts which I will summarize:
- Launch Academy - interested in discussing – I will assist in thinking through their technology educations
- Grow Labs – connecting me to tech cofounders – nothing yet
- BCIC – Its not a priority
- UBC – sent email to dean 22 feb – no response yet
- SFU - sent email to dean 22 feb – no response yet
- BCIT - sent email to dean 22 feb – no response yet
Who else should I contact?
I was recently asked what are the sites or the blogs you keep up to date with. I will not add the solely programming sites I follow. Happy to take other recommendations to add to the list
First without a doubt subscribe to the Startup Digest
hacker news is very popular but it is a fire hose of information -
The street fighters of startups. Connected with 500.
This guy is doing a lot to help us understand startups and the communities they need to exist. His blog is more personal , you feel like you know part of him and his journey. Connected with TechStars.
A man with a lot of wisdom. He has built up an impressive community in which he engages. Connected with AVC.
Occasionally has some really interesting posts
This used to be a really good site but now just feels like a marketing machine
InfoQ – I love InfoQ they have great videos, great tips on how to handle specific technical issues
Smashing magazine – For design it is the king of the hill -
Mozilla Developer Network - My favourite reference site for web stuff
W3Tech – Which technologies are in favour -
Ted.com – just in case you do not know – do not just watch the videos you thinking might be interesting, find ones that may challenge or add another perspective to your life..
DZone – The odd good technical article - http://agile.dzone.com
TechVibes – Great for Canadian startup news -
GeekWire - http://www.geekwire.com
Tech Crunch I used to read this but its re-design actually offends me -
Community, Incubators and alike
Awesome fun for your weekend and a great way to find people you want to work with.
The place for the scrappy startup
The professional startup educators. Check out their online TV series “The Founders”
For the elite and the top of the class
Accelerator based near the best boarding and skiing on the planet
For the startups look for funding
Business Model Innovation Hub
Formed out of the Business Model Generation Book
Signal vs. Noise – a company blog, which occasionally has really interesting articles.
Great nerd site - ANSWERING YOUR HYPOTHETICAL QUESTIONS WITH PHYSICS, EVERY TUESDAY.
Who did I miss?
You see the format tell me who I should add, thanks
These are books that have made a difference to my thinking. I have read them all. They are not all perfect but sometimes we learn lessons from imperfection as well. Overtime I will keep adding to this list.
Getting Real -> Rework
Getting real was a good book to getting started, really from the perspective that you have all the skills and people already, it felt practical. Rework was a updated version and it felt more abstract, more about the business then the product.
Top Lesson – get on with it and start simple
This book really helped me do proper market research and how to do it. It is really a step by step guide in how to build a business around an idea.The updated book was much better designed and easier to read.
Top Lesson – don’t pitch but listen to the customer pains
There is also a “cheat sheet” by Brant Cooper & Patrick Vlaskovites, I liked it because it was visually pleasing and gets to the point faster then four-steps and The lean startup.
Business Model Generation
Need to work how your business could make money, but not sure of which way to go. This book is an amazing and essential resource in establishing possible pathways. It also challenges you to stay flexible with business opportunities. It has some excellent real case studies in how to use this technique.
Top Lesson - Your business model should be a part of your daily thinking not lost in a 50 page MBA document.
Do more faster
This book was like having lots of friendly practical tips. The chapters are short and it’s useful as a reference for early stage Startups.
Top Lesson – Founders earn equality too
Web 2.0: A strategy Guide
This book was full of case studies of web businesses that we all know, it shows their journey and their strategies. It is helpful in helping you think through the big picture in terms in how you handle the market, competition and evolving customers.
Top Lesson – Stay flexible and be ready to adapt but do have a long term vision with game plan, in your head.
Start Small, Stay Small: A developers guide to launching a startup
This is a really practical guide to how to turn your website into a business. What are your first few steps.
Top Lesson - There are many paths to the same goal.
For the founder who concentrates on the business, money side, culture
You need to be good a telling your story, in a really simple fashion that all ages can understand. It helps you move away from bullet points to visual explanations.
Top Lesson – can you make this simplier?
Top Lesson - Those who start with WHY never manipulate, they inspire. And people follow them not because they have to; they follow because they want to.
This is told from the perspective of one person and his journey to learn the importance of organization culture. Every behavior or interaction you have will set the foundations for your Organisation. If you bully your people will copy you and bully to. What are values and principles? This book will help you start this journey.
Top Lesson – Happiness never decreases by being shared.
For the founder is more technology focused:
The Art of Agile Development
A most excellent book with practical tips in how you can truly move in applying agile. This book uses xp programming as its pathway.
Top Lesson -Your software only begins to have real value when it reaches users.
This book gives a good description of clean code and how to achieve it in your own projects.It is based above some very clear principles and will help you think through the code your currently create.
Top Lesson - always commit better code then you have checked out.
How good is your code? How professional are you really? Can you say no. Do you pass the buck? Are you accountable for your code. This author puts the prefect model out there, which is a good start for a dialogue for what is possible.
Top lesson – You need to say no when you need to say no
For the founder who is design focused, UX inclined:
The Smashing Mag Books 1,2,3
Both the books and the website are an excellent for both designers and developers alike. A smart collection on web design principles. It’s a high-level view of user interaction information and has useful takeaways in each chapter.
A Project Guide to UX Design: For user experience designers in the field or in the making
A step-by-step guide to web development from proposal through wire framing to testing and launch.
Now go and build, create and show us your vision.
You want more -> If you want to see all the books I have read on startups have a look at my goodreads profile and my startup shelf
Through my marketing career I have helped companies name themselves and their products. Each journey is unique, sometimes it is quick and sometimes not, it should not be rushed. More recently I have helped out a couple tech startups, think this through. Here are my insights from the perspective of a startup or small business. I will assume you do not have a large advertising budget to educate your consumers or users.
The strongest names tend to be:
- Easy to say(pronounce) and easy to write(spell)
- Easy to understand
- They tend to reflect Values or Benefits of the product not features, not sure of what FBV are? Look here
- Have emotion as they describe inherit values
- They may use words, with inherent trust in them, or coming a mythology already in place
- They may be counter-culture, to rest of their sector
- At least one noun
- incorrect spelling
- based on the latest trend
- swear words
- when using two words or more there is an inequality in the power of the words
Things that do not matter:
Too many companies choose names based on what is available on the web. URL vs Google search – in my humble opinion people rarely type in the URL bar, but instead will type the company name straight into their search engine (Google, Bing or Yahoo).
Corporate or product naming
Corporate branding – about the values, behaviours and thus culture of your organization. So that you can attract the right talent to your organization. In Simon Sineks’ book Start with the Why – people don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it
Product branding – All about your customers and their needs/desires.
An example from a startup weekend (54 hours – No talk, all action):
We wanted to build a tele-presence (e.g. you could control it from a web browser) robot (on wheels, inductive charging and video camera) that people were comfortable with having in their home, it would either check to see if their pet was ok, used to communicate with tech-phobic granny or sweep the house to see if all was good. We felt the biggest market was to look after or checkin on either pets or grannies, our price point was $300. Women cared most. So I went to a dog park to see if small dog owners in apartment block inner cities would be interested. There were more women the first morning, all small dogs, about half could not get home to check their pet at lunchtime and would then rush home after work. They said “I would love to check-in with Frankly, he is so cute”. The term check-in appeared a lot in conversation. However they did not like the idea of a robot, it felt too un-organic, but one suggestion was “well if it looked like a bear that would be cool. So I started asking what animals people liked.. They seemed to reflect the movies of the time so, chicken, panda, penguin and monkeys.. so it made sense to call it ANIMAL + CHECKIN. So I tried Chicken Checkin – people reacted with a surprise and then a smile (That is good). This played well with the audience would buy it for their grandmother as well (the grand daughters using their own or mothers money for their grand mother). I then used animal names people wanted most on the higher price scale, aspiration and all that. Chicken checkin as the cheapest base model, Chatty Panda for the good model (two way video conferencing) and periscope penguin (extendable neck – kitchen counter).
One other thing I knew the leading competitors at the start-up weekend – one was being led by a local Venture capitalist on home security – so i was guessing they would be going for rational proposition, a touch of fear (of home invasion), republican and money. Another competitor was being led by a local Angel – another way to give money to homeless people, so very emotional, democrat, and fair. In terms of name and brand I was looking for humour, clarity, independent, emotional but tying into common sense. Essentially I was ensuring we would portray something very different in the pitch, not just in product but in style. It worked to a degree we won best presentation.
You can read the start weekend post here.
The importance of emotion
Every word comes with a meaning to a person, it may even not be about the word but the letters used. They may not or love the name simply because of their history. People always come with baggage.
Literal versus abstract names – its on a scale
Personally I believe the more literal the name, the less education(marketing) will be needed for people to place you. And it is important(why psychology and memory) for people to be able to place/position you if you want mass market rather than just visionary buyers.
How would you choose a child’s name? Why do certain names mean more than others? We have a surprisingly amount of prejudices/emotion based on human names, often based on the first person we met with that name
If you are finding difficult here is a process that may help you discover the name. This journey may help you explore more than just your name but your whole business. Its important to keep it separate from the design process.
Stage One: Research
- Know your shit – the business, the sector, the competition
- Know your values – a process in its self, which should really involve others
- Research your stakeholders – Porters five forces (Customers, Suppliers, Competition, New Entrants, Substitutes)
- Choose a perspective (Who are the first set of customers you want onboard, who will champion your cause – what is their psychological makeup? What words do they like and use)
- Your name is not alone – Type, colours, logo – will add clues to what you are about and can dramatically change the way words are perceived.
Stage Two: Get past the NOW
Sometimes people are so fixed about their idea, filter and prejudices that they cannot see clearly. As the startup journey is very often emotional, it can cloud us from ration thought, which can be helpful. That said a good name depends on having a strong emotional connection.
Get your team together and put the following questions on flip chart paper – give everyone post-it notes and a felt tip (it limiteds the number of words used) and describe:
Q1 – What do you(the organsation) do?
Q2 – How does your consumer/user benefit?
Q3 – What do you change in your consumer?
Q4 – Why are you unique? This one tends to get more bullshit answers than the others, be honest.
Q5 – What are your values and how does this reflect in behaviours and product/services? (If you are seeking actual behaviours then your values are not a reality, yet..) You should know this BEFORE you consider your name.
Everyone gets to put up there own views, no filtering or founder bullying. Each idea should be discussed (people can keep adding) and grown. Brainstorming – not sure how? Have a look here.
Stage Three: Record the journey
Reserve a lot of wall space..
The Wall of Names – somewhere there should a wall of ideas, post-it notes with names, all are valid ideas. Each person would try to grow each idea, or help it down the evolutionary ladder. The more people you allow into the process the more ideas you will get. This wall is not limited to words , pictures, sketches and photos are equally good.
The Wall of Customers (for product name) – the same as above but describes the customers you want. Their personalities, their drivers, fashion, music, everything
The Wall of Talent (for corporate name) – What are the types of people you want to attract? We all want smart people to work for us. But what kind of smartness? At a small business level your talent will be limited by the personality of the founder/leader. The unaware founder will want lots of people like them, but with different capabilities. The smart founder will be looking for different types of personalities as building a team is often about weaving, very different people together (as they all have different perspectives and will be able to see different problems and solutions).
Stage Four: Step out of your space
A fair degree of innovation comes from looking at other people doing other things, in other places and seeking what we can learn from them. In part this happens so often that Michael Porter had two elements (Threat of New Entrants and Threat of Substitutes) in his Porters Five forces model to account for people who can come from another sector and replace what you are doing e.g. Apple taking over music and in part mobile.
Look at other organizations in other sectors (not your own) – which organization would you want to be from any sector profit, non-profit or governmental. You are looking for the organizations that you admire and would like to emulate in some way. For each organization breakdown why you like them, into values, people, products/services, get a little deep here, you are trying to truly see past the marketing/propaganda to see how they are connecting with you.
After you have reviewed the organizations consider what does not occur in your sector that already exists in another.
Stage Five: Deciding
Choosing a name is not an easy process. Some people start with code names e.g. Project ALPHA, so they can just label it. Labelling is important for most humans. If you are on a timescale I would suggest taking everyone out of work to start the above process, allow for no distractions, if possible get an independent to help facilitate the session. They will concentrate on getting the best out of people in terms of ideas. What ever you do always sleep on it. The brain generally does some amazing stuff whilst you are asleep.
Names are like falling in love, you know it. This can take time. Everyone will feel it. That said even after choosing you may have doubts, thats ok.
The advocate – you will need at least one person to love the idea and explore its possibilities. Without a true advocate you do not have a good name.
Good places to think about it – Road Trip (with the team, not alone) you are together but in the real world with different stimulations, walk around a shopping mall, go to a conference about something you know nothing about, read an autobiography of someone with a completely different life to you. Lack of sleep can help Expose yourself to different forms of stimulation.
These books are not directly related, but each has taught me something with naming:
Sticky Wisdom – Understanding and growing creative cultures
Eating the Big Fish – About branding when you are the punk on the block
How to have Kick-Ass Ideas – Shake it up
If you want to deeper into branding here are a couple other reccomendations
I welcome your thoughts and experiences. Where did your names come from? What are your favourite names?
After Vancouver Startup weekend, I pretty much decided to head to the next Seattle event. Mujtaba Badat @MujtabaBadat (he presented Duke Nuke – one of the winners) and I became friends after the Vancouver event and so drove down to event from Vancouver together. The Seattle event was themed the “Rise of the Designers” on January 13 – 15th 2012.
Bootcamp (Thursday night)
I loved the idea of the bootcamp, but we could not get down on thursday night. In the last event I helped out with business model, marketing, wire framer and social media setup. This weekend I wanted to help out with front end web dev. The bootcamp offered the following:
- Get your computer configured with all the tools needed to work collaboratively with your future team members.
- Setup and configure a GitHub account with a skeleton project including:
- App Engine – web framework with simple user accounts, database, and hosting.
- Bootstrap – HTML design toolkit
- Backbone.js – Rich application HTML5 framework
Entering into the venue there was real energy, most people were up and talking to each other. There was the fresh smell of pizza, beer and excitement, it was infectious.
I met as many people as I could without being rude. Sometimes I forget that I have a British accent and I find that americans tend to listen to my accent more than my words for at least the first sentence.
Speaker – Matt Shobe CEO Big Door (@shobe)
Here are some highlights I took from his presentation.
- Surpass fear (learn from everyone, the answer is yes to any reasonable request)
- Successful teams (speed of execution, empathy, transparency (Good honest arguments))
- Openness (No such thing as a private conversation with your customers, Admit your mistakes publicly)
- Personality (The spirit of the people who created the product, find opportunities to high-five your customers when they succeed)
So one difference at this event from Vancouver was that you had to put your pitch online. I liked this, as it made it easy to track which ideas you like. There was about 50 pitches. The ones that stuck with me include:
- QR Codes for giving to homeless,
- Robots – Here is Justin’s initial pitch
- Writing community
- A wish list of places you want to go
- After party mobile app
- make the most of an event
- A mobile app to plan surprises for people
- Bus route app
- Web monitoring to provide affordable home security
- Superheros mobile app where you could conquer real life locations
The ideas were presented and we than got a chance to meet the pitchers and discuss further. I was looking for an interesting idea, but also people who would be fun to work with. I wanted to avoid people who came over as too serious or who appeared to need to control. I also wanted to avoid ideas that had being researched in great detail, as then focus tends to be narrowed and there is less clay to play with (although they are more likely to win). I did not care about how good a presenter the idea pitcher was. We were given three votes. After the vote 15 ideas remained. Each pitcher got 60 seconds to tell us who they were looking for.
Deciding who to join?
- QR Codes for homeless donations I really liked and they had a decent sized team.
- Robots: the pitcher (Justin Wu) I had met during networking and I loved his energy but he had only two others on board, one tech and one interior designer.
- The Surprises App had a really big team, maybe too big.
The Team In the end I decided Robotic team, as they had no business person (yes I wanted to code, next time), I had never worked on a physical product before and I knew I would enjoy working with Justin (he has sooo much of energy, and surprisingly he works at Microsoft!). We moved quickly to find the best location, a window for light, a white board and near where the food would be setup.. The team consisted of Justin @jzwoo (Microsoft engineer) – standing at the back, Guru (Microsoft engineer) sitting down on the left , Elijah (Interior Designer) hiding at the back on the left and me (the nutter in red). Justin basically wanted to find a business model excuse for playing with robots! We brainstormed use cases, the strongest seemed to be:
- Checking in on elderly parents
- Playing with your pet at lunchtime
- Security for second home owners or people who travel a lot
Getting to know Robots
Justin talked about the capabilities and what we would have to build ourselves. From this we felt that an Open source robot operating system, with a modular chassis into which you could plug and play extra hardware and sensors. The intention was to allow the shell to be different shapes and materials. We also considered giving 1% of profits to WWF and modelling our robots on endangered species Making money with a consciousWe live on one planet when it’s done it’s done. So we considered what could we do sustainably. 100% Organic Polymers seemed easy enough. We debated the concept of Cradle to Cradle – essentially we take back your dead robot to recycle and reuse.
Up early with the Dogs
In the morning I went to the nearest dog park to gut-check some early name and price points with the locals and to see if I could learn anything to help us. I learned that the most receptive target market was young, professional woman, who live in small apartments (especially tower blocks) and whose commute to work was at least 25 minutes. The price point seemed to be under $300 I tested a number of names and found that animal concepts worked well, but that most women did not like made up names. The name “Chicken Checkin” brought a number of smiles to people’s faces. Pushing a bit further, most of the people I spoke to had grandmothers who they all felt guilty about not interacting with enough and that about 50% did not live anywhere near them,
I sold the “Chicken Checkin” idea to Justin and the rest of the team as they came in, and updated them on what I’d learned. Justin worked on giving an us a set of robot feature set that would cost under $300. This was a product name only, the company name would be Life Style Robots.
Drafting the Business model
I found some research conducted in Japan that showed elderly people preferred robots to look like robots or animals but not humans (maybe they watched Battlestar Galactica). Also women tend to care more for aesthetics of a device (and this was rise of designer weekend). So I played with some concepts and trialled them out on random women in coffee shops and fellow weekenders. I worked on animals that had fat bellys so to be able to accommodate the chassis.
- Chicken checkin – to be our cheapest option under $300
- Chatty Panada – Use an iTouch equip device and allow for two-way video and be under $600
- Periscope Penguin – To be able to see above a kitchen counter to be under $700
- Reaching orang-utan – with long arms
So during saturday several mentors came over to ask what we were up to. After describing our idea they would give their perspective. Early on some of the advice was tough to listen to as it was extremely critical. Each of them had some really different styles. The style that really worked was those mentors who owned their perspective and gave what they saw as our weaknesses with ideas about how we could overcome them. At some point on saturday we had two mentors come and give their perspective, both were pretty aggressive with their opinions. Some of their advices was not helpful as they wanted a lot and we just did not have the resources (people to carry them out). We as a team felt really deflated. Justin had being to a couple of events and he said he called this “Mentor Whip Lash” and his perspective was to take the good advice and follow our instincts. Labelling it seemed to help. For the mentors that came after this, whilst we listened, and I wrote copious notes and then we also chose what to ignore and what to take on. NOTE – this is not say that the advice that was given was wrong, in some cases we needed to process it, others we wanted this to be our path, and not the mentor’s. That said mentors sometimes need to tell us the uncomfortable things.
Facebook page is the easiest, least resource intensive way of getting a presence on the internet. That said, you need 25 likes of your page before you can own the URL for the page. So my poor Facebook friends got spammed.. I asked some of the other teams to help out too. www.facebook.com/chickencheckin/
Justin and Guru concentrated on the software: in our perfect world we want to show the robot being controlled by a web browser or via smart phone whilst video chatting.
Who should pitch
Sometime during the day Justin said that his head was going to be in making sure we could present the robot and asked if I could present the pitch. I nearly said no but he looked stressed when I started to, so I agreed. We talked about how to divide the pitch, I would get two and half minutes (out of four) leaving the rest for the robot. At some point on sunday one of the mentors check us out and the presentation and told us that Justin should pitch as does not sound “above the audience”. Sidenote – Over the last couple years US TV and film has put a lot of English people into ‘evil’ character roles. I wonder sometimes if is becoming part of the american psyche to assume that we are. (Mwa-Ha-Ha-Ha-Haaah!!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2hmP8_mXUc&feature=related
During the day, teams stopped for 15 minutes to give each other updates with where they were, including accomplishments and problems. Most teams stayed in the same space which kept the energy high. I believe a couple of teams went to a VC’s office and another some other office space. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pH9Gx_IdLic&feature=related
Drafting the pitch
So as the cards fell out, I ended up building the presentation deck as I was the only one comfortable with design and presentation software. So I built out the skeleton of what we need to cover. My process is to put down everything, work out what is missing, fill it out and then replace all the words with images.
Drafting Business Model Version two
Concept diagram & logo
I pitched a couple of times to mentors and strangers alike. I am an amateur designer and would loved to have a graphic designer on the team to help me build out the visual story.. We got some good news the pitch length was going to be five minutes. Now we could really cover the business model.
Business Model version three
At some point we narrowed down our target market to provide senior citizens with life style robots and dropped home security and pet care. Whilst they were nice additions there was no way I could sell all three markets in three and a half minutes. Better to focus. Guru pulled a competition analysis together. Elijah helped me pull out some more figures together and Justin gave us the final breakdown of components and costs.
During the day I kept researching to find some real nuggets of information and to be ready for the Q & A. I think this is where our team size hurt us as if we had another person we could have worked out all the figures we needed for a professional, investor pitch. I went to a couple of stores to find some senior women (over 65) or women in their fifties (their daughters) to talk about our Chicken checkin. I spoke to five woman in their fifties, three out of five liked the idea, but on two occasions they were with their daughters (grand daughters) who really liked the idea. Again, three out of five (woman in their 50s) did not live anywhere near their mothers. I had a great conversation with one elderly lady who frankly I wanted to adopt as my grandma! She had a great sparkle in her eyes and was very cheeky. Practice, Practice, Practice
I found a quiet spot and practiced my pitch out loud and timed it. I was coming in at three minutes forty. I showed it to a couple of others in another group and got feedback. Later, I joined the locals around pioneer square, talking out loud whilst wandering around. I even practiced my chicken noise with a homeless guy for a while. I got back to find the pitch length was back down to four minutes.. back to two and half minutes. I watched Mujtaba give his (it was very good for CloudSense) and I gave mine. We gave each other honest feedback.
Err.. Snow in Seattle!
About 4pm we chose our pitch position. Our team felt going near the end to help us buy more time to get the robot ready, so we might learn from the other pitches and be more likely to be remembered by the judges after 14 pitches (a lot to remember). We ended up pitching last!
- Iron Curtain was polished, this was led by Seattle venture capitalist Greg Gottesman, who also pitched.
- Street Code was powerful, this was pitched and led by one of the judges (Mike Koss who was replaced by Adam Philipp). They had two pitchers.
- Suprize had a lot of bumps but was immensely funny (in a good way)
- WhichBus was gorgeous
I knew I had to bring the audience back to life after a long weekend and 13 other pitches and Q&A. I had to give them all the energy I could muster (I was balancing my drinking of energy drinks with water), but being sensitive enough to feel what they wanted from me. Our pitch can be seen (well just heard really) on Ustream
and starts at 45:20 it misses about 10 seconds but the sound quality is really good OR or you can see below on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2978E3H1cTU&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNNpuR7mBEw&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL It starts with Chicken Checkin Screen and ends with Demo Time.. Sorry cannot get the slide show to exclude the other images.. I started the pitch with a Buuraaa ac (chicken noise). A couple slides in I noticed a big spelling mistake in one of the slides (I changed the word right at the last moment). I would have liked to allow some of the jokes to rest with the audience but I did not have time. At the end of my section I asked the audience to cluck to encourage our chicken checkin robot to come out. The audience was awesome! I am pretty sure I even heard a judge cluck I then handed off to Jason at 2 minutes 40ish, to demo the robot. Of course there were a couple technical hitches but we showed it working.
The Q & A
The judges were speechless. “The obvious question is… I guess there isn’t an obvious question….” was tweeted out referring to Scott Rutherfords’ reaction (one of the judges). I got asked some good questions and I gave OK answers, but I should have practiced this more. There were questions about the serious uses of the robot, what market validation had we done, an offer for help and the cost margins.
F*ck, we won something..The judges awarded five companies and we won best presentation and came third, prizes for which included:
Iron Blanket (@Iron_Blanket)came out top with the best business model, followed by Street Code(
@StreetQR_Code) with the best market Validation, followed by us (Chicken Checkin) for the best presentation, followed by Surprise with the best UX. With honourable mention going to WhichBus for best design. More detail can be seen here on Geekwire. For the other teams have a look here
We had to drive back to Vancouver, so we headed, straight after the event (with the snow we were not sure how icy the roads would be), so we missed the after party . Mujtaba and I reflected on what we learned, how it was different from the Vancouver event, how are respective pitches went and what we would do differently next time. It was at this point I noticed how HUNGRY I was, having not eaten since breakfast.. Junk food here I come..
1. The size of teams
I think Iron Curtain had 14 bodies and Surprise was 13 bodies, having that many people really helps what you can deliver in a weekend. Clearly you need good leadership if your team is that big. At just 4 people we needed more people, but we did good.
2. Graphic Designers and Artists are important
We did not have a graphic designer, in fact 75% of team were engineers. Having that capability on your team will make such a difference in UX, branding and story telling. I need to find a way to recruit one next time.. Maybe show them a very badly drawn presentation that breaks ALL of the principles.. Just in case you want more proof, here are the sketches I did in my hostel for the pitch for the website (saturday night). 3. Pre-weekend work
Both in Vancouver and Seattle it felt like, those that had some good pre-market research done before the weekend started. This gives a team a real edge, as it can be quiet difficult to do effective market research at the weekend. Some people avoid their e-mail, some businesses are not even open, depending on the weather it maybe possible however to find people shopping, which gives the possibility of some direct marketing (face to face clipboard questioning).
4. Accessible network
Having friends to help out to cover spots that your team is missing is really helpful, I saw this happen both in Vancouver and Seattle.. As well as having friends respond to your survey to get some serious validation. Maybe give some of your specialist friends a heads up and an offer for beer..
Having the awards broken down into why they were in best was really good. However, there was a little confusion (and a lot of emails) as the judges did not state beyond best design, best UX, best presentation, best validation and best business model any order of winner(s). But this was cleared up after Geek Wire published an article declaring the winner – Iron Curtain (well done guys) and that the order reflected the position of the winners (reverse). We just have to work out how to reward developers with some credit now.
I learned from my first startup weekend that you need to always focus on how, what you are doing is going to help the pitch. I think I took too long in letting go of parts of the pitch (e.g. the two other sectors – pet owners and house security), mentors certainly told me what to concentrate on, but on occasion I resisted (because targeting 50 year old women seemed a tough nut to crack and maybe not so fun). I think my pitch was OK, but not brilliant. Areas I could have strengthened it were in demonstrating the market validation and building out the finances. Maybe having that extra slide with component prices etc, ready for the Q&A. And of course I should have practiced the Q&A with some of the team to be stronger on the answers. Don’t get me wrong I am extremely proud to be part of a team to win best presentation and win some prizes, I just want to learn and be better.
7. A place to reflect and share
As there was no online announcement, there was no place to see the final winners and prizes given. In additional people like myself write blogs, to reflect on the experience, process it and hopeful learn (and publicly show off our failures and successes). It would be good to have a final page listing the winners, the final teams and who was in them (with contact details) and blog postings. On this occasion the GeekWire Article and the #swsea(twitter tag) became the informal places to carry on the conversation.
8. An idea? Angel List for Startup Weekends
It would be awesome if Startup Weekend started to keep an archive of all the startups, maybe even profiles for people who do it on a regular basis. Maybe even game it like foursquare? Maybe that could be my next pitch??
After finishing this article I re-surfaced and found some other posts, have a look: Harmony Hasbrook on the team “Hungry, Thirsty, Bored.” Dwight Battle on the surprise team. Paige Pauli on the WhichBus team. Katie Kuksenokon multiple teams.
[Update] Here is a promotional video looking at the Designer story.
BIG Thanks to:
A place to stay Not from Seattle I stayed in the Green Tortoise Hostel
The Venue - The Hub A great location, one BIG room. Thanks to Lynsdey who was an awesome hostess.
The Startup Weekend Crew Thanks to John, Sean and Ashley (@A6Hodgson) - You are a great waffle maker
The Food Was awesome, particular the Thai food on saturday night.
T-Shirts Thanks to Rohre from Five Bamboo for the T-shirts.
Extra Video Thanks @adamlovering for the extra video!
Most of this academic term I have being teaching (4 courses – marketing, advertising, public and government relations) and being a student (3 courses all – HTML/CSS/Java/Systems Design) in the evenings, with my days left to Professional You - so I have participated in a few startup events and I was keen to see who is new on the scene. This event seemed a good way of finding out. You never know who you will meet and what you will learn.
The essence, is you “form” a business” in 54 hours over a weekend. You pitch and people choose to join your team. And you and your team, show off in a 4 minute pitch (to all the teams) on sunday evening and a bunch of judges choose.
Overall it was an excellent weekend, I met a lot of people in the startup community that I had not met before. More importantly I met a lot of people I want to stay in contact with. I learned somethings about myself. In fact I enjoyed the event so much that if I can afford the time and cash I will go to the one in Seattle in January 2012.
I think these sort of ‘networking whilst doing‘ events, could become an important of part Vancouvers’ tech community (in fact any community that wants to encourage and generate more startups). I love the way it brings people together and gives them a window into what it is like to work with people. I could see greater potential in finding your co-founder or your first team at an event like this.
The Journey - Day One – Start 5.30pm
The first engagement (except buying the ticket) was an invite to the community site - Kohort, this happened on the first day before the event. We were all encouraged to start to get to know each other and share ideas. Frankly this start was pretty awesome, as people filled out profiles and started talking and sharing their thoughts, ideas and capabilities.
I got to the venue early, almost two hours – yes I was eager The Segal Centre, Granville Street, Vancouver.
As the event started, people started intensely networking with 80% of participants having high energy and 20% were just shy. We were encouraged to fill out badges and colour them according to our capabilities i.e. business, designer or developer. Some people like me are mutates/mongrels (or multiple talented), so we had colourful badges. This time went REALLY fast as there were so many people to meet
The speeches were ok Joel Solomon?? (a social conscience VC), Jason Bailey was Jason Bailey (casual, offensive/ruffin, uncaring/tough love ). Dave Olson (Director of Marketing Hootsuite) was standup comedy act.
Sean (one of the hosts) presented us some awesome slides giving us advice about how to pull the team and business idea together.
Next up it was time for the participants to start working. Each pitcher was given 60 seconds to rally us to there cause, there were a LOT, I am guessing 50+. I had being thinking about pitching but I decided not too, as my brain was numbed after all the pitches!
I wrote comments for each e.g.
- did I like the idea
- did I like the person pitching
- who did they want
Some pitchers stated they wanted only developers, so I crossed them out (I am a growing developer, but only asking for a developer and not a designer or marketing person said something to me about the person pitching). There was some interesting ideas and some crazy ones.
The wall was than covered with posters for each pitch/idea and we the participants had to choose by voting. The top 15ish ideas that would go ahead. Every attendee had three votes and they chose which projects they liked. This was really interesting to watch as a lot of pitchers seemed to assume that people would vote for the idea not, not the pitcher – thus many of the pitchers did not really try to recruit. My votes went to the people as much as the idea. I voted for Organised Good, My best helper and Jukenuke (which were all pitched by woman).
The most popular pitches (the 15ish with the most votes) were chosen to have the opportunity to talk again and we were given time to explore the idea with each of the pitchers and choose our teams. This was hard.
There was a couple I considered e.g. My Best Helper, one to match mentors with mentorees, one for mobile voting, one mobile app to monitor your houses electricity usage (so you could see when you left electrical appliances on). I did not want to do anything like my current Startup i.e.Professional You. I circled each team to get a sense of what skill sets they already had (you could tell by the colour of their badges), see how big they were. I also avoided the ideas that were clearly mature as I was not sure if I would just become a freebie for the weekend.
I chose Organized Good, in part because I thought it would be most difficult problem to solve. A social pitch with encouraging online and off dialogue with a focus on civic engagement, politics and local community.
The initial team was a cool bunch of people Tara (the pitcher), Fiona (her partner), Steve, Ash and Murf. We got together and Tara downloaded the idea with us and we starting talking and kept talking until 1.30am. In terms of capabilities we had four business people, 1.5 designer and 1.5 developer (I count as the halves as I wanted to play a different role i.e. 19 years of marketing with a computer science degree (refreshing at BCIT presently)).
8.30am the team slowly trickled in. We debated the idea a lot.
There is a journey for initial pitchers e.g. letting others take apart and grow their idea. We talked about the online versus offline, Generation Y versus inviting the whole community. We agreed on a lot more than we disagreed:
- We wanted people to meet face to face
- Local (almost hyper) community (down to neighbourhood/street level)
- That it should be social, community, civic and political – we were worried about this language as it might turn people off, but the spirit was right
- That its was about action, not just talk, we wanted to help communities solve problems
- We wanted to encourage solutions not rants or endlessly debating issues.
- We wanted to help the community help its self
- That meetings and encouraging collaborative projects would be important
Some concepts I noticed with our team and other teams at play:
- Democratizing the idea – would the idea be allowed to grow beyond the pitchers’ visions?
- Idea ownership – would the pitcher give up the idea so it became owned by the team and maybe something bigger.
- Idea maturity – The ideas that had being developed for a while (like the winner) clearly had the advantage.
I wondered how good would I be in giving up the idea and letting others grow it.
With a basic idea agreed upon we split into groups (of pairs) one working on market research, one on the revenue model and one on the design. I worked on the site layout and wireframes as well creating an early story deck.
There was food at some point (for those that know me e.g. ex-chef – food is important to me, so I was either in love, in the zone or asleep), but it existed and was gone as I was still chewing on some of our other dilemmas.
We setup the Facebook page, and watched it slowly climb to 25 Likes so you can own the URL – this was painful and bribes were offered.
Today we got additional help from Thor and Azita who dropped in for part of the evening (she helped Tara and Fiona develop the initial idea but yesterday(friday) was her birthday , with Fiona off to work (poor her) yes life still goes on.. the team continued until our brains dribbled out of our ears and alcohol was needed (yes and sleep).
The breakfast was a lot better today, not just muffins, there was fruit too and things with chocolate inside them. Azita joined us full-time today she was fresh with energy and smiles:-) with further reinforcements brought in by Fiona (Chris and Shelby)
We had a diverse revenue model sorted (1Million after three years and in 53 communities).. we came up with a clever new approach to online dialogue.. we even got some expressions of interest to invest.. we worked out the initial organizations that would fund the initial technology.. we established which would be the first local communities we would start with (in Vancouver).. we got support from a local celebrity tech startup CEO.. Some good looking design work (Steve!!). This was our peak.
The basic 10 second pitch was Stackoverflow (online problem solving) merged with meetup.com (getting people in the same room) focused on their community, civic and politics.
Telling the story
We had a lot of different approaches and it took us a while to agree how to tell the story. We all had different levels of tolerance how emotive and challenging we wanted/could be. Than some unhelpful mentor popped in and stated that should only do 5 slides and spend 30-40 seconds (some of team took this to heart) on each. This caused a lot of friction inside the team (or was it just me?!). Sometimes ‘advice’ is unhelpful, as it disrupted the flow of the team. From this point we lost our flow, we were tired and over coffeed. We tried a number of different angles. Towards the end we got some of our flow back with some concrete examples of how we would tell the story. Tara asked Azita to help her pitch on stage and this was our front team.
The venue was The 560 Club which was pretty awesome. Some of the pitches were freckin awesome and some were not. A lot of groups had travelled a long way with a spark of an idea in a short time.
We were the sixth pitch. Tara led the way with Azita(one of the original idea originators). In someways you could see that we were going to pitch to a panel of judges who care for making money through online technology, and who may not care to have a ROI as social good. To an audience who maybe be more comfortable in an online world than in the offline world. We felt as a group it was always going to be tough and yet the ladies performed superbly.
You can see who won here. We got the Best Social Cause award and thus we drank, and met many more new people.
I met some good people, worked with people who I might never had met. The event was well hosted - Joey, Mike and Sean were awesome. The volunteers never seemed in short supply or lack of enthusiasm. The venue worked well (but next time I will try and steal one of the rooms with white boards!) and we need water!
Suggestions for organization
Just because I have offered a bunch of suggestions for next time, does not mean I thought the event was weak. It was an awesome event, which will hopefully occur a couple times a year here in Vancouver, BC
1. Reward the design and developers work
It feels like the business people are rewarded but not the developers or designers. It felt like all the Angel/Judges cared little for their efforts unless it was tied into presentation. I would suggest rewards for best design and best development. Also mix up the judges with some developer and designer types rather than all angel/vc with biz backgrounds (this group are not always right!)
Ensure that everyone knows where the water is, there was a kitchen which many of us sneaked into. When you have this much coffee/caffeine we need to stay hydrated.
3. Mentor schedules
On a piece of paper given to each team. So we know where to find them. The random pop ins seemed awkward and occasionally unhelpful. I feel sorry for the mentors that came over, just as we were doing a team update and we needed to weak each other (it happened three times to us). Add mentors to Kohort. And give the times they will be around so we grab them (and maybe even plan ahead!).
4. Business Model
The business model generation book is an excellent way to help people build out their business model fast and if you could give us a big poster for each team – we can than move the stickies around as we pivot and evolve.
5. Early access to Kohort
Allow us to converse early, maybe the moment we sign up to the event we can join Kohort and get know each other.
6. Introduction to scrum
Give access to basis of scrum so that those unfamiliar can play with developers and designers more fairly and faster. One sheet. Sean mentioned it, but there were a bunch of people who had no experience of it. Maybe put it on Kohort so it can be read before. On that point make those most excellent slides available on Kohort before. Yes enough participants will prepare before the event.
7. Attendance list
I would love to know who is going to event so I can work out who I want to meet and check out. Maybe we could access this and two lines about each person.
8. The Judges need a mic
Only the first pitcher repeated the judges questions or gems of advice. So the rest was lost to the rest of the audience
9. Bring all the teams back together
I think if at some point on the saturday, each team could give 60 seconds on where they are and helped needed in terms of sector of specialized knowledge. There was a lot of talent tied up in different teams. Some cross pollination would help everyone and help you meet new people.
I was asked by another team to help out review their approach to (workplace) motivation (my startup is all about psychology and the matching of you to your perfect boss or team member). One of the mentors connected us. As I have spent the last two years studying all the published psychology work for the last decade and listening to all podcasts of MITs Psychology degree. We had an intense back and forth, I gave some advice, a video to watch and got back to my team.
10. Bonus Points – Whiteboards
I think better if there is a whiteboard to allow me to brainstorm, I manage better if I can see a scrum board, I tell stores better if I can develop it on a whiteboard. They also look really cool for photos. I would say teams that have a white board may have a soft advantage. If possible see if you can persuade your next venue to bring in whiteboards on wheels. Or maybe we could could borrow from local businesses. With the vancouver weekend three or four teams had white boards. I know its not an easy one but you would get bonus points (I am not sure which game to plug them into yet) and I think your teams would perform better.
They were/are freckin awesome
A lot of people seem to believe that a brand is about advertising. That it is merely corporate identity, the name, and the logo, the colours used.
So here is what after 19 years of marketing I uses a definition for my start-up and my marketing students.
- Its starts with the founder(s) vision,
- It shifts according to the team they have built and their values plus behaviour
- Its is limited by the technology used
- Its expressed and reflected in the product built
- And finally it is decided on by users and their experience both with the product and customer/support team
Whilst it starts with the founder(s) it is decided and defined by your users.
I believe good strategy and brand can support each other. It’s not about spending lots of money on an icon, name or colours. It is about the sum expression of what you are already doing.
For me a good strategy and brand go together through having a vision, mission and values. These will evolve but they will help guide your decisions – what space am I in (Vision – some call this Brand promise), How will I change it (mission) and how will I make decisions (Values).
Here is ours
once we had done this, it was easy to develop a corporate identity as our prime value is Growth, hence the tree and colours. This value set has/is helping me make a large number of decisions about what we are and what we are NOT.
Once I wrote the vision, mission and values name came to me i.e. Professional You. Not in a sudden flash admittedly. Personally I prefer names that are concrete and that mean something. If you take no time I believe it shows your users that you do not care, that you are only temporally, why should they invest in you if you can not get the basics right. Sometimes sharing this journey (of choosing your name) can also be powerful when users want to know who you are.
It is both my strategy and brand; my pitches are cleaner for it, my messages cleaner and my decisions easier. People tend to trust clarity, if you are clear people find it an easier journey to trust you, branding can help you with this.
So far I have spent nothing on advertising, on creative agencies and a local (Vancouver) designer helped with the logo for free.
Occasionally I tweak the vision and mission as I form better ways to describe what we are up to.
It will continuing evolve but in the end users decide, so do not forget the importance of your customer/user facing staff if they are happy your customers are more likely to be also
P.S. Do tell your users who you are and what you are about. It is always disappointing if you go to the About Us on a web page, to see that you don’t care to make an effort or even bother to introduce yourselves and its not polite
So I had my epiphany in chapter four although each chapter was a step towards that final. Can you guess the name of the book? Well it sat there for a while I knew I had to read it but it looked so text based and the lines were really long kind of reminded me of my old A Level (pre university for you North Americans) Sociology text book, it was a great door stop, helped me sleep (in or out of class) and was textual overwhelming (too many words per line, not easy navigable, chapters too long, etc)
OK enuff fluff. The Four Steps to the Epiphany has been a great book in helping me think through my start-up concept (Professional You). It is helpful in getting several parts tightened up. And it smells great, I love ‘real’ books.
Areas it’s helped me with:
- The customer hypothesis
- Customer led development rather lab led
- Market Research – The right questions to ask e.g. pricing
- Defining my market type
- The whole product development process
So if you are responsible for creating new things that you want to be used, you need to read this book. I am not saying you have to agree with it all (for me Chapter six had a lot that I don’t agree with) BUT it will stretch you mind, it will help consider your current process and if you don’t have one, create one. It will help you consider which things you should and should not build.
So if you a CEO, start-up founder, product manager, marketing or developer or a manager/consultant/adviser of these folks, you need to read this book. I am sorry to tell you its not well laid out, that the text is heavy and you may need to breakup reading it, but its worth it.
And as a special bonus there are “confidential” images in it! Pg 155
You can get the first three chapters for free here (second edition, I read the third edition)
Steve Blank’s blogg (the author can be found here)
Eric Reis did a great summary here
UPDATE: If you want to understand the concepts of Customer Development quickly here is the cheat sheet version – The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development by Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits www.custdev.com