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Startup Vancouver Weekend 2011

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.

  1. did I like the idea
  2. did I like the person pitching
  3. 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)).

Day Two

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:

  1. We wanted people to meet face to face
  2. Local (almost hyper) community (down to neighbourhood/street level)
  3. 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
  4. That its was about action, not just talk, we wanted to help communities solve problems
  5. We wanted to encourage solutions not rants or endlessly debating issues.
  6. We wanted to help the community help its self
  7. That meetings and encouraging collaborative projects would be important

Some concepts I noticed with our team and other teams at play:

    1. Democratizing the idea – would the idea be allowed to grow beyond the pitchers’ visions?
    2. Idea ownership – would the pitcher give up the idea so it became owned by the team and maybe something bigger.
    3. 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).

Day Three

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 Pitch

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.

Awards

You can see who won here.  We got the Best Social Cause award and thus we drank, and met many more new people.

Overall

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!)

2.  Water

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.

Our Team

They were/are freckin awesome :-)

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