This weekend I participated in Startup Weekend Austin. Its a 48-hour startup competition that travels the country. Though I am a business woman, I'm a bootstrapper which means I finance my own projects. Startup Weekend is about putting together a concept and if possible a prototype to pitch to a panel of local VCs, Angels, Entrepreneurs to see which concept they like the best. In some cities, projects birthed at Startup Weekend have gone on to get funding, but that is not the purpose of the competition.
The weekend started out with 2 minute pitches. Not everyone pitched. many people in the room just wanted to work on a project. The everyone in the room voted on the three projects they would be interested in. The everyone broke of into teams. Just because your project got a high vote total didn't mean you got a team.
Were There Any Black People?
For the most important question, were there any Black people. There were three Black people in the room and after doing the local startup circuit thing for about two months, y'all are just going to have to get over seeing other Black folks in the room. I of course was the only Black woman and there were only four other women present. Again, if its tech related, you're going to be outnumbered.
Did you pitch a project?
I got rave reviews for my "pitch," which was a mobile phone application/function for the hearing impaired. I'm an introvert, but on account of the litigation/enforcement background, I don't have any problem with addressing large crowds and making an argument. Despite my rave reviews and the fact that people remembered my pitch, I didn't get any votes. Oh heck well what do I do now? Everyone was cliquing up into groups and my instinct was to build my prototype my day-um self and show these people a thing or two, but that's not why I paid $75.
I was there to learn something new and I know everything I know already. So I decided to be a sponge. At this point I wasn't passionate about any of the ideas that were in the top ten so I basically wandered around looking for a project that did not exist already. Several of the teams were working on projects that were already up and running. Like Kiimby ( Keep It in My Backyard)I liked the team leads and I liked the project, but I wanted to be a part of a team that started from scratch and involved some type of app developing or other type of programming.
So I floated from group to group. Some had ideas, but the group leader was "socially inaccessible". The second team I wanted to work on had a guy who was in the middle of having a nicotine fit and there was no way in Hey-el I was going to be stuck with someone that jittery for the weekend. At that point there weren't any other teams I was interested in so I decided to migrate towards the team that was next to the nicotine fit guy because I was tired of wandering around. They had another woman on the team and a programmer I had been chatting with earlier and he seemed sane enough.
Our team idea had been pitched by a guy who has launched 8 startups. It was about market validation which is something I knew nothing about. He appeared to be sane enough. I introduced myself. He asked me what I did. I said social media. He declared me to be the Social Media Expert and I rolled my eyes and smiled. Despite the fact that I run a social media conference and have two blogs that are ROUTINELY quoted, cited, complained about in much larger publications, I don't consider myself and expert. Mainly because blogging comes easy to me. It was hard for me to "own my expertise."
We left the Startup Weekend site because it closed at 11:00PM and then we went to Kirby Lane Cafe to flesh out the idea. I think I got home at 2:00AM. You've got 2 days to launch a startup from scratch, you can sleep when its over. I was place din charge of setting up the twitter page, facebook fan page, the blog, the youtube channel and working with our MBAs on the competitive analysis and the marketing analysis. This was good because this is usually the point in my business plan where I stop :) In fact our startup was a website aimed at supplying market validation.
Day 2 - I'm in Hell- Get Me Out
I an "in charge" person. Whether at the FTJ or with the side hustles, I execute a tremendous about of independent judgement and decision making. And I'm hardly a shrinking violet about expressing my opinion, but I had to work REALLY hard to stay in my lane this weekend.
Despite the fact that I give presentations and make arguments for a living. I basically felt frozen out of the presentation preparation process literally to the point of the team lead turning his laptop in the opposite direction so I wouldn't see it. I don't know if it was intentional, but it felt like it.
I decided to I put my head down and started learning about Facebook Markup Language so I could customize our Facebook Fan page with our logo. Yes, I would have been great at powerpoint, but I already knew how to do that and I didn't know how to customize a Facebook Fan page. At some point they were going on and on about our tag line and I mumbled one over the edge of my laptop. I'm a word smith, the typos on this blog notwithstanding, word are what I do. It comes naturally to me so after hearing them go on and on about a single slide, I couldn't control myself :) They used my tagline :)
While the great PowerPoint presentation was being produced. I went around and took cellphone video and photos to put up on the blog. People like videos and people like photos on blogs. I also knew I'd like to put up a couple of YouTube video for the weekend. So basically, I decided to use the opportunity to display my designated "expertise" which was blogging, vlogging, and tweeting.
Day 3-I AM an Expert
I basically checked out by Sunday. I couldn't code in Drupal. The blog posts were up and people said they looked good. I'd cranked out a YouTube video and I threw in an idea about the PowerPoint presentation... when asked.
I ended up explaining Twitter and helped one of my teammates master FBML which is Facebook Markup Language so that she could customize the Facebook fan page for her business. I also handed out various blogging tips I had picked up in my three years Blogmother-in-Chief. People were interested in what I had to say and even asked how much I would charge.
Then Joey from Startup Weekend came in towards the end of the day and told us that someone would be by to take video from one of the sponsors. Our team lead said "We have a video!" Joey said "really?" and was headed out the door when I chimed in "Can you post it on the blog?" Not only did he post it on the Startup Weekend Blog, but he tweeted it too.
Despite the fact that our site wasn't actually "live" they'd announced it to the world. Then everyone looked around asking if we should go live and the team lead enthusiastically said yes on account that our site was being promoted by other people already :) Success! Sure none of the judges saw the video, but people knew about video. We ended up getting a "customer" at our site because she saw the tweet on Twitter. CONVERSION! After judging some random guy came up to the team and said he liked the team's video
The judging was a great experience, just watching the way VCs think and how they pick apart business ideas. I got plenty of business ideas just listening to their dissections.
If I had written this review on Friday, it would have been about how excited I was to be trying something new.
If I had written this review on Saturday, it would have been about how I felt marginalized and unnecessary and stuck in the bowels of HELL after being stuck in a room with five strangers who were trying to complete a PowerPoint presentation via committee. I even went a little Blogmother on them for a minute and told them that we were NOT going to be doing PowerPoint by committee.
In the end it all came together. 48 hours after we started, we had a working product, financial forecasts, market analysis, a logo, a social media presence, and an AMAZING promotion video :) We were one of the top three teams. The winner was a crowd favorite and an all around fun team called Instavents. The coder on that team was a Black guy BTW.
At the beginning of Startup Weekend, the host said that it isn't about the "idea" or actually launching a real company, though its possible- its about the people you meet. Sure enough after being stuck together for 48 hours, we felt like old friends and we'll definitely keep in touch. This is a relatively small startup community so we'll eventually bump into each other at other events.
1. Have a good attitude. No seriously, our teachers droned on and on about that in elementary school, but its so important. Sometimes you just need to let things roll right off your back. You don't need to communicate your frustration or hurt feelings with the world. Be a freaking grownup. Sure I could have told our team leader off and been all dramatic and boo freaking hooed about how I felt, but who cares, in less than 12 hours I never had to see any of these people again EVER. The only time I asserted myself was when I felt someone else was being marginalized too.
2. If you are going to be a successful business person, sometimes you have to go where your weaknesses are. I am convinced that the path to success lies in walking through the valley of unwillingness. I don't like talking to people I don't know. N But I definitely was able to meet people who taught me new things and I also got to meet people that I KNOW can deliver and I know I can work with- just not stuck in a tiny box for 12 hours on a Saturday.
3. When in doubt imitate others until you figure it out.
4. Own your expertise. When the team leader declared me to be the Social Media Expert, I rolled my eyes and smiled. Despite the fact that I run a social media conference and have two blogs that are ROUTINELY quoted, cited, and CRITICIZED in much larger publications, I don't consider myself and expert. Mainly because blogging comes easy to me. But during the weekend I was teaching other people how to do what I do everyday without thinking and they were willing to pay for it. I am a social media expert on account that I can do stuff that a whole lot of folks pay other people to do :) I'm good at what I do and what I do has value even if it isn't a value I seek to extract for pecuniary gain.
5. Pitching is not at all difficult for me. Its basically like going in front of a judge and asking for relief. The hard part is working with other people. I'm over the fear of rejection. People threw out the most outrageous ideas and didn't think twice about it.
6.Collaborations when done right can be a good thing. Many of you have been burnt before. You've had to work with people who were nightmares. You've had your trust betrayed. Being a solo bootstrapper has tons of benefits, but there is considerable value in having a well developed network if for no other reason than you can pick their brains. Our team developer dropped so much knowledge that's going to save me money.
I definitely got my $75 worth. I met some new people. Made great contacts. Learned a bunch about the mythical world of startups (It's not rocket science). Most important, I can OWN MY EXPERTISE.
So next year we'll be hosting Startup Events for Black Folks in various cities in the US. Do some "market evaluation" and take this survey if you would be interested in attending an even near you.