Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lessons from Startup Weekend Seattle 2

My family doesn't really understand why spending a whole weekend with a bunch of geeks would be so important to me but at least they didn't begrudge me the time. Having participated twice now, I find Startup Weekend is a bit like a real-life reality show, a laboratory environment for controlled experiments dealing with real-world issues.

It's fun - lots of fun - but I probably wouldn't take so much time away from the rest of my life just to have a good time. These weekends are also really valuable.

For one thing, I find it so much easier to connect with people - get to know them and really bond with them - when we're working together for a common purpose. It's so much better than standing around at some networking event trying to figure out what to say to one another. It's even better than most ice-breaker activities or events billed as 'team-building' because of how fully engaged people are in what they're doing.

Plus, as Marina Martin points out on Nathan Kaiser's nPost blog about Startup Weekend, working together in close quarters like this also provides a great opportunity to see how people work - together, under pressure, with and without direction, and when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. After a weekend like this, I have a growing list of people I'd love to work with on real world jobs and projects and probably a few I'd have to think a bit more carefully about first.

Beyond experiencing the power of the event for yourself, here are a few of the lessons coming out of Startup Weekend that I thought were rather universally portable into other situations...

Step Up
Things happen because you make them happen. If it matters to you, take matters into your own hands; don't wait for someone else to do it.

Be a Leader
Leadership is often more about helping the group define their vision and about removing obstacles in the way of that vision than it is about dictating who should do what and how. All it really takes is wanting to be of service.

Assume You Know Enough
You may not feel like you know everything you need to know but that doesn't necessarily mean that someone else knows more than you do. Dive in and figure it out; learn as you go along if you have to.

Get Passionate
The work can be tough enough without making it tougher, trying to work on something that you have to push yourself to do. Work on what pulls you in, propels you, compels you to be involved.

Work With People Who Share Your Passion
You don't have to agree - in fact diversity of opinion helps - but look for and stick with people who feel as driven as you do to succeed in your chosen direction.

Accept Some Ambiguity
Any creative endeavor involves a certain amount of uncertainty. If you already know everything you're doing, it's an assembly line that robots could be doing instead, Certainty is not creative and definitely does not produce anything new. Embrace the ambiguity and harness the chaos to bring about real innovation and change.

Work Through Challenges
Whether you steer around obstacles, stay persistent in the face of challenges, seek out new solutions, or accept workarounds when you have to, it takes dedication to keep moving forward - and moving forward should always be your goal, no matter what setbacks you might encounter.

Use Available Resources

You never know what you need or what you might be missing. Look for and be wiling to accept help and information from a variety of sources.

Pace Yourself
Whether it's a sprint or a marathon, managing time, energy, and other resources is an important aspect of success. Know what sort of race you're running and plan accordingly.

Slow Down
Understand what you're really trying to build, for whom, and why. Listen to feedback. Make paper prototypes before committing to code. In the end, you'll actually be saving yourself time and headaches by spending some time thinking and planning before jumping straight into the actual work.

Have Fun
When all is said and done, work and life are both a lot better when we can remember to laugh, enjoy ourselves, take some time to play, and (in general) just not take things too seriously.

Look For Opportunities
When challenges arise, there are very nearly always gifts and opportunities - but only if you're looking for them instead of focusing on what's going wrong. Consider it a matter of choosing the approach most likely to produce the best outcomes.

Celebrate Success
The results may look exactly as you'd imagined... or, more likely, like something different, less or more. Whatever it is, celebrate whatever is right, whatever you have learned or accomplished.

Say Thank You
Someone has helped you get where you are, has helped make things easier. Show your appreciation.

I know there are a number of people I'd like to thank for making Startup Weekend such a memorable event.

Thank you John Smilgin for taking the ball and running with it and for joining forces with Rob Eickmann, Nathan Post, Ilene Little, and Marina Martin in doing such an amazing job with planning and execution and for bringing in so many great sponsors.

Thank you to Whitney Keyes for getting us such great media coverage and to George Junginger for his assistance and insights in running the event.

Thank you to Google for hosting the space and especially to Jessica Einfeld and Wesley Chan for their persistence and determination in resolving various issues and to Bob and Justin for taking such good care of us throughout the weekend.

Thanks also to all of the terrific sponsors who made the Startup Weekend possible - Perkins Coie, nPost, Microsoft, Blue Box Group, Type As, Inc for meals, Peets for coffee throughout the weekend, and Big Al's for very affordable, very good beer. Thank you Aviel Ginzburg for creating the cool t-shirt logo.

And of course - a huge 'thank you' to everyone who participated. Thank you to everyone who came out and joined in, worked hard, spent time on projects, helped keep things tidy, laughed, and had fun. Thank you to everyone who followed our activities and shared in spirit.

Thank you to those of you who spoke up about what you needed and helped participate in finding solutions. Thank you to everyone who helped create some buzz about this and future events and to everyone who shared ideas about how it can be even better next time. Startup Weekend just wouldn't be the fabulous event that it is without you. Thank you for being part of it.

What can you do to make your next gathering worth repeating?