Sunday, August 30, 2009

Still True

Everything I wrote about Startup Weekend Seattle 2 from last February is still true this time around, participating in Startup Weekend Redmond.

As we move into Sunday afternoon, my involvement seems to be slowing up a bit, allowing some time for reflection. I like that this time I felt able and willing to get in and get my hands dirty, actively working on a project. And just like last time, some additional lessons have emerged.

Know Your Business
I'm going to go out on a limb here - even developers should have a sense of what the business is, and that includes the business model. It impacts what you build, and unless you want to give up all possibility of autonomy and subject yourself completely to someone else telling you what to code, like some trained monkey, then you need to understand what you're selling, why, to whom, for how much, and at what cost.

And if you developers wriggle out of that one - for some understandable reasons - then be darned sure that someone you trust to have a good head for the subject takes care of that for you. And then follow their lead.

If no one is handling this part of your startup, or are doing it badly, you could well be thinking you're running a business when in fact, what you have is a hobby instead. And sometimes hobbies get quite expensive.

Listen to Feedback
Are your people tracking with your vision? Are they perhaps wanting to head a direction you should consider? Maybe the people working on your project have information about the viability of your business that must be heeded to be successful. If you're too caught up in what you want to build, you could be headed for the rocks because of individuals abandoning the project or because you're not as aware of your own blind spots as you could be.

Take Full Advantage of Available Resources
At Startup Weekend Redmond, we've had a startling array of resources available to us - BizSpark accounts with access to code, 'virtual CTO' humans to consult about architecture, various knowledgeable speakers presenting on topics relevant to our work this weekend, and of course the individuals on our respective teams and other folks working on other teams entirely. It's a mistake to walk away from help that so readily available. It also helps to pause a moment and think about what sort of help is not quite so visible. Making use of available resources is just plain smart.

Don't Force-Fit Tools
While making use of available resources is smart, there certainly are times when what is available really doesn't fit your needs. When that happens, it's smarter to walk away and find something else that works better - or take what's available now, knowing that you'll trade out as soon as it makes sense.

Keep Talking
Do you know what the other members of your team are doing and what problems they're trying solve? Do they know these things about you? Without good communication, you risk redundant efforts or worse than that, gaps in what gets done. This can be easier in small teams but there are ways of dealing with communication issues in large ones and no team is immune.

Shut Up
Once you all know what you're doing, how, and why, sometimes it's important just to shut your mouth and let everyone work. I was certainly guilty of not abiding by this one last night but that just highlights a corollary - other people often have different needs than you do. Talk about how you can best try to meet them all.

Build on Success
If you develop a good working relationship, achieve some success with an approach, follow up and build on it. Continuing to move the ball toward your goals is almost always more important than any single run.

Find Something to Do
If you're fully engaged, you'll probably have no trouble finding ways to help move the ball forward. If you've found yourself a bit less engaged, that might be a bit more problematic. Just know that a) the team can't succeed unless everyone is working to move the ball forward and b) acting engaged can help you become more engaged in what you're doing.

And just to re-iterate - Enjoy it - it's important to enjoy what you're doing or find another way to create joy in your life.

What resources are available to help you succeed?