This article is written by by Harrison Magun, Founder of LilyDrive – a Pinterest for stories and causes.
I registered for Startup Weekend Seattle in pursuit of three things: validation of, feedback on, and help with a start-up idea. I never guessed that in one weekend I would get so much more.
Two pieces of positive validation arrived in quick succession: My LilyDrive idea was one of the top pitches chosen by participants on Friday night, and I was fortunate to recruit a great weekend team of developers, project managers and subject matter experts.
But my ebullience caused me to miss an important tell. What I hadn’t noticed was that before joining the LilyDrive team for the weekend, each prospective team member had said something like “I really liked your pitch… remind me of the idea again?” What I had heard was “great pitch I’d like to join the team!” My failure to understand that my new teammates hadn’t really understood – or subscribed to – my vision was about to wreak all sorts of havoc.
After getting settled, our newly-formed team got to work. We started with an overview of the plan I had brought with me which was, ‘LilyDrive is a Pinterest-like platform that lets you turn any web content that moves you into a spontaneous, social, micro-gifting experience.’ We began digging into the details of how it works, and my plan for launch. That’s where things began to devolve:
“If I had known this was what LilyDrive was, I wouldn’t have chosen it.”
“I wrote my senior thesis on why things like this don’t work”
“I can’t write code if you guys can’t agree.”
The negativity and doubt that filled everyone – including me – was a pretty big reversal of all the positive validation I thought I had received just hours before. One team member wanted to quit. Another asked “Harrison, based on this new feedback, do you still like the idea?” At that point, I wasn’t sure.
As we drilled into the source of the discontent, it turned out that it wasn’t the entire LilyDrive idea that had soured. It was the specific, “create your own cause” feature which the team had assumed was going to be a central part of the product, and which I had deliberately excluded as “not core”. This feature had already been commoditized on other platforms and despite being in the market for a few years, this feature had not been widely adopted. Feelings were strong on all sides. “What if we plan to include this feature as an option later,” I offered, “by integrating with a partner that already has it, rather than build it?” The team acquiesced, but we had wasted a lot of time and emotional energy that could have been conserved had I listened more closely earlier in the day, and done a better job explaining why it did not make sense to offer this feature as part of our MVP (Minimum Viable Product).
Back on the rails, we spent the rest of Friday night and all day Saturday dividing and conquering customer development, payments integration, coding the front and back end, and preparing our final pitch. Coding the live demo look much longer than we anticipated, and we finished just minutes before the final pitches began on Sunday evening.
When it was our turn to present, I found that the emotional swings of the weekend had probably injected some extra adrenaline into my delivery, like a sketchy ski or mountain bike descent creates a mix of do-or-die excitement and hyper-focus.
It was soon time for the winners to be announced. Third place was announced first. It was not LilyDrive. We did not get second place either. Then, first place was announced: LilyDrive won. During the debrief, the judges highlighted the “think big” potential of LilyDrive, the customer validation we had done, the way we gelled as a team, our focus on simplicity, and the professionalism of the presentation itself. I thought to myself how all of that had come close to going up in flames a day earlier.
During Startup Weekend Seattle, I did get a lot of validation of, feedback on, and help with LilyDrive. Perhaps more important, I learned a lot about myself:
- The more I become enamored with an idea, the more prepared I should be to compromise in ways that don’t derail the vision or strategy.
- When others lose motivation, I can be tempted to slip into the same pit of despair. But that’s when it’s most important to excise the source of despair and find a new source of inspiration.
- Any feedback or validation, positive or negative, is only one of many data points, not a success metric.
- Feedback and validation are rarely binary good/bad. Listening closely to why feedback is positive or negative is much more important just a thumbs up or thumbs down.
For LilyDrive, Startup Weekend was an inflection point in its development. It was in mine, too.
Harrison Magun founded LilyDrive in November 2013, six weeks after leaving Amazon. LilyDrive turns any web content into a spontaneous, social, micro-gifting opportunity. It took first place at the Seattle Startup Weekend in November 2013, and 2nd place three weeks later at a regional competition. Since then, LilyDrive received its first seed funding, and is currently in development. Prior to working at Amazon, Harrison held executive roles at Microsoft and aQuantive. He co-founded the SEM eonMedia, which was acquired by aQuantive in 2004. He lives on Mercer Island, WA with his wife and three boys.