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From the beginning we’re always looking for a formula that works. Be it a skill like web development that generates income, or a style that attracts members of the preferred sex, we search for the things that work and if we’re lucky we find them and we hold on for dear life. And why shouldn’t we, if something works by all means it’s our right to enjoy the ride. We earned it.

But what happens when the formula becomes familiar? What happens when we develop a profound level of trust in the formula, and we begin to rely on it? We’ve seen it work so many times, and we’ve seen it work well, so regardless of how much work we put in, things are likely to be okay. Right?

I have something to confess here. My name is Chet Kittleson, I’m a Startup Weekend organizer, facilitator, and core team member, and I have never created a world class experience. I have relied on a tried and true formula, in this case Startup Weekend, to carry the brunt of the weight. I’ve settled with simply getting people in the room, and forgot that my goal was to keep them there.

As I move to why I believe this is wrong for me, and exclaim my personal declaration to change and to only be a part of extraordinary things, let me preface with this: changing the life of one person is a spectacular achievement. If you run an event or operate a blog or anything like that, changing the life of one person is an admirable goal. We’re all busy and those of us that take time to work on building communities should feel proud. We’re doing something, and that’s exceptional.

But I’m not okay with this anymore. I recently facilitated a Startup Weekend event for the US Embassy of Canada and had a small taste of what it’s like to be a part of something really meaningful. With a larger-than-normal budget, we were able to fly in 60 attendees from 19 cities across Canada. We were able to attract top-tier press. We were able to create an energy and a buzz, solely based on the fact that this one event in Ottawa, Ontario was bringing young people from across a country together to inspire change.

Me snapping a selfie with the attendees at the US Embassy of Ottawa Startup Weekend

As the event came to an end, I was more than ecstatic with the results but at the same time disappointed in myself. The Embassy did an amazing job coordinating the travel of a large number of people spanning across a region. The people did an amazing job at adopting the Startup Weekend philosophies, sharing ideas, building companies, talking to customers, and all the rest. And I did a pretty good job at getting people excited on Friday and Sunday when we, facilitators, take the stage to do just that.

That was it. I took a special event, applied a tried and true formula, and it worked. People were happy, they are happy. So why then, am I feeling disappointed in myself?

Almost a week later, and after a great conversation over a couple of beers with Rob Foxall, Startup Weekend organizer out of Vancouver BC, I’ve figured it out. (Good thing too, if I hadn’t this article would be dry to say the least.) I relied on the formula. I took an amazing opportunity, and I maintained it with all my might. Was this a failure? No, far from it. But it wasn’t all that it could have been either.

Moral of the story here, let’s never forget that “it’s up to us, each and every one of us, to create the world and the communities that we want to live in.” I heard that in Greg Tehven’s TEDx talk on the work him and his partners have done to essentially rebrand their home; Fargo, North Dakota. The goal isn’t to spend more time or money or resources. The goal is to take the time and money and resources we have, and to get the most out of them. Make every second and penny count, and never stop working to create world class experiences.

“In Fargo, we do our best to move beyond events – gatherings in boring spaces with food that is average at best. We are focused on creating experiences, thinking through the details of smell, visual, ability to connect, etc. During our Startup Weekends, before the results of the judging are released on the last day, we’ve hosted the world’s youngest yo yo champion on stage to share his talents and a group of 10 year rock stars singing Journey. Our team in Fargo knows we only get one chance to create a first impression and our events are designed and built with the idea of creating experiences and community,” said Tehvan. Click here for a video recap of their last Startup Weekend, they do an incredible job.

As Greg said, “we have one chance to make a first impression.” Our goal as organizers and facilitators is to expose as many people as possible to entrepreneurship. We want to create a safe place for people to collaborate, to share ideas, to meet like-minded people, and maybe even to build companies. We’ve found the formula that gets people in the room, it’s our job as the leaders of our respective communities to take the additional step to keep them there.

Read more on my blog! 


  • evanjacobs

    I completely agree that you can’t simply rest on your laurels. Whether you’ve achieved any amount of success or not it is important to continue striving to be better even if it takes lots and lots of imperceptibly small steps.