Organizing a Startup Weekend can mean different things to an organizer: a chance to build a network and make connections, a way to be a part of a fun and transformational experience, or even a way to promote entrepreneurship in a community.
One of the reasons I organize Startup Weekend is because it represents a way to build and shape the community around me. In my most recent event, I was part of a team taking a small step toward making Seattle a place to celebrate Latino cultures in the local entrepreneurial community.
Seattle is a wonderful, intelligent, and passionate city. I’ve been involved in the Startup Weekend community here in some form or another for the last few years, and I noticed some things:
- The people I was seeing at the events were generally from the same demographic.
- There was an opportunity to spread entrepreneurship to neighborhoods and cultures beyond the downtown urban core.
If you aren’t from Seattle, you should know that our city is reasonably sized, but much of the entrepreneurial energy and support is concentrated near the downtown core. There are various cultures in other parts of Seattle that don’t enjoy the same energy and whose stories we don’t hear regularly.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t efforts to engage other communities and social groups in our city. In September 2014, we saw an incredible Hack the CD event to engage the African American community in the Central District, but we should be doing more.
A few other organizers and attendees I had met through various events realized we had something in common: we all loved our city, we loved entrepreneurship, and we loved our shared Latino heritage.
This gave rise to the idea that became Seattle’s first Startup Weekend Latino and Hispanic Markets event. In this post I’ll share our goals, lessons we learned along the way, and what plans we have for engaging diversity in entrepreneurship in Seattle.
Vision and Goals for Startup Weekend Latino
Creating an event to highlight a culture is an interesting prospect. Entrepreneurship cuts across cultures, beliefs, and opinions in a way that is incredibly powerful. We wanted to celebrate a culture that means so much to us, as well as invite others to experience it.
We decided our event would be special and distinct from any other Startup Weekend in 3 ways:
- Latino Entrepreneurs would feel welcomed in a way they may not have felt before
- We would share our culture with those who had no connection to Latino cultures, giving them a chance to experience and consider another culture as they build their ideas
- We would create a space for the Latino community to share and celebrate its culture in the context of entrepreneurship
We designed our event to celebrate and share fun parts of our Latino cultures. This included things like:
- Salsa contest for pitch order
- Inviting smaller Seattle Latino restaurants to the event to feed our attendees
- Having parts of the event in Spanish, or providing translation help where needed
- Latino music throughout the weekend
We also sought to include representatives from the Seattle startup community across cultures and industries. In addition to our standard partners from the Seattle Startup Weekend community, we reached out to Latino cultures to find sponsors, mentors, and judges. Ultimately, we wanted people to come away knowing there is a thriving Latino community in Seattle interested in the success of its entrepreneurs.
Organizing a unique Startup Weekend event means encountering new situations. Here is what we learned.
Diversity is Exciting and Fun!
My favorite part of the event was just how many cultures and nationalities were represented there. Beyond North, Central, and South American Spanish-speaking countries, we had attendees representing Asian, European, and African cultures. This was a delightful opportunity to experience entrepreneurship with new friends and faces. More importantly, we saw that an event dedicated to celebrating other cultures was interesting to so many people.
Marketing and Messaging
We knew at the start of the event that we’d have to be careful with our messaging and marketing to be clear that the entire community was invited to participate. Success would look like balancing a specific culture focus with an open invitation to all of Seattle. The clarity in messaging also makes an impact on how judges and coaches formed their expectations. We used language like “All Are Welcome” in event promotions, and emphasized our goals to all people involved in the event. However, this is an area we want to improve upon for next year.
Meals and Catering
We committed to partnering with local Latino restaurants for all our meals. This resulted in amazing meals throughout the entire weekend, but it was actually quite difficult to find smaller businesses that had the capacity and experience to cater for a Startup Weekend event. Moreover, we should have realized that having an event so close to Cinco de Mayo would limit our selection of available restaurants.
Engaging Existing Latino Groups
There are plenty of Latino organizations around Seattle, but we didn’t know who they were when we were planning and marketing our event. Frankly, this is just a symptom of this being a nascent effort. We expect we’ll build on this momentum to build a more cohesive network of communities within our city.
Plans for the Future
As most Startup Weekend events do, this was a great starting point upon which we can continue to build. We intend to build more connections to other groups and create more opportunities to engage as a community. With the small cohort of attendees from our event, we can create more connections and strengthen our ties.
The best part is that we’re not alone in this. Portland will host its own Startup Weekend Latino event in June, and we have been interacting and supporting each other as organizing teams.
Hopefully, by this time next year, we will have a groundswell of momentum that we can showcase in another Startup Weekend Latino event. In the meantime, you can follow along and get involved in the following places:
- Seattle Tech Latinos and Friends Meetup group
- Startup Weekend Latino in Seattle on Twitter
- Startup Weekend Latino in Portland on Twitter
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.