By Chris Pearson, Manager, Partnerships | IBM Digital Business Group
I’ve spent my fair share of time mentoring startups, and when we meet for the first time, I always begin by asking the founders a seemingly simple question: “Why are you doing this?” Answers to this question come in different forms, typically to the tune of “We’ve noticed a gap in ‘x’ market that we can expose,” or “We have an innovative product that can revolutionize the way ‘y’ business is done,” and of course the ever so original “We’re the Uber for ‘z.’” It’s always great to get a picture of the product these founders are developing and to witness their excitement about the potential impact it can make, but none of those really answer the question I’ve asked. They’re all telling me the what and how but not necessarily the why. The reason I specifically ask “Why?” is that this question requires the founders to defines their purpose—and I believe that understanding your purpose is the foundation on which companies can truly thrive.
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” These wise words, written over a century ago by Friedrich Nietzsche, are just as true today as they were then. Circumstances change, markets shift, new innovations arise, all of which are uncontrollable factors that can impact what and how, but if you have firmly established your why, there will be very little you cannot overcome.
Determine Your “Why”
Simple questions don’t always yield simple answers. The purpose behind our actions, let alone our business, isn’t necessarily easy to define and oftentimes takes a bit of digging, but once you have it, the decision making process becomes significantly easier across the board. As a founder, you have to account for hundreds of decisions on a daily basis, each of which can potentially take you any one of a hundred directions. The benefit to understanding your purpose is that it acts as a compass in your decision making. Whatever answer or course of action aligns most closely with the central purpose you’ve identified is the decision you make, period.
For me personally, I decided years ago that my purpose was to help foster growth across the startup ecosystem. I’m not a founder myself, but I have recognized a pattern across history: civilizations tend to thrive—and reach their pinnacle—when they are focused on innovation. Creating solutions that make life and business more efficient and effective is a central theme in growing societies, and I believe that is just as true today as it’s ever been.
I developed this mission shortly after joining 500 Startups in a business development role after many years in corporate finance, and it was this idea that opened my eyes to a missing component in the startup ecosystem. I realized that enterprise companies play a critical role in the development and growth of startups and that the development of startups plays into the long-term success of enterprise companies. For the sake of time, I won’t dive deeply into the subject. Here is a reason so few large corporate entities survive, or at least maintain, a high level of success beyond three generations—and it revolves around their inability to accept and buy-in to innovation.
Partners for Innovation
It was this revelation that led me to take a role at SoftLayer, which ultimately fully migrated into IBM, where I’ve worked to become a key figure in the development and execution of our startup program Startup With IBM. Our objective is to manage a program that not only provides startups access to our technology through credits and more importantly positions those companies that work with us to reach our global network of clients and partners in order to help them find customers and generate revenue. We want to leverage the strength of what IBM is today to create meaningful value for the growth and development of these startups who will ultimately determine what IBM becomes in the future. If we can serve these startups well, helping them grow and scale on our cloud, as more than just as technology providers but also as a business partner, then we have the opportunity to become a core piece in the success of the next generation of these companies. By design, our program is only successful when startups are successful first. The goal is to create a structure that serves and supports founders by leveraging IBM’s core competencies to give them the tools and resources they need to do what they do best: innovate.
It’s yet to be seen whether or not our complete vision will come to fruition in the end. What we do know is the why behind what we’re doing, and every decision we make for this program will be to serve that ultimate purpose as we go forward.
Learn more about how Techstars partners with corporations to promote innovation—within corporations and for startups.
By David Brown, co-CEO of Techstars
Here’s a “hack” that I’ve observed growing startups often attempt. I call it the “contractor hack.” And it can be dangerous.
It starts off because a department head doesn’t have the budget to hire a person. To go through the approval process to get one hired is an impossible gauntlet. So instead, they use the contractor hack.
Here is the hack: first, you hire a temporary contractor. It’s not hard to do, or even to get approval for. You just say, “I know the hourly rate is a bit high, but it’s only for a short time to get over a hump, and we can cancel them at any time.” Easy-peasy. You have a “temporary” contractor.
After a year or so, your contractor becomes indispensable. Then you say you have a great idea: “Let’s save some money by converting this contractor to a full time role. We can pay her less, since we’ll be providing health or other benefits!” Genius.
Suddenly, you have lots of employees who started as contractors, and your middle managers have figured out how to hack your hiring system. If you are a startup, please don’t get into or allow this habit as you scale. Ask your CFO to keep close track of contractor expense and put a vice grip on this type of nonsense.
Ready to grow your startup the right way? Apply to a Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator.
Rover.com has raised more than $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters.
“Without Techstars Startup Weekend, there would be no Rover.com,” says founder Greg Gottesman.
Back in 2011, the Seattle-based venture capitalist had a terrible experience boarding his dog at a local kennel. He was determined to create a better way for pet parents to find quality care for their animals, and Techstars Startup Weekend Seattle gave him the perfect opportunity to test his idea and meet team members who shared his passion.
Being authentic and personal when you’re pitching someone a problem and a solution is far more compelling than when you pitch an idea that isn’t authentic to you.
Though Greg didn’t know it at the time, that one weekend would serve as the launchpad for what is now a doggy-daycare juggernaut, which has raised over $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters.
From Day One Dream to Petcare Platform
On day one of Techstars Startup Weekend Seattle 2011, Greg gave a one-minute pitch, explaining his idea — to create a customer-centric company that serves as matchmaker between pet parents and dog sitters, walkers and caregivers. His relatable, authentic pitch scored him a diverse, super-smart 10-person team.
That team got to work, striving to build a company in just 54 hours. Over three days, they experienced the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup: learning from local mentors, finding customers, building the product, and finally presenting the brand new company to a panel of local startup leaders — who awarded Rover first place!
Since then, Rover.com has raised more than $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters. In March 2017, Rover acquired DogVacay, joining forces to create dominance in the online dog care market. Earlier this year, Rover.com announced a round of $125M in equity funding, and an additional $30M in debt to continue their aggressive growth trajectory.
Greg has made a career out of starting up. He currently serves as managing director for a startup studio called Pioneer Square Labs in Seattle, where he and his team create companies from scratch. For 20 years he served as managing director at Madrona Venture Group, the largest venture capital firm in the Pacific Northwest. For the past 15 years, he has taught entrepreneurship and computer science at the University of Washington.
How to Standout at Startup Weekend
We recently caught up with Greg to get the back story on Rover.com. We asked him to share his top tips for anyone considering attending a Techstars Startup Weekend in their area.
“During the one-minute pitch, I told a personal story about my own dog and that was compelling to people. Being authentic and personal when you’re pitching someone a problem and a solution is far more compelling than when you pitch an idea — even if it’s a great idea — that isn’t authentic to you.
And second, choose a problem that you can see yourself spending more than a weekend working on, something you are passionate about. The reason we were able to recruit so many people to the team is that they were excited about solving a real problem that was relatable.”
“When you’re choosing a team to join at Startup Weekend, base your choice on the people more than their ideas. Make note when you hear someone pitching and you think they would be an incredible person to work with. Too many people listen to the idea rather than focus on how much fun they are going to have working with someone.”
One team member who signed on to Rover.com for Techstars Startup Weekend was Phil Kimmey, a developer and (at the time) rising senior at Washington University.
Over the weekend, Greg realized that Phil was an exceptionally talented young engineer, who also didn’t have a summer job lined up. Today, Greg says, “Had Phil Kimmey had a summer job, had someone realized how talented he was, there would be no Rover.com.” Phil became a co-founder, and is still a member of the leadership team.
The roots of Rover’s culture are entrepreneurial and customer focused, which is a culture that is grounded in Techstars Startup Weekend. At Techstars Startup Weekend, finding and focusing on the customer, not just the product, is an important part of the weekend and learnings.
“The team has executed very well on the product, but at the end of the day, it’s the customer experience that we focused on at Startup Weekend and that kind of thinking has been really helpful to people as they come out into the real world.”
“I think a lot of times what happens is that people get very sensitive about equity splits and those kinds of things. When in reality, as you think of the many thousands of businesses that have been started at Startup Weekend, I bet there would be a larger number of companies that were successful if people weren’t as sensitive about the equity splits.
If someone really wants to run with a company, being open to giving up most, but not all of your equity is the right way to do it. I think holding on too tight ends up killing a lot of the projects that have promise.”
“I wrote the Rover deck that first night of Startup Weekend, so by early Saturday morning I knew very clearly the brand story I wanted to tell. If we could tell the story and demo part of the product reasonably well, that’s a nice formula because it’s not possible to build out all aspects of the product during the weekend.”
Greg knows to avoid the trap of an overly high level, general pitch. He advises: “Share a personal story about someone you know well and take me through why it’s an important problem worth solving, and how you would solve it. It sounds so simple, but it’s amazing how hard it is to do that.”
Build a Company in 54 Hours
Techstars Startup Weekend has hosted over 5,800 events in more than 150 countries, with over 330,000 alumni. At these events you’ll be immersed in the ideal environment to learn, build, and meet your next team.
In Greg’s words:
Startup Weekend is an incredible, intense, addicting experience. For those who haven’t tried one yet, you should sign up for the next one.
Find a Techstars Startup Weekend near you.
By: Christoph Hartling, Lendy, the Winner of Startup Weekend Fall 2016
It is almost exactly three months ago, when I made myself on the way to the city center of Oulu to participate in the Startup Weekend. Up to that point, I didn´t really know what was expecting me at the Startup Weekend Oulu, the only thing that was running through my mind was, that we somehow had to create a company within 54 hours!
When I arrived at the Business Kitchen venue, I was warmly welcomed and suddenly surrounded by dozens of young and likeminded people. Shortly after, the pitching started and I was impressed about the wide variety of different ideas, but also curious about how these ideas will develop during the Startup Weekend. After that, everything went really quick, we formed a team of four enthusiastic students and lost no time working on our business idea.
Even though, most of our team members had never participated in such a startup event before, we never felt lost or uncertain about our next steps. I can fairly say, that this was mainly through the great support of the Startup Weekend mentors.
- We got our own office space.
- We launched our first website.
- We found our first customers and early adopters.
- We worked together and got supported by Finland’s biggest bank ─ OP Financial Group.
- We went to Europe´s Leading Startup Event – Slush.
I guess answering the question, if it was worth participating at Startup Weekend Oulu is unnecessary, even if you have only read the last few sentences!
By Marjaana Annala, Go Swap It, the Winner of Startup Weekend Oulu Spring 2016
Whenever someone asks me what Startup Weekend was like, I always have difficulties answering to it in a short way. To me, and I believe to many others as well, it meant a weekend where you totally step out of your comfort zone and do things you never thought were possible before. So how do you explain everything that happened, or everything that lead there, in a couple of sentences?
My best variable so far is this.
After a lot of pondering, I went there with an innocent idea that was a result of a 3-minute conversation with a friend a few months earlier (“Hey you know what would be cool?” “Oh yes that WOULD be cool!”) but no actual clue of what I should do with it. Truth be told, I still had no idea what I was going to do when I got there. To pitch or to not pitch my idea? I was extremely scared of even the mere idea of that.
I also did not have any idea of what I should do during the weekend – or how to do any of the things I should do. Complicated, huh? But shortly after I arrived I realized that it is perfectly fine, because on top of unlimited coffee and food, what was offered was unlimited support.
So I guess what happened was that a bunch of genius minds got together, were inspired by the same idea, joined forces and started working. No talk, all action, they said. And it truly was just that. All you really need to do is stop thinking, roll up your sleeves and start working.
Five months later?
I have my own company with the same awesome people I met at Startup Weekend.
I have pretty much my dream job.
I also have at least some kind of an idea what I’m doing.
As icing on the cake – and most importantly – a whole lot of new, amazing people in my life.
That is the beauty of Startup Weekend.
5 hand-picked articles from across the Startup Digest Reading Lists. Sign up to receive great weekly content on various topics from expert curators.
1. Beyoncé Wants to Change the Conversation
By Tamar Gottesman
Curator: Katie Chase
So much to learn from Beyoncé about how to lead in the manner of your choosing. Read More
More from this reading list: http://eepurl.com/bXoC5r
2. How to give and receive better feedback as a remote team
By Kate Kendall
Curators: Zubin Chagpar & Chris McCann
“We’ve set up a round-robin schedule where each person schedules two calls per month with two different team members. That way, we have a dedicated time to catch up with another member of the team who you might not otherwise chat with outside of daily work tasks.” Read More
More from this reading list: http://eepurl.com/bXhopf
3. Forget Apple vs the FBI: WhatsApp Just Switched On Encryption For A Billion People
By Cade Metz
Curator: Edith Yeung
The company employs only about 50 engineers. And it took a team of only 15 of them to bring encryption to the company’s one billion users—a tiny, technologically empowered group of individuals engaging in a new form of asymmetrical resistance to authority, standing up not only to the US government, but all governments. Read More
More from this reading list: http://eepurl.com/bXhC7P
4. Why No Dining App Is the ‘Airbnb of Food’ (Yet)
By Tove Danovich
Curators: Sophie-Charlotte Moatti & Reza Ladchartabi
Apps promoting social dining experiences beyond restaurants seem ripe for the “sharing economy.” So why aren’t they dominating the market? Read More
More from this reading list: http://eepurl.com/bXg-Nn
5. OLO – The First Ever Smartphone 3D Printer
By OLO, Kickstarter
Digest: 3D Printing
This is a very neat Kickstarter that is doing incredibly well. It’s a tiny 3D Printer that involves your smartphone. It seems to be really well designed. Despite the fact that most 3D Printer Kickstarters have failed, I am always excited to see new and innovative projects. Read More
More from this reading list: http://eepurl.com/bXf1nn
Sign up for these or other Startup Digest reading lists, here.
5 hand-picked articles from across the Startup Digest Reading Lists. Sign up to receive great weekly content on various topics from expert curators.
1. How to get a startup job, even if you have an MBA
By Matheus Riolfi
Curators: Zubin Chagpar & Chris McCann
One of the first things I heard when I arrived in San Francisco was this joke: “Silicon Valley investors value startups by adding $1M for each engineer in the team and by reducing $500k for each MBA.” Read More
More from this reading list: http://eepurl.com/bWoH7r
2. 50 Sources of Funding for Women Entrepreneurs
By Melinda Briana Epler
Digest: Women Entrepreneurship
Curators: Babs Lee & Lilibeth Gangas
Want to know where the women investors are at and who is funding women? Check out these resources of capital for women entrepreneurs. Read More
More from this reading list: http://eepurl.com/bWmtqD
3. The Mess at Nest Echoes the Mess in the Smart Home
By Stacey Higginbotham
Digest: Internet of Things
Curator: Michael Kruk
This article discusses the challenges faced by any company going after the smart home market and takes a deep dive into Nest’s experiences facing those challenges and others. Read More
More from this reading list: http://eepurl.com/bWocsj
4. Affordable Teslas? Elon Musk is about to take your brain to Mars.
By Suzanne Jacobs
Digest: Mobility & Transportation
Curator: Timo Hoffmann
Affordable, good electric automobile from Tesla. Its Model 3 seems to be a game-changer. Maybe… Read More
More from this reading list: http://eepurl.com/bWnGaX
5. ‘Fitbit for your period’: the rise of fertility tracking
By Moira Weigel
Curator: Edith Yeung
Investors are pouring money into apps that allow women to track their fertility. Can tech companies use data to change the world of women’s reproductive health? Read More
More from this reading list: http://eepurl.com/bWnn-P
Sign up for these or other Startup Digest reading lists, here.
Dignity Health St. John’s Regional Medical Center and St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital have partnered with the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce to launch the inaugural Startup Weekend Ventura County on March 11-13, 2016 at Rancho Campana High School in Camarillo, CA.
The event will focus on innovative Internet of Things solutions for Healthcare and Agriculture. Startup Weekend is a 54-hour weekend event, during which entrepreneurs pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas, and develop a working prototype, demo, or presentation by Sunday evening. As a result, participants will learn how to create a real company and meet the best mentors, investors, cofounders, and sponsors who have the knowledge, resources and tools to help entrepreneurs get started.
“Partnering with others in the community to improve the quality of life is one of our three stated missions,” said Darren Lee, President and CEO of St. John’s Hospitals. “Helping to create high-paying jobs by supporting entrepreneurs’ launch of technology-driven businesses is an effective way to achieve it.” “Scalable business is fundamental to driving robust and sustainable economic growth,” added Gary Cushing, Chief Executive Officer of Camarillo Chamber of Commerce. “The high cost of housing makes it hard to attract out-of-state technology companies to set up shop in California. We need to grow our own. To accomplish this, we have to create an environment conducive to entrepreneurs launching their new businesses in our backyard.”
Со големо финале кое се одржа во петокот заврши петтиот Стартап Викенд Скопје. Овој пат, бизнис комплексот CoSeed беше домаќин на повеќе од 60 учесници, кои со помош на 20 локални и интернационални ментори ги развиваа своите стартап идеи. По петти пат Стартап Викенд Скопје беше место каде што се спојуваат млади креативни ентузијасти, дизајнери, програмери, економисти, маркетери, со една заедничка цел, да креираат своја стартап компанија за 54 часа.
Во петокот беа презентирани 21 идеја, од кои по гласањето се формираа 12 тима. Саботата беше резервинрана за менторските сесии и подетално развивање на идеите. Тимовите добија совети околу маркетинг стратегија, креирање бизнис план, дизајнирање на апликации, но имаше време и за запознавање, одмор и заедничко дружење. Во неделата се работеше на последните подготовки за презентациите, дефинирање на идеите и најважниот дел, финалето. Тимовите ги презентираа своите идеи пред 5-членото жири, а ова се најуспешните од нив:
Третото место го освоија mono.mk, онлајн сервис кој ќе ви помогне да го решите парадоксот на изборот и ќе ви понудат еден продукт дневно по многу достапна цена. Совршена опција за неодлучни луѓе.
Второто место им припадна на Slapp, апликација која на интересен начин ќе ви помогне да ја победите прокрастинацијата. Тие беа еден од тимовите кои ни презентираа и демо верзија.
На #swskopje во Мај го освоија второто место со апликацијата NowPark.me, а овој пат првото место отиде во рацете на NCS, тим кои сакаат преку апликацијата VoiTEx да им помогнат на глувите и лицата со оштетен слух да воспостават телефонски повик.
За најдобра презентација беше прогласен тимот Legend Squad, односно најмладиот тим чија идеја беше да направат Mindcraft сервер. Мораме да напоменеме дека овој тим беше едноставно awesome!
StudieBuddies преку онлајн социјална платформа го решаваат проблемот со кој се соочуваат студентите кои не студираат во својот роден град и има за цел да ги поврзе оние кои имаат заеднички интерес, да учат заедно или пак да споделуваат материјали. WeLearn со апликацијата Буфко сакаат на младите деца од пред школска возраст да им овозможат забава и учење преку игри со кои можат да ја подобрат својата меморија. BusHelp имаат за цел да го решат проблемот со јавниот транспорт во Скопје. Идејата на FreshFridge е секогаш да имаме достапна здрава храна, а тоа ќе го решат преку достава до секој дом. ConDoma го решаваат проблемот што го имаат луѓето на каса кога купуваат производи кои им предизвикуваат срам и преку онлајн сервис овозможуваа дискретна достава до посакувана локација во брендиран пакет по избор. Идејата на StudentNinja е едукативна платформа која ги поврзува учениците, професорите и родителите и овозможува интерактивно учење. Тимот 1000 работеа на веб страна која ќе овозможува групно принтање. И за крај EBLApp, платформа каде што ќе може да го најдеш кредитот кој ти е потребен со пополнување на онлајн формулар што ќе проверува какви услуги нудат банките, со цел да можеме полесно да ја избереме онаа која најмногу ни одговара.
Со успешното завршување на Стартап Викенд Скопје уште еднаш се покажа дека во Македонија има многу креативни и вредни, млади луѓе, со квалитетни идеи кои можат да прераснат во успешни бизниси. Искуството со кое се збогатија учесниците на овој настан ќе им помогне при идните предизвици, а контактите кои ги стекнаа ќе им бидат од огромно значење при реализацијата на нивните идеи.
Уште еднаш би сакале да се заблагодариме на сите кои ја поддржаа македонската стартап заедница преку нашиот настан:
- Сребрени спонзори: Холандската амбасада во Македонија, UNDP MK, МКхост и Seavus.
- Спонзори: GSIX, SEDC и Скопска Пивара.
- Поддржувачи: Brainster, South Central Ventures, Girls in Tech, Silicon Drinkabout, EESTEC LC Skopje, IAESTE Macedonia, AIESEC, BEST Skopje, Startup Academy, Startup Grind, Ладна, Ред Бул, Нескафе, Виталиа и Хотел Сонце.
- Медиумски поддржувачи: www.it.mk, www.brkajrabota.mk, www.smartportal.mk, www.itnastani.mk, www.marketing365.mk, www.popularno.mk, Startup Selfie.
Следете нè и очекувајте го наредниот настан во 2016.
Startup Weekend Bahrain
November 19th – 21st, 2015
Firstly, I’d like to thank our Strategic partner ‘Tamkeen’ and our sponsors Batelco, ALBA (Aluminum Bahrain), Microsoft and Coca Cola Bottling Company for its support with Startup Weekend Bahrain. With their support, our participants were able to follow through with their startup journey.
Our top 3 winners were Beauty Q, Pick-A-Dive and The Hive, with 4th place honorary winner ‘Turnover’.
Our honorary winners, ‘Turnover’, won 3 months co-working space at Tenmou offices. The team created an application where consumers are able to receive discounts for off-peak hours in restaurants. This creates deals for diners and traffic for restaurateurs.
Around 80 participants joined Startup Weekend Bahrain, with a tally of 13 initial pitches which later on were voted to the final 11 teams. The organizing team made sure to inform the teams to focus on the MVP’s (Minimal Viable Products) in order to validate their startups. We were impressed by the outstanding outcomes that mostly all 11 teams had their pitched startups were validated by globally recognized establishments in the field of their e-business.
The best part about this year’s Startup Weekend Bahrain was the quality of our pitching startups. We tried our best as hosts to create a creative environment for our startups and potential entrepreneurs. As the host of Startup Weekend, we at Tenmou are working on building the startup ecosystem in Bahrain, as well as working on building the angel investment ecosystem in the MENA region. Our aim is to uplift the entrepreneurship community with our country’s vision of 2030 and raise awareness for startups with potential.
Finally, we’d like to thank our Startup Weekend Bahrain facilitator, Mr. Zoheb Iqbal for creating such a positive vibe for our participants and encouraging them with their pitching. Our message to all our participants and future participants is to encourage and embrace entrepreneurship.