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This is guest post from Eric Koester, Founder of Zaarly, Startup Weekend Board Member, and NEXT Mentor

If you believe everything you read in the media (both traditional and social), you might think that upon arriving in Austin for the South by Southwest Interactive conference you are immediately hooked up to an IV of alcohol, have a feeding tube of BBQ inserted and pop on a pair of Google Glasses for the next five days.

Turns out that may be slightly overstating things but there is a perception that SXSW is spring break for the technology community.

Showcasing the Power of the Ecosystem

Just three weeks before SXSWi was about to begin, Scott Case, the CEO of Startup America, circulated an email to a few folks asking, “Do you think we could pull off a customer discovery/lean startup bootcamp for early stage teams?”  The folks on that email included Steve Blank and Bob Dorf (the gurus of the Startup Owners Manual), Marc Nager (the CEO of Startup Weekend) and myself (a startup founder and one of the instructors of the NEXT: Customer Discovery programs pioneered by Startup Weekend with the help of Startup America, Techstars and the Global Accelerator Network).

While the request definitely was cool, the timing seemed pretty tight.  But that’s sort of the thing about startup folks — we always do our best work when someone says something can’t be done.  So the group all signed on and quickly confirmed that it would be pretty amazing to see if we could call in a few favors and try and ‘supercharge’ a few startup teams using the power of SXSW and the network of great people in Austin.

“Let’s do it,” I replied. I offered to help spearhead an effort to gather some of the top startup minds together to help out a handful of entrepreneurs we’d recruit to join us in Austin.


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What followed from that exchange was a mixture of begging, pleading, schedule roulette and magic as the crack teams from Startup America and Startup Weekend began to pull together the logistics of a four day long program including putting out a call for teams from around the country.  Aptly so, the NEXT program would be held in Startup America’s “Startup Village.”

The call for applications put out yielded more than 100 startup teams interested in improving their startup at SXSW.  After combing through videos, websites and pitches, the judges settled on ten amazing teams spanning the country and the globe.

With Steve Blank and Bob Dorf already on board to serve as lead instructors, we began asking our friends, colleagues and fellow startuppers who might have a few (maybe more than a few) hours to help out in Austin.  What happened next was amazing: awesome entrepreneurs such as Noah Kagan, Ingrid Vanderbilt, Dan Martell, Farb Nivi and Ben Milne raised hands, investors including David Tisch, Leslie Jump and Nick Grossman joined in, and industry leaders including Erick Schonfeld, Gary Shapiro, Dan Wernikoff and Jason Cohen offered their help.

Within a few days, we had created an ecosystem ready to learn and ready to teach right before our eyes.

Why The Startup Village Mattered

A few hours from folks like Steve Blank or Ingrid Vanderbilt may not seem like much to some of us, but to the ten teams that put their lives and companies on hold for a week to get pushed, pulled and prodded, these relationships were worth their weight in gold.  Phrases like, “Now that’s bleeping awesome,” or “Have you thought about…”, or “Let’s chat about that afterwards,” or “Finally, you’re getting it,” were part of the teaching and learning that helps make startups great and, more importantly, pushes startup founders to continue on.  By the end, those teams were all leaps and bounds ahead of where they sat a few days before.  (See the video of their “pitches” to accelerators here)

Startups aren’t created in vacuums — the best ones are nurtured by other founders, investors, mentors and customers.  It truly takes that right mixture of advice, brilliance and support, with a dash of kicks in the ass, to create great companies. And not every startup has an accelerator in their town or a tight-knit startup community.  That’s why the people making those communities happen are so important — they build the foundation for startups to start and thrive.

If you are a startup founder — join in the community and find those great folks in your ecosystem who are willing to help.  And if you’ve done it already and can offer some wisdom or just a pat on the back, then keep doing just that.

And while we crammed this all in a long weekend in Austin, remember that programs like this that help founders find other founders and connect with community members do exist.  Check out www.swnext.co to see when NEXT will be offered in your hometown — and become a part of your Startup Village.

A personal special thanks to all the amazing people who helped make NEXT@SXSW possible: Ben Milne, Jason Cohen, Jessica Randazza, Gary Shapiro, Renee Warren, Dan Martell, Leslie Jump, Jamie Kantrowitz, Farb Nivi, Noah Kagan, Amy Millman, Nick Grossman, David Tisch, Erick Schonfeld, Dan Wernikoff, Natalia Oberti Noguera, Kelly Hoey, Ingrid Vanderbilt, Tony Schy, Chris Buckstein, Lauren Gilchrist, Nithya Das, Farrah Bostic, Bob Dorf, Steve Blank, as well as the Startup America Team (Chris Roche, Derek Holt & Scott Case) and the Startup Weekend Team (Mitchell Cuevas, Keith Armstrong, Adam Stelle, & Marc Nager).


NEXT starts again near you. Register for a city near you here.



Interested in sharing your story with the Startup Weekend community? Contact us at social@startupweekend.org.