Startup weekend

Another startup weekend. Another major disappointment.

I am not dissing startup weekend. I like it. I have helped organise one, mentor and judge on a few other ones. I love the enthusiasm, excitement and the wonderful vibe one can always experience from this volunteer-run event.

But it is also because of this, all these positive energy, all the resources and efforts would be going to complete waste if we can not get the teams to start on the right foot. Not figuring out the business model, not projecting financial results in 5 years, but just starting on the right foot. It’s a weekend only after all.

Therefore, I don’t judge on team’s ideas (although most are generally quite naive at this stage), who am I to say anyway? I am sure if one gives me the pitch deck for Snap, Uber and Airbnb before they are who they are now, I’d probably say they are all pretty bad ideas (may be they are).  But this is precisely the point.  It’s not idea alone, it’s execution. And when we talk about execution, we need to talk about approach.

See, all these startup lingo is actually doing more harm to startups than good.  For example, product market fit: sure enough the concept is simple and clear but this has caused many startups to first search for the problem, the so-called pain point. And since most startups have limited or no understanding of the particular market, these problems that they identified (or fooling themselves into) are almost always systemic problems (high-level structural issues). Whilst establishing this high-level problem is mind is useful from an ideation standpoint, it is counterproductive from an approach standpoint.  It lures startups to continue debating on high-level concepts without taking actual intelligent, market-oriented and business savvy steps.

Yes, ideas make you a startup in startup weekend.  But execution makes you a startup in the real word.

So this is what I am proposing (yes, I am totally starting a new startup movement).

At the high level, the first job for the startup to do is not to find product market fit or the pain point. The first thing the startup needs to know is that this is about connecting three specific elements: Market-Yourself-Solution.  The centrepiece of lean canvas should not be unique value proposition.  It should be the person/founders of the startup.

And for each of the Market-Yourself-Solution, the startup needs to examine the following ways (and in this order too) by addressing these questions:

Yourself

  • What key know-how am I bringing to the table and how can I improve upon it in order for it to be world class (relative to my competitors)?

Yes, you actually need skills, expertise and experience to win in the market. No, it’s not about just finding the product market fit. You need all of the above to do so. Your startup won’t be world class if yourself is not world class. Sure, none of us is perfect but hiring a bunch of people won’t help you either. Even doing so requires you to have proper skills in hiring, retaining and training these people.  There is no way to avoid being good. But this question is almost never asked by startup founders.

Solution

  • What KPIs should I set myself up for the next 30-90 days? How am I going to achieve them in a way that would impress stakeholders?

I have no idea why every startup likes to do financial projection. It’s bullshit. Also, why the horizon is so long too? A 3 years projection? Are you serious? So let’s focus short term. Really short term, preferably in weeks if not days. Also, setting good KPIs requires skills. So starting doing it and keep learning from it. But this is generally difficult for startups. I have tried it myself. It’s very difficult to get early stage startups to focus. To focus on a very specific goal. They all want to cover a wider ground but end up achieving little. Sometimes they also feel like by focusing, they are losing other market opportunities. As I always tell them, they have nothing right now, so don’t worry.

Market

  • What are the operational challenges am I going to face? How am I going to overcome them that is so different from others?

I have deliberately placed Market last. I also know many startups fail because they fail to address the right market. But we are not talking about high-level concepts here.  We are talking about the actual approach. Being last means prioritising among those three different tasks. Most of all, it is important for startups to ask themselves tough questions. Why are people using what they are using now? The power of market is huge. Just because they want to do something cool or good to the world does not mean the market will allow them to do so easily. It’s never about what the startups want to do.  It is about what they can actually do and how the market will adjust to it. Most importantly, startups need to have reality check. What is the shit that they can realistically handle? What is the type of shit they tend to avoid? If you don’t like handling the type of shit that naturally comes with any startup, then don’t do it.

Long live startup weekend. I hope it will continue. But I also want people get bored with it and start doing something real.

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