I get pitched a lot of good ideas, daily. Before an entrepreneur sits across the table from me they’ve done a ton of planning, a bunch of research and have undoubtedly spent hours dreaming about how their soon-to-be-application is going to look and feel. And without fail, every entrepreneur has an incredible list of features that they want to build and incorporate in the product from Day 1.
As a result, I often find that the core of the product I’m being asked to build is hidden many layers underneath user acquisition features, gamification features, and “features investors will like.” This is the biggest mistake we see with an entrepreneur’s idea of an MVP - they try to conquer the world right away.
It’s a super important lesson for any first time entrepreneur to keep in mind as they begin to build their product.
I don’t want to start the fall season off with such a negative post, but this has been on my mind for a while (and sorry for the gross picture, but it helps drive the point home). I promise my next post will be more positive.
The Startup Community thrives on amazing people. No matter which city you’re talking about, if there is a strong startup community, it is because there are champions who give so much back with very little if any expectation of return. This is seen through meetups and skillshare classes, outstanding VCs, angel investors and mentors, entrepreneurs helping other entrepreneurs, and so on. It’s a strange place to plug the NYC Tech Blood Drive while talking about leeches but I’m a big supporter and couldn’t resist, so sign up now :)
That being said, I have seen a few examples recently of people who aren’t so friendly and amazing. These people whom I will now refer to as leeches thrive off of the startup community that they claim to be a part of. And it makes me sick.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that everyone should be giving everything away for free. That’s not the point at all. I understand businesses and people need to make money, but when you are doing it in a disingenuous way at the expense of others, you are a leech sucking the life blood out of the community.
These leeches are very good at what they do and have created such a good coverup story to hide their true motives that they are often able to prey on the young and naive first time entrepreneurs. Sometimes they will only take a little bit and move on to the next one, and other times they will suck them dry. Very often they are only in it for the money and don’t give a shit about the people, projects or companies that will be affected along the way.
I don’t have an answer for how to stop these leeches, but what I will say is be careful and keep your eyes open — especially if you are brand new to the community. With all the amazing people in the startup community, it is very easy to let your guard down and not recognize a leech for what they are.
My only advice to you is to ask people you trust and always go with you gut.
At an event last week, I met an entrepreneur who like myself left the banking industry to embrace the startup world. Cool. We immediately have some common ground.
I asked him what he’s working on, and he replies with some serious enterprise related idea which is not my particular cup of tea but it sounded cool. We then start talking about NY Tech Day, and he immediately responds that he’s not interested. Ok, fine. So I start to pry a little deeper. He said that he won a booth at TechCrunch Disrupt in Hong Kong and that their team didn’t get any value out of it.
He then said that he wasn’t interested in Tech Day, because he is totally focused on building his product. Great. I support that (mostly), but then I asked him about his plans for the future: raising money, building a team, attracting users.
And here’s the part that still gets me — he said that pitching investors and networking is a waste of time. He was going to build a great product and then just apply to a bunch of accelerator programs.
I get it, but I just couldn’t disagree with this more. Yes, building product should absolutely be your main focus, but when you are a single person startup or even a small team, you must wear many hats and perform incredible juggling acts on a daily basis.
He was very jaded by his original experience and wasn’t willing to listen to anything else. I wanted to tell him about lines not dots and that most startups are going to fail or make giant pivots and that the best way to get into those incubators is through your network and relationships and how much I fundamentally disagreed with his approach, but I knew I’d be wasting my breath.
At the end of the day, it’s all about being disciplined in your goals and objectives and flexible in your approach. Keep an open mind and always be willing to experiment.
#6WordSummary: only a sith deals in abosolutes
I’ve had to hold this one back for a while, but I’m super proud of the Tech Day team for pulling this together.
As we’ve been talking to many of you about exhibiting at the event, we heard a common response from early stage startups over and over again.
"This sounds like an amazing opportunity for us, and we really want to exhibit. Even though the price is reasonable, it’s still very difficult for us as we have to be careful about every dollar we spend."
Every time we heard this response, we became more and more frustrated because we know how much these startups want to exhibit and we know how valuable this event will be for them as they continue to grow their companies.
So the Tech Day team has been hard at work behind the scenes to figure out a solution, and we are super excited to announce our competition to win a free booth.
The process is simple. Complete an application sometime between now and March 16 (the sooner the better), and we will present you to our partners. They will then select the companies they want to sponsor.
We can’t thank our sponsoring partners enough for allowing this competition to take place. Companies like Twilio and DigitalOcean have stepped forward to support the next wave of entrepreneurs in the NY tech community. Be sure to include all the fun details and appropriate tags in your application including thins like if you use the Twilio platform or DigitalOcean servers.
We will be announcing a few more “big brother” companies soon. Our goal is to find as many booth sponsors as there are amazing startups looking to exhibit. So fill out you application now and spread the word.
I am writing this post not because there is any breakthough innovation here, but because it needs to be said. The world needs more hackathons.
I recently participated in my first hackathon at Hackday.tv which was an amazing experience and then more recently attended the demos for the HackNY Fall Hackathon. Two very awesome experiences that helped me realize why this post needs to be written.
Hackathons embody everything that is fantastic about the tech startup world. A bunch of people coming together, taking time out of their day, and building something awesome just for the sake of building something awesome. But there are some amazing side effects and benefits of hackathons that justify the time and energy spent organizing and participating in these events.
Hackathons provide the forum for individuals and teams to come together to make innovation happen. Creatively building new ideas out of nothing and tackling problems that just need fixing to create fun and revolutionary things is what this is all about.
One thing that is very clear is that innovation is the only way we are going to pull ourselves out of this economic debacle we are currently facing. Instead of protesting to Occupy Wallstreet, support a hackathon. Action. Boom.
Most hackathons take place over a short period of time — 24 hours or a weekend typically. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for messing around with stuff that isn’t critically important. There’s no time to create a major market analysis to determine if the product is viable. There’s no need to bring in highly paid consultants to do a study of the opportunity. You build a product. You present it to the audience and judges.
This is the minimum viable product theory at its finest. No messing around with nice-to-have features and fancy powerpoint presentations. It is just core product and instant feedback. Results. Boom.
This doesn’t apply to all hacks because some people choose to work alone and still build some incredible things, but for the most part, hackathons thrive because of teamwork. Working under tight timeframes requires everyone to do their part and be able to assemble the pieces in an orderly fashion.
But the teamwork doesn’t just come from the team working on the hack. It comes from everywhere — the event sponsors, the companies promoting their APIs at the event, even the other teams are willing to help. Coming from the cutthroat banking world, it is a welcomed change to see teams helping other teams even though they are direction competition. Collaboration. Boom.
As I said before and we all know, the world needs more hackathons.
If you are a team working on your first startup, participating in a hackathon should be a requirement. You get to see what your capable of, explore how well you really work together, find your strengths and weaknesses. It’s an invaluable experience for new teams.
But the greatness of hackathons should not just be limited to startups. Corporate America doesn’t realize how much they could benefit from having their own internal hackathons - straight up Google style. Giving some freedom to (new) employees to explore creative solutions to company-related problems is a great way to challenge and motivate employees, get a fresh set of eyes on old problems, and most importantly innovate.
Whether you are a bright-eyed entrepreneur eager to show the world what you are capable of or a senior executive in Corporate America, there are some incredibly positive lessons to be learned and benefits to be reaped from the importance of hackathons.