At 4:00am Thursday January 19th, I woke up and rushed to look outside to see if the foot of snow had melted after one of Seattle’s biggest snow storms to be recorded in history. Of course something like this would happen the day I am suppose to start my publicly announced Startup Weekend Mission trip. Nope, not melted but the roads seem okay to drive on. I look up my American Airlines flight information to see if there are airport delays and surprisingly everything seems to be on-time. I get out the door and seamlessly make it through the airport and to my gate with no troubles. Looks like this whole snow fiasco was just a scare. I board my flight and hit my second red flag. I am sitting next to a father and his baby son. Nothing against fathers and sons its just I have a bad track record with screaming/horribly irritating kids next to me on flights so of course I would be sitting right next to them on the start of this journey. I take my seat and open the window to see how the weather is outside.
(Chkkkk) “Hi everyone, this is your captain. We will be taking off shortly and just need another 10-15min to de-ice the plane then we will be on our way.”
Now, if you have any experience traveling, you know what “we need another 10-15min” actually means. More like we actually have no idea when we are taking off and want to make you feel comfortable by giving this short timeframe of 10-15min. So, I turn on my iPod and try to fall back asleep.
All of a sudden I am woken up to the beautiful sounds of a screaming baby in my right ear. The dad tries to comfort his son and then I hear the worst possible sound… baby gag. “OH HEEEELLLLL NO” I think to myself in hopes that this baby doesn’t start puking all over me. I turn to the right and see the dad quickly put his hand over his sons mouth and catches the little bit of baby spew. He wipes it on his pants. A sigh of relieve passes through my chest as it could have been much wors… And just about as I am ending this sentence in my head the BABY PUKES ALL OVER THE DAD! The sour and nose piecing aroma of vomit catches wind followed by the lady behind the father son puking duo screaming out “He’s puking! Oh god, I can’t handle puke” as she runs to the back of the plane. Chaos arises from all surrounding travelers and I am stuck in the window seat right surrounded by a ring of fire but in this case puke…
When everyone finally relaxes, (Chkkkk) “Hi everyone, this is your captain again. Unfortunately we haven’t gotten the okay to take off. The frozen rain has made it unsafe for us to take off and the runways are still closed.” 5 and a half hours later… We finally take off. I end up missing my connecting flight in Dallas but am able to catch a little bit later flight that gets me to Jacksonville by 10pm. What a first day of the journey. I could have been extrreeeemmmeelly frustrated but actually took this as a challenge and sign that this entire mission will have its bumps in the road and to be able to roll with them will be the reason why I succeed. Philosophic huh? 🙂 It definitely gave me a positive counterfact and made me have a far better outlook on the entire situation. Lesson learned #1, happiness is completely controllable by the outlook you have on any situation. Expect things will happen throughout your own journeys but you are the ultimate controller of how you will let these incidents affect your happiness.
Now there were some amazing things I took out of the actual Startup Weekend event in Jacksonville. To give a little bit of context to the scene in Jacksonville it is mostly dominated by big corporations that are a key driver in their culture. The main 3 industries are Transportation, Healthcare and Finance. There isn’t much of a young tech startup scene there, well… there isn’t a tech startup scene there.
In my conversations with a lot of the local professionals they would describe some of the big weaknesses of the culture as very corporate, risk averse, comfortable, and not focused on innovation. Jacksonville tends to turn more into a destination location that attracts a little older and laid back community.
Also, even though Jacksonville has some of the best public high schools across the nation, most students tend to move away from home and go to the ivy league schools near by or end up getting big offers from companies which require them to relocate.
Insert -> Startup Weekend. How would you expect an innovative, young, entrepreneurial event such as Startup Weekend to be received in a culture like this? I arrived at the event Friday evening to be greeted by 150 eager attendees. Now the vibe at the event was a little more corporate than the typical event, but the point was that people showed up. People were willing to give up their weekend to see what this Startup Weekend was all about. People had hope.
We had close to 60 ideas pitched, everything from Ed-tech to Healthcare to even a rapping pitch by this lady on the right! Why was Startup Weekend received so well in this culture that seemed to be against every rule of a startup ecosystem? I think the first answer towards thriving ecosystems in cultures that are brand new to startup lifestyles is that if you build it they will come. Events are key to allowing like minded people to come together and continue creative conversations with more and more people. If you look at the Seattle startup ecosystem there are numerous events that are simply about giving people this opportunity to meet. For example there is Hops N Chops (Beer at a local bar every Thursday evening hosted by TeachStreet), Open Coffee (Breakfast with investor Andy Sack at his favorite joint every Tuesday), Startup Weekends galore and many other events.
After Friday, we narrowed 150 people into 17 teams. The weekend went as usual with chaos at every inch of the way but one great thing I noticed about this particular Startup Weekend was that the participants were all eager to learn. Every team was eager to talk to anyone and everyone that could give them feedback to make them more successful by the 54 hour deadline. There is something in underdeveloped communities (in this case a tech startup community) where the people involved are guided by this influence of hope to become better than their current situation. They don’t believe they are the best and that they know it all. They are simply humble yet eager learners that have this willingness to listen to feedback and not take it personally. Best practice #2 that I learned in Jacksonville is to breed communities that are humble and eager. This equates to quicker iterations towards success and faster growth.
Sunday came around quick and the energy was high with an audience for the demo event hosting well over 200 people. One of the greatest things was to see that the judges selected two teams lead by aspiring women entrepreneurs as the first and second place winners. Both who didn’t have tech backgrounds but were simply driven by a will to create some part of their own destiny which they believed they had an idea that would become a great success.
This was the first Startup Weekend event in Jacksonville and it was a great start towards building a startup ecosystem in this new culture. Here are my final thoughts on ways to help take Jacksonville to the next level:
1. Analyze the cities strengths and weaknesses and add layers on top of it
It is very hard to create a completely new culture (i.e. changing an enterprise community completely into a young tech startup scene). There are obvious values in creating thriving startup communities but one approach is not to completely replicate Silicon Valley (which you shouldn’t do anyways), but more so to truly understand the DNA of the city and add startup layers on top of it. For example, Healthcare and Transportation are key drivers in the culture. The infrastructure is already set with people who strongly understand the space and it is what the community knows best. If your first efforts were to innovate in those categories some potential true change could happen because the infrastructure is set up to understand it. Capital flies towards those industries and there are immense amount of employees who not only see major problems in the space but understand the value of the problems at hand. Maybe you can focus on Healthcare focused Startup Weekends. The point is, these strengths will give your community a higher likely of success for startup ideas to come out of it which ultimately will inspire a new way of thinking to the community it is in. It will force people to become innovative and if companies are formed by locals and hire locals, the inspiration for more people to think differently will occur.
2. Cross pollinate
One of the most affective ways I have seen people grow is to get out of the current place they are in or interact with people from different cultures. Since Jacksonville is a destination city, use this in ways to lure outsider perspectives to interact with the local community. Cross pollination can only grow the minds of locals and open them to new ways of thinking.
3. Provide consistent outlets for this tribe to communicate
Like I said above, events are an easy way to cultivate these like minded people. Allow for as many of these forums as possible and if you are in this community and don’t have a specific type of event that caters to your likings, don’t be afraid to do it yourself. Create a MeetUp, Happy Hour event or your own Startup Weekend. It takes an entire COMMUNITY to create a thriving ecosystem. Do your part.
I met some of the most genuine and amazing people in Jacksonville. I cannot wait to return and see what is in store for the community down the road. If there is anything I can do to help out, please let me know!
Next up… Bergen, Norway! Ha det bra!