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Community Development, Startup Weekend Mission, Startups

“Ho brah, HOWZIT?!” What Pidgin Taught Me About Building Community

Ahhh… the beautiful, soothing, homie sounds of pidgin the fosters the air in Hawai’i. Not to be confused with pigeons, the birds, Hawaiian pidgin english is rooted in its history as the creole language that was created on the plantations as the way that immigrants who lived in Hawai’i could communicate to effectively work together. If you would like to hear what it sounds like, please watch this video. In fact, everyone should watch this hilarious video by Ryan Higa just to get a kick out of it. It’s his spoof, and  very good one, of Shit People from Hawai’i say.

Beautiful huh? 🙂 It is like a completely different language. Anyways, I just facilitated Startup Weekend Honolulu which was the last event on my Startup Weekend Mission trip and I have to say that it ended with a bang. I spent about 6 years in Hawai’i which I was very involved with the startup scene and to see what it was like then to what it is now is truly inspiring. Though it is an extremely small scene compared to the major startup hubs of the world, especially after this weekend, I see the laying of a foundation for something very unique to happen in paradise.

This was the 2nd Startup Weekend that was brought to Honolulu and seemed to have a great impact on the community. The amount of support for this event was exactly what this community needed. First, Danielle Scherman and Dave Pascua have been leading the Startup Weekend charge in Honolulu organizing the past 2 events. They managed to bring together an amazing group of mentors and judges that included Enrique Allen (Founding member of 500 Startups and the Designer Fund) George Kellerman (Venture Partner 500 Startups), Katie Stratton (Business Development at Google), Kevin Hughes (World Wide Web Hall of Fame member, Co-Founder Sprout and Chief Designer at InMobi), Dan Zelikman (Co-Founder of Mentalpez), Greg Kim (Partner at Convergent Law Group)  and Mr. J.J. Dolan’s himself.

We had 10 teams work relentlessly at The Greenhouse to build some amazing products in just 54hrs. Personally uncertain of the development talent in Hawai’i, I was pleasantly surprised to see almost every time have a functional prototype (8/10) to demo.

There were many things that I personally took away from this event but one of the greatest things I have a better understanding of is the necessity for communication and how it plays a vital role in the growth of our communities. Have you seen this photos?

This went viral because it is completely true. Each different sub-culture within this larger startup community has it’s own personality, philosophies and way of communicating. The thing is we are all trying to achieve the same goals it’s just not being communicated properly. I was discussing this with co-founder of The Box JellyRechung Fujihara, and as we were brainstorming ways to fix this communication problem in Hawai’i and we stumbled upon the analogy that there needs to be a language that we can all speak to understand each other, something exactly like how the early immigrants of Hawai’i created Hawaiian Pidgin English so they speak with one another. What is pidgin in terms of a startup community and how do we build that? We need to understand that this language is completely different from culture to culture and should be unique to the people who make up its community.

How can we start to create this new language we can all speak:


If we want to work with people, we have to educate ourselves on exactly what their culture and skill is about. I believe the biggest problems in communication is a lack of appreciation of the true value each party can bring to the table. The complexities of problem solving for designers is as complex as programming software.

In the build up to recruit attendees to #SWHNL, reaching out to the design community was extremely difficult. We weren’t communicating and speaking the same language, thus resulting in both sides not seeing eye to eye and having a small amount of designers actually attend the event. This was one of the main problems that I wanted to address so I helped facilitate an amazing conversation between some key people in Hawai’i’s design community, Enrique Allen and Rechung who could represent the startup side. Enrique was absolutely crucial in helping both sides really educate each other because he is a very experienced designer who also invests in startups. The conversation lead to some key takeaways that helped each party understand one another. Though it was only one conversation, it was a positive step with some actionable outcomes.

If this is a problem in your community, how can you educate key players to truly understand and appreciate the other? How can we facilitate more of these conversations and create more understanding amongst our community?


Being able to step into the shoes of another. Seeing through someone else’s lenses. How can you take the knowledge you have learned to understand life from another’s perspective. A lot of people understand this concept but not many truly take put it into action with all human interactions they have in their lives.

Here is a simple but uncomfortable exercise in empathy. Spend a few seconds to look at this photo: 

Notice the change in feeling you have?  You are truly stepping outside of yourself and understanding the pain this dog is feeling. You have stopped thinking from your emotional perspective and are completely open to the reality of pain this world could give. Now, this is an extreme example, but only to emphasize this idea of empathy.

Now clear your mind and spend a good 20 seconds to just look at this photo and dive into it:

You receive the feeling as if you are the mother who has returned home to embrace her daughter. You have once again completely stepped outside yourself to embrace the realities of the world from their perspective. These are two extreme examples of empathy but how can you coach yourself to having this emotional understanding when working with all the people within your community. People can feel when you are giving an effort to understand them and this is essential towards creating a language that we can all speak to effectively work together.


Aligning all these pieces doesn’t happen quickly. It will be hard, it will be grueling and it will be frustrating at times but if you are truly in this to help build your community, you need to ensure the voice of all parties are heard correctly. Patience will allow for these struggles to have minimal affect. When you hit these times of struggle and frustration, think back to the two things above.

Mahalo nui loa to this amazing place. If you haven’t been out to Hawai’i, please go and check out the amazing culture out there. I can definitely help you get set up to meet some great people who can show you around the island. Shoots bra!

About Joey Aquino

@Joey_Aquino https://joeyaquino.wordpress.com/ http://www.linkedin.com/in/jdaquino


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