A few weeks ago, our entire organization set out across the globe for the biggest week of our entire year which we call our “Global Startup Battle.” 140 Startup Weekend events all held within 1 week. Check out my previous post for the list of where just my co-workers traveled to here.
I may have gotten the best draw out of the bunch because I was fortunate enough to travel to Bangkok, Thailand (#SWBKK) the first weekend and then to Honolulu, Hawaii for a university focused event (#StartupUH), the second. Bangkok and Honolulu are still both very early in their entrepreneurial ecosystem development. Neither places have any big home runs, vast amount of financial capital or the density of experience entrepreneurs but both are extremely passionate in nurturing a community until they find those key pieces. I always think it is very interesting to see the grassroots movement of startup ecosystem development and I would like to share a few key things I saw across these two communities that each grassroots startup movement needs.
1. Get “Leaders” to play the game
Taking a page from Brad Feld’s book “Startup Communities”, there needs to be a clear understanding of people in your community who are “Leaders” and who are “Feeders”. “Leaders” by his definition are the real entrepreneurs. The experienced bunch who actually have gone through the startup trenches of being a founder of multiple companies, raised capital and can guide aspiring entrepreneurs through a battle field of chaos that is about to come their way. “Feeders” are everyone else who supports the community. Feeders are not less important but the point is that for a thriving community it needs to be lead by people who have actually gone through it, not necessary people who are passionate about the space. Now, by definition a grassroots movement would be lead by “feeders” but to turn momentum into thriving community you need to get the feeders to play the game with you. Find out who are the key entrepreneurs in your community who have the potential to be community “leaders” and create seamlessly easy ways for them to start contributing and giving back. Create inspiring experiences which bring them back to the essence of why they are entrepreneurs and show them why your community needs their help to flourish. I have been to so many Startup Weekends who have invited coaches/mentors in who are those real entrepreneurs but they get so swept up in the dynamic environment that they ultimately join in on the fun and start working with a team. Get leaders to play the game with you and it will be a key element towards your community development success.
2. Understanding of the tribe boundaries
Look at any grassroots movement and one of the key parts is drawing a line in the sand and saying those who want to be a part of this tribe need to cross “this line”. Whether it is pledging to stay up all night walking around a track for Relay for Life or not cutting your mustache for the entire month of November with Movember, there is almost a minimum level of commitment or characteristic that define what it means to be in this tribe or out of one. This is the exact same thing that needs to happen with your startup community. For #SWBKK, their minimum requirement wasn’t just to give up their weekend working on startups but they literally had everyone sleep over at the venue and work for the entire 54hrs straight! They wanted to define their tribe in Bangkok to be a little bit more committed to the cause and the reception was phenomenal. How do you define your tribe and more importantly how do you want people to contribute to be a part of the movement? Here is a photo of some of the tents they set up for people to rest in at the venue.
3 . Product/Market fit for communities
There is plenty of talk about customer development for your startup but the same principles need to apply for finding a “product/market fit” with your own startup community design. Product/Market fit happens when you have a clear persona of a customer that matches exactly with value you are providing them. Everyone says they want to be the “Silicon Valley of…” but the problem is that if Silicon Valley was replicated in your specific community, it would fail. Communities are so vastly different with completely different customers that you as community developers needs to be rapidly testing out as many new events, meetups, programs, etc. until you find exactly what your customers are looking for.
I had worked for a couple years at the university of Hawai’i in helping develop the startup scene on campus. My original strategy, since I had grown up on the west coast, was to simply take everything that was going on in the valley and plop it into Honolulu… lesson learned. I didn’t listen to my “customers” and ultimately spent a bunch of time and resources pumping out the wrong programs. A few years later now when I came back to University of Hawai’i for this event, there seemed to be something that clicked. The organizers of the event were the employees who ran the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship on campus and they were willing to test out something completely new. They were willing to let go of their initial assumptions, get something new out to their customers, test it, and gather feedback to see how they could improve their value propositions. And it worked! Don’t be afraid to test out new things but more importantly don’t be sold that the Silicon Valley cookie cutter works in your specific market.
4. Champion Social Media
We all know social media is a must but after over +80K miles of travel this year, one common trend across the board is that the most vibrant cities I have been to all have people who champion social media in their own startup community. And I am not just meaning someone to posts on Facebook every once in awhile or shoots out a tweet when you need something but I mean someone or group of people who are truly CHAMPIONING it. Leading innovative discussions and constantly fostering new conversations with their community. Vancouver was probably one of the best examples I had seen of this and it has drastically impacted the entire conversation of entrepreneurship moving forward. But most recently I noticed this again after the Bangkok event. A part of our global startup battle was that each winner of a Startup Weekend event happening that week would be included in a global voting process where the top 15 teams who were able to get the most votes were judged for our big prize. Not knowing what to expect from Bangkok because it is such a new community, I was thoroughly impressed to see the amount of social media activity that placed the #SWBKK winner to being #7 overall in the Global Startup Battle! The amount of support, conversations and community that was built online is something each ecosystem needs to have a strong strategy for if they want to flourish. Find those champions.
5. Entrepreneurship is about hope
Now this isn’t a tip but more so a reminder of the bigger picture of what we do. I met a girl at #StartupUH named Lauren who was inspiring to say the least. I had heard about her prior to the event because she is a deaf student at the university and we more so wanted to make sure the experience we provided was open and equal for everyone involved. Lauren is an entrepreneurship major and had the courage to not only come to our event but to pitch an idea, rally enough votes to get her idea selected, lead a team, work her ass the entire weekend and WIN the Startup Weekend UH event! Her relentless passion and determination are what carried her through the event and the continuation of her project post SW.
Another attendee I met was named Tyson. He may be your typical engineer type who grew up in Hawai’i but had moved out to LA for a job. After chatting with him I found out he had attended the Startup Weekend in Santa Monica and fell in love with the dynamic experience that he booked a flight back to Honolulu 2 weeks later just to participate in this event. Un…real! He had mentioned to me that this was an environment that not only got him out of his daily grind but challenged him in something he was extremely strong and passionate in. He didn’t feel like an outsider, he didn’t feel put into a box he felt like he was at his peak. And that is what this is all about. In developing our new communities I think we all need to remember what the power of entrepreneurship really is and from what I have seen it is hope that you can be whoever you are suppose to be in this world. Through entrepreneurship you aren’t labeled by a disability, you aren’t molded into a box but you have the opportunity to be exactly who you are suppose to be. From a grassroots stand point, this is the WHY of what will resonate with your community and I challenge you to always reinforce the WHY before the what.
Here is a fun video I created that summarized the craziness, the fun, the inspiring moments of my trip.