The last weekend of August I participated in InOneWeekend 2009, Cincinnati’s version of an entrepreneurship crash course.
IOW is billed as an event that will build a start-up company in 3 days. This is of course impossible, but it is an exciting premise. It is a necessary white lie that adds to the experience, the way “Based on a True Story” spices up movies that have bugger-all to do with actual events.
This is an amazing way to network. Instead of just standing around chatting you get to see people thinking on their feet, generating idea and defending them, seeking understanding and finding consensus. Brilliant stuff.
Great crowd. I really enjoyed meeting everyone, even when we were in violent disagreement over something.
Passionate backers. The team that plans and executes IOW really believes in what they are doing and puts obvious energy into it. Without that it could never be pulled off.
One Hundred is a lot of people. There were moments when it was far too many. Great things are generally not created in this fashion. There is a reason the expression “design by committee” is derogatory.
Not enough techies. Even with a hundred people I don’t think we had enough technical people in the group. Ways need to be found to get the word out more in the technical community so a deeper and larger team can be attracted.
Compromise. People who have spent most of their lives since college in large companies have learned to do a number of things well, and one of those is rapidly reach compromise. The problem with compromise is that the majority of the time it involves the least interesting solution or idea. I rather uncharitably termed this “concentrating the suck” in one moment of frustration.
Scope. The nature of the event causes many viable ideas to not be viable in that forum. Most good ideas will end up requiring expertise that is not on hand or readily available, or lengthy R&D, or large initial investment dollars. With none of these available you’re pretty much limited to a web-based service offering.
Real startups are generally a small, highly focused group of people working hard in ways that don’t really resemble what can be done in this setting. I hope participants who are serious about joining or starting a startup are seeking out information actively.
As stated at the top, the premise that a viable company can ever come out of a one-weekend event is not quite true, and there are two primary reasons:
The first is there is no founder. Strong founder(s) are the most critical requisite for a successful startup. The idea is very much secondary, most ideas have no value without execution. The keynote speaker from Pixar mentioned this about their creative process “A great team will take a bad idea and either fix it or throw it away”, different context same principle.
The second is naiveté. You don’t know what you don’t know. Frequently I hear from people who have what seem like great ideas for a new product or service, but that idea is based to some extent on an incomplete understanding of the problem domain. This is part of why real start-ups are hard work, and why so many fail. You will start with a flawed premise due to lack of information most of the time. And then you will iterate. You will fail as quickly and cheaply as possible until you start finding success. If you fail to learn and iterate you will fail. That is what it is all about. But in a group of 100 people who are ‘locked in’ for a weekend you are pretty much guaranteed to zero in on a ‘good idea’ based on incomplete knowledge, and then, as a friend put it in another context “We don’t have enough white board space to write down everything we don’t know.”
Even so we may have pulled a rabbit out of the hat with Dipidee. I learned some things right after the weekend that revealed some of our naiveté in the space, but the people that are attached to it have useful experience in the realm and aspects of what we did have been validated as good concepts. Now we’ll see if the idea can be iterated on cheaply and quickly enough to make a go of it.
One last point of ugly; the food (prepared by UC campus food service) was particularly bad. Pizza that resembled its namesake in shape and color only, and sandwiches that seem to have been prepared 24 hours in advance. Maybe I’m spoiled from the extravagant spreads and break foods provided at Microsoft events and the good old days of the Game Developer Convention (back when it was in San Jose and called CGDC).
The bottom Line
InOneWeekend is a cool event and I heartily recommend it for anyone who has ‘itchy feet’ and is thinking of starting a business, or is already in their own business and could use a recharge. It has a place in the ecosystem for startups and it points up some of the areas in which Cincinnati is currently lacking. More about that another time.