Great panel discussion during lunch break! Three alum groups shared their insights and experiences with Startup Weekend participants.
DemoLesson, based in Los Angeles, launched as winners of the Startup Weekend EDU SF in May 2011. A month after the event, cofounders Brian Martinez and Mandela Schumacher-Hodge made the leap to focus on DemoLesson full-time. Brian quit his job and Mandela took a leave of absence from her PhD program. They’ve been bootstrapping ever since.
Liam Don, of Class Dojo, was part of a winning team at a Startup Weekend UK event, not actually Class Dojo, where he met his teacher cofounder, Sam Chaudhary. Two weeks after being accepted to ImagineK12, they also quit their jobs and dropped out of a PhD program (Liam) and moved to the Bay area. Hacked Education named Class Dojo as one of the top 10 ed-tech startups of 2011. (Mentors Justin Su’s GoalBook and Eli Luberoff’s Desmos were also named.)
Kevin Adler of Alumn.us (Kevin Adler) won Startup Weekend EDU in October 2011. Shortly after winning the event, Kevin and his cofounder quit their jobs and have been bootstrapping ever since. They’re about to launch their first pilot.
- Don’t make life-changing decisions when you’re on an emotional high or low. The 54-hour weekend provides a good place to begin with customer validation, but more needs to be done before deciding to quit jobs or programs (Brian). (Note that all three groups did eventually take the leap!)
- Working on an ed-tech startup provides you with the opportunity to make an impact immediately (Mandela).
- Make your early adopters feel special—they’ll become your evangelists.
- Don’t hold too tightly to your ideas—allow them to become stronger over the weekend. Let your team members clarify the problem, solution and vision.
- Most people who pitch come to these weekends with solutions in mind but not necessarily having the problem defined.
- Take the time to define the problem as clearly as possible!
- If you start from scratch after the event, then you can clarify the business concept and the role of the team members. Be careful about weekend team members assuming they own percentages of the idea (Liam). Remember what Khalid said during the opening: Ideas are worth nothing; execution is everything.
- If you’re a group leader and struggling with someone in your group, ask the question: Is this person raising questions that move the group forward or hold it back? Not everyone is the best fit.
- Have the hard conversations early on with team members.
- Validate your solution—it’s all about customer validation.
- Being a leader isn’t knowing all the answers, but it’s having a vision and knowing how to bring everyone together to work toward it. Kevin shared a great story about a moment when his team was fracturing and he took the whole team for a walk. On the way back, he accidentally went a block too far. When he asked his team members if they’d missed the turn, they said they noticed it, but thought he wanted them to walk further. They were willing to follow him.
- Use the mentors to help manage differences of opinion, seek industry insight, make contacts and as sounding boards.
These guys, along with the other mentor coaches, have much to offer this weekend, so take the time to ask them questions. That’s what they’re here to do.