Startup vs. Weekend

12 November 2007

And so the debate continues… two recent articles following this past weekend talk about Andrew Hyde’s StartupWeekend’s focus on community building:

“… these events are clearly wonderful for creating community. Note that I am not saying “for creating useful startups” – it’s highly unlikely any of these will get funded, let alone reach a liquidity event. But participants are clearly charged up after the sessions, and the overall feedback is positive.” Michael Arrington of TechCrunch


“… it should come as no surprise (and Mike is very right) that it’s not primarily about building sustainable companies. Instead, think of it as building sustainable communities.” David Cohen of TechStars

and in Andrew’s own words

“The weekend is about building community, that is the first and biggest goal (and always will be). The connections made during the weekends are where you will really see the value of Startup Weekend. Partnerships and relationships forged out of these weekends will lead to greater business development in the future.”

SAY WHAT?  If it’s all about “community” then why take 5% equity?  In fact, Birmingham *already* has a very strong technology community.  For instance, TechBirmingham‘s TechMixers regularly draw 600+ attendees.  Our community has a wonderful startup ecosystem that supports efforts like the Birmingham Startup weekends.  My hats off to Andrew and his startup gypsies who are packing the house with ‘out of towners’ at each of his Startup Weekends.  But, what happens to the community when they leave town?  IF it’s about community, why not let local organizers build on and adapt the concept (as we’ve done) a little to fit into their local system?  When the 2nd Startup Weekend’s organizers tried (in Toronto) they were summarily slapped down for trying.  Now it’s as if they never had one, if not for the counter-blog’s recollection of the effort.

Instead, in Birmingham we set out to create a bona fide company.  I’ve blogged a couple of times about the rationale behind the organizers and participants not taking equity from the founders.  Even though the sleep depravation hasn’t subsided and I’m still consuming Advil in far greater doses than the bottle recommends, I believe that everyone who played with us in the past 2 weekends feels that it was worth their time to volunteer for such a momentous undertaking!

So, I ask the following rhetorical question… Is this all about creating a true STARTUP or is it all about having a great, invigorating, and challenging WEEKEND?  In Birmingham, we had both!!


An extra hour

4 November 2007

Birmingham StartupWe benefited last night from daylight savings time ending… it means that there’s an extra hour in the schedule.

I don’t recall reading anything about how utterly exhausting it is to provide guidance and make sure things run smoothly all weekend.  If not for a stellar team, I’d have succombed to exhaustion yesterday.  Everyone here just jumps right in and makes things happen… from making sure everyone knows the food arrives to jumping in with suggestions at the review sessions.

I’m developing a new appreciation for past organizers and beginning to question why Andrew Hyde would want to do this every single weekend.  It *is* a rush helping make all this happen, but it’s also mentally exhausting.  No one should question his passion for this concept as he globe hops from startup weekend to startup weekend.  I have no regrets for the comments I’ve made about his approach, but I have a new appreciation for what he’s putting himself through to make this concept pay off.

I’m enjoying this extra hour this morning by helping my daughter with a project due this week in her 3rd grade class… I don’t know what’s more challenging.  Helping companies figure out strategy, business models, and marketing approaches — or, helping an 8 year old research floods.  I dunno.  <sigh!>

This morning’s newspaper featured a story about the Birmingham Startup effort.  Of course, moments after the story was posted on the web, I received an email from the infamous Mr. Hyde:

Looks like you are doing well with the planning of Birmingham Startup! I’ve seen several places refer to your event as “Birmingham’s Startup Weekend,” including your blog. Can you please make that distinction? Thanks, and hope the best!

… and after responding with:

I can’t stop the way others refer to us, but we are consistent in using “Birmingham Startup”. The fact that it runs on a weekend requires us to pair the words periodically. We may continue to use the words “startup” and “weekend” together, but we are clearly not an “Andrew Hyde production”.

… he replied …

I’ve seen several other blogs with this exact branding, please make sure your releases say you are not affiliated.

While, for now, I won’t take the time to debate the merits (or lack thereof) of his (apparent) claim to a copyright/trademark on the pairing (actually a concatenation) of “startup” and “weekend”, we don’t write everyone’s blog entries NOR the newspaper articles.  We have purposely avoided using the phrase in our marketing material and only use it generically in blog postings. Further, “startup weekend” is not Coca-Cola, it’s only “cola”… a generic term/phrase available for anyone to use. Neverthemind, we have a startup weekend (non-TM’d) to run, TYVM.
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I have long since stopped keeping up with the “right” development platform for new applications, choosing to trust my development staff to make these critical decisions.  Maybe it’s my old age (43, if you’re asking).  Maybe it’s my focus on the business and strategy decisions.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’d rather spend time with my family than learn the newest development tools and tricks.  No matter, though.  As I said, I leave the big decision about a development platform to the development team.

In Boulder’s Startup Weekend, witness what happened:

By Sunday morning, when still nobody had seen any sort of working [JAVA-based] prototype this mutiny hit full steam. A small mutiny was underway. By around 11am on Sunday, it was in full force and it was announced that a Rails team would set off in competition to pass the Java team. In the end, Andrew tactfully saved this by a) admitting his mistake, and b) getting the Rails team to work in concert with the Java team. – from Brutal Honesty: A failure, and a success

What struck me most about the Boulder experience is that this is not how business works.  It would be suicidal for a company to hire a dozen or two JAVA developers and an equal number of Rails folks.  Witness, further, one invididual participant’s observation of the process in Boulder… read it here.

Andrew Hyde made the following valid points about the most recent StartupWeekend near Purdue University:

The ‘what programming language’ discussion is always weird to me, and still is problematic every weekend. The group chose .NET and then changed to PHP after a rogue coder decided he could build it faster (and said, hey, guys, um.. I just kinda built it, want to see?). What can we do to solve this in future weekends? I don’t know. “What language would you like to code in?” is really not the question that needs to be asked, instead, “What language are you a rock star in and can create a prototype in a weekend?” might just be better. – from Review of Startup Weekend West Lafayette

When faced with the decision on how to address this for the Birmingham effort, we turned to other members of the organizing team.  It was clear from the Boulder experience that it would be helpful to address the issue in advance.  So, because of the larger supply of .NET developers in the region we made what some may see as an arbitrary decision to align the platform with the resources available.  In fact, our local .NET user group is larger and more organized than our local Ruby group.

One argument against using .NET was procuring enough “legal” licenses to build the product.  No problem… everyone can work with a free, 90-day trial of Visual Studio.  The resulting company will be responsible for securing any required licenses.

One last thing… if an idea-submitter is truly unhappy with this decision, then they are still FULLY ENCOURAGED to participate in the “Business Development” weekend.  There is plenty of benefit to putting your idea through the paces… just indicate to the organizers that you wish to withdraw from the selection evening on the first Sunday.  It’s that simple.  Of course, there is a better than good chance that we’ll swing the pendulum back to open source for our second Birmingham Startup effort (in 2008, anyone?) and your idea will be better prepared to compete for the Implementation Weekend under those conditions.

This morning’s Birmingham Business Journal contains a story about our efforts.  It was written to educate the local business community about what we’re trying to accomplish.  What’s interesting is that the reporter tracked down Andrew Hyde and got some background material about the Startup Weekend concept.

What follows below is some quoted text from the tail end of the article and my comments:

In New York, the startup weekend, held last month, produced an Internet-based company called Favoreats! which will be a consumer-driven resource to find the best hamburgers in the city.

… not exactly true.  Favoreats is all about finding the best meals, not just hamburgers, I’m sure.

Picture of Andrew Hyde from a newspaper article about the Boulder founder Andrew Hyde, a 23-year-old former interactive designer, started his new company following a conversation with some Boulder-based entrepreneurs.

Since the first startup weekend in Boulder, he has made the company his full-time job and now spends five days a week traveling and has 14 events lined up this fall, including Boston, Atlanta, Seattle, Dublin and London.

So, the question that occurs to me… if we invite him to Birmingham who pays for his visit/time if it’s now his full time job?

Hyde said launching a new company is not as important as strengthening the tech community in each of the cities where startup weekends are held.

“If you create a cool company that makes money, that’s cool, but the main goal is to help the community,” Hyde said. “You have a better product in the end if you do it that way.”

TechBirmingham logoAbout this I totally disagree, at least as it relates to Birmingham.  TechBirmingham is OUR community’s effort focused on strengthening the tech community.  The organizers behind our startup weekend effort are first and foremost looking to build companies that make money. We’re capitalists and entrepreneurs. The feel-good PR and coordination of efforts is a task for TechBirmingham and there’s no reason to overlap.  In fact, many of us are intimately involved in TechBirmingham, many holding board seats and other leadership positions in the non-profit.

Well, nonetheless, the word is now out in the local Birmingham community. We’ll have more big news to announce in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on this blog and our main website for all the details.