Given a half-page, Laura Baverman covered the launch of LifeSpoke and InOneWeekend thoroughly. Laura touched on all the highlights and included snippets of the human interest side of the event. I appreciate her coverage, and I’m sure she experiences the frustration of having to condense nearly 72 hours of content into, say, 500 words. That’s a challenge.
Fortunately there is no word limit in the blogosphere, save for the attention span of you, the valued reader. Surely holding your attention span is no small feat. So here are some of the details of my InOneWeekend experience to add to Laura’s.
Laura captured the core of Roy Gilbert’s talk. “Have a large and compelling vision…understand risk and embrace failure…and think beyond the launch to build a team,” she wrote. For me, Roy responded to a question I asked about how research work done by Google engineers actually become products released to the market. Surprisingly, although it probably should not be, Google will release without a business plan at times in order to know exactly how the market will respond. I don’t know if it’s a chicken-egg thing, but that seems irrelevant now that Google can afford to back potentially bad ideas as they work to launch the next great one.
We did spend Friday evening narrowing down ideas. I laughed when I saw the watchmesleep idea that allowed others to peer in on the guy who overslept. Nice. And as Laura reported, Vanessa Indriolo’s idea of online scrapbooking received the majority of votes. Supplementing this idea were four other similar ideas that coalesced into the concept of LifeSpoke.
The dynamics on site could have split the group and made the rest of the weekend unproductive, as nearly, if not more than, 50 percent of the participants did not vote for the scrapbooking idea. Those who did not throw their hat into the scrapbooking ring split their votes between an application that keeps track of receipts and an application that ranks great deals that people find on the internet.
I know I felt quite a bit of frustration as I had a hard time getting behind the group’s idea. I told myself that the process mattered much more than the concept, and in the end that proved true. By Sunday I was convinced that any of the ideas could fly given the horsepower of our team, and we just needed to pick one. My guess, though, is that we lost a few people on Saturday because of the polarity in the vote, and that some folks simply could not buy into the fact that their participation continued to prove valuable. I have to hand it to those who stayed involved. We made the weekend great with our commitment to each other first.
The InOneWeekend group split into technical, management and operations, finance, sales and marketing, business strategy, and branding teams to work on their respective responsibilities Saturday and Sunday. Laura describes the LifeSpoke financial model as “hazy, predicting a $16 million company in three years,” but if you were in the rooms, on the teams, doing the research, and watching the give and take of heated deliberation, I don’t think you would have selected the word “hazy.” With a competitive strategy based on real-life market comparisons of our actual competition, LifeSpoke’s birth is grounded in what I would think most participants would describe as conservative reality.
Still, the odds of success are long, and no one is cashing in their options quite yet. Laura got it right that “the Flash Activescript technology didn’t yet work,” but in business terms that’s a hurdle that can be overcome. A tangible outcome of the weekend is, as Laura describes, that a number of entrepreneurs came together to experience what they could accomplish as a team. We now have the connections we need to begin to succeed where we may have floundered on our own, without the proper support, in past ventures. And now that we’ve been through the process, we’ll be able to save ourselves a whole lot of time when we face our own challenges in the future.
Geez, at one time I thought I might be an entrepreneur. I’m not. Well, at least not yet. And any thought of, “well, maybe I am,” had the door slammed on it as Saturday progressed. Three times before Saturday was over I said to myself, “I’m done. I’ll just sleep in tomorrow and enjoy my [...]
Geez, at one time I thought I might be an entrepreneur. I’m not. Well, at least not yet. And any thought of, “well, maybe I am,” had the door slammed on it as Saturday progressed. Three times before Saturday was over I said to myself, “I’m done. I’ll just sleep in tomorrow and enjoy my weekend.” Really. Three times. And I talked myself through it. “Self. The idea doesn’t matter. Engage in the process. Learn. Grow.” I stayed actively engaged. I’m glad I did.
Jeff Stamp guided our expectations on Friday evening with the admonishment, “Be comfortable being uncomfortable!” I thought that would be easy. My personal philosophy keeps me at the edge of uncomfortable. But I had never been in the same room, required to actively participate in such a focused task, with 99 other strong personalities with strong ideas. I found out how tempting it is to shut down when *I* wasn’t the central theme. THAT is humbling. In a good way. I found tons of room for personal growth.
Then there was dinner with the 20-something who’s goal it was to build a $1M real estate fortune, free and clear, before he turned 30. Sure, a lofty goal, if not for the fact that he was well on his way. The kid talked circles around the financials involved. And he NEVER exhibited any thought or consideration to the idea that he might not reach his goal.
I met another woman who ran a cookware business around an idea that she developed. Being fought by Intel over trademark infringement, she circled the right people around her and kept moving forward. She still has 8,000 sets of a 60,000 piece run of cookware stored in her home. No sign of stopping.
A natural healing business. A PR business. A dotcom. A VC. The list went on and on.
Then JB spoke on Saturday at lunch. 6 startups, I believe. The latest recently secured $15M in funding. No obstacle too much. In fact, the mindset seemed to be, “what obstacle?” When the rest of us could clearly see the obstacles.
It’s not that serial entrepreneurs don’t understand risk. They do. JB alluded to sleepless nights and working 12+ hour days. Why? “Because your competition is.” You could tell the weathering of time and pressure on the experienced business owners as they’ve pushed themselves to their limits over and over again. It’s almost as if that little “moderation” switch in their brains has been turned off. They still see the signs of risk, the signs just don’t affect them and don’t keep them from moving forward. With autistic-like tendency, they simply don’t know how to process risk, so instead they move in for the win. Where many of us might say to ourselves, “why not?”, the successful entrepreneur doesn’t even consider the question. A question of weather or not really never crosses their mind.
The idea, too. That doesn’t really matter, or so it seems. I struggled through Friday not wanting to pursue the idea InOneWeekend came up with. By Sunday I realized we would have been successful with ANY of the 3 ideas we narrowed down to. I don’t doubt that one bit. Heck, we could have sold ice to Eskimos. So it dawned on me that it’s the process that hooks the serial entrepreneur. The process repeats. The idea might be different, but the process is predictable.
Now all of this may be way off-base. I dunno. From the outside looking in, those are some of the observations I’ve made. And although I’m not an entrepreneur now, it doesn’t mean I won’t be at some point. I listened to countless stories of people hitting their strides and making these huge life changes in their 40s. Pheeewww. I still got time.
Now educate me. Take my liberal arts education and put me in my place. Tell me what’s going on inside your head and help me understand what this is going to take. And make all of us a little stronger.
Ever read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team? What a great, quick read on understanding the problems that surface in a team. And what a great study of a leader who can bring order and alignment to a dysfunctional situation. The team’s work with InOneWeekend, our effort to [...]
Ever read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team? What a great, quick read on understanding the problems that surface in a team. And what a great study of a leader who can bring order and alignment to a dysfunctional situation. The team’s work with InOneWeekend, our effort to bring together 100 imaginative and driven individuals to create an idea and standup a full-fledged company in three days (July 11th – July 13th, 2008), could easily have suffered any of these dysfunctions. Somehow we didn’t. The group policed itself, shutting down any threat knowing we only had three days to get this done.
Sure, the folks at Neyer Holdings organized the event with Elizabeth Edwards as the primary cheerleader. Steve Boord provided some semblance of order with a booming voice from time to time, but he didn’t bark orders at us. They brought in Jeff Stamp to unlock our creative juices and Roy Gilbert to motivate our sense of destiny. JB Kropp spoke to us on the life of an entrepreneur. Still, none of them explicitly told us what to do. My guess is that they came in with a plan, which is the right approach, and then quickly threw away the plan as they handed over direction to the rest of us.
We split ourselves into a number of groups: Management and Ops, Tech, Sales and Marketing, Finance, Branding, and Business Strategy. In each group a leader bubbled to the top. We spent Saturday and Sunday working together in our teams, coming together from time to time in town hall meetings to update the group on our progress.
I worked on the Business Strategy team where Craig Froehle slowly (relatively) became the obvious choice as our leader. Not that we weren’t looking for a leader quickly, but no one took the proverbial bull by the horns. And not that credentials don’t help, but Craig’s background as a project manager, business owner, and associate professor of business ops lent credibility to his contributions to the team. Craig directed our efforts, helped us all develop an action plan, and then begin plugging the holes in our research. By Saturday’s end the team had established Craig as our leader.
Having others grant a leader authority makes a team much more effective than a leader taking and establishing authority. In fact, Kouzes and Posner in The Leadership Challenge describe the most effective leader as having characteristics of establishing a clear vision, trustworthiness, and competence. It is fairly easy to cede leadership to someone exhibiting these characteristics. Craig quietly established himself this way on the Business Strategy team. His influence was clear to anyone walking into our room. Unlike many of the other rooms, when you walked into our room you could hear a pin drop. We each had a small job to do, and we each worked diligently to get it done. Then piece by piece the picture became clearer. We knew what our product had to do to stack up against the economic and technological trends, and more importantly, against our competition.
The influence of the Business Strategy team permeated much of the work on the other teams as we became the research group finding answers that would allow other teams to complete their pieces. Craig didn’t come to the table with all the answers, rather, he brought the ability for our team to get almost anything done for any other team to the table. And our team eagerly followed Craig. By mid-day Sunday, the entire group backed Craig as he was not so much appointed as he quietly assumed a spokesman role for the entire weekend. Craig helped compile the final presentation to launch our product, *************, and when he presented we all cheered with delight.
Watching this process unfold amazed me. All together – all 100 of us – we all made this possible. I think our chances at the beginning were 1 in 1000. We hit the 1. Amazing. I’m honored to have had this opportunity to work with such a fantastic group of people. Here’s to our public launch in a few days.