I recently attended the TechPint Startup Summit at the Cleveland Improv. This is the second TechPint event that I’ve attended (first was Industry Summit last fall… excellent event). Admittedly, this post is more for me than you (the vast number of readers I have… sarcasm). This post is a collection of my notes from the session, and with limited commentary.
Why did I attend?
I have a small business that’s been running at low RPM’s for about 3 years. We’ve never truly launched, and have had ebs and flows of profitability. Our user community continues to grow, and we’re currently pursuing the launch of our web platform, in tandem with a refresh of our mobile apps. On top of that, I’m a product manager at a Cleveland-area Healthcare Analytics company. Given those roles, I felt it would be valuable to immerse myself in a setting that was dense with entrepreneurs to help expand my thinking as a product manager and entrepreneur.
Another disclaimer: this is not meant to be a holistic review of the overall summit. The whole thing was pretty damn fantastic, but there are certain pieces that stood out to me. This post is a collection of those specific topics.
Seed Funding for the rest of us : Mike Belsito (@belsito)
Build your dream team
Mike talks about the “hacker, the hipster and the suit.” The hacker is your key tech person, the hipster is often times your designer, and the suit can be anyone that’s able to effectively express the vision of your business, why it’s valuable, to whom, and what makes it stand out in the crowd.
The investor team
Some key points made here:
- Look beyond your geography, use https://angel.co/
- When approaching the investor team, know your numbers. These are the numbers about your business.
- Commit to the process of funding. Don’t dabble. Go for it, otherwise you may be viewed as a troll / information-seeker that’s wasting the time of others.
This session was a surprise for me. I was expecting the entire summit to be founders and funders. Sure, Jake is a founder (a few times over), but his talk was more about organizational behavior tips and tricks that he’s found useful. Here’s a handful of them:
Pen and paper meetings
He requires his teams to attend meetings with zero tech, beyond a pen and paper. Meetings are for deciding something that is too costly / risky to do without have a face:face. The only person allowed to have a laptop is a scribe. If you’re not engaged, then leave. Meetings are expensive. Be engaged.
I have to say, I don’t adhere this one. I’m fortunate to have Confluence, Google Docs and Trello at my disposal. I prefer to centrally capture my thoughts so they can be augmented by others. I also prefer centrally capturing action items / deliverables for everyone to rally around. Having your own little personal journal may be great for the way some of you synthesize information, but it’s not for me. I want others to see what I’m thinking, how I’m synthesizing it, so they can contribute for the overall greater good and help the whole team make the best decisions.
No internal email
This one kind of blew me away, but I love it. Email gets so clogged up, people use it as a to-do list, makes me insane. As a result of this point being raised, I’ve since changed all of my email clients to be “manual pull,” no more pushing anything to me. I’ve noticed my concentration and productivity have improved substantially since doing so.
I dig this one. I don’t use facebook on my day-gig machine. It’s pretty much an early morning, late evening, and on the toilet (sorry, but it’s the truth.. you know you do it too).
Similarly treat everyone differently
I loved this point. This seemed to be his approach to being flexible and supportive of the needs and goals of his teams. The key here, though, was to treat EVERYONE differently, not just some people. There can be no “exceptions to the rule” so to say. I support this approach. My top objective is a high performing team, whatever that means for the team (no fixed approach to that, in my opinion).
Take a lap
Apparently he says he stole this concept from Steve Jobs. Well, I’ve found it useful. Though, my “lap” is a sometimes a ping pong match, and sometimes an actual lap. Both activities have certain benefits. Though, I’ve noticed the “lap” affords more collaborative time between the individuals involved in the lap, and more time for synthesis if going solo.
Ted Serbinski – @techstars
Book: “4 disciplines of execution”
Get a true team dashboard
Ted reminded us all that many teams create dashboards that really don’t show them something meaningful for their goals / business. I agree. I’ve created and seen others created dashboards in the past (and recently) that were pretty much a collection of “stuff that’s easy to measure.”
He also enumerated a pretty simple chain of questions to help you stay focused on achieving your goals;
- What’s our goal?
- I’d add “Why does this goal matter?”
- How do we we’ve achieved it?
- What can we do every day / week to achieve it?
I think this is a vital element of standup meetings in Agile teams (I’m beginning to incorporate this into standups).
One of my favorite sessions of the day. I could seriously listen to him speak for hours. Guy provided very practical advice, of which I couldn’t even begin to cover in a single blog post. Here is one point that stood out to me:
Raise 18 months of funding so you can support a “plan B”
I hadn’t really thought about that much in the past. It could be foolishness on my part, but I’ve never been very interested in pursuing funding. I’ve wanted to be completely organic in growth, and have complete control of my business. I’m beginning to think there’s some foolishness in that mentality.
Back to Guy’s point (as I synthesized it, anyway): most startups don’t think about a “plan B” when going for funding. This is a critical flaw that, as I recall, he’s seen a number of times over with various startups. Guy helped me see how undereducated I really may be when it comes to funding.
Paul Singh: The business of tech startups
Okay, this session was so densely packed with guidance that it was nearly impossible to keep track of it all. So I’m literally going to list my raw notes (maybe I’ll come back another time and actually synthesize them):
Key questions to ask about your idea:
- Can we build it?
- Do people want it?
- Do people know how to get it?
Take advantage of information asymmetry.
Be aware of the invisible game
Dig in and do the research on comps (know your competition!)
Notability > Credibility
Know the investors BEFORE the conversation. Don’t have the first conversation start with “so, what do you typically look for in a startup?”
Show traction, communicate it, inspire others to contribute to it
Learn the basics of VC Economics!