In an age where companies are fearful their most dedicated, passionate employees may be drawn to the exciting world of startups, ReadyTalk actively recruited and paid for some of its employees to attend Denver Startup Weekend IoT (Internet of Things) 2016.
As the Manager of Innovation Strategy, I had a few goals for the initiative. Chatting with the attendees after the weekend, I’ve compiled this list of the very best reasons to support your employees attending your next local Startup Weekend event.
1. Connect with smart people outside your company walls.
When you’re only exposed to members of your own organization, your view on the world becomes perilously narrow. Working with others from different companies, industries, stages of life, etc. can dramatically broaden your view on things. In my first Startup Weekend team as a participant, my team’s ages varied from 20s to 60s, and we had dramatically different educational and professional backgrounds. I’ve remained in contact with several people I met over that weekend, including someone who I now consider my professional mentor.
2. Hear really cool (okay and not so cool) ideas.
Before the pitches Friday night, about 8 attendees had plans to pitch. After the speech by Matthew Bailey and some ice-breaker activities, we had over 20 participants stand up in front of the crowd to pitch an idea they wanted to work on. From parking apps to lucid dreaming to asynchronous communication with Grandma, it can just be inspiring to hear the different ideas people have rattling around in their brains. At the Global Startup Battle Startup Weekend in Boulder last November, the winning team was an idea that the founder came up with while listening to other pitches! Even if a particular idea doesn’t move forward, it can spark other ideas.
3. Focus on what’s really critical.
With only 54 hours to work within, a startup weekend team needs to be laser-focused on impactful work. Having time as such a limited resource forces some difficult discussions and decisions. The team needs to (rapidly) break down their assumptions to ensure they’re going in the right direction .What’s the key problem we’re solving for people? Do they know it’s a problem? (How) are they trying to solve it now?
How much time should we devote to getting customer validation? Building a prototype? Preparing for our pitch?
4. Get sh*t done.
At a Startup Weekend event, trying and learning is preferred over deliberating. Everyone pitches in, regardless of background or experience. Compare this to a hierarchical workplace, where junior employees may tend to defer to “more experienced” co-workers.
5. Get feedback, including from mentors.
Two of our employee attendees said their favorite part of the weekend was the feedback they got from the mentors and judges. I attribute some of this to the fact that the mentors and judges had no reason to sugar-coat information. Our attendees craved this honest feedback.
Now that we’re back in the office and things have settled down, I’ve been asked if I feel we can recreate the magic of a Startup Weekend here at work. And I’m not sure we can. Sure, we can create cross-functional teams and give people a lot of caffeine and an aggressive timeline. But unless we can cultivate a whole network of amazing external people to come in, I don’t know if we can achieve the same level of Startup Weekend euphoria. So as long as we have fantastic employees who are willing to “give up” a weekend of their time to gain this sort of experience, we’ll continue to send them to events like this.
How about you?
Have you tried to recreate a Startup Weekend environment in your workplace? What was your experience?