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I get asked some version of this question, often in the form of “I’m thinking about becoming an entrepreneur”, every day. It’s awesome to me that lots of people are asking this question but it’s really hard to answer with a simple, short response. I’ve been pointing people at a number of resources to help them get a feel for what being an entrepreneur is like and two that I’m involved in top the list.
The first is the book Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup that I wrote with David Cohen in 2010. There are a bunch of reviews up on Amazon – mostly good – that capture the spirit of what we were trying to convey. Whenever I’ve aimed it at someone who asks what it’s like to be an entrepreneur or wants to learn more about what’s in the mind of an entrepreneur, I usually get the feedback that it’s useful. What surprised me early on was the feedback from early employees at startups who told me it helped them understand what the founders of their company were going through. I recently skimmed through it again just to make sure it still felt fresh to me and it does.
The second is Startup Weekend. If you’ve never done a Startup Weekend, it’s an incredible simulation of entrepreneurship. In 54 hours you’ll go through the experience of starting a company from scratch, surrounded by others doing the same thing. You’ll compress a lot of the activities into a weekend, especially dynamics around team, idea, and trying to get something out the door quickly. It’s valuable for existing entrepreneurs as well – if you are an entrepreneur looking for smart people who want to get involved with startups, it’s a great recruiting ground. I’ve known and supported Startup Weekend from the very first one that was held in Boulder in 2007 and joined the board last year to amp up my involvement.
While there is no substitute for jumping in the deep end and starting a company, I believe both our book and the experience of Startup Weekend are great ways to get a deeper perspective of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.
What are some of the things you point people at to answer this question?
I spent the day in Kansas City yesterday at the Kauffman Foundation for my first Startup Weekend board meeting. I’m very stingy with my non-profit board activity after deciding in 2005 to get off any non-profit board that wasn’t focused on entrepreneurship and until yesterday the only non-profit board I’m on is the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
I was at the first Startup Weekend in Boulder in July 2007. It was created by Andrew Hyde (he was the Community Manager for TechStars at the time). While I didn’t stay the entire weekend, my partner Seth Levine and I spent a bunch of time there on Saturday, had a blast, met some new people who became long term friends (my first extended experience with Micah Baldwin where Vosnap was created), and paid for a bunch (all of?) the food, which I recall included a lot of beer, chips, and bagels. In was a completely awesome experience.
Andrew ran about 80 Startup Weekends around the world before selling Startup Weekend to Marc Nager and Clint Nelsen in 2009 who were quickly joined by a third partner Franck Nouyrigat. Marc, Clint, and Franck turned Startup Weekend into a 501c(3), got a bunch of smart people involved as advisors such as David Cohen (TechStars CEO), expanded rapidly, got a grant from the Kauffman Foundation, and are now launching an even broader effort called the Startup Foundation.
My view is that the goals and behavior of Startup Weekend, going back to the very beginning when Andrew Hyde conceived it, are completely aligned with my view that entrepreneurial communities can be created in many places and a key attribute is activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack from aspiring entrepreneurs through experienced entrepreneurs and include all of the various constituencies around the entrepreneurial ecosystem. I saw that in Boulder in July 2007 and I see that when I hear of other people that have participated in Startup Weekends around the world.
I’m psyched to join some other super smart people on the board, which includes Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation; Steve Blank, serial entrepreneur and author; entrepreneurship lecturer at U.C. Berkeley and Stanford University; Greg Gottesman, managing director at Madrona Venture Group; Laura McKnight, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation; and Nick Seguin, manager of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation.
If you’ve never done a Startup Weekend, try one. I bet it changes your life.
There are a lot of fun connections here for me. For starters, as many of you know, I’m an investor in Gist. If you haven’t tried it – or haven’t played with it for a while – give it a shot. The evolution of the product over the last six months has been remarkable as it gets better every two weeks (the Gist teams’ release cycle).
The iPhone app has been out for a while and is a killer. I’ve seen the Android app – it’s equally cool and useful. Each of them connect up to the Gist service that lives in the cloud and connects together all of your contact information, builds an implicit social network based on your email traffic and friends lists, and surfaces a variety of content (including news as well as real-time stuff) for your contacts.
Learn that Name was a Startup Weekend Seattle project from a few months ago. Andrew Hyde, who is the community manager for TechStars, created Startup Weekend and I attended the first one in Boulder. It has become an amazing worldwide phenomenon that is now run by Clint Nelsen and Marc Nager. So – that’s linkage two for me.
The idea for Learn that Name came from Eric Koester, a lawyer in Cooley’s Seattle office. Eric has been super helpful on the Startup Visa initiative as well, working on an ABA brief for us that will hopefully be officially approved soon. Who said that lawyers weren’t a force for good in the world? So – that’s linkage number three.
TechCrunch’s article gives a little more history on the deal and how the proceeds (yes – there are proceeds) are being split up among the team members that participated in the Startup Weekend project. I know that at the very first Startup Weekend that I attended in Boulder there was a hope that some of these projects would spin out and either get commercialized or acquired. I’m proud to be involved in one of the first ones to have this happen. Oh – and Learn that Name when played within Gist’s iPhone app is a lot of fun.