From Friday lunch time to Sunday evening just past I participated at Launch48 Edinburgh. The event started with a mini-conference and one speaker stood out from the list for me, Ben Werdmuller, a fellow open source advocate and entrepreneur and that had attracted me to attend. Ben’s talk did what I hoped, web democratization and disruption. Also, interesting to hear how the commercial side of the Elgg open source changed his participation. Hopefully future open source projects don’t need to interact with the VC model in the future? The other speakers where interesting especially if you were completely new to the entrepreneurial world.
Soon it was 6pm and it was time for participation to take over from listening. Those wanting to pitch an idea did so to those that had turned up and via some crowd sourced hand raising 4 ideas were selected. Ben lists them here along with his review of their pitches. The one idea I raised my hand for did not get through to the last 4 so I joined comparetheuniversities.com the CEO and man behind the idea is a James Smith. He delivered his pitch with confidence and enthusiasm however the reason I joined his team was the I had also been listening to the questions he had been asking of the other pitchers. For me, this made him stand out as a smart thinker and he gave me a sense he was committed to this idea for the long run, ie. he had been giving it some pre thought. We formed into a team, got to know each other and started to specialise into skill sets.
Come Saturday morning our leader and others got no sleep for thinking while I had consumed a few gig of data on education data on the web to get a better grasp on the opportunities out there. James set a tighter direction for the vision and set out his goals for the team. The data started to be collected, servers setup, blog, UI design and business plan and marketing were all started upon. No data, no business is a tag line I use and this project was no different. It was a tricky data landscape to capture, no standardization but enough structured was eventually found and with that I departed the data collection exercise around 5pm Saturday to join the marking and business plan team. They had gone through a difficult team building exercise but the CEO sorted it out and a fresh start was made. The remainder of the Saturday was used to set out the deliverables in terms of sales, marketing, business plan and financials. Not so much doing but explaining the reasons for doing. Also, the essence of the business was defined into a clearer elevator sentence. That was important as we only had Sunday to deliver.
Our CEO kept the team together on Sunday before it splintered locations to execute on the deliverables. Come the afternoon the presentation was all that mattered and the CEO devoted more of his attention to polishing and fine tuning the message needed to be communicated on the business. The pitch was delivered, streamed live on the web. A confident performance by James Smith especially on the Questions and Answers. More polish for sure required on delivering the big messages but there was enough glimpses shown from this young entrepreneur to suggest that should come with time.
Some feedback on the event, good and bad (constructive criticism and ideas hopefully)
The event format.
Min-conference Well run, quite long but as a first time entrepreneur I expect the time flew past.
Launch48 startup A great effort by the Launch48 team in bringing the event to Scotland. After living in Silicon Valley, the volume of startup events seem to be suffering from drought conditions, so good on the Launch48 team for bringing more startup opportunities for learning and doing to our Land.
Manufacturing the startups Any participant was free to pitch and then crowd sourcing was used to select the winning ideas to be worked on. I would have preferred this to be more self forming (as apposed to manufactured yes, even if crowd sourced). I.e. if an entrepreneur pitched and one other person wanted to join their team, then I would let them go ahead and build that business in the next 48 hours. This is not without a downside, as the depth of experience that comes with handling a bigger team and all the issues that raises might be lost but I feel startup life is more like the former.
Board Meetings: were used by the organizers to give feedback and guidance. I am real touchy about using the word Board meeting out of context. I would have preferred if they were called Consulting Guidance meetings or advice from the organizers. Board meetings are for the board members, usually one or two members from the company e.g. CEO and /or a founder, the investors and independent directors. The management team is then the CEO, COO, Sales Director, Finance Director i.e. those responsible for running the business on a day to today basis. The Board are there to look after the Shareholders. We do this real poorly in the UK compared to the US. So, these reviews could be useful but I tend to agree with Ben Werdmuller when he said in a blog post ‘I wish I’d participated as a team-member rather than a mentor’. I agree, participation is the best way to learn (we just need to remembers it is someone else who is the CEO). The mini-conference could also be formed using an un-conference ie. what issues do the entrepreneurs want to learn about? e.g. raise an angle round. Surprise, surprise in the SV and angel would turn up (I expect in the UK was are not that lucky).
Pitching. I was unclear on the objective of the pitching at the end. I would make it one goal, the startup wants to go out and raise a seed round, that is the goal for the pitch. Also, to highlight the importance of this skill I like the format used at MashupCamps and startupcamp.org in SV. Rather than one final presentation, set a side an hour for small groups to go around the pitchers and make each pitch 4 mins. This way the CEO will have to pitch there idea 12 times rather than once and thus be able to refine what works, what does not, also the participants will be able to ask more questions, again that helping the CEO understand their pitch communication better.
In summary: three days of entrepreneurship that should be applauded from participants to organizers. I’d like to see more self forming of the teams, embedded entrepreneurs working as part of the team (I wish more would voluntarily give their time) and that the investor community popped in by on mass, even if just for the pitches.