On the surface, Starting up is about creating new things using what we have learnt and experienced. When I set out to create a new tool that I envisioned, I immersed myself solely on that project: didn’t we all have learnt that focus is important for any startup effort?
However, one of the biggest drawbacks of being a business oriented entrepreneur is this: we focus so much on the “market”, “customer”, “BUSINESS” etc., all these commercial “beings”, that we forgot how big the real world is.
While I was waiting on my partners to work on their parts, I slowed down and had the opportunity to meet new people, see what others are working on, read more, watch more…in turn, I grew the desire to learn and do more.
Here is my normal trajectory before slowing down: home, coffee shop, coworking space, home
Here is my new trajectory when I had more time: I would walk to SoMa area every other day with my friend, hitting different startup office, going to different meetups, even “creating” happy hours with new people I met. This otherwise “slow” period actually made me busier, both physically and mentally. For example, I came across incredible people like personal development writer Steve Pavlina; Introvert genius Bret Victor, the beautiful mind behind Apple’s many products and so many ground breaking inventions; Early engineers, designers at flickr, movity, trulia, see the incredible data visualizations projects they are working on; I would meet a 22 yr old business prodigy who is re-inventing physical map, first aid kit, and tell the insider story about San Francisco’s private “public space”… I would find these people on twitters and see what other stuff they are working on, who they are tweeting with. Not surprisingly, I would discover @triberr this way, an genius way for small bloggers to reach out to bigger audience accumulatively; I would then compare triberr to other fast growing social media utility tool like @bufferapp and @onlywire…and draw some kind of conclusion that a genuinely useful social media utility tool such as these three tend to see exponential growth in short period of time, reaching global alexa ranking of top 5k, which is more than credible for any legitimate online business entity.
My mind is roaming like crazy as I am writing. Internet super marketer John Chou tweeted a couple days ago: write when you are emotional.
A supposedly slow period completely overwhelmed my mind with all these new things and I suddenly realize: this is my feeling and this is the stuff I need to write about. Before this slow period when I “focus” on my own project, I was struggling to find more interesting websites to look at and I usually have no more than three browsers session open at any given time. Little did I know that I was missing out on real people. Once I “met” and “learnt” about these new people and new ideas, I can relate much more to what they are doing than those read from techcrunch. As I am writing this blog post, I have more than a dozen browser sessions open and more than plenty stuff to read, draw insights and inspiration from.
So, is this information overload a good or bad thing?
To me, It’s more than a good thing. It drives me through these cycles:
seeking out new people and idea –> review and digest new info –> draw insights: 1. How can I apply what I have learnt to my “business”; 2. What new knowledge should I get my hands on learning? (in this recent case, I am considering data visualization application.
Going back to the subject: starting up: is it about learning or creating?
I think both: an entrepreneur sets his/her sights on a specific problem to solve: that is creating. However, without intentionally reaching out to creative source and learning from new, creating process could soon become less interesting, less motivating: I guess that is when doubts are coming back to us especially those with short attention span. I would argue that learning is equally, if not more important than creating. Learning makes us imagine; learning propels us, making us more resourceful;
Learning makes us more emotional; If nothing else, learning makes us become a good story teller – after all, without story who would we become?
Yesterday I went to a meetup next to AT&T park organized by “hackers and founders” with no expectations but was prepared to meet likeminded founders, hackers, angels to bounce the ideas, get feedbacks and make friends.
The meetup was a great success, following is the highlights
1. The name of “hackers and founders” are HOT nowadays, and because of the name and the organizers’ reputation of getting people together, participants are of high quality bunch such as founders, hackers, product guys from top companies, angels, EIR from VC firms etc.
2. People coming to the event brought something to the table other than asking for engineers to help business guys build out the products.
3. Many are founders with product to show but the meetup does not “feature” any demo, making the environment much less intense, much more open.
4. People were very consciously providing the feedbacks for others, while getting feedbacks in return.
5. I would ask questions to other founders who already launched, such as “what would you do if you have your product 90% done?”.
6. Out of 100+ attendees, I spoke to 20+ of them, got their cards, and told them that I would send them a beta invite when we launch soon.
To an early startup founder like me, this likeminded people circle is a very nurturing environment. While I strived to become helpful to them, my goal is clear: to get early feedbacks from my potential audiences (anyone wanting to have an active, outdoorsy and healthy lifestyle is my potential audience), to build interest with them and angels. Put them on my beta launch list. If I can invite 20 people from every event I go, by the time I launch soon, I would have a couple hundred passionate, nurturing people who are open to embrace a new product. That is invaluable to me.
I talked to the Laura Nelson, one of the organizers about the long term goal of this “organization”, or “meetup”. Laura made it clear that organization serves very early startups/founders that are still too early for more established incubators funds such as ycombinator. The meetup serves as a “give-back” AND marketing channel to connect startups in need and build following, the real deal is the funding conference where selected early startups are brought to pitch connected angels.
While chatting, we all agreed the single most important criteria is the crowd. A wrong crowd would turn away the right one. Just like startups, having a clear audience is key to the success of a great meetup.
I want to thank following people I have met for sharing the ideas with me:
Laura Nelson, co founder, hackers and founders meetup
Jordan Kanarek: a rockstar like designer and story teller, from duckduckgo.com, one of kind, very successful search engine
Alessandro Santo: a VC from DPI Xel venture
Akshay Arabolu, founder, getcomparisons.com
JD Leonard, founder CEO, TextbookMadness.com
Laura Rodriguez, staffing consultant, meetup organizer
Andrew Zimmer, Mobile developer of an awesome iPhone app called dog whistle
Chris Mardelli: a law student in process to build his first web product
Suzanne Yada, a dynamic web producer
Bernie Yoo, co founder at Bombfell.com, he even took my measurement to get me join his “female-selected cloths for men, sent every month” startup
Doug Bend: startup attorney (thanks Doug for sharing stories)
Asi Behar from Pandora
Jackson G. from Pandora
Michael Seely, EIR at CMEA Captial
Many more: I hope to meet more of these passionate people to bounce ideas. Onward and upward!