Jim Harrer


Why everyone should experience a startup weekend.

Why everyone should experience a startup weekend.

I had the opportunity to attend a startup weekend here in my hometown of Bend, Oregon. In 54 hours, I watched 30 ideas, turn into 7 concepts that developed 7 companies including 7 websites, facebook pages and twitter feeds.  Each team conducted interviews with potential customers and defined their first release backlog for their Minimal Viable Product (MVP), embracing the Lean Startup principles discussed by author Eric Ries. Each team also created business models to help them understand their potential revenue opportunities, cost of goods sold, SG&A and profit potentials.  On Sunday night at 6pm, just 48 hours later, these new companies presented their five minute pitch deck to a group of judges.  One company had secured it's first paying customer, and another company was invited into a local World Market to test their homemade Venezuelan chocolates in the store. These teams gained an amazing amount of traction over the weekend. In this blog post, I plan to share some of the lessons learned from the weekend and how they can be applied to your startup.

I had heard of Startup Weekends being held in other cities, but I didn't give it a lot of thought.  Honestly, the idea of spending my entire weekend coaching teams didn't sound like a lot of fun.  Boy was I wrong.  Not only was it a ton of fun, it was insightful, rewarding and energizing. Let me explain...

Startup Weekend Bend OregonWhat is Startup Weekend you ask?

Startup Weekend is a global network of passionate leaders and entrepreneurs on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, teams and communities to turn a pitch into a startup. These are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers, business strategist and past Founders (acting as coaches), come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups.

Some people assume Startup Weekend is a tech driven event solely for software programmers, like a hack-a-thon, they're not. Startup Weekend draws a wider audience with broader skills: sales, marketing, business development managers, finance, UX/UI, web, CSS, data architects, past founders and current CEOs, CFOs, VCs and a handful of experienced Angel investors.  Add these skills early on, when the MVP is being defined, changes the  typical focus on "product development" to "customer development", asking some tough questions, early. Like, "Who is our customer, what is their persona, and how much would they pay to have this product or service?"  Add in the 54 hour time box around the event, you also bake in a real sense of urgency to move quickly into customer discovery.

What happened at Startup Weekend – Bend, Oregon.

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Inventor lighting up Kickstarter with a new approach to illuminate bike wheels for safer night time riding.

Introducing the Nori Lights - Bicycle Illumination System

San Diego Kickstarter and Inventor, Chris Flynn, came up with a smart way to Illuminate your bike wheels, letting drivers recognize you instantly at night. Well all know that tiny front and rear lights are not enough. Check out this video:

I know Chris Flynn, he's family, as Nori is my Uncle Nori.  I'll be the first to tell you that Uncle Nori would be very proud of Chris.  You can trust Chris to deliver on his promises and deliver on your pledge.  I would appreciate if you would support this project, by:

  • Telling your friends about it.  Add the link to your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn profiles.
  • Buy a Nori Light System if you own a bike, purchase a tee shirt if you don't.
  • Forward this link to one bike shop in your area. Look them up on the web and send them an email via their contact us page.

Let's start another small business in America.  Please support this project today.

Thank you!

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Guest — Chris Flynn
Thank you so much Jim. Your support, kind words, and encouragement had a direct influence in this projects success. I am so excit... Read More
Sunday, 04 November 2012 12:12 AM
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The Lean Start-up MVP – One size does not fit all.

Eric Ries’s bestseller, The Lean Startup, is a thoughtful book that has created a conversation about startups.  It focuses on how to go from the back of the napkin to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), to get in front of prospects in order to see if the idea is viable.

As with any new methodology, framework or process for the matter, I do not think audiences can truly measure its viability until they practice it themselves and spend time teaching it to others.
Lean-Startup-MVPI’ve had the chance to do both, use it with a couple of startups I’m involved in and teach it in the VentureBox business accelerator in Bend, Oregon.

The key principle of The Lean Startup is BUILD-MEASURE-LEARN.  The goal is to come up with a minimal feature set, bring it to market, measure actionable metrics and finally learn from the experience and then start again.  It barrows heavily from agile software development and favors learning from early adopters versus relying deeply on requirements management by someone in marketing.

I’m all for Build-Measure-Learn, what I have a problem with is Minimum Viable Product (MVP).   What is the definition of “Minimum”? I’ve witnessed entrepreneurs get so caught up in this MVP concept, that they test a product too soon and pivot based on incomplete data.  In my opinion, more time, not less, needs to be spent defining the MVP, including who the audience is that will see it, at each iteration.  Don't make the mistake of thinking the MVP is outside of the product lifecycle. 
MVPs should be matched to audiences. For example, your first MVP may be designed to only been seen by the development team, then management, then marketing and then prospects under NDA.  My point here is, be thoughtful about the process and audience.  Showing it to management or marketing, can quickly throw the team off the rails.  An MVP has its own product lifecycle development process, some stages should only be viewed by the core team.

Keep in mind if you’re building hardware, versus software, you have more challenges because of soft tooling requirements.  Also, don’t under-estimate the power of look and feel.  Ignoring UX/UI in some applications can take you down a rat hole you didn't intend. Each product is different. Craigslist appealed to its audience with it's simplistic UI.  Instagram's UX/UI from the get-go is what helped it go viral. 

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Breaking down the Investor Pitch

Our VentureBox founders have finished week 5 of our 12-week Venture Launch program. The pitches continue to get better each week.  Feedback is critical to the learning process, so after each pitch we give the founder a breakdown of what we've heard, what worked and what didn't.

TechStars, a popular high-tech accelerator, has a great video series called "This Week in TechStars". This past week they did a breakdown of Flixmaster's pitch.


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This Week In Startups - A weekly dose of startup insight.

This Week In Startups - A Damn Good Show!

If you have missed the first couple hundred shows, like I have, don't sweat it. They're all online. I actually subscribe to their iTunes podcast, and have been catching up on them while I hike with my dog Morgan. The last couple weeks have been remarkable, however, if you truly want to have fun, listen to some of the old tapes from 2009 and it will confirm just how fast our tech industry changes.

This Week in... is a web television network covering a wide variety of topics from tech to entertainment. Produced out of our Culver City studios, the shows feature guest experts, founders, movie stars, comedians, technologists and CEO’s — all keeping you up to speed on what’s happening this week with a fast and funny style. Informative and entertaining, ThisWeekIn is the place for whatever your interests may be.

The company was founded by Jason Calacanis (co-founder of Weblogs, SVP AOL, CEO of Mahalo), actor Kevin Pollak and Mark Jeffrey and is based in Culver City, CA.

I've been listening and occasionally watching some of the Podcast and have found them informative, educational, insightful and entertaining. Jason Calacanis is an excellent host with an amazing memory. If you're an entrepreneur or angel investor, especially if you don't hang out at all the startup events, you'll want to catch this show each week.


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The heart of a startup entrepreneur.

As I discussed in my previous post, we’re finishing up week 3 in our VentureBox Venture Launch class. The course is 12 weeks.  Each week the founders meet every Wednesday from 3-8pm for a formal class and workshop. Dinner is included halfway through. Here is the 20k foot view of what we’ve done with the 7 companies in the program:

  • Week 1: Curriculum review, format discussion, introductions and company pitches. This was the first time all the founders got to meet each other. We have 7 companies, with 2 companies with co-founders, so we have a total of 9 founders in the room. The majority of the night was spent having the founders do their 10 minute investor pitch, followed by 20-30 minutes of Q&A from the rest of the founders.
  • Week 2: Our partner, LUXr,  traveled to Bend from San Francisco and conducted a train-the-mentors on their Lean Startup Customer Development and User Experience curriculum using their Bento Box training materials. Then the Mentors (yep, me included) taught the materials the next day to our VentureBox class with Janice and Kate guiding us all the way. Each of the founders developed their first customer persona for their product. Their homework was to go out and do in-person interviews with people who match the persona's they created.
  • Week 3: Tackled market segments and helped each of the founders understand how to figure out their first, highly focused, target market for their minimal viable product using The Lean Startup framework. I was privileged to co-teach this class with Steven Curley, a local marketing genus and one of VentureBox's Subject Matter Experts.

Alright, with this foundation set. I’m going to change gears and discuss my observations and less on the materials and process, at least for the rest of this post.

The five traits of a startup entrepreneur.the_heart_of_the_startup

It’s hard to not fall in love with each of these founders and their ideas. Each of the 9 founders are amazing in their own right. They inspire me with their ideas, questions and drive to succeed. Since I have the privilege to work with each of the founders, I thought I would share with you some of the commonalities I have observed among the founders in the class.  

Not in any specific order, here we go:

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© Copyright 2012 James A. Harrer, all rights reserved, worldwide.

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