3 Day Startup Experience at Geekdom

I belong to geekdom and I get their emails about things going on. Personally I don’t spend a lot of time at geekdom, because it is not near my house or work. It is in Downtown San Antonio on the 10th and 11th floor of the Weston Center. I like the idea. It’s billed as a collaborative workspace with community events. It seems to be populated mostly by “social media marketing ____” types, which means there isn’t a lot of things I’m interested in going on, but tons of buzzwords flying about.

I got the email for 3 Day Startup and thought, hey, might be cool to get in there and build something over a weekend. If you’re a developer/engineer of any kind, don’t bother. You won’t be building anything. What you will be doing is drafting up business plans, interviewing potential customers, and figuring out what you are going to do with your group’s idea. This is decent enough if the pool of ideas is deep and valuable.

On the first day, you show up, get a name tag which indicates your starting group, which is only used to gather ideas. After a couple hours of idea gathering the team picks at most 2 and the person who had the idea does a one minute elevator pitch with a two minute question and answer session. The ideas are all voted on and the top 8 or so are picked and the participants go to the groups they are interested in. The rest of the night is figuring out what the idea is as a business. Solutions are secondary and figuring out what the problem is is primary. The tool they advise is called leancanvas, which there are templates for, but that site is pretty good. The mentors go from room to room and give feedback on the ideas. Some of the mentors can even be potential investors. Day two is spent developing a script to use when talking to potential customers and then going out and doing just that. Once the group has a bunch of results they will develop a presentation and pitch it at the end of the day. Day three is all about refining that pitch and the result gets pitched to a panel. They do some kind of voting and someone gets recognized.

There are a few drawbacks. First, it started at 2:30pm on Friday. 3 Day Startup? More like 2.5 Day Startup. Before we actually started doing anything it was closer to 8pm. Secondly, and this can probably change for each 3DS event, the ideas aren’t very good. Comments I’ve heard indicate that many of the ideas are very repetitive. Ideas are definitely a hard part of the process. We spent a couple hours working on ideas and only had 2-3 decent ones. Next issue was sort of a distribution problem. Our team ended up with 2 engineers and 3 physicist, which is cool, but we probably needed some marketing or business people. Lucky for us, a couple of our members had some business and sales experience. A small nagging issue was organization. The weekend seemed discombobulated. I had to take a picture of the schedule because it wasn’t posted anywhere. Meals were provided, but many of the snacks were just high in sugar and carbs, which I’m trying to watch eating.

A big issue I had was the mentoring. Most of it was pretty decent feedback, however sometimes the feedback felt hostile. The mentoring wasn’t that of someone who wants to help you get to your goal, but an antagonistic “I’m the experienced one here, you are just a kid”. I constantly felt as if I was being treated like a child, not someone who has years of development and leadership experience. When our mentor didn’t like our idea, he got us to “pivot” to one that would help his business. A business to business idea is good, except for the weekend we couldn’t go around and talk to accounts receivable people. I also overheard some of the mentors discussing the ideas and plans as if they were jokes. I really felt that after we went back to our original idea, the mentor was going around spreading some contempt for our project.

I left Saturday evening feeling pretty good. We had really refined down our original idea. There were some technical challenges. If we all just look at something and went “that’s hard, I don’t want to do it” I guess we’d never get anything done. Late, Saturday evening I received a phone call from one of my group members. He had spoken with our main mentor and the word from him was “they’d rather we not present”. So he asked me to run some cost numbers and figure out what the difficultly of various parts would be. Mind you, I’m not a finance person or at no point were we coached or mentored on any kind of finance pieces. Thing with this project is, I had already been working on it a bit. I have code done, that works, that took me almost no time. Here they are telling us it is too complicated, too difficult, and too expensive.

The Sunday morning meeting about the schedule led into our teams going to our respective rooms. About five minutes later, every mentor comes to our room. First they let us know they met with every team the night before except ours since we left. We weren’t informed of a meeting, and if I wanted to refer to the schedule, I couldn’t. They want us to explain the idea, project, customer pain points, etc. After that some of the other mentors begin to pick apart the plan, which is fine, we have to be able to defend those criticisms. Our main mentor told us we didn’t listen and we just ignored him. Not doing what he wanted us to do and not listening are two different things. I argued that his pivot was equally complicated and equally expensive and this opportunity provided us the ability to better complete the 3 Day Startup experience. His reply was well “I know that” it was generally the same level of difficulty and expense, but both ideas we “crap”. That’s some mentoring. If our initial idea, and our pivot idea were all crap, why were they picked? Why were they allowed to continue? I’m not arguing that my idea is the best, or even that great, but if it was so horrible and crappy, why couldn’t the mentors step in at that point and tell us there was no way the would let us continue with that going forward. Instead they let us go 70% of the way through and then say, and I quote “we’d rather you didn’t preset this”. Yes, they told us we couldn’t present our project. I packed my things and left.

Now this is just my personal opinon, but I couldn’t and wouldn’t recommend 3 Day Startup to anyone. If you want to learn how to do a few business related tasks in the confines of their template, then you might learn what not to do or who to follow. It will help you thicken your skin and take criticism. What it won’t do is teach you anything about starting a company. You won’t be doing anything technical and you will be derided and rediculed for your knowledge regardless of what that might be. You will be told things are “not possible” and that you can’t possibly solve the difficult problem.

I used to wonder why anyone with a technical background wouldn’t want to come to San Antonio, but I can see why now. I can see why, because people in the community are better than you and they will let you know how much and why you can’t do anything as well as them, instead of helping, guiding and building with you.