Having the Right Team – A Lesson From Startup Weekend DC

I have complete and utter respect for the folks that organized and sponsored Startup Weekend DC but I have to say though that it’s just not for me. I went the first night and that was enough for me.

The premise of Startup Weekend is that a bunch of smart people get together and over the course of a weekend conceptualize a Web app, create it, and then form a business around it. For this weekend that meant 50 to 70 of Washington DC’s brightest minds in the Web industry.

But… when there is no clear leader, you have to get consensus among people who haven’t worked together before, and you have to do it in a weekend, you go a little crazy or you have to be a little crazy.

I guess for me it reenforces the idea that if you’re going to do a startup, you need to have a solid team. You need a team that you trust. You need a team that you’re going to work well with. You can’t be worrying about people’s personalities or people’s motivations. You have to be able to sit down and get stuff done together.

Every team has a good leader. The leader has a clear vision. He doesn’t lead by being high and mighty. He leads by getting his hands dirty… by setting the example.

I have massive respect for all of the startups out there who are able to do the startup thing successfully. You guys rock.

Best wishes to the Startup Weekend DC crew. I’m happy to be a beta tester of Hola Neighbor and you know i’ll blog my thoughts. 😉

More thoughts on startups and Startup Weekend DC soon.

9 thoughts on “Having the Right Team – A Lesson From Startup Weekend DC”

  1. I wasn’t able to attend this weekend’s festivity so I am happy to see some insight on the event.

    A team full of people with similar skills sounds like a great opportunity to run continuously in circles. Establishing a leader is valuable – even more important is simply identifying roles for everyone.

  2. There was not a lot of talking between those that Justin mentioned. I have been there for both days along with Martin and Jared.

    It was a bit of a difficult time for me being a developer and they had chosen Ruby on Rails and I did not know the language. There was no time to teach me or help me set up the environment on my PC. Since most of these guys were Mac people that did PC stuff a long time ago not much help. The other issue was some of the installs they wanted me to load were having issues. I learned a bunch about big projects ad big teams (not such a good idea).

    I’m going to be going back Sunday to see it go live. I will do some of the testing and trying to get it as accessible as possible. While still making it function.

  3. Day two was better. I can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a little chaos by design though. At the end of the weekend there will be re-usable code and other elements that have some value…

  4. Pingback: Day 2 Wrapup
  5. I agree that the first night was a bit painful because we had some trouble focusing and figuring out how to divide who was responsible for what…

    But that changed. Yesterday and today have been invigorating and surprisingly productive. I wouldn’t have guessed that from Friday night, but now I can say I’m proud to have played a role.

    That said, all your perspective on this is spot on…but I guess the contrary point is that when enough good people want to make something happen, eventually they’re able to move on and accomplish.

  6. I really can appreciate people who can make a quick judgment and say “this isn’t for me, and my time is too valuable to waste.” It’s a trait I could use more of, because I have a tendency to stick things out until the bitter end — and then some.

    That said, as it relates to StartupWeekend, I’m so glad I’m the latter. We ended up with three ideas that no one was really thrilled with, and had significant concerns about. Then the one selected was one that a majority preferred (although the vote was very close), but that UX thought sucked. Hard. As in: we ranked it a five, with the others we completely rejected. The idea seemed to have been picked just because a potential competitor didn’t want us to do it, not because it was so great on its own.

    But as Andrew explained, UX is the key to taking an idea to implementation. Most of the UX heavy lifting is at the beginning. After that, the developers will tell you what can’t be done, and marketers will tell you what can’t be sold, and bus dev will tell you what can’t be financed — it’s a process of elimination from there.

    The problem was that everyone in every team wanted to be UX at the beginning, and this is an event that by its very nature attracts alpha males (and alpha females). People worked way too hard to push through their substitute ideas, and alienated a lot of other people in the process. The people who ultimately were UX had a hard time not fighting the idea at first, because we thought it sucked. The UXers again voted to scrap the idea at midnight on Friday, but we lost.

    But when we arrived the next day, we had an idea that was significantly better than anything that existed when we left. I’m still not sure who was the team who figured it out, but they had something that all of us could work with. And work with it we did.

    I came back to give it until noon on Saturday. I ended up staying until Sunday midnight. The alphas all found good homes, and the teams all resolved themselves. Will, Matthew, and the Boulder crew all kept us talking to each other. And ultimately it was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. I’m glad I stuck it out. You’re glad you didn’t. And we’re probably both right.

  7. Justin,
    You are right, Friday night was chaotic and you did what was right for you. However, come Saturday morning and the rest of the weekend their was clear leadership from each and every team, as well as over all leadership.
    Keep in mind that there is a little dance to be done in the beginning when you bring 80 people together that do not know each other. Everyone, for the most part, does not want to step on each other’s toes, and it takes awhile for things to gel so the leaders can rise to the top.
    That is what happened, unfortunately for you it happened too late and you did not get to see it.
    Nonetheless, I am glad that you came out and hopefully we can work together in the future.


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