The Startup Live Experience
Being a curious programmer, inclination towards tinkering and experimenting with technology comes naturally to me. As such, I occasionally start side projects which allow me to do my experimentation. Lately, however, I felt the need to do more than just technical tinkering and started to flirt with the idea of entrepreneurship, so I begun participating at local startup events in order to gain more insight into that. At first, the startup scene here in Cluj wasn’t all that lively. There were a few events like How to Web and Startup Weekend, but in the last one and a half year things started to heat up and currently we are witnessing quite some interest in this area. The startup community seems to be more cohesive, even more events are starting to be organized as well as potential investors are starting to take notice of this community. One such event was the latest edition of Startup Live, which turned out to be an interesting experience for me. Following, I’m going to tell you the full story from my perspective.
The first 2 events I participated in were Startup Weekends which have an interesting format but seem more focused on having a prototype ready by the end of the event. Also, since I am not a very big fan of public speaking, I was a bit afraid to step up and pitch some of my ideas, so my participation resumed to hacking away at the prototypes for the ideas I supported. This all made for a nice experience but coding is what I do for a living, so it wasn’t very hard to hack together some MVP’s in a weekend. In other words, not much of a challenge :). This time around I decided to get out of my comfort zone and take the step forward to pitching an idea. Besides that, I wanted to do something different then hacking a prototype in a weekend. I wanted a chance to talk to the mentors which participated and pick their brains on all things entreprenurial. I wanted, for example, some insight on how to deal with a full time job in order to make a living while trying to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to see, in the given short time, how to prepare for a pitch presentation and what you need to do in order to convince investors that your idea is worth it. I wanted to get a clue on what investors look at and how they think.
Well, I’m happy to say that I got all this and even more. Even if the idea I pitched wasn’t voted further, I joined another cool idea to form a team and I was pleasently surprised to find out that the Startup Live event wasn’t focused on the prototype but on trying to validate an idea in a lean way before starting to code a prototype. So, I had a first encounter with the idea of Lean Launch Pad for which I found after the event that there is a free course on Udacity. I’ll be sure to get into more depth on this since I think it’s a good starting point to try and validate your ideas with as less coding investment as possible. Then, together with my newly formed team, I got out of my comfort zone even more by going out on the street and talking to people about our idea to try and get some feedback. Even though there were quite a lot of people that didn’t stop to talk to us - a thing we expected - I was pleasently surprised by the ones who did stop and gave us generally positive feedback - an encouraging thing. Also, going out on the field helped us refine our initial questions, based on which we created an online survey to gather further data. Special thanks to everyone that participated! So, by the end of the weekend we had gathered some pretty good input telling us that we seem to be on to something. Of course, in order to be really sure, we’ll need more than just a few questions answered by people, we either need to build something useable or to find a way we can do the same thig we’re trying to automate manually. We haven’t decided on how to continue yet, but once we do, I’ll try to write more about that here.
So, all in all, for me this was the best startup event experience I had so far because I challenged myself out of my comfort zone while learning some new things and making new friends. I have to congratulate the gals and guys at Cluj Hub for their involvement and excellent organization of the event. I liked the fact that there were less people than at Startup Weekend events and that the atmosphere was more familiar and I could talk to almost everybody there. I hope that in the future they manage to keep that going because I think it is very important for the startup community to feel comfortable and easily be able to access mentors and discuss with each other. There was lots of good advice there and many, many enthusiastic and ambitious people. Just the right mix to start some interesting companies.
Aside from all the good parts, I would like to point out something that we could try to improve in the future, not just the startup event organizers, but all of us as a community. One important aspect of this sort of events is continuity. Personally, I am a bit skeptical about co-founder dating, which is what these events are trying to encourage. From my current experience, I think it is very hard to start a company with some people you just met over a weekend at a startup event. I think that the co-founders need to know each other a bit more before they can actually get down to business because there are some aspects of compatibility that need to be there, as well as they need to know they can rely on each other when the tough gets going. And that, as death and taxes, seems to be a certainty in the life of a startup. However, the positive aspect of these events is that a community of people with similar interests starts to form - a thing I am starting to notice - since I’ve seen some familiar faces showing up at all the events in which I’ve participated too. As I said, what I think we need is conitnuity and I think it is worth our time thinking about how we can achieve that in a more organized manner. Of course, it’s up to each one of us and our willingness for involvement, but I think the future is bright for the Cluj startup scene.