startup weekend

Passion is a best practice.

Want to build something great? You have to want it. Bad.

Here are some somewhat random thoughts about passion, quality, genius and boredom and mediocrity.

Greatness is rarely achieved by accident. It is the result of a pure vision, refined over time and developed with care and purpose. I do not believe that it is possible to develop a truly great product without at least one very influential visionary on the team. Why?

Well – on the way to any goal, there are about a million little decisions and tradeoffs that need to be made. Without a vision, a North Star, as they liked to say at Adobe, those tradeoffs end up in a bland compromise.

But we have to compromise! Of course we do – we need to make decisions. But with a clarity of vision and purpose, those decisions make a product stronger, not weaker.

Without vision, its hard to care, to offer the attention to detail necessary to make it perfect. Pure discipline is a hard way to attend to the details. We need discipline in everything we do – of course, but discipline fueled by passion is incredibly powerful. Discipline supported by sheer force of will – well its just hard to maintain and sustain.

An interesting micro-cosmical example of this happened at Startup Weekend a couple of months ago. Various ideas were pitched and discarded, and the one startup idea that was voted in was a site that enabled micro-social networking for neighborhood communities. The problem? The guy with the idea split shortly after the vote. Leaving the rest of the people – even those who thought it had been a good idea – looking around for what was special about it, and what would make it more than yet another social networking site. We eventually came up with a couple of reasonable value propositions that we bickered about a bit, and ended up spending the weekend working on features that were neither here nor there.

Now – this was a situation where it really didn’t matter much. The point of the weekend was to see if we could launch something, learn, have some fun. All of which we did – and it was a FANTASTIC and wholy worthwhile experience that I hope I can repeat someday. But. It made a great little expose on why a little passion goes a long way.

On the flip side. When I worked at AOL, oh so many years ago, we launched an online calendar. In those days, an online calendar was still a new-ish thing, and AOL was still the leading provider of consumer internet access. But our little calendar was sweet. Every detail was lovingly designed, debated and improved. We had a crystal clear notion of what we were building and why, and what we wanted it to become someday. The team had a huge spark of creative endeavor. For a calendar. Its not the product – its the passion behind it.

What’s your passion? What’s fueling your creativity? What will make your next product great, not just there?

Work as play, Business as Art

So – I already wrote about Startup Weekend, but I need to say a little more. Building a product and a business is a creative and artful thing. No two are the same, and there are no rules for doing it. The goals may be different from art – but not entirely. And the process may be different, but not entirely. But for we lucky people, when things are as they should be, work is our creative playground, and bringing the right ideas and then the right actions together to build something that is useful gives us something special. Work isn’t like that every day, but Startup Weekend is like that every weekend.

People coming together, sharing ideas and practicing their craft – be it engineering design or business models, all essentially for the joy of doing something well. Its really a pleasure.

D.C. Startup Weekend

Well, Wow. That was fun.
D.C. startup weekend is sort of like an entrepreneurial jam session with the goal of launching something viable-ish by the end of the weekend.

About 70 people showed up, from about every discipline involved in tech startups. Many of them were way good at their craft, and they were all extremely pleasant to be hanging out and working with.

And yes – we launched a product: Hola Neighbor

It’s a tool for neighborhoods to self-identify, connect and communicate. I’ve already started setting it up for my new neighborhood, and I expect my neighbors to like it enough to sign up (it is free).

Startup weekend is as interesting as an anthropological study as it is anything else, however. Watch how teams and leaders emerge. Watch how conflict is resolved in an environment where it is very low risk for everyone, mostly a-political, and where everyone has at least one shared goal, and minimal hidden agendas. A very collegial environment, where all we have to gain is some fun and a little local reputation, and all we have to lose is some time.

Process. Process matters. In this case – trying to launch a biz in 24 hours, there was a LOT of parallelism going on – UI, dev, marketing and business going off and doing things in parallel, making assumptions about what the product was and what others were thinking. The amazing thing, is that this pretty much worked. Every once in a while we synched, found out the disconnects, argued, resolved, and moved on.

More process – we set milestones, and tracked progress more or less hourly. The meetings were brief, but effective catchups. Agile-ish. Some of what was useful about this was that everyone knew the process, it was easy to comply with, and not too formal.

In any case, Peter Corbett, Andrew Hyde, Jared, Matthew, Victoria, Micah and 60 others are people who I will remember fondly, especially when I catch up with my neighbors at Hola Neighbor. And I very much hope to work with many of them again sometime. I’m even thinking of going to Startup Weekend San Francisco…