Startups: Community and Leadership

On the web, finding people to work with  is a hot topic (here, here, and here). The barriers to starting a tech business are lower than ever, at least until the capital costs of scaling start to kick in. And with some reasonable paths to profits and scale, the upside potential can be very interesting.

But almost any startup is more than one person can handle, so where can we find people to help us?  Meebo CEO Seth Sternberg provides a good starting point for finding your co-founders.  The heart of his post is this discouraging time scale: “The hardest part of starting from scratch is finding the right co-founders.  Ideas, comparatively, are easy.  You may spend three years finding your co-founders while you’ll come up with a solid idea every 3 months or so.”  That is tough  news for the asocial hacker with an idea.

Houston has a number of venues for meeting likely co-founders, including numerous meetup groups where developers and/or entrepreneurs gather.  The Houston Technology Center, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entreprenuership, and the Technology Incubator West Houston have social and educational events that are great for meeting like-minded entrepreneurs.  Regular social gatherings like the OpenCoffee Club at Coffee Groundz, recently brought back from carbon freeze by Brian Cohen, and the new GroundUP Houston events hosted by Startup Weekend Houston venue host Jerald Reichstein.  In the past, various barcamp-style unconferences have been terrific places to meet new people and learn new things.  The University of Houston has a great entrepreneurship program in the Wolff Center, and hosts Entrepreneur Camp Houston in the summer. And that is just getting started on a full list of Houston opportunities.

Osmosis and rubbing shoulders at these events can turn up a co-founder, but we can also take a more active role in getting our ideas off the ground and into other people’s heads.  The classic method is pitching in one form or another, from an elevator pitch through a formal presentation to a VC.  Two weeks ago, the Rice Alliance had a standing room only kickoff to their Business Plan Competition 2011 with 42 one-minute elevator pitches.  Experienced en masse in this way, it was striking what a range of skill and preparation were on display.  You can see all 42 pitches from last year’s competition on Youtube.

Pitching is, of course, just another word for sales, or persuasion.  What is the goal of the pitch?  For an elevator pitch (in real life, not a competition), there is only one goal: generate interest, but don’t say too much, because you want them to accept a longer pitch at another time.  The longer pitch leads to more interaction, and, one hopes, an eventual sale.  But how to hook them at the start?  The advertising folks have been working AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) forever, and Roy Williams has one wild “trick” I’d never heard, just waiting to be used to generate interest.  (I’d suggest listening to the audio version for full effect.)

For an integrated guide to the process of making ideas reality, I really enjoyed the book Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality by Scott Belsky of Behance.  Belsky notes an effect we have all seen – the vast difference between creative people in their ability to turn their ideas into finished projects, often over and over again.  What is it that allows some creative people to consistently produce finished projects, while other equally or more creative people- struggle to get one project off the ground?  Belsky analyzes the successful creative pipeline into three critical skills: organization and execution, the forces of community, and leadership capability.  Organization and execution involve skills such as the ability to shut off the idea generation process and focus on the one current idea, sort of anti-ADD.  These are intrapersonal skills.  But the last two skill sets are critically interpersonal – no one gets their ideas launched into the world alone.  The community forces involve sharing your ideas, using feedback, and pitching/self-marketing.  Leadership includes building a creative team, sharing ownership, and handling failure.  For someone like me, with a lot of ideas popping off all the time, this book has some great strategies for launching ideas into the real world.

Among the various entrepreneur friendly events, the co-founder events seem to be springing up all over the country (Silicon Valley, Austin, Seattle, Atlanta, and more), and we are holding the first Co-Founders Wanted Houston event on Tuesday, May 3.  We will have a general networking event, with a set of three minute pitches (three slides max) in the middle for those wanting to get the word out about their projects, or needing a co-founder/support/advice/whatever.

To sign up, go to Cofounders Wanted Houston Meetup – Spring 2011

What:   A great environment to meet like minded entrepreneurs, pitch your ideas in a welcoming environment, and possibly meet your new business partner.

When:   Tuesday, May 3, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm

Where:  Microsoft Houston office, 2000 West Sam Houston Pkwy S #1275

Cost:     Free, complimentary admission (please RSVP for planning purposes)

I hope we see you there next Tuesday!

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