Fundamental Entrepreneurial Lessons Drive Startupfest

Startupfest, a three day festival, now six years old, brought the entire entrepreneurial stack together from July 13th to 16th in Montreal for a series of panels, keynotes, roundtables and good old school networking. Startupfest has become a national event for an industry which now contributes $117B to Canada’s GDP and is larger than construction, mining, manufacturing, and real estate.

Despite growth and innovation in the sector, some age-old lessons of entrepreneurship were clearly the message to startup founders at the event. After three days immersed in the event, these are some of the takeaways.

Demo days are dead…

In an industry that has centered itself around the art of the pitch, Michael Mahon, Director of Strategic Investments at BDC, took a strong stance when he said ‘demo days are dead.’ Pitching for investment or customers is becoming passé. In a now iconic sales riff in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin intimidates his sales team directing them to ‘always be closing.’ Investors, customers, and stakeholders have shifted that preference. They don’t want a one-sided demo or to be closed; perhaps the new mantra should be ‘always be listening.’

It’s a marathon not a sprint…

Ooshma Garg, CEO of Gobble, talks about ‘grit, experiment, and a mission’ being three ingredients for a successful startup. On grit, she advised founders to “remember the journey.” What outsiders may see as an overnight success looks much more like a marathon of experiments from her insider perspective. Her growth curve and journey looks very much like Paul Graham’s (Y Combinator) startup curve which shows a period of excitement followed by a long ‘trough of sorrow’ and a few crashes and ‘wiggles of false hope.’ If a company makes it through all of that it may just hit an exponential growth curve.

Take a look at the shot below to give you some perspective of the long flat growth path it took for Gobble. Michael Ratch and Lance Priebe over at Hyper Hippo Productions have also spoken very humbly before about value of grit and experimentation in the lean startup process.

Get out of the building…

Steve Blank, widely recognized as launching the lean startup movement, recommends that entrepreneurs ‘get out of the building’ to work on their customer development strategy. Although he wasn’t at Startupfest, his lesson was hard to miss. Venture capital firms expressed interest in setting up visits to the Okanagan to meet with local founders. Partnership discussions opened up with other top North American accelerators who are interested in delivering programs developed in the Okanagan. Similar conversations about partners, mentors, customers, acquisition targets, and investors were all part of the discussions taking place for BC startup contingent at the event. Getting out of the building continues to prove valuable for ecosystem development. A huge thanks goes out to BCIC for their assistance in building a strong BC presence at Startupfest.

Outcomes not activities…

At times the tech industry has been known for somewhat frivolous valuations based on a great URL, an interesting patent, a celebrity endorsement, likes, etc. As the industry matures it goes back to basic fundamentals of building a strong, solid business model. “Show me objective, quantifiable evidence” that customers use and pay for your product says Dave McClure of 500 Startups. Michael Mahon at BDC also comments “funding is NOT the key metric.” It appears as though basic business model fundamentals are returning as the currency of choice.

Slideshares and pictures will soon be available from Startupfest. Follow Startupfest (@startupfest) on Twitter for the updates.

When we look past the hype of the tech sector, business model fundamentals and basic entrepreneurial lessons stand the test of time. Events like this continue to build the Canadian tech sector through learning, sharing, and collaboration. Perhaps the only thing missing at the event was poutine.

Accelerate Okanagan supports a network of over 150 founders who have participated on our programs. We primarily work with founders on issues like:

  • Building repeatable and scalable revenue models
  • Implementing and improving business and operational processes
  • Managing capital and accessing growth opportunities

We have space on our programs for entrepreneurs at idea, startup, and growth stage. We work with entrepreneurs who are at very early idea stage right through to scalable growth stage. We encourage you to join the network of over 150 founders who have participated on programs.

Connect with our Programs Team to learn more.

Blog by Andrew Greer, Programs Strategist at Accelerate Okanagan

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