DIY retreats providing perspective

Starting up a company can be lonely. Scratch that, starting up anything can be lonely. Whether you’re on your own or have an awesome team around you, there are still those moments where you question your ability, question your leadership style, question your direction, and get caught in the trap of “faking it til you make it” without really having an understanding of what making it means. Really, when do you know you’ve made it?

In a lot of ways it’s like climbing a mountain, especially a mountain that’s breaking through the clouds. You don’t quite know where the top is, you’re not quite sure about how far you’ve come, and you’re a bit tired from the journey to date. In a lot of ways you need to do it alone, putting one foot after another to climb that next peak. But, sometimes, you can get help along the way to figure out which path to take next.

One way I’ve found a bit of support to find that path is by co-organising a group that gives me perspective and direction regularly. It drags me out of the day to day to learn a bit more about myself — both by providing me with an opportunity to share where I’m at, and also an opportunity to help other founders (and doers) along their own journeys.

Enter: Female Founders weekends

Two years ago, I was invited to go away for a weekend with a group of female founders. We turned that initial crew into a semi constant group of women who meet every four months for a weekend away to help support us each on our companies or projects. It’s part peer learning, part therapy, part wine appreciation club. It’s very DIY.

In a lot of ways, we’re super similar. We’re 30 to 40 somethings, none of us have kids, and we’re all extremely passionate about our ventures, and the world around us. We come from different backgrounds, cities, and aptitudes for running marathons (they made us coordinate our last event around a marathon…. let’s just say, I chose coffee and the Matakana markets over exercise).

But we’re similar in that we are all working on things that we care about, and we know that we’re open to getting an outside perspective every now and then on what we do. We can go really deep in some areas because we have a similar understanding on what we want the world to be like, and we trust the women in the room. There are also few enough of us that we can really get to know each other better over a weekend. We also just like to hang out, relax, and eat cheese (well… except for our resident vegan, but she humours my obsession).

You can do it yourself!

We’ve gotten a bit of interest over the last 18 months on how we do what we do. We’ve also had a few more women interested in joining (and possibly sad when they don’t get an invite! Apologies). Now that we’ve got a bit of rhythm behind us, with 6 events (and, one cancelled one….) held outside of Wellington and now Auckland, we’ve decided to share what we do. Instead of inviting more folk into the fold, we thought it could be good to share the format of how we do what we do — to maybe help other groups organise their own peer learning / collaboration weekends. We’re also open to tips on how can improve our format too.

So here’s what we’ve found works (and doesn’t work). Noting, there really is no “usual” to our format.

What works

  • Relaxed structure — Not having a timetable to run by is great, with the only strict requirement being everyone bring a problem or opportunity to discuss.
  • Bringing a problem or opportunity to discuss — This means everyone gets some time focussed on their problem or opportunity, and the hive mind working directly for them.
  • Keeping it small — if you have too many people it can get a bit overwhelming (and it means you might not get as deep). We have the spa pool rule, don’t invite more people than can fit in the (sometimes real) spa pool.
  • Update time — Making time at the start of the weekend to update everyone on what has happened since the previous event means we can touch base on how things are going, and what has progressed since the last meeting.
  • Baches — Asking friends for baches to stay in, as well as looking on AirBnB and Book a Bach, keeps the cost down. We’ve had an amazing time with our friends out at Kiwi Connect (twice) and equally loved our Book a Bach find in Tawharanui (no… I’m not sharing the link. I’m scared we’d never get it again!). We’ve stayed at family homes while parents are away, and friends baches (with a koha) too.
  • Reading material — we get people to bring reading material that has inspired them. This is how most of the team were introduced to Bust, and we share reading recommendations during the weekend.

Running through your GLAD’s on the Friday night. You go around in a circle, with everyone first sharing something that has made them grateful in the last wee while, then another round on what everyone has learnt, then a round of achieved, followed by a round of delighted. Expect laughter and tears, and the spectrum of feelings in between.

Communal cooking — this keeps the cost down, and is a great way to get to know everyone as well. Though you need someone to be lead chef / decider, and that is NEVER me.

Retrospectives — Doing a retrospective at the end to check in on: what worked, what didn’t work, how can improve the next event? This means we can constantly iterate the model.

What doesn’t work

Trying to dream up and complete a project over the weekend. You actually need some down time, and started a whole new thing is most definitely not relaxing.

Going further afield — we’ve tried to do a big road trip out of town once. But when you get further than an hour drive away you lose people… Hence our one failed attempt at an event :)

Expecting everyone to attend. We’re all super busy, and there’s always at least one person who can’t come last minute. One way to try and ensure people do show up though, is to charge them in advance (either for accommodation or food to pre-buy)

If you’re thinking about organising your own event, just stop thinking and do!

Here are a few things to bear in mind:

  1. Timing — send around a Doodle poll, and bear in mind that a weekend is already a big commitment, so eating too much into the week should be a no go.
  2. Venue — If you can, go out to your networks for a venue. If not, go down the AirBnB or Book a Bach path. If you can, invoke the spa pool rule (never have more people attend than can fit in the spa pool).
  3. Cost — try to keep it down so the event is as accessible as possible. We can typically run a weekend (fully catered) for $50-$100.
  4. Diversity — Try to get a bit of diversity of experience and background along for the weekend away, but also try to have attendees that have similar passions and goals (either personally or with their companies) and who are at a similar stage.

Getting this perspective supports me personally and professionally. I find it gives me the encouragement I need to keep climbing this mountain of starting a company. Sometimes I look back and see how far I come, but from time to time I invite a few more folk along the journey, to help me find new ways to scale that next peak.

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Wanna start your own? Do it!

Much love,

Anna Guenther, Manda Judd, Marianne Elliott, Lani Evans, Silvia Zuur, Gina Rembe, Charlotte Hayes, Rebecca Mills & Jade Taylor-Tang

(And, past attendees: Alanna Krause & Chelsea Robinson)