Reflections on trying to do a Start Up

This past weekend I attended a StartUp Weekend EDU in Austin, and it was a really interesting experience. I’ve always wanted to pitch my ideas to someone who wasn’t a friend of mine and receive some feedback or validation. I learned about the event and signed up a whim — determined not to think my self out of doing it. I’ve always want to be entrepreneur, so this weekend was a way to start doing something about that.

I pitched an idea rooted in a problem I’ve always had as a teacher, which is the constant need for actionable information about students in order to tailor instruction. I wanted to create a product that would give me information at a glance, and also be integrated with other apps that are collecting student data. I pitched and it was voted as a top idea. Win.

Then I got a team.

I didn’t recruit anyone to my team. I just stood with the sign that I made after my idea was chosen and they came to me. I didn’t turn anyone way, but we end up with a team of four. First, let me say they are all pretty nice people. I certainly don’t know enough about the people who joined my team to make any substantive judgements about them. All I know is how they impacted the dynamic of the weekend, and what our interactions allowed me to learn about starting a business.

One of the guys who joined the team also pitched a similar idea with a slightly different implementation that he was really passionate about. His idea didn't get chosen, so he decided to join my team because he felt our ideas were compatible. The other two people liked my idea, but they also had a similar idea with a different function they’d been working on. From the very beginning they tried to map their own ideas onto my idea and pass it off as wanting to work on my idea as a cohesive product.

The reality, of course, was that they were working on their idea the whole time. Every time we pitched “our” idea they emphasized their suggested implementation or pet idea ahead of the central idea (mine). Needless to say this caused considerable tension that was amplified by our inability to effectively communicate with each other. What could have been a great final presentation was stifled by an 11th hour argument about slides that represented the ideas of each my team members pet ideas.

Here are my take-a-ways

Team > Ideas

No matter how good an idea is it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a cohesive team

Mission-Fit is essential

No matter how good an idea is if the team isn’t committed to executing the same idea and aligned with the same mission then it will never work. Every one has to passionate about a singular mission.

Ego is Killer

I understand liking your idea, because I like my ideas too. Though if mine hadn’t been chosen, and then I joined up with someone else to work on their idea I think I would have tucked my idea away and put a singular focus on the team I joined. People on my team were so married to their ideas and so overconfident in their idea’s greatness that they wouldn’t and couldn’t work on my idea whole heartedly (which they had decided to join on voluntarily).

So while I learned so much and did something I’ve never done this weekend. It kind of sucked that our team could gel and make something work.