The importance of Building great teams

It’s Christmas, I should probably be in bed in lue of a very long yet eventful day ahead. I’ve also been avoiding my academic studies, but I have given myself a commitment to write one blogpost a week at the very least.

When strategising and building such grandiose plans for the long-term, it is easy to forget about one important characteristic: the “who”.

Who is your ideal candidate that you want working beside you in the technical area, or dealing with sales and marketing, and even with product design. I’m always speaking to people about a skill gap that they are on the lookout for in others, who will allow them to fulfil projects and work on exciting ideas that are guaranteed to lead to the next Facebook vitality.

Personally, I’ve found reaching out to others comprises of only one step of this process, as the person has got to want it as much as you. They have to share that desire to create remarkable things and work on exciting projects, on top of everything else they’re doing, be it academic and/or work commitments.

In Good to Great by Jim Collins, it has been noted that great CEOs don’t focus on where the bus is going firstly, but rather who is on the bus and given the right people are on the bus, are they in the right seats? This idea has resonated with me, and I’m very thankful to be in a position I’m in that with the projects I’m working on, I feel the people around me share the same beliefs, the same ethos and the willpower to do create something worthwhile. So if there is anything I’m grateful for this holiday season, it’s the opportunity to work with these people everyday.

FounderBus UK: My experience

Starting a business in less than 54 hours is something I’ve been accustomed to over the past nine months. I’ve had the privilege of being part of more than one Start-up Weekend in 2012 and my latest exertion did not disappoint. Only this time, my team and I were building our prototype on a bus. On the way to Paris. Via Belgium.  Yikes.

FounderBus UK was an initiative launched in tandem with Start-up Bus Europe, whereby groups of 25 individuals from a number of cities ranging from Toulouse, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Berlin and Oxford made their way to Paris over the course of five days, whilst forming teams, building prototypes and getting traction. Oxford Entrepreneurs did a fantastic job as facilitators for the FounderBus UK cause, and I’m sure Manchester Entrepreneurs will be working closely with them in the near future.

Being around such an ambitious individuals was the primary reason for accepting my place on FounderBus UK only two days before the journey began. The usual start-up weekend format took place here, whereby those who had ideas had a 2-minute timeframe to pitch what their idea entails. Not wanting to break tradition, I decided to pitch two ideas- both which I had scrambled together on the train journey to Oxford.

In the evening, two inspiring speakers spoke to the group about their current ventures and some words of advice for the journey ahead. Luke Lang from Crowdcube, a crowdfunding platform, and David Sutton, Founder of BagThat.com, gave us words of wisdom around building relationships, being in it for the long-haul and what Entrepreneurship is really all about.

We spent the large part of the next day brainstorming and attending workshops- one which stood out to me was “Idea Generation”, thanks to Matt Clifford and Bay, from Entrepreneur First. The government-backed initiative is proving to be a popular choice for ambitious graduates aspiring to set up their own scalable and high-impact venture. We decided to acquire some customer validation on our new concept (Finally!) and whether we should be fixing our Customer Segment (e.g. personal and social, or business and professional), or fix our Value Proposition.

A trip to Central Working at Google Campus in London led us to meet some interesting individuals, work on our idea some more, and pivot some more. Having a team of seven was, I felt, quite difficult to manage and led to long-periods of stagnation where we couldn’t agree on a microscopic detail. Nonetheless, we also were able to cover more ground when it came to speaking to potential customers. Golden Nugget: Don’t work in big teams if you don’t need to. Be ruthless with who is in your team and make sure everyone has complementary skill sets.

The next day on our trip started off at the London Business School, where an inspiring talk came from the Founder of Flat-club (a peer-to-peer accommodation site based on trust), Nitzan Yudan. If you’re going abroad to study, you might prefer someone who is moving to your university to study for a year to take your room, as opposed to a random stranger. One particular phrase stood out to me: “Time is our most valuable asset, so use your time wisely”. A realisation struck the team from then on.

By the time we arrived in Cambridge, we were still at a loss over our idea, which was particularly frustrating, as I’ve never had to contemplate pivoting an idea at such a late-stage before; our work over the first two days was wasted. In retrospect, it was an immense learning experience. Golden Nugget: Ask the Right questions. You have to make sure that there is NO bias in whatever you ask, otherwise you may as well just ask for an endorsement for your concept.  

 

Before we left Ideaspace, I was sure to add Manchester Entrepreneurs, TechHub Manchester and RightCrowd to the list of “Partners, Sponsors and Attendees at Ideaspace” at Ideaspace. Don’t look at me like that.

old man shrugged shoulders

We found ourselves en route to Antwerp, Belgium at the quirky yet creative co-working space at the heart of the city, Idealabs. This was the semi-finals and less than 24 hours to go we decided to change our idea completely, break off from the team and form a duo, and come up with some sort of mock-up to show the judges and everyone else. The run-up to Ideaslab was filled with discussions around what to include in our presentation and how best to implement Stock.io (A platform to buy and sell shares easily online).

The two winners out of the FounderBus UK, Time^2 and Spinning Jennie were both great ideas, with a good team behind the both of them. I encourage both teams to continue with the path they are on, as I feel they can generate sufficient interest to further their ventures with added expertise and investment.

An interesting night in Antwerp followed, whereby we had to be on a bus at 4am en route to Paris for the Finals. Meeting other Startup Buses was a major highlight of the entire trip, and meeting those in Europe doing amazing things was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. Golden Nugget: There is a plethora of talent from around Europe present at these sorts of events- make the most of it and have business cards at the ready.

With the winners of the European StartUpBus competition having the opportunity to present their start-up at Le Web, competition was fierce, but the party atmosphere outweighed any hostility (if any!) between competing teams in the final.

Overall, this was an experience of a lifetime whereby I met a number of extremely talented and ambitious individuals who I’m sure I will cross paths with somewhere down the entrepreneurial yellow brick road. As I’ve already mentioned, there’s nothing like attempting to build a business model and a prototype in a mere few days, while interacting with European counterparts along the way cannot be understated. Talented individuals combined with credible ideas can lead to the opening of a new frontier for innovation and collaborative human endeavor right here in Europe, which we must hone and foster through shared determination for creating a better landscape for us all.

 FounderBus picture of everyone 

Quotes

 

TuckerMax recently posted this, and I thought the best place to store this information would be in my blog, so that others can also read some of these amazing quotes.

 

 

“As a startup CEO, I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours and cried.”
-Ben Horowitz

“Men sometimes confess they love war because it puts them in touch with the experience of being alive. In going to the office every day, you don’t get that experience, but suddenly in war, you are ripped back into being alive. Life is pain; life is suffering; and life is horror — but, by God, you are alive.”
-Joseph Campbell

“You can only know a good wine if you have first tasted a bad one.”
-Paulo Coelho

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”
-Leo Tolstoy

“Even in that most important area of her life, love, she had failed to commit herself. After her first romantic disappointment, she had never again given herself entirely. She feared pain, loss, and separation. These things were inevitable on the path to love, and the only way of avoiding them was by deciding not to take that path at all. In order not to suffer, you had to renounce love. It was like putting out your own eyes in order not to see the bad things in life.”
-Paulo Coelho

“The best way to learn is to do.”
-Paul Halmos

“It isn’t explanations that carry us forward, it’s our desire to go on.”
-Paulo Coelho

“What I’ve learned most clearly from blogs is that the majority of them write about the problems from the outside for a reason—because they are missing the abilities that allow people to move to the inside.”
-Ryan Holiday

“Maybe strength in the 21st century isn’t about dominance. My hunch is that it’s about the very opposite — it’s about the capacity to evoke. It’s about the willingness to serve a bigger purpose than yourself, the capacity to subordinate yourself to a larger goal than your own gain, the ability to spark the enduring bonds of shared values, intrinsic motivation, and mutually committed perseverance. It is, in short, not the power merely to command, subordinate, demean, insult — and then crow about it with impunity. It’s the power to inspire, animate, infuse, spark, evoke — and then connect, link, and collaborate, to be a force multiplier.”
-Umair Haque

“All that is clever eschew. Do not do.”
-Anne Herbert

“This is the value for me of writing books that children read. Children aren’t interested in your appalling self-consciousness. They want to know what happens next. They force you to tell a story.”
-Philip Pullman

“But you know what I learned from this? Nothing. I learned nothing. It’s just something that happened. Life is crazy.”
-Chuck Klosterman

“Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy. It’s like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can’t control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you. If you can control your fear, it makes you more alert, like a deer coming across the lawn.”
-Mike Tyson

“Design is the last great competitive advantage.”
-Seth Godin

“If you want to be seen as courageous by some and hated by others, just say what you really think.”
-Tucker Max

“Seeking advice is addicting and can become a proxy for action.”
-Frank Chimero

“The moment in the account of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis is when they realize they’re naked and try and cover themselves with fig leaves. That seemed to me a perfect allegory of what happened in the 20th century with regard to literary modernism. Literary modernism grew out of a sense that, “Oh my god! I’m telling a story! Oh, that can’t be the case, because I’m a clever person. I’m a literary person! What am I going to do to distinguish myself?…a lot of modernism does seem to come out of a fear of being thought an ordinary storyteller.”
-Philip Pullman

“I have no idea what I’m doing, and everyone is just making it up as they go along. This about sums up everything I know.”
-Frank Chimero

“Stop trying to be cool: it is stifling.”
-Frank Chimero

Start-up Weekend Manchester

Start-up Weekend Manchester: 9th-11th November

“The biggest and steepest learning curve I will ever have in a set time-frame of a measly 54 hours”. My best description of Start-up Weekend.

Embarking now on my third Start-up Weekend I’d like to think I’m a bit of a veteran; the not-so-fresh-faced individual barking in the background “Back when I first did Start-up Weekend, we were struggling with Hosting servers and dealing with how we’re going to get any food!”. I was ambivalent to hear that an excessive amount of pizza will be provided at the event- I think it worth speaking to the Start-up Weekend organisers about breaking tradition and pursuing the “Healthy” agenda for once.

Start-up Weekend are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers and biz dev guys come together to share ideas, form teams and build products, with the aim to build companies by the end of it.

So why bother going through this insane 54 hours?  

1. Education- I can guarantee that this will be one of the most quickest and most efficient learning experiences you will have. Start-up Weekends are about testing your hypothesis, not sitting in a classroom learning theory but actually formulating strategies and moving fast. Proper Lean.

2. Network- Meeting like-minded people has always been a sincere passion of mine, and by building + working on some truly awesome and eccentric concepts (Feetshot anyone?!), you will build long-lasting relationships and walk away with some potential investor contacts- you may even meet a potential Co-Founder.

3. Moving fast- I hate waiting for stuff to happen. I really do.  My passion for start-up weekend comes from the “Hacker Way” of moving fast and making mistakes. In reference to my first point, the ability to learn from others around you and in other teams can be invaluable.

4. Learn a new skill– It’s very important to have the nerve to step out of your comfort zone. This weekend can be dedicated to let your creative juices flow; you may as well take the opportunity to learn something you’ve been putting off e.g. a new business model into practice, a new programming language, a new website to look at design in a different way- just try something different; you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

5. Free stuff– As a student, I can’t really hammer this point home enough. Discounts on ticket prices, free food, free web-related stuff, access to exclusive resources from sponsors, seven meals and more- an unforgettable weekend in store that’s for sure!

#SWManc is part of the Global Start-up Battle (http://globalstartupbattle.org/) with a chance to win a trip to Rio, San Fran, $25,000 of free stuff and so much more up for grabs.

I’ll attempt to blog throughout the weekend, if my team lets me that is!

 

 

Chasing skills for Life

As the buzz around A-level and GCSE results have now subsided (relief for us “more mature” undergraduate students), it can be hard to think of learning as a source of pleasure and enrichment, rather than just a treadmill focused on achieving qualifications or improving career prospects.
Learning doesn’t begin in pre-school and finish once you leave the formal educational arena. Learning is for life. A life that should be based on the premise of quality, not just on duration.

 

Learning new skills is a fantastic way to be able to explore your options, achieve personal goals, explore new interests and improve your overall sense of well-being. If you are passionate about learning about wide varieties of cooking styles and engaging with different cuisines for example, you can start by enrolling in college and night classes. While this may be something you embark on for personal enjoyment, you may be able develop your interest further, by exhibiting your work, gaining a qualification, or even setting up a business.

 

If we focus on passion and learn what we believe drives us to wake up everyday, instead of a focus on monetary reward or what will pay the bills, we’ll most probably be happier because we’re doing something we love, and more motivated to set our goals and discover a plan that enables us to do what we love, all the time.

 

So don’t wait around till the end of your degree, or education or to when you get that short annual leave to start working on building up your skill-set. Basically, type whatever it is that you want to do/learn in Google, and run with it. No time like the present!

 

In other news, the Manchester Entrepreneurs had an article published on the Independent! A new milestone for us, and the academic year hasn’t even begun- not officially anyway.

Don’t waste another minute.

Whatever you’re doing at this very moment are you happy with life and the circumstances you’ve created around you (NOT the circumstances that life has given to you)?
Do you feel that you’re using your time to the best of your ability? The activity you did this morning, or yesterday or last week that was so trivial that didn’t really surmount to anything, was it really the best use of your time?
Were you actually striving to achieve your long-term goals, or did you feel that you could have directed your efforts to a greater cause?

The reason I’m writing this post is for different reasons to my usual “I feel the world needs to hear my thoughts, so I’m going to blog about whatever I feel like” reason. I came across an image, one I myself took at the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art. It was a fascinating image in so many ways, at the time I felt it was apt to designate its context and meaning to my own life.

“Don’t Waste Another Minute” was displayed in orange letters, on a white background. I came across this image and thought about it for a long time. I took the picture, and moved on to the next portrait. My thoughts on the image, lost in the dust and musings of my brain and mind. Who really has time to think about a singular image for more than a minute?
I came across the image a couple of months later whilst fiddling around with iPhoto. Again, I looked at it and thought about the powerful words with the striking background. Don’t waste another minute.

This is probably the one phrase that will stick with me for a long time for numerous reasons. Who I was with, my feelings and thoughts at that particular moment and where I was, as well as the journey I knew I was about to embark on- all important reasons to why this image still resonates with me.
The bottom line:

I guess what I’m trying to say, is to not waste another minute. Go ahead and act as if your decisions are temporary. Because they are. Be bold, make mistakes, learn a lesson and fix what doesn’t work. Achieve your goals. Find your core reasons for being. Then give it your all plus that extra 10%. And in the end be happy that you made a difference, accomplished something meaningful, added value to the world, and had fun all the while. Just don’t waste another minute.

Time and organization (Part two)

Roughly a year since I first started blogging on this site, and the title seems to repeat itself. 

But this time, I look at it from a different angle

My last post was about the stress and complexities of normal life and how time itself should be restructured (I was obviously in my rebellious-Marxist days), but this time I would like to focus on the one thing which we all strive for: To get shit organized. 

Filling up our time and doing activities is sometimes the equivalent of running around like a headless chicken without laying any eggs. We all have goals and ambitions, and sometimes they don’t come to fruition even though we feel we are working hard to accomplish them. This is because, we are the headless chicken. 

Having a plan, a list of priorities, a to-do list, its very hard to keep on top of it all. Personally, I can’t tell you the answer to stay on top of it all. No one can. Only you can do it for yourself. Only you can execute on your plan for the day, or month or year. Only you will have the motivation, will-power, discipline and motivation unique to yourself, to justify why it is that you want to say yes to a certain event or activity, and no to countless others.