This past weekend I participated in New York City Startup Weekend and ended up launching an iPhone app called Animotion along with my buddies, who were at first complete strangers, Ankur Oberoi, Jerry Gabra, and Ketan Patel. Overall, it was a great weekend (we won best pitch and honorable mention) and we have received a ton of positive feedback and interest from interested users and the media. Make sure to checkout our video demo at the end of the post.
So now back to Startup Weekend. I honestly had no idea what to expect going into the weekend. I didn’t think much was to come of it, however, I had hoped that it would exceed my expectations. It did.
A lot of people I know tend to take things like this as more of a learning experience rather than an event you go to and start something that has a life after the 54 hour coding, designing, and planning marathon. I was lucky enough to experience both, and it has been a pretty awesome journey since Friday night.
I was really impressed with the talent that was there. There was a great mix of designers, developers, business development, and serial entrepreneurs. Startup weekend was an amazing experience for me. It was intense, but at the same time extremely exciting. Even if Animotion doesn’t succeed, I will have taken a lot of away from the experience and met some great people. I wanted to write this post to share with you the most important things I learned:
Team: This is so cliché and I have heard it from every successful entrepreneur I have talked to, but the team is absolutely critical. Every time I hear this I nod my head and say “oh yeah of course that’s important” without necessarily understanding the team dynamics that you need in order to execute. I didn’t know Ankur, Jerry, or Ketan, but from the second we sat down and started working it was seamless. It was something I hadn’t really experienced before, not even in college and the multitude of group projects I had to complete. We were shocked at the end but we worked so well together that it was completely effortless. Each person on the team filled all the necessary roles perfectly and we all complemented each other’s skill sets. Ankur is a badass iOS developer, Jerry and Ketan are probably two of the best designers/UI/UX guys I have ever worked with, and I covered launch strategy/marketing, creative, biz dev and assisted in the UI/UX design for the app. All the pieces of the puzzle came together perfectly. It was simple. We all brought value to the table. This is critical because the team is the most important element of a successful venture. A great team can adapt, evolve, and pivot into something successful if an idea is not working. That’s why you hear many VC’s say they invest in the people. Over the last 2 years I have tried to launch 2 startups that never really got anywhere. I finally realize that’s because the teams weren’t strong enough, not due to a lacking skill set or domain expertise, but rather due to the lack of chemistry and ability to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Once you are able to do this and work seamlessly like we did it creates a passion and relentless determination to execute perfectly.
Passion and Focus: I could have worked on any team at Startup Weekend. The reason I chose to work on Animtion was because the second I heard Ankur pitch the idea I was so excited and knew that this would be something I could be very passionate about. Passion is critical to success. You have to not only believe in what you are doing, but also enjoy it and be excited to work hard to turn it into something real. Entrepreneurship is difficult and when the going gets tough you are going to have to be passionate about what you are doing. If you aren’t it’s very easy to give up and work hard to keep pushing forward when you face adversity. You also need to tie your passion with focus. You need to focus on every minute detail related to your product, user interface, user experience, design, colors, pixels–everything. Why? Because these are things that are extremely important to your users and customers both at a conscious and subconscious level. If you don’t focus on these elements you will build a product that is difficult to use and isn’t the right solution to a problem.
Simplicity: I believe this is the second most important element to success, and that is making your product as simple as possible. Your minimum viable product needs to be just that, minimum. We followed this approach when building Animotion. There were 100’s of ideas and additional features we came up with. Many think that the more features you add the better. We believed the opposite. Too many features overwhelms users and takes away the focus from what you are trying to do. Ultimately, you need to focus on the core of the idea, iterate, and launch the most simplistic version that you can build on over time.
Fun: You have to have fun. This past weekend was one of the best weekends I had in a long time. I’m, sure you are asking yourself how I could be saying that. It was such a thrilling environment to be in. We had a great team that worked really well together and everyone around us was just grinding. It was really exciting to see and experience. I could barely sleep the Friday night after I got home and that excitement continued throughout the weekend. The reason you have to have fun is because it makes the work easy and enjoyable. We didn’t care what time it was or how long we had been working for because we were having so much fun doing it. Friday night we were up until 4am, back at it at 9am until 5am, and then back again on Sunday at 9am right up until we pitched the idea.
Talk: One thing I have always been hesitant to do is to talk to other people about my ideas because I worry that they might steal them. I have come to realize this is such a stupid way of thinking and going about things. Talking to others about your ideas help you iron them out and get valuable feedback. It also helps you identify any flaws and even things you had never thought of. You should talk to anyone who will listen. The risk of someone stealing your idea is very, very slim, especially if it’s another entrepreneur. Chances are you are probably already ahead of them and the majority of other entrepreneurs you talk to are already working on something else. The feedback and insight you can get by talking to other people, especially those in the industry, is invaluable.
Failure: This is another cliché, but people often worry so much about failing that it almost becomes something consuming and extremely negative. That’s what I thought before I made it through the weekend. One common theme I noticed when we heard some of the successful entrepreneurs talk to us at the event was that they had all failed before and that you have to make the jump and try. It’s incredibly important that you experience failure because you learn so much along the way and most importantly, you learn what not to do.
Relationships: One of our mentors summed it up best, “This is a relationship business.” You have to work hard at developing relationships with other entrepreneurs. You cannot survive as an entrepreneur by being an asshole and you have to work hard at building deep personal relationships with everyone you come across with. Not only is it a relationship business, but also a reputation business. You reputation precedes you, whether its related to introductions to VCs, potential business partners, or other entrepreneurs. You have to understand that everyone in the industry talks to each other or is in someway or another connected.
I am amazed at how much we accomplished in 2 days: Animotion. Make sure to sign up as we will be launching in a few weeks in the App Store: