Context: Notes written in retrospect, in the bus on my way home after the event
- Ask ‘why’ on every sentence, on every word, on every piece of information. Start from ‘why did you join Startup Weekend?’. Remember to ask ‘why’ to all members of the team, not only the most confident ones. Listen to what the team is trying to do, and then give them a framework for thinking about their product as a complex system. Nobody needs generic advice, the participants are smart enough to work things out for themselves. Be aware that some members of the team can not have a ‘makers’ attitude and they can compromise the success of the project, identify the ‘makers’ and let them determine the final direction they want to go.
- Meet the teams earlier, Friday night instead of Saturday afternoon. I met with teams that have spent too much time establishing social relationships and dealing with internal ego fights. As a mentor I’m an external agent and can help to redirect precious energy from internal conflicts into constructive discussions. Repeat to the team: it’s not about the mentor, the entrepreneurs or the judges; it’s about the users: feel their frustrations and alleviate their pain.
- Meet each team twice. First help them framing the problem and committing executable milestones, then come back to see if it has been executed: there is no bad or good idea but only bad or good execution. Be reluctant to give opinionated advice based on experience: that can cause confusion, waste of time and energy and even loss of confidence.
- Help the team to act like an invincible ninja army: invisible warriors with sharp blades. A product build in a weekend can succeed only when it is ‘essential’. Push the team to aim for Zen perfection, help them to synthesis the experience across only one context, only one problem, only one feature. Nurturing each member of the team to push their main skill.
- Help the team to understand that the winner isn’t the one picked by the judges but the one that will continue building after this experience, no matter what the project is and the future challenges are. The ultimate goal isn’t the presentation but it is to build a strong team that believes in the vision and the talents of its members. The final presentation is to celebrate the team, not to package a very early stage idea.
Ultimately if the teams will succeed is not thanks to the mentor but on the merits of their own abilities.