The crazy innovation days of Silicon Valley at its prime appear to be back. Not only are we seeing this in the flow of money to small start-up companies again, but also more recently in the rise and interest in idea-generating social events.
StartUpWeekend.org is one such event. Founded in 2006 StartUp Weekend runs hundreds of events all over the world, using a network of volunteers, where participants compete to launch a new company in 54 hours. And it’s really gaining momentum. So far, 35,000 people have attended 300 Startup Weekend events, across 91 countries with over 200 local organisers. There are over 1700 startup ventures right now that begun at a Startup Weekend event!
Anyone is welcome; simply register your attendance on the website in advance. You pitch your idea to the crowd – no limits, no boundaries, no conditions. The catch is you only have 60 seconds to give your pitch – hard stop, no exceptions. The crowd votes for their favourite – those with the most are crowned team leaders. Team leaders then, during an hour of madness, lobby the crowd, fish market style, to get people to join their team and find a quiet space to work. And away you go.
Fast forward 46 hours, and it’s time for my favourite part of the event. The final pitch. Each team presents their idea to a panel of judges, competing for prizes, street cred and investment opportunities. While I’m always amazed at just how much teams have achieved in such a short space of time, what really blows my mind is just how far the idea has evolved from its original concept.
One of the things teams learn very quickly at Startup Weekend is agility. They test their idea. Make some tweaks. Conduct market research. Make more alterations. Call a few friends and industry contacts. Change things up again. They are steadfastly committed to building the best possible version of their idea – even if it means changing things up and moving in a direction that can be miles away from their starting point. When a change in direction is considered a fair distance from the current idea this is know as a “pivot” and big pivots are called out and celebrated when you reach the final pitch. Even having an official term for this situation talks to just how much agility is embraced as an essential component to innovation.
What a great lesson for business owners. How many of us start our business, and then fall into the trap of doing things ‘the way they’ve always been done’? Offer a product, but forget to keep an eye on developments in the industry? They say the only constant in life is that it changes.
I’m a big believer that for SME’s to succeed and prosper; they need to jump on board the innovation cycle. Those that are constantly looking for ways to improve – either their service or their product – are the ones that will remain at the top of their game. I’d love to see more adopting a ‘try and change’ model, where they’re actively looking for tweaks they can make to improve their business. And it’s relatively easy to do. Spending a few minutes each day reading your industry’s news online, or doing a quick survey of your customers can uncover some new ideas that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. Or hand the floor to your staff for a ‘think tank’ afternoon. You’ll be amazed at what they can come up with.
You also need to ensure you internal processes are set up for innovation too. Automate manual tasks as much as possible so that when a change or pivot does occur, it doesn’t incur huge amounts of manual labour to make it happen. Remove as much change management infrastructure (e.g., red tape) as you can
And it’s important not to be afraid of innovation! If you try something new and it doesn’t work just as you planned, simply go back and step and try something else. There’s nothing wrong with a lesson learned – the late Steve Jobs will be remembered as one of the most successful tech visionaries of our time, but even he had some products that flopped.
We’re all for embracing innovation here at MYOB – at the moment we’re focusing on cloud technology, and how we can harness it to enhance our product offering. We’re comfortable with the idea of driving innovation, and we’re always looking for new ways to improve our process.
Struggling to get your innovative juices flowing? I recommend heading along to Startup Weekend. It’s the perfect incubator to float a new idea, and there’s nothing like spending a weekend with creative and motivated minds to boost your enthusiasm and inspire you to change things up in your business.
Keep an eye out for the next Startup Weekend in your area – and I’ll see you there!