The first Tech Open Air Festival in Berlin took place on 23rd and 24th August in a magical venue called Kater Holzig. The event united startups, music, technology and art with a view to helping the entrepreneurial and creative community grow through collaboration and knowledge-sharing. In this article I want to present the key takeaways from the conference. I hope they will benefit those who need to run a startup and/or build successful products and teams.
START UP & EXECUTION
Lasse Clausen @lalleclausen, Marguerite Imbert @mitterealgirl, Matthias Henze @MatHenze, Verena Delius@VerenaDE and Fabian Siegel @fabiansiegel, took part / got involved in the panel discussion “Startup and Execution.” It revolved around the things you need to know to execute your idea and become a global business success. The panel of experienced entrepreneurs led us through the critical first steps one takes when getting started:
- Employee feedback is essential for building a strong team; it helps identify problems early and enables the management to react in time. It is helpful to conduct a short anonymous survey and keep a graph analysis of the results to identify and address the pain points.
- Have a vision, a culture, a working business model and metrics but also have a buy-in from the employees. It may help to ask them anonymously how to get where you want to be. It is crucial to have the things in place before scaling your company.
- Introducing Kanban to the entire company may be a good technique to keep an up-to-date high-level overview of the things that are happening and helps to maintain the direction in the daily activities of the business.
- Design is what makes you recognizable – it is one of the most important factors that influence customer decisions.
- Do not underestimate the power of alcohol – in general, many people need to drink a beer or two together before they can chat freely.
Team building think tank
Rosy Bellorini @Rosorini, Agata Mazur @agatkamazur and Tine Thygesen @tahitahi featured in another discussion panel on the challenges of successful team building. The experts also addressed a few key aspects of running a startup:
- When hiring spend an hour talking about the internet business in general. Do not forget to ask why the candidate is eager to work with your venture?
- When hiring do not go into skills deeply, just establish if the person is eager to learn, look for ambitions and proper spirit.
- “Hire for attitude and train for skill – a smart person can learn everything but a wrong attitude infects the whole team.”
- Within the first two months of employment you should be able to discover if the new co-worker has a bad attitude and has thus a bad influence on the team.
RUNNING A STARTUP
- It is very important for a good startup to assemble the founding team where there is a mix of specialistsbut each person is at the same time aware of all the areas to cover and is a bit of an entrepreneur.
- At some point you have to divide the roles and responsibilities within the founding team to keep things under control and avoid distractions
- It may be extremely hard to progress on your own; at a point you will need more people to take over responsibility for the different areras of the growing business.
- Start building teams around specialities but there should be just one expert founder per each team, e.g. Product Development or Marketing and Sales, and they should build their own team.
- You have to provide a substitute for big money in the form of a better work culture, work on something meaningful, a place where work really makes you happy; it is also good to pick a dream that a lot of people share and are eager to follow.
- the best approach to ensure you have good hires is to hire when you find a talent rather than hire when you need to. It is the best recipe to acquire people with very good attitude.
- a co-working place is good for meeting new talent.
- By organizing open social events you expose yourself and the people in your area to get to know each other and possibly meet potential partners to collaborate with. For example organize local technology club meetings like Ruby or Java Users Group.
How we pivoted our company without losing our soul
Verena Delius, @VerenaDE, an entrepreneur with a great passion for the online and mobile business and the CEO of goodbeans – the firm developing mobile games for families and kids, shared her insights on pivoting startups. The extraordinary part of Goodbeans’ story is the company’s pivot one year ago – the transition whereby the company transformed themselves from an online social game developer for children (Young Internet) into a mobile app maker for children and families. The name change was probably the easiest part. Despite the effort undertaken, the company’s revenue dropped by half and 25% of the staff quitted. Still, after some hard and at times humbling slog, Goodbeans managed to learn new skills in a new market and have launched six apps in the last nine months.
Verena made a few key points on how they managed to implement the change:
- open and democratic company culture
- clearly defined and written-down core company values
- using metrics
- Kanban applied across the entire company
- transparency in the company
- communicating the strategy
- clearly and frequently communicating what is going on
- regularly gathering employee feedback (every two months) / monitoring the impact of the changes introduced
- asking people anonymously about how to get where you want to be
- introducing new ideas by dropping outdated stuff – drop what is the least efficient/effective to find room for new ideas
- a vision, a culture and a business model needed before scaling the company
- constantly make sure you company is the place you want to go to in the morning
- staying humble – do not be too self-confident
- target a market with a 10-year growth perspective
- think global – for example, China is currently the most important market for many products and services
Alex Farcet @alexfarcet, a co-founder of Startupbootcamp in Copenhagen presented his views on mentorship in the startup context, in particular, on how to identify mentors, interact with them and know what to expect from them.
Alex briefed the audience on what he believes makes a good mentor and explained how to build a large pool of high-quality mentors. He described what it had taken him to successfully build almost 4000 linkedin connections with potential mentors within a period of 5 years. In general, the method was based on asking 10 friends from a given area such as, for example, Berlin to introduce him to 2 people they thought he should meet. He was looking for people with deep experience (scars) in various fields. The people who could help to refine startup ideas and operation methods as well as teach others to avoid mistakes.
Why do mentors mentor? They can get their energy back, meet other mentors, conduct investment due diligence, identify opportunities and gain prestige.
At the end of his presentation, Alex provided some useful tips for mentors:
- Mentors should give away before they get
- Fall in love with the idea of helping others to succeed
- Expect nothing in return
- You do not know who can help you and how
- Do not sugarcoat – be honest
- Be pragmatic and concrete
- Separate opinion from fact
- Be responsive
- “I don’t know” is better than bullshit
- Be passionate
- Provide an outsider’s perspective
- Be there but do not take over
- Make yourself dispensable
LEAN & AGILE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
It was one of the TOA Berlin satellite events that was hosted by LEANOVATE – a consultancy firm who enable companies to rapidly scale their businesses. They invited people to present their own experience with „lean startups“ and „minimal viable products“ as well as to stimulate a lively discussion focused on the topic.
They think the wrong approach is often associated with the points listed below. Consequently, if you want to increase the risks and fail:
- Write a detailed business plan which forces you to assume a lot of unknown things upfront
- Keep your idea to yourself
- Hire developers with an NDA
- Prototype and pitch the idea to investors first; gather the first feedback from investors
- Do not killing your idea just because you have invested too much time in it
- Build a fully-featured product before launching it; it often results in competitors entering the market before your product is ready to be launched.
So what is the right way, then?
- Use the business model canvas; prototype the business model – it is easy to change and optimize
- Talk to entrepreneurs and startups
- Get out of your comfort zone
- Use rapid prototyping – html prototype or powerpoint presentation is enough to test the overall idea.
- You should only pitch facts, numbers, metrics
- Find money for growth not for finding the idea
- Get feedback fast and often and change the prototype without much effort
- You have to have some content from the very beginning and it needs to look as though people already used it a lot!
- Release every day
- Have a CTO on the team
Some more general conclusions that might have been drawn from the presentation::
- Manage your startup in a lean way
- Launch a small MVP product(s)
- Work very closely with your target customers from the very beginning of the process; work with them even while developing your idea
- Run short cycles and gather community and market feedback
TOA Berlin was an energizing and highly valuable event indeed. I strongly recommend it to anyone who works in or with tech startups. Whether you are a developer, a graphic designer, a consultant or an entrepreneur you will find a few presentations that will inspire you and help you achieve your startup-related as well as personal goals. I hope I have managed to share some of the takeaways in the article above. Good luck!