CategoryEvent

Startup Weekend Lancaster LIVE!

Right now I am helping run Startup Weekend Lancaster 2015!

54 hours to start a business and so it is non stop work. For that reason, this weeks blog will be less of a blog and more of an arrow to how you can follow the events of this years Startup Weekend!

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Here are some pictures of the event so far 🙂

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Where to Start at Startup Weekend

This time next week I shall be getting ready for Startup Weekend Lancaster 2015. It has been a long time in the making (a huge amount of credit must go to Philipp for his work in organising the event) and soon it will be show time.

If you are unfamiliar with the Startup Weekend format, here’s a quick run-down:
60-second pitches result in the formation of small teams around the best, most viable concepts.
54 hours are spent focusing on customer and product development, validating ideas and building prototypes with the help of experienced mentors.
Finally, each team has the chance to present their results and receive feedback from a panel of high profile entrepreneurs and community leaders.
Not forgetting, awesome prizes for the winning teams!

Having competed – and finishing second – last year I know the rush and excitement of the event. It was one of the best, if not the best, event I attended last year and I wish I could compete again this year. However I have thoroughly enjoyed helping to ensure that anyone competing this year will have an even better time than I did last year.

So as I’m not competing, I feel like I can share my tips to having the best Startup Weekend possible.

Start with an open mind, but focus it fast!

I turned up knowing virtually no one. You are thrown in to network with everyone and soon you’re hearing everyone’s business ideas.

Go into the event and networking with an open mind. Everyone on an equal level, but look out for key people, listen to key ideas and focus on them. If you like and idea, you need to get the person behind it to like you! At the next opportunity, focus on them and introduce yourself, express your interest and explain how you can help.

BUT, still have an eye open for more possibilities. Team places are competitive and you need to have a few favourites in mind, target a number of people and hopefully you’ll then have a choice as to which team you can join.

Break the ice

Once you have your team and your set free to get going, the temptation is to jump straight into work. This is both unproductive and anti-social.

Chances are you are on a team with new people. Why not all go for food and get to know each other. You will all enjoy the weekend more and be more productive.

Set some rules and role

Team leaders, I’m talking to you now!

Set some ground rules!!

You have 54 hours, the last thing you want is to be arguing about what can and can’t be done. The rules don’t have to all be strict, a few humorous ones always help, but having a framework for everyone to work around will help, trust me!

As for roles, this should be simple depending on people’s skills sets. But still clarify to avoid confusion. Again, you only have 54 hours, don’t waste them!

Pace yourself, but work late

Control your energy level are vital, you don’t want to crash. One of my key strengths last year was my ability to work until the early hours of the morning. Many other teams crashed and slept – whilst they spelt, I worked – each day I could see the advantage of working late, we were progressing well.

Enjoy it!

I had such a great weekend and met some great people. I wouldn’t have done that if I had been worried or nervous about the result.

It is a really tough challenge and that should be enjoyed. What’s more fun than changing your brand image at 3am???

 

Whether you have experience or not, you will learn a lot! The mentors and judges are there to help everyone walk away better than when they showed up. Ask questions, listen to ideas, work hard and keep going!!

The Other Side of the Table

This year I am Vice-President of the Entrepreneurs Society at University and this week we have been recruiting new exec members.

All society exec members are voted into their position by the society members, however being such a large society, we naturally receive lots of applications for multiple roles. For that reason we also hold interviews. One, to see if the person is suitable for the society and secondly to see which role would suit them best.

This has given me the opportunity to run interviews, effectively being on the other side of the table for the first time. So what was I looking for when interviewing people?

1 – Passion

If I couldn’t feel a person’s excitement for the opportunity, I didn’t get excited by them – it rubs off. This is true for whenever I talk to anyone. I look for what sparks passion within.

I believed it was important to understand that they were applying because they genuinely cared about the position and were thoroughly determined to do well and that they weren’t just applying to have something to put on their CV.

2 – Eager to Learn

I didn’t care if people had no or little startup experience. Mainly because I had none when I joined the society. It was their eagerness to jump straight in that I wanted to see. If people spoke about wanting to go to events, try out ideas or speak to people with experience, I was pleased.

3 – Pauses

When people pause, they’re usually thinking. I wanted to see this for two reasons; it showed they weren’t reciting a practiced answer and it showed they were putting some effort into their answer.

Of course, sometimes these pauses were followed by a short answer if the person just didn’t know, however if they’ve taken the time to consider it, that was fine.

4 – Ideas

Finally, I wanted to hear ideas. Event ideas, business ideas, ideas for promotional material – I didn’t care what. I just want to know that the person had thought about what they could do from day one to get the ball rolling. They had taken the time to consider what was missing and tried to find a way to correct that.

 

Ultimately, it came down to who the person was, not what they were doing.

What is the greatest question of all?

According to entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Yuri Milner, it is;

“Are we alone?”

He expanded on this during an interview at the recent TechCrunch ‘Disrupt’ conference.

This talk about space has come at a convenient time for me. I recently visited the Kennedy Space Centre whilst on holiday in America.

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The history of NASA and space exploration is incredible, seeing first hand some of the equipment and vehicles that have travelled into space and onto the moon was amazing. However, despite NASA ending its space shuttle program, the future of space exploration is perhaps at its most exciting time.

The time is right

In his interview, Yuri explains how our technology is now advanced enough to communicate across our galaxy and, soon, into the next! Meaning that if another planet is as advanced as our own, communication between them and us is possible, maybe in the not too distant future.

Space exploration is also now becoming a viable business option. The future of space vehicles and endeavours now lie with commercial companies including; Spacex, Virgin, Boeing and Amazon has recently announced their intentions to enter the adventure. As the number of firms involved increases, so should the number of advances.

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So what’s next?

The aims of those involved does vary. Elon Musk, CEO of Spacex, has expressed his interest to reach Mars, whilst Virgin wants to allow the average person to go on trips into space.

Whilst both these sound out of this world, pardon the pun, they are more feasible than people first think and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are achieved in my life time – that sounds like a big statement, but I have faith!

In the meantime, the commercialisation of space has allowed for the average Joe like myself to explore space NOW. My favourite way is with virtual reality – I will let this Kickstarter campaign speak for itself!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1035872323/spacevr-step-into-space

How to Land a Blue Marlin

This week I was taught how to fish using Nando’s as bait…… no, I’m being serious!

Last week I attended the Chasing ED conference at Campus London. This was the first conference I had attended outside of university and it didn’t disappoint! Besides being in Google’s awesome office space for startups, I had a great day meeting new people from a variety of backgrounds.

Whilst all of the talks taught me something new, in this blog I want to focus on one in particular as it is a subject I am currently experimenting in!

“How to land a Blue Marlin” from StudentView founder, Raff McKenzie.

Why was he talking about this? Well, to encourage students to leave accommodation reviews on his site he needed to provide rewards that would actually interest university students – it’s harder than you think!

Currently he has partnerships with Uber and Spotify (to name just a few!) and was even able to provide one lucky student with enough Domino’s pizza to match their height!

So how did he do it? Well first he says you need to know who your Blue Marlin is. As he says “Your Marlin could be anyone that adds value to your business and they could fill a host of different roles and positions.” He explicitly explained how it is important to evaluate the current position you are in and see who can help most NOW.

Of course bagging an angle investor would be great, however an industry expert might be the best thing for you to get going.

What next? You need to catch them! This is where Nando’s comes in…..

So you’ve found your Marlin, you’re about to cast your line (send an email) but you want to make sure they are attracted to your line, you want to make sure they bite AND hold on! Raff was successful at this by using what he calls “The Nando’s Pitch – Hot and Cheeky!”

You need to stand out from the hundreds of emails they receive each day, make them remember and like you! Be different and add a bit of colour to their grey inbox. Of course it is important to remember who you are emailing and remember what you are emailing about. It always has to be relevant and appropriate, but where possible, do what you can to stand out!

What I have learnt

In my short time trying to catch Blue Marlin’s I have learnt one vital lesson – know what you want from them; that can’t be everything or anything!

Several times I have had responses from people saying they want to help, but asking how. From my perspective I think they can help in any way they want! However, by pin pointing exactly how they can help you, you allow them to actually know if they can – they will appreciate the clarity!

 

To continue with Raff’s comparison I will have to end by saying – cast your line, but when you do, know what you want to catch, how you will catch it and know what you will do once you’ve been successful!

How conversation creates remarkable change

Last month I was able to attend my first TEDx event – TEDxLancasterU

When I first sat down to see that I had 14 talks and performances ahead of me I did start to think I was in for a long night. However, by the end I was pleading for more. A huge well done must go out to the organising team for getting together a fantastic line up.

All of the talks got me thinking and I would happily write a blog reflecting on each one. However if I did that I would be in for a long night! Instead I have decided to give my view on the talk that was most relevant to me. That talk was by Fraser Williams – How conversation creates remarkable change.

 

In his talk, Fraser shares the three tools he has used to turn an idea into action.

Ignore your emotion

Fraser shares his experiences in competing in Taekwondo, he talks about the nerves he had before competing in the European Championships. Having competed in large sporting competitions myself I know this feeling all too well. The voice in your head that thinks everything will go wrong, that doubts your ability and wants you to back out just to feel safe.

Fraser believes that this emotion needs to be ignored. Compete or commit anyway, despite that fear. Whilst I agree that it is not good to take this emotion seriously, I believe it can be countered rather than ignored. The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters explains how these emotions are the instincts of the ‘chimp’ inside your head. They won’t go away, but they can be trained. Therefore I’d say, understand the emotion, know when it will appear but also understand that you can pass it and instead feel excitement.

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Fraser ended this part of the talk by modifying a quote from Winston Churchill, he said:

“Success isn’t final, failure isn’t fatal. It is the courage to start that counts.”

When I first heard this I had very little to add, other than YES, YES, YES.

Embrace the sceptic

Our friendship groups hold all types of personalities; pessimists, optimists and those in-between. Fraser emphasises the importance of recognising these people and embracing them all, especially the pessimist as they are the ones who will point out the flaws which can then be turned into challenges and opportunities.

This is an extremely valuable tool and I’m glad to see it included in this talk. I completely agree that the sceptic needs to be embraced, however I feel like a warning message needs to put beside this tools – Be prepared to feel annoyed and believe that the person talking is wrong.

Sometimes you don’t have to embrace the sceptic for them to speak, they may be the person you least expect and so whenever you talk to anyone about an idea you must be prepared to hear some negatives. If you are caught off guard, chances are your defence mechanisms will kick in and you will disregard what is being said. I say, always be prepared to hear negative views and then embrace those – evaluate them, evaluate the source and then decide how to act.

Turn motivation into momentum

“Have one conversation and then have 100 more!”

When you get that initial rush of excitement and energy for your project, take action instantly. If you hold back, your enthusiasm will diminish, acting instantly will lead to quicker results and even more energy.

When talking about this tool, Fraser does an excellent job at including all types of people when discussing who you can talk to. I believe this is the most important part of this tool. Reach out to anyone and everyone, they may contribute in ways you couldn’t have predicted. Too often people hold back discussing their idea, believing people either won’t get it or won’t have anything worthwhile to add. This may be the case but often it will not. Don’t judge what a person will have to say until they have said it!

 

I will end this blog the same way Fraser ended his talk, by asking:

“What action can you take in the next five minutes on the idea that sits in the back of your head?”

 

Pitching – Control What They See


I recently attended a pitching event, organised by the Hive.

Two friends and I decided to pitch our new idea. This would be the first time we had properly explained our idea to others. We had three minutes to somehow make our rather ambiguous and flawed idea sound incredible. We had thoughts ourselves about where this idea would go, but getting that across felt like a big hurdle. Now, I will openly admit I was nervous, however I was keen to ensure that didn’t show during the pitch.

Our pitch was very well received and lots of people commented on the fluidity of our pitch and the confidence we portrayed – success!

Rewind a few weeks to when I was attending the IBM Consulting Experience 2015. The experience ended with all teams pitching their solutions. Once again, pitching to senior members of IBM in a room of very high potential students didn’t help my nerves. However every single judge commented on my confidence and pitching abilities in their feedback.

People are afraid of pitching. They are scared of making a fool of themselves, they fear messing up and not taking advantage of the moment. My advice – you can’t control what people think, but you can control what they see!

Before university I hated public speaking, my voice would shake and I would constantly be worried about being judged. Now, I still get nervous. I can feel my legs want to shake and my mouth drying up, but I enjoy pitching because my end result now brings in positive feedback.

How I pitch or present has changed hugely since coming to university, however that’s not because I have somehow found a way to become an emotionless robot when pitching, it is because I have learnt from others how to display yourself.

From watching others pitch and, crucially, having chances to practice, here are my top 3 ways to make your pitch appearance better:

1 – Voice

The natural thing to do when nervous is talk fast and have a shaky voice. Whether someone is looking at you or not, they will hear you when you talk and so your voice needs to portray confidence. Take your time and breathe.

For me, I can feel when my voice might be about to shake and so I will slow down and take a breath. This helps me relax, it allows me to take control of my tone and the audience won’t give it a second thought.

2 – Body language

This is usually unique and difficult to counter. Subconscious body movements are very common when pitching. I’ve seen everything from pacing rapidly to hip wiggles. Most of the time you don’t even realise it is happening, but the audience certainly do!

It is important to remember that some sort of movement is natural. An audience won’t warm to a robotic stance. Just as before, to counter it you need to identify your nervous movement. Once you know what it is, look out for it when pitching and avoid it. Once again, slowing down your speaking will help slow down your body.

3 – Content

Forgetting your lines is a huge sign of nerves. You knew it word for word the night before, but when it really counts it just slips doesn’t it!

The solution to this was put perfectly by a friend of mine recently – understanding, rather than learning.

When you learn lines, once you’ve forgotten them, that’s it! If you know and understand your topic inside out, a script isn’t needed. When I pitch I like to write a script to structure what I will say, however I then make sure I know what I’m talking about rather than the word for word script. This means, often when rehearsing, I will use different wording to say the same thing. When it gets to show time I am telling people what I know, using whatever wording comes to me at that time, rather than trying to remember a script word for word.

As with most things, practice will help a lot. However don’t practice with fear, go into a pitch with confidence and excitement for that adrenaline rush. No matter what you feel inside, it is what the audience see that counts!

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