I had the honor of working with a group of individuals for 54 hours at Nebraska Startup Weekend on February 20-22 to launch a business.
Friday evening at 6pm the event begins. Over 50 people line up along the side of the room at Omaha Code School. Each one has 60 seconds to pitch their business concept. Nervous excitement electrifies the room. There are all ages. Age 18 through 60. Most everyone is from Nebraska with the few from Europe, Seattle, Minnesota and Georgia. All creative. All visionaries. All hard working.
Pitch number one: Terry from Omaha gets up and pitches his idea for a company that has created an gas-powered bicycle. And then it proceeds with everything from incredible wizard-like gadgets to common sense ideas intended to bring people together.
And yes, I pitched an idea. First time for me after participating in the event three other times over the past 5 years. Exhilarating.
I meet new people, having shown up only knowing the event organizer, Shane. I sit in the 3rd row wanting to be close to the speaker. A woman, about my age, sits next to me, introduces herself and we find ourselves in a row full of women which is unusual for the event. She has experience working with entrepreneurs so we have an interesting conversation. Usually the event is attended by mostly younger men. Not this time. And it feels balanced with gender, race, age and profession.
“Are you pitching?” . . .
I pitch my idea somewhere at the tail-end of the line. I’ve rehearsed the pitch for a solid two days so I feel comfortable with the delivery. It goes ok. And then I sit down, shaking slightly from the adrenalin rush.
At the end of the pitching. All of the idea titles are written on large 18″ x 18″ post it notes that are placed up on the walls. Everyone in the audience is given 3 small post-its. We’re told “vote for your favorite ideas.” The top vote-getters will move forward, forming teams for the weekend and who will present Sunday afternoon for a panel of three judges.
I wander around with my notes, looking for my favorites. A few people approach me, “Tell me more about your concept.” I do. “I like your idea!” “I will definitely work on your concept if my idea doesn’t move forward.” “Thank you!” I exclaim. Feeling accomplished for having communicated my concept clearly enough for someone to express and interest.
I vote. But only for ideas where I would truly want to work on the team. If I feel it’s a good idea but don’t really sync with the visionary, then it won’t work.
The results are revealed. My idea did not receive enough votes to move forward . . . I am somewhat relieved. I look around and evaluate what to do next. Do I pick a team or do I retreat in defeat?
I decide to offer my assistance to Susan, who had expressed an interest in my concept. Her concept is “Gift Cards for Good” which donates unused gift card balances to good causes. She seems nice and someone I would enjoy helping. She has 2 people standing with her. “I’d like to help you with graphic design if you need it.” “Oh! Yes! Thank you!”
And then the most wonderful part of the weekend begins. Team “Gift Cards for Good” finds a spot and starts communicating. We figure out how to work with one another. It’s a good group. Open minded and supportive. Susan exclaims her joy of having an energy worker on the team. She feels it is something that will help everyone.
We talk until midnight! Yes! Until midnight. This is how much the event electrifies people with enough energy to keep things going. It’s amazing. I had driven over 7 hours to get to Omaha that day, checked into a hotel and then stay up until midnight with complete strangers, talking about starting a business. Wow.
Two things we were given to do Friday evening: identify the problem and the customer. Not as easy as it sounds. At first we had two customers.
11:55pm we depart with the promise to return in the morning. Susan remarks, “I hope you decide to come back!”
We gather Saturday morning. Everyone shows up at breakfast except the developer. I felt nervous but then he shows up with his big monitor and a backpack, all ready to work. Ha! As a group, we brainstorm a new name, something catchy and descriptive. Terry reveals his gift for naming companies. Wow! We decide on “Card Karma” for now.
We receive coaching advice a bit later that morning from the event organizer, Shane. “Go out there and interview your customers” but first we needto form the questions . . . tougher that you think. In order to get good info, we had to formulate good questions. We get coaching from Shane about empathy interviews. Ask, “When was the last time . . . ” and “Why” instead of “Would you?” We get coaching from Brian on identifying our customer and he teaches us about psychographics. It’s fascinating and I appreciate the time he spent listening to us.
I feel terrified approaching strangers to ask them questions. So, I hesitate and give myself the excuse, “Oh, I’m not really passionate about the project.” A safety coping mechanism.
My team inspires me with their courage and action. I’m impressed. Ivan recruits members from the other 15 teams over for us to talk to. Susan asks the questions. Terry asks questions. I take notes. I’m good at listening, it’s a strength, although I need to work on listening without judgement.
We break for lunch after I notice Terry’s energy completely shifts. “Oh, we have to get you something to eat.” “Yes.” He grumbles a little. We share the same quirks . . . feeling irritable when we’re hungry. So, we wait for Ivan to be interviewed and then we go downtown for lunch.
After lunch, we approach several groups of people with our questions, “When was the last time you had a gift card that you did not use?” and “Why didn’t you use it?” “What kinds of things have you done with your unused gift cards?” “We’ve heard of people who have re-gifted . . .”
The responses are all unique. I find myself enjoying the process thoroughly although still uncomfortable approaching strangers.
Note about Saturday: I left my computer in my car most of the day. I did not bring it in the building until Saturday late afternoon. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of designing a logo or a website immediately because those are not the most important parts of a business.
I had started the logo design Friday evening and again Saturday morning on paper. By Saturday afternoon after we’ve gathered information from our customers and have identified that the problem exists. Very important things before moving forward with a business.
Susan holds the vision for the business. It’s her vision. We are now co-holders of her vision. Very important roles we now have! I feel honored.
One of the things Susan shared was a graphic she had created a while back, it’s a color copy of paper dolls with a multiple gift cards behind the cut outs. It’s a concept. Too busy, I tell her, to be a logo but can definitely be used somewhere as an illustration. But I tell her, it is important to trust her intuition with the vision. It’s good to stick with the paper doll concept because it is obviously something that means a lot to her and illustrates the vision.
Very important note for everyone starting a business or a program or product . . . trust your gut. Trust your intuition. And find people who respect your vision. Find people who will help you clarify and strengthen your vision to move forward and evolve.
Just before supper is served, I work with Susan to do an intuitive wellness card reading for her. I appreciate her trust in me! Wow, to ask for and express interest in energy work in the middle of a busy environment is eye-opening. We find the only clear surface in the 2-floor open warehouse space for the card reading. The discussion of the cards is continued at another table. Susan finds it very meaningful and tells me, “oh, I’m going to cry.” with how the cards have revealed truths about her.
My role as an energy worker. Respect my client’s journey, trust my intuition and mostly encourage my clients to trust their intuition and know they have the ability to evolve.
My role as a graphic designer working on the logo: Listen. Brainstorm as needed. Communicate. Verify. Reflect. Ask questions. Repeat. And keep tweaking.
We work all day . . . 9am to about 8pm. I left abruptly after a late catered meal which has decided to upset my stomach. It’s ok, time to say good bye until Sunday morning.
Sunday morning things come together nicely. There is good energy in the group. Susan is a wonderful leader and has a very clear vision. She communicates very well. Even when she disagrees, she says it with strength and determination that I respect.
Terry says, “The name is very close to an existing company called ‘Credit Card Karma’ perhaps we should change it to ‘Gift Card Karma.'” Yes, we all agree it is better. Plus I like groups of three. The name change also shifts the energy around the project.
I continue work on the logo, and share it with the group now and then. They are all wonderful and trusting of my work. I want their feedback.
Here is the progression of the logo design. You’ll see by the end we discovered and enhanced the hearts and wanted to show more than two people holding hands.
I’d like to thank the Startup Weekend Nebraska event organizers, the sponsors and participants. I learned so much and enjoyed every minute.
A special thank you to Susan, Terry and Ivan, the Gift Card Karma team.