I am up at 1:10am September 9 2011 struggling to craft the first few sentences of this blog post. This is one of those times when I just have to make myself write down my thoughts regardless of whether or not I actually want to. In order to get myself into the mood to write this, I have attempted to adopt a strategy that has both worked and failed at different times. I’ve got music playing softly through my surround system and I have switched off all the lights in my apartment. I just hope my country’s reliably unreliable power supply does not leave me contemplating migrating to Ghana in the middle of the night. Now, let’s see how this goes.
Startup Weekend is a startup event much like Garage48. Startup Weekend, like Garage48, is an event where designers, developers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and LAUNCH STARTUPS, all in one weekend. Startup Weekend is coming to Nigeria for the first time ever and this is something that has gotten the Nigerian hacker community excited. Garage48 made a similar debut a few months ago and went a long way in rejuvenating the software tech community over here in Nigeria. Expectations from Startup Weekend are therefore quite lofty and so far, the event seems poised to live up to and exceed these expectations, thanks to the hardwork of its organisers and stakeholders. Kudos to them!
Events like Startup Weekend have a wide range of benefits for those who partake in them. These benefits are so far-reaching that even those who choose to observe from a distance rather than partake also learn one or two things as well. Foremost amongst the various valuable benefits that accrue from high energy hackathons of this calibre is the unparalled opportunity it provides for like-minded people to interact with one another and build long-lasting professional relationships that could potentially result in a super successful startup. In environments such as that provided by Startup Weekend, there is always something new to learn. With the right mindset, any Startup Weekend participant regardless of whether such a person is a developer, designer, product manager or startup enthusiast, can learn valuable new skills that just might prove to be life or career savers at some point in the near future. This is in addition to the important lessons that can be learnt as a result of working as part of a team focused on launching and proving the viability of a new startup all in one short weekend, 54 hours to be more precise. Startups that seem viable stand the chance of getting much needed funding from interested parties. This is intended to spur the growth and movement of the young startups towards their established goals and objectives. Basically, Startup Weekend is the place to be if you have even the slightest entrepreneurial aspirations.
Building a startup is a delightful experience in many ways. As each day goes by, I am repeatedly and menacingly taunted by the continuous realization that building a startup that has any reasonable chance at success is a full time job. I am currently involved in two startups: Adloopz and Flippii. I am passionate about both, and I work with a different team on each of these ventures. Adloopz.com is a social advertising platform that helps advertisers leverage their social networks in order to more effectively reach people who possibly need their services or products. Flippii.com is intended to be a social idea sharing and discussion platform and was launched at Garage48 Lagos earlier this year. Between contributing my quota to keeping Adloopz.com afloat, saving Flippii.com from totally sinking and scaling through my soon-to-be-completed mandatory one year service to my country as a member of the Nigerian National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), I have all but grown weary. And to think this is just the beginning of my startup adventure!!! *sigh*
I was privileged to take part in the Garage48 Lagos event earlier this year and it was one of the defining moments in my budding career as a software developer. As I have mentioned earlier, Flippii.com was birthed at that event amongst other potential startups. Soon after the Garage48 Lagos event, I wrote a not-so-brief treatise concerning the event in whch I opined that the overall success of Garage48 Lagos would be more appropriately measured by what becomes of the various wonderful startups supposedly launched at the event. Based on this, and at this very moment, can we rightly say the event has been a success?
I am excited about Startup Weekend for a particular reason. I am delighted with the fact that it would give skilled developers who for one reason or the other missed out on Garage48 Lagos, the opportunity to launch their own startups in the kind of positive environment provided by these sort of events. These developers have to make the most of Startup Weekend. I should probably be at Startup Weekend right now and indeed, it is one event I have been looking forward to for over two months. I had every intention of being part of the event until I assessed all the startups I was involved in, especially Flippii which was launched at Garage48 Lagos. I cannot authoritatively speak for other startups at Garage48 Lagos, but it is with great displeasure that I admit that the performance of the Flippii team, which I am very much a part of, has been infinitesimally shy of disappointing. However, I still have great confidence in the team and we have great plans for the platform. If only these plans can stop being just plans and do something progressive with themselves. Damn lazy plans! Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for all the teams formed at Garage48 Lagos. Would it not be quite nice if the members of the various teams at Garage48 Lagos got back to work rather than get themselves into another startup quagmire by attending Startup Weekend? If I were a judge at Startup Weekend, my first question for any team member who was a participant at Garage48 would be “What happened/is happening to your Garage48 startup?” and if that team member happens to be the team leader or the person who pitched the idea, the next question would be “What makes you think you would be able to pull this off as opposed to the painfully slow progress of your previous attempt at Garage48 Lagos?”. I sure hope there would be no silence and cricket sounds if these questions are asked at Startup Weekend. Would a VC/angel investor confidently invest in a team consisting mostly of Garage48 Lagos participants? Maybe this was why I chickened out of Startup Weekend, amongst other reasons of course. I am immeasurably saddened that I am now set to miss out on an opportunity to meet great people and learn new things. But the question we all really need to ask ourselves is whether or not we are ready to place the sometimes profitable burden of another startup on our backs. This is not something I think I am ready for. An opportunity to interact with like-minded fellows and learn new things? By all means! The responsibility of having an additional startup venture on my neck in addition to the two I am currently “struggling” with? Hell No!
Considering the many obvious benefits of partaking in Startup Weekend, one might conclude that any level-headed technology enthusiast would happily break a tooth and a leg in a bid to ensure that he or she gets a feel of the event up close. This is in no way an illogical conclusion. However, one can easily see that events such as Startup Weekend are not as much about what takes place during that one weekend as they are about what takes place over the course of the next few months after the event. Just like Garage48, participants at Startup Weekend are expected to make dedicated efforts to mold their startup “seedlings” into viable businesses over time. I believe this is the ultimate aim of events like these. If I am wrong, I humbly stand to be corrected. Building a startup from ground up is a strenuous task and typically demands the highest levels of commitment and dedication to pull off successfully. How many people participating at Startup Weekend are actually ready for this? Considering the fact that many of the participants at Startup Weekend are likely to already have themselves chin deep in some other startup venture, possibly from Garage48, how many of them are actually ready to dip their fingers once again into the steaming cauldron of boiling magma that is another new startup? How does this proliferation of seemingly over-occupied startup founders affect the future growth and development of the startup “seedlings” to be cultivated at Startup Weekend?
It is my sincere hope that every individual participating in Startup Weekend Lagos is doing so because he or she is absolutely sure that he/she is ready to make a commitment to building a viable new startup. This is essential and extremely important if Startup Weekend is going to build solid walls on the wonderful foundation laid by Garage48 Lagos.