Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dishonest Organizers... What?

I am one of those so called "dishonest organizers" from Toronto that Andrew Hyde is talking about on his blog .

I resent being called a "Dishonest Organizer" and I refute the claim. I would like to invite anyone (including Andrew) to ask about why we did things the way we did.

In the first few hours it was obvious that he expected to play a large part in leading the weekend, but we didn't let that happen. It was clear he was not pleased, but I'm ashamed of his petty attitude particularly after coming up with such a great idea in the first place. His next move will be to clamp down so that other cities won't be able to extend what he calls an "experiment" in their own way. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if Startup Weekend becomes a corporation in it's own right. Toronto is a threat to that, so he pretty much has to take action. NY will escape and so will Hamburg but the rest of you may have to deal with it.

So, what did Andrew Hyde do at Startup Weekend Toronto?
He showed up for at least several hours each day and did absolutely nothing to help or participate at all. Andrew will get his shares never the less because all who were there, even for a few hours will get them as well... no matter how much work they actually did.
We had three other guests from the US that did help; Erica O'Grady did pitch in quite a bit and was actually a catalyst in getting the creative going. Steve Poland also contributed some valuable effort to the features of the initial product. I'm not sure what Joe Scharf was working on, but he at least was interesting and pleasant to talk to instead of sitting in the corner sulking.

A couple of facts:
  • We did actually launch our beta. It's up right now if you want to go and play with it.
  • We had more people stick around in the end to actually make it happen (could it be that it wasn't as bad as Andrew says?)
  • We're more than likely to have a viable company come out of the weekend, which will generate capital for everyone involved, including Andrew.

This will be my personal attempt to rectify a rather poisonous attitude from someone whom I expected better of.
This is in no way an official site representing any of the people who participated or the sponsors of Startup Weekend Toronto. Hopefully a more official analysis will be coming out soon from the entire Toronto group

So please, ask questions and I'll be happy to answer them as best I can.

19 comments:

alphafoobar said...

Hi Brill, I'm from New Zealand and so haven't been involved in any of these startup weekends. But I am extremely interested in how they went and organised. I have read on Steve Poland's blog similar comments to Andrew's. And I don't think your post goes far enough to explain the work that the organisers have put in, why the person with an idea gets 20%. It is nice to be appreciated for an idea... but I can come up with 100 ideas in a weekend, chances are 90% of them have already been implemented elsewhere and are not yet widely known. How much is available for investment?

What do you think should change? I'm interested because I believe that these functions will be the way of the future... like social banking, we'll have social companies. A loose assembling of entrepreneurs - and I believe there is room for good management, as without it how can you divide the work satisfactorily to get it out the door?

Brill Pappin said...

@alphafoobar
Your right, there is not much detail (yet). I'm hoping the people involved, both the "Facilitators" and the people who showed up for the weekend can get out an introspective analysis on what we did, what worked and what didn't in the near future, that will explain some of that.

I should clarify the various groups involved as well. The "Organizer" was a charity organization in Toronto. The planning and structure (including the share structure) was made up by weekend "ticket holders" of which any could have joined in. The "Facilitators" were the group of ticket holder who jumped up and got moving and we constantly tried to get more people involved.

The 20% idea share came about from several different angles. Firstly we were having trouble getting people to put in ideas at all because a lot of them were afraid of losing IP rights (Torontonians in particular are apparently very wary of giving up ideas and taking risks with unprotected IP). We also actually asked a few VC's what they though because we knew we might eventually go to them for seed capital and their opinion on the share structure is important. I personally am of the same opinion as you are on good ideas... they don't even have to be killer ideas to make money but after a whole lot of debate it was eventually decided that 20% was not unreasonable (Up here the idea is usually worth more to VC's). As it turned out it was one of the "Facilitators" ideas that won the vote, which was not really the expected outcome but makes it look a bit unfair (Steve Poland's idea, which would have had my vote, was one of the final two, but was determined to be unworkable in a single weekend).

What I think could change.. a tough question and one I've been pondering for a few days. I think I'm going to have to wait for the official document to actually write it up, but one thing I would like to see is a non-partisan fund (a charity maybe) that could seed a group like this. We intended with the share structure to spread the potential wealth around as much as possible without endangering the potential company's ability to actually operate in the real world. The structure in that case would look closer to the Boulder agreement (although I still think theirs was too simplistic) but would also spread the wealth around a little better.
A few of the people involved in the Toronto weekend had started something along those lines near the beginning of 2007 but we had a hard time attracting the skills and capital required to bring it off (so we already had an idea of what would not work).

I think I'd agree with you that some structure is required as was our experience pre-weekend.

In the end I think the American's were hit with a bit of culture shock to top it off... we may live next door to one another, but we think very differently in terms of risk and individual responsibility. However calling us crooks was very uncalled for, particularly since he didn't understand the back story and didn't even ask.

Curtis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curtis said...

In Birmingham (Ala.) we have removed the 'code for equity' motivation from the weekend we are planning. It was the lawyers who suggested that this would cause more problems than any benefit received. We view the effort as more of "barn raising for techies" rather than Jazz for Entrepreneurs. Visit BirminghamStartup.com for our version.

Thank you Brill for your insight... we are eager to learn what does/doesn't work in other weekend projects. In fact, we've actually already decided to spread our event out over 2 weekends so that we can separate the business discussion from the implementation/coding.

Brill Pappin said...

@Curtis
Equity was a pretty tough nut for us, but we felt it important to have the breakdown before people started work, to make sure we didn't have angry people after the fact, particularly if we were going to make it into a company.

We didn't actually use a "code for equity" model exactly. We simply broke all time spent into 4 hour blocks and recorded blocks for the people attending. We didn't bother to try and determine who was actually working and who was not (it would have been impossible to track anyway) so anyone who was actually in the building was assumed to be working. The weekend share pool was then divided based on blocks (so some people got more shares than others). We thought it fair that the people who put in more time got more equity since we couldn't actually track relative work done.

I think breaking it into two chunks is a good idea, but its also a tough weekend even if your not staying late. I'll be interested in hearing how it works out.

Also, having the buss and dev folks in the same place was essential to actually getting it done. We would absolutely not have deployed on Sunday if we had separated them. the communication back and forth was constant and supportive. In your case however it might actually work because you can do a structure, ops and facility meeting the first weekend and invite everyone for input (one of our biggest troubles was that we couldn't get people to give it attention pre-weekend). The next week you get all you buss dev and prod dev together to work. I think you will need some of the business guys around for dev to call upon in basic Agile fashion.

Anyway, we're planning on doing it again although it looks like we'll have to call it something else so we'll be interested in seeing how it turns out for you.

jenn said...

Hi,

As a Torontonian who lives in Boulder, participated in Startup Weekend in Boulder and am starting my newest company in Boulder, I was glad to hear that it would be the 2nd Startup Weekend. I'm sad to hear that the organization and execution of the weekend had/has some issues.

First, I should probably include the requisite
"I moved to the US because the opportunities and philosophies surrounding entrepreneurship and company operation were more closely aligned to my own..." shpiel. There, it's done.

What I loved about SW Boulder was that there were no preconceptions before the actual event. There were no agreements, assignments or expectations -- other than everyone would show up on Friday night for some beers and that a company would be formed, with a product by Sunday night.

I loved the openness of the Weekend's structure, transparency of the Weekend's operation (amongst the founders and to the world via blogs, video and twitter).

I loved the feeling that everyone who participated in the weekend was an equal. It didn't feel like a job, it felt like cooperation.

It sounds like SWTO focused mostly on the "Startup" component of the weekend, while most of what I enjoyed (and I think most of Boulder's participants enjoyed) was the "Weekend".

If there was one complaint I had about SWTO it would relate to the lack of attention to the outside world. The amount of information leaving the site was staggeringly restrained.

If there was one compliment I had about SWTO it would be focused on your beta launch. Great job getting a product out on the weekend.

- Jenn

DougInBoulder said...

Brill, I appreciate your first-person account of SW Toronto. You clearly had a lot at stake, and took your responsibility seriously. But I feel I must clarify a couple of points in your blog post.

Andrew did not call you a "Dishonest Organizer" in his blog. Instead, he wrote that he subsequently created the SW Founders Bill of Rights (BoR) "to protect any founder of a future weekend from dishonest organizers". The difference is subtle, but very important, and speaks to Andrew's professionalism.

As to your second point about Andrew "clamping down", I have read his draft BoR and it is anything but "clamping down". It seems more in the spirit of the GPL Preamble, in that it spells out the overall goals and motivations for a SW, not the Terms and Conditions for holding a SW (with the possible exception of item #5, which raises the specter of a "Startup Weekend" brand or license).

Brill, thanks for being part of what I consider an experiment that is growing and evolving. Your experience, and the lessons learned, are vital to the long-term success of Startup Weekends everywhere.

Micah said...

Brill,

I was at Startup Weekend in Boulder, and am one of the group that has continued to run with our application, VoSnap.

I echo Jenn's comments about openness, it was really hard to see/hear what was going on over the weekend, which was unfortunate.

The equity structure for us has caused some problem, but we have begun to work that out, and figure out the best move forward strategy. To this date everyone that has continued to work on VoSnap has done it completely gratis, for which we are grateful.

I think its important prior to one of these weekends to make the decision as to what type of weekend it would be. Would it:

1) be a jump start for a startup (which is what I am reading into Curtis' comments);
2) a weekend long experience (reading into Jenn's Comments);
3) the chance to take an idea from concept to completion (letting the compensation work itself out - My preference); or
4) a highly organized function that focuses on #1, thinks #2 doesnt matter, and thinks #3 is good but a little too touchy/feeling. (Which is my guess as to how your weekend went).

Does that make any of the four above right or wrong. Not at all. What it does say is that expectations need to be set, understood and accepted by all attendees, and adhered to.

Andrew's first draft of a StartupWeekend Bill of Rights begins to address these. Which I think is good.

Looking to create some continuity in the weekend (and please dont ever think that startupweekend isnt Andrew's startup) is not bad.

At the end of the day, it seems that the biggest issue was communication, both between the outside world and the organizers (it was never clear to me that an "organization" was the organizer -- of course every organization is made up of people, so thats a bit of a cop-out), between Andrew and the organizers, etc. Hopefully there was good communication between the organizers and the attendees, and the attendees had a good time.

Three questions: how many people are on the move forward team? How many are not Facilitators? How many are not part of the charity organization?

As the first SW Boulder got a pass when it came to group dynamics, outcome and expectations. SWTO didnt get the same.

also, BTW, www.lobbythem.com goes to your splash page ... beta.lobbythem.com goes to the beta. This wasnt announced, in fact the final blog post said it was at least another 12 or so hours until launch. That, in my book, is not a launch over a weekend.

So, at the end of it all, the outcome of the two weekends was similar: No Product. Lets not get into a pissing match about who's process is better.

Finally, can you say, with absolute sincerity that you gave Andrew all the information about how the weekend was structured financially as well as organizationally? If that answer is "No, we could have done a better job of that," then it leads to reason he would feel betrayed. Instead of a blog battle, why dont you guys jump on a phone and discuss it like gentlemen? I would be happy to facilitate that, and I wont need 20%. ;)

Brill Pappin said...

DougInBoulder
I think thats a bit of a cop out and not really accurate.

We can get into the semantics of grammar etc if you like but I don't think its relevant; he is clearly referring to "us" and goes out of his way to do so without anything in the way of separation. Simple referring to "Dishonest Organizers" as a change he wants to add to his Manifesto right after saying that it was our weekend that caused him to make those changes.

So, I disagree... and I think its pretty clear.

Brill Pappin said...

jenn

Yes, we also felt that we didn't communicate enough witht he outside world. We feel in retrospect that Andrew might not have been so blind-sided had there been more public information.

The truth of it is that we simple dropped the ball on that one. We were simply too busy (we all work day jobs and a lot of us have children as well).

In the end, we actually were late in getting things out that needed to go out because we were still talking, arguing and discussing things like the share holder agreement (It was absolutely not one persons idea and was ratified many times) and how we would include as many people as possible in the weekend.

So yes, I think all of us would agree that we needed more communication so the outside world could see what was going on.

Brill Pappin said...

Micah

We were all 3 of your points in my opinion and like anything done for the first time, we learned a lot

We understand now that is his "startup" but we didn't then. The problem is that his attitude was uncalled for.
I agree expectations need to be set, which is why we had an agreement beforehand.

We know that all attendees that stayed had a good time to one extent or another Bilding a product in one weekend generate a certain amount of chaos however and some people were likely under worked through no fault of their own... and yes, I (and likely we) would agree that we didn't have enough communication. We expected interested people to get up and participate, but what was actually needed was some way to push information to them instead.

Now, to try and directly answer your 3 questions:

- The "move forward" team is not yet solidified (people have been taking care of other things this week) but looks like it will be 6 or 7 people.

- of the 6 or 7 going forward people, 1 was a "facilitator" during the weekend.

- Nobody in the charity organization will be directly involved in going forward for the new entity, however they will be called upon for advice should it be needed (that is what they are there for after all).

Also:

- If the company incorporates, then the structure will become more official (as it must under Canadian law) and may change depending on peoples ability to change jobs etc.

- Beta is beta... you can get to it. Nobody said it was public yet even if it is. As you can see, it actually works and is live (as you pointed out). The current state is what was eft up when eeryone went home for the night. At this point things have paused to make sure that we have thought about some of the implications of launching and checking that our ducks are in a row. Anyway, the people on the going forward team will decide when beta moves to www and I think saying we didn't do it is nit-picking.

- better process is exactly what this is all about. Andrew called us crooks because we didn't follow some process. His process... which we had discarded after much debate and brow beating.

The fact is that SWT1 has a product. you can reach it from there, and you can actually use it. Now it'll be time for people to decide what we're going to do with it.

Your absolutely right it should be a learning experience for both parties. let me remind you however that this site exists specifically because I felt we were being miss-represented and indeed that he had taken it further into the land of "not cool" than he should have.

As for giving Andrew all the information on how the weekend was structured, No, we did not push it to him, and I don't think we understood that we needed to (all participant were expected to step forward after all, and Andrew would not have had an exxception)... Yes, I can empathize with him. From our point of view he was the initiator of the Boulder event coming up to see how we would work the weekend. It was very disappointing for us to have had such a negative experience from him.

Brill Pappin said...

Curtis

Based on current information and discussion, you might want to clear your plans with Andrew first.

Brill Pappin said...

jenn

Just a note on your comment about cooperation.

We could not have done what we did with out a huge amount of cooperation.

Evey moment of the entire weekend I was working directly with someone else and I couldn't call it anything *but* cooperation.

Michael Jones said...

* We did actually launch our beta. It's up right now if you want to go and play with it.

I have. See my comments on toronto.startupweekend.com as to what I think. If 100 online signatures were enough to sway a politician, our Minister of Public Safety would be named Doris 12,000 times by now. Forget the fact the beta's sketchy - the idea stinks.

* We had more people stick around in the end to actually make it happen (could it be that it wasn't as bad as Andrew says?)

Those I've talked to actually did enjoy the experience. Even the most optimistic aren't satisfied with the result. The result I'll tie directly to an unorthodox and rather autocratic ownership structure that seemed to be scoping out for ideas to monetize, and eventually picked their own regardless (I was not surprised to learn that LobbyThem was a management idea...fit perfectly with my fears of the weekend.)

* We're more than likely to have a viable company come out of the weekend, which will generate capital for everyone involved, including Andrew.

Ok. I'll bite. How? Online petition sites are a dime a dozen, and most work. You're neither first nor better, nor do you have an sizable established community to leverage to compensate for the lack of innovation or competence. And the tool operates in sheer naivete about how the political process even works.

This builds capital how?

Micah said...

Brill, thanks for the response.

You said: "From our point of view he was the initiator of the Boulder event coming up to see how we would work the weekend."

I think at the end of the day that is the crux of all issues. He wasnt coming to Toronto to "see how" you would work the weekend. He was coming to 1) help out where he could; and 2) to make sure that the quality of the weekend matched Boulder.

To assume otherwise is certainly inaccurate, and lead to the miscommunication and bad feelings.

I also dont think Andrew called you crooks directly, but I could understand where you got the implication.

Good luck with the move forward team, like any startup it will have its ups and downs. Our feeling for VoSnap is complete transparency, and so far it hasnt come back to bite us.

BTW, what did you think of the VoSnap application when used during the weekend?

Brill Pappin said...

@Michael Jones

Michael... you sound somewhat disgruntled... but I have to say you have a pretty strong opinion for someone who didn't participate.

By all means make sure you let the folks working on LobbyThem what you think and give them suggestions on what can be improved. The email to send those suggestions to is feedback @lobbythem.com. Your ideas will help us make it a better product. Umm... being an academic you might want to use more useful language than "stinks" as it doesn't convey much information about the problems you see.

Also, if you want to participate in the next weekend in Toronto you'd be welcome (likely in Jan). Or you can likely sign up at any of the official ones happening all over the US and Germany.

Now... your question:
Honestly, the short answer is "I don't know". We had a lot of marketing folks, some of them I'd consider top in their field, who had ideas. I'm not that sort and I haven't had a chance yet to go over their plans. I'm not sure I'd broadcast strategy to the world anyway even if I did have a firm grasp at this time.
That said, I do think that the product can make money, or I wouldn't be wasting my time with it. Don't forget that it doesn't have to be an killer product to make money.

As for our "sheer naivete about how the political process even works" we'd welcome your input, so by all means let us know how you think it could be improved at the address above.

Brill Pappin said...

@Micah

I'd agree... it's becoming more and more clear that we though we were in an experiment and that we had the right... or even duty... to try something different from Boulder.

However I do think that if Andrew is going to be broadcasting such strong opinions, he better think about what he is saying and how it would be construed.

Thanks for the sentiment on going forward. Despite comments, most of us also like transparency but we also recognize that not everyone does and we might have to deal with the folks that don't... so we'll try and walk a fine line. No company gives away all it's internal goings-on after all.

As for VoSnap, we loved it... we're still using it :) I personally do have some features I'd like to see, but I'll post that to the apps feedback system when I have a moment (I don't want them to get lost in this sort of thread).

Michael Jones said...

"I have to say you have a pretty strong opinion for someone who didn't participate."

Many of those who signed up initially found themselves nonplussed with the setup and contractual obligations of the weekend, and refused to participate on that alone.

I'm in that camp. It's simple cost-benefit analysis. I looked at the weekend as it was unfolding and determined my time was better spent elsewhere. And I'll admit disappointment, since I rather was looking forward to it.

I suppose only history can decide whether that decision was justified, but I've yet to see anything that causes me to regret it.

"By all means make sure you let the folks working on LobbyThem what you think and give them suggestions on what can be improved."

This brings up a rather serious contractual issue. What's the incentive for non-weekend participants to participate now? 85% of the company is vested, and you've reserved 2% of capital for future development.

Again, cost-benefit analysis. If I thought the root idea of simple online petitioning was marketable, my ideas would now be best applied to a competing effort.

As is, I won't, because petitions alone simply do not work. LobbyThem.com is using 21st century technology to leverage a political influence technique that peaked in the 19th century.

I mean, Rick Mercer got 1.3 million signatures to make Stockwell Day change his name to Doris. A comedian leveraged the Web to prove this was all a very silly idea seven years ago. And that was to prove the silliness of endless referenda imposed by a relatively low 300K limit - which is actually more powerful than what LobbyThem provides. These petitions can be filed and quickly ignored with no consequence. This suggests strongly they will be.

"We had a lot of marketing folks, some of them I'd consider top in their field, who had ideas."

Well, this isn't their best work.

But in the interests of helping, I would encourage LobbyThem to actually talk to people who are engaged in influencing the political process - particularly lobbyists, who alas hold a lot more power than is probably healthy.

And, yes, you'll have to bring them in somehow equity-wise - I'm sure they won't do it for free so you can capitalize on their ideas and make the money you claim you will. Why would they?

brill said...

@Michael Jones

Aren't you glad then that you had the chance to decline the "contractual obligations" before you did all that work? I would be.

I think another similar event will be held in Toronto early next year. It likely won't have the exact same structure or "contractual obligations" but I recommend that you involve yourself in the planning for it when it gets announced. In our case, anyone was welcome to help plan it and I assume that the next one will have the same degree of freedom.

As for the product, I don't actually agree with you, but then I don't have to, it will work or it won't and we'll both learn a thing or two not matter which way it goes.

I must admit I don't see the point in writing such a long comment about the product and not sending in a few lines of opinion on making it better, but it's your prerogative and your exercising it as you see fit.