Day 91: Getting back into the Startup Weekend game

It’s been over a year since my last official Startup Weekend as a facilitator. Many of you who know me well would find that fact surprising.

What exactly is Startup Weekend?

(So cool — it even has its own Wikipedia page.)

Originally founded by Andrew Hyde in 2007, Startup Weekend is one of the most internationally recognized experiences for discovering entrepreneurship in the world. Acquired by Techstars in 2015, this 54-hour competition has shaped hundreds of thousands of lives throughout the world — including mine.

I first discovered it in 2012 and loosely launched my own startup out of my first run. Since then I have served as a volunteer organizer, facilitator, and even worked briefly for their former core organization. Before my first experience, I wasn’t exposed to collaborative, energetic activities like it.

I haven’t found anything like it since.

Why did I stop?

Well, I didn’t technically stop. Most recently, I was a co-organizer for the Startup Weekend Seattle: Education edition in November 2016. My favorite moments involved goofing around with a plucky nine-year-old girl who liked to deceive people into think she’s a boy (she was successful with me).

However, something felt off about my engagement during that weekend.

Part of me just felt … over it.

Here in Seattle, I’ve met people who have done upwards of 60 events in some capacity. I haven’t cracked the 20 event mark yet, and I wasn’t sure if it mattered whether I did or not.

The experiences were growing a bit predictable. Even the fires that often erupted at these events — the teams in-fighting, the unprepared tech checks, the “me-first” mentality of competitors in the moment — I’ve seen them all. These issues might have been new and fresh to them, but it was “just another Startup Weekend” for me.

I also started growing wearing of working with other organizers, all wonderful, passionate, visionary people who want to bring a terrific experience to their community. As a facilitator, I’m there to support them and remain open and flexible to their … local customizations, but I also serve as a brand ambassador to the parent organization, interested in the maintenance of their reputation.

Those issues occasionally came into conflict, and at times I questioned my place in and passion for all of this.

Why did I chose to come back?

After my last official facilitation, I realized I was doing it wrong, and I’m willing to even dare to say that sometimes organizers do it wrong, too.

Facilitation and organizing is about them, not us. We must always be doing it for them.

There’s a lot about Startup Weekend that’s valuable, even potentially exploitable for all parties involved. Some might facilitate for the attention or travel to unexplored markets. Some might organize to establish themselves as leaders in that particular vertical for the community. Some might sponsor for brand awareness and customer prospecting.

These are potential benefit that require a “give-first” attitude.

That’s why organizers, facilitators, sponsors, and participants are strongly suggested if not downright required not to receive any monetary return for their contribution to Startup Weekend. The reason being: it must be driven by a “community-first” agenda, obsessed with supporting the next generation of aspiring entrepreneurs.

When I first discovered Startup Weekend in Pittsburgh, this attitude was self-evident. I remember doing it again because I wanted others to have the same amazing experience. I wanted to pass that energy forward and find more people to join our cult-like community, and even though I’m not there anymore, I still maintain strong connections with those affiliated with it.

I find that when one takes a moment to set ego aside and see what they’re capable of doing for others around them, the result can be much more fulfilling. I’m making that choice to give first again.

When can you see me facilitate again

I’m currently booked for two events thus far in the month of May:

I’ve requested my regional manager Jordan Rothenberg to inform me of any further events happening in the spaces of education, data science, artificial intelligence, gaming, augmented/virtual/mixed reality, and more.

If you’re interested in having me as your facilitator, let me know. I’m a lot of fun. Unless you don’t want me to be.

Thanks for reading.

— Lee

Write with intention. Think with compassion.