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Startup Camp Minnesota

Previously, I shared my prepared thoughts for the “Startup Camp Is Coming” session at MinneBar. Going into the session I carried a few opinions with me about factors for a successful Minnesota Startup Camp. As I’ve established, I’m in no way qualified to have opinions on this topic.

(Again, my opinion means very little. I can’t say this enough.)

Startup Camp appears to be taking a little different path than I would prefer. There are two different ways to interpret the goal of Startup Camp, which I believe to be “Encourage more startups in Minnesota.” One way to parse that statement is to say we’d like to improve the startup success rate. This appears to be the track chosen by the group in attendance. Desired sessions were very practical: venture capital, market research, intellectual property, guerilla marketing, etc. I whole-heartedly agree that sessions on these topics are important. If the camp is to be a literal educational tool, then naturally 80% of the sessions will side toward practical topics. And since nerds feel comfortable in technology, the topics will be heavily weighted toward business and marketing.

My interpretation of the camp motto is to encourage a higher quantity of startups being built in Minnesota. To put it another way, the camp should encourage those early founders to continue iterating when their startups fail. The camp should help foster a culture that encourages young people (by-in-large) to choose startups over corporate jobs. So when I think of the sessions I’d like to see, it leans very heavily toward the inspirational. It seems unlikely that any existing startups will be able to pin their success on a one-day camp that taught them all the ninja-business techniques they required. I think it’s more likely that the inspiration gained from a day-long event could help a founder internalize the reality of startups. Startups will fail, but that’s not all bad. Just try again.

The second startup I was ever involved in suffered from extreme bouts of pre-planning. It’s pretty clear to me now that success isn’t defined by grocking your market 100% or understanding all of the venture capital options. That kind of stuff is secondary, which doesn’t really take away from its importance but does imply that a startup should deal with it later rather than sooner. Early on, there is a lot more benefit for a startup to get an application built that works well for the target users than to understand exactly how many companies are in the same perceived market segment.

Perhaps the resolution to the conflict I present is to select very inspirational practical presenters. For instance, a presentation on guerilla marketing by a successful startup founder could result in a nice mix of practical and inspirational content. Startup School included a presentation by Hadi and Ali Partovi. The session contained a lot of practical information that I consider too far advanced for most startups. Particularly, they focused on creating a culture within their companies that fostered innovation and retention. This will put a lot of carts before the founders’ proverbial horses. But the presentation was interspersed with enough inspirational stuff to make it valuable from multiple angles.

I sincerely hope Startup Camp happens, and succeeds, in Minnesota. There is clearly enough interest, and the organizers are quite focused on giving the community what it wants. Ultimately, my opinion is one of many. It will rightly be drowned out if it is proven to be on the fringe.