On Friday 17 July 2015, I turned up at the New Venture Institute at Flinders University, and signed into my first Startup Weekend. I was honestly filled with trepidation. Nobody from the startup scene that I knew well was going to be there this year. And I ummed and ahhed and debated about whether forfeiting my ticket fee would be a better thing to do.
But go, I did.
I turned up and noticed that most of the folk present were a lot younger than me. Most of them were still at uni, many of them at Flinders Uni (surprise, surprise). But I ran into a few folk that I knew, and before the early registration time was out I’d already gained one warm lead for my company, Brutal Pixie. I figured at this point that if this is all I got out of it, it was worth turning up.
We piled into the lecture theatre after what seemed an age. I had found a few people I knew – Jenny Vandyke, author of The Innovation Recipe among them – and we sat down and listened to what Startup Weekend was all about.
I already knew the score, and I’d done my homework. I knew that to win, you not only needed a good idea, you needed a good team. Beyond that, you also needed to get actual customers and make actual money to be in the running for a prize. I had two ideas I wanted to pitch, and I couldn’t wait to get in line and pitch my ideas to the crowd.
As luck would have it, I was the first in line. And also as luck would have it, nearly every person in that theatre had an idea to pitch. Lucky me, having two, I managed to pitch and scramble back in line, crossing my fingers for enough time to pitch the second.
The first pitch was short and sweet and sexy. The second one left me with no further time, and it felt better as an idea than did the first one.
The first idea I pitched was for a gifts concierge. The kids in the theatre loved it; I had devs throwing themselves at me wanting to be on my team.
The second idea was for a startup that was like Flatmates for offices: Find a place, put in a bid, find people to rent it with you. I called it, Cowork Yourself because it’s essentially pot-luck renting, but collaboratively. This idea had the interest of serious business folk. Jenny loved my idea better than her own and wanted to join me. The other person was Sasha Dragovelic, serial entrepreneur and mover and shaker at BO$$ Camp, which had come second at Startup Weekend the previous year. Sasha wasn’t even going to take part; he was going to observe and mentor and assist… and then I pitched and it was all over, red rover.
In voting, I went and voted for my own ideas, and hustled to get people to join the team I wanted to get moving, which was the coworking one. The gifts concierge I gave away to a guy with a similar idea, with an instruction to merge the two ideas, and make it awesome with the cats that wanted to work with me.
And so, the night kicked off. From a few people on the team, I gained a few more – helped by friends. One guy, who ended up becoming a co-founder, we had to pitch really hard. Eventually we got him over the line. And so, there were eight or nine of us on Friday night, sitting around getting to know each other.
The night had passed super fast, and I got home at around midnight – only to rise at about 6 am and turn up well before 9 am, so we could get a workspace.
This paid off. Me and a few others were among the first folk on set the next day. They say that the early bird gets the worm, and it is so true. Honestly, if you’re not an early morning person, learn to become one. We managed to score one giant, glass-encased room, which was perfect for us.
Happily, Jenny is a planning and frameworks wizard, and she spent all morning herding cats. All of us being creative folk, she shepherded us admirably. What through? Planning. We spent time collaborating on the reasons for taking part, and defined our top 3 values and goals for the weekend. Winning was not one of them. They were:
- find my tribe
- build cool shit
- have fun.
These values guided us all weekend, outlined in bright pink marker and sitting on the wall.
We came up with a name, wrote a planner on the glass in whiteboard marker (working backwards from the pitching time), we came up with a plan, we put up all the leads and business cards we could think of, and started to lay out the day.
We split up the jobs, filtered the plan into sticky notes, which went into the timeline on the glass, and got to work. Periodically someone would get up and yell out items in the plan and move them on the Kanban to doing or done.
Working this way was amazing. By midday we had a framework of a revenue model, a business model canvas, a rudimentary 10-year plan. We had a basic pitch written, and had started to make cold calls. We had customer calls to make and partner calls to make. Our plan had evolved away from the Flatmates model to one much more like Uber and AirBnB. Simpler, easier to sell, and it just made sense. The difference is that we were mission driven.
We decided that partnerships would be critical, because we’d get access to far more people in a much shorter period of time. Those pitches were a bit different but they started being made at around the same time.
Selling hard from just after lunch (me during lunch – easiest cold call I’ve ever made in my life, honest to god), we had nailed so many partnerships that afternoon that we called a halt to those phone calls by 5 pm.
We already had a platform, too, and by that evening had made our first actual sale, with an actual customer, using actual money. This was the golden land: Real customers making real transactions, with real money to show for it.
From late on Saturday we moved into pitch-writing mode. We were the last people kicked out by security at around 11.15 pm on Saturday night.
But the work didn’t stop just because we were booted out. I’d called a favour from an entrepreneurial woman I admire – Leila Henderson, founder of the Newsmaker network – and had drafted a press release. I worked with Leila online until close to 2 am refining that presser, and getting the right networks sorted. That gorgeous woman refined it further, and hand-picked the journalists that would receive it. She decided to release it at 5:10 am on Sunday, for maximum impact.
In the meantime, I was chatting via Hangouts (if I remember correctly) with team mates about the pitch and the data, and getting things moving.
Bed time was late: Close to 3 am.
And I was up by 7 am.
That Sunday morning, I was the first person on site – I walked around taking selfies on the floor. I got stuck back into the pitch well before anybody else turned up. And I had decided ahead of time what to wear for the pitch: Grey (not black, in case the background was black) and a sparkling red scarf. I close all my best sales wearing scarlet, and I wasn’t about to let that go. Also, red eye makeup, dancer style: Under the lights.
Before we started work on Sunday, I got everyone in the team together in a circle. And I instructed everyone to take turns telling every team member what they appreciate about them. We spent a good hour in this love-in; there was laughter, there were tears, and everyone ended that session feeling appreciated, loved, and cared for.
This was really important to me. I’d gotten a feeling the day prior that some people weren’t being considered, and perhaps weren’t feeling the appreciation of the skills that they brought to the table. We all worked extraordinarily well together: No arguments, nobody got upset, nobody was loud or obnoxious. But I did get a feeling that not everyone was getting the same level of input or appreciation and that perhaps this could be bad. So, the love-in was critical for me as the team leader to make sure that we started the day off right, and got things together.
Leila, it turned out, was our pitch coach that day. She heard the first draft, and to her credit she didn’t laugh. She said to us:
‘Well. The ending isn’t bad.’
Her help and feedback was amazing, and as a result we rewrote the entire pitch in the final couple of hours.
Eventually we got to the practice pitch. Everyone in the room was hanging on every word: A good sign. And one mentor, Bill Chin, recommended that we go back to the numbers and make sure that we get those water-tight.
Between that time and the pitching session, we spent time shoring up our data, and our numbers. We made sure they were in the pitch. We worked out our 10-year-plan, got everyone together in terms of answering questions. We answered all the tough questions about insurance, occupational health and safety, and our acquisition plans. We sorted out all of that stuff.
And then we faffed around, took a bunch of selfies, and celebrated.
The pitching order was changed, too, at the last second. We were the last ones to pitch. There were 12 teams, and some of them were freaking amazing! I was blown away by the talent, and getting more nervous with every passing minute.
When I went up to pitch AnySpace Global, everyone had been sitting around for a while. I got them all to stand up and stretch. For a moment they thought it was in the pitch, until I told them I was serious: Get up, move around. And then sit.
They all sat.
And I had their undivided attention. As far as pitches go, having an audience’s undivided attention, and hanging on every word, is a remarkable thing. And hang, they did.
As for the judges, they didn’t ask us about our team, our dynamics, how we built the business or ideas. They didn’t ask us any of the questions we prepared for: Market data, insurance, occupational health and safety, legalities. Instead, they asked us the questions that they were told to ask.
And because of the lack of preparation on those questions, the team fumbled. I could’ve answered them, but it was only a game and it was a good lesson.
When the winners were announced, AnySpace Global was proud to win third place. We won $1000 of consulting at BDO, some books, some coaching, and were supposed to win a Microsoft Surface… but that apparently was an error.
We were blown away! Third place out of 12 teams is an incredible effort.
The feedback we got was fairly harsh, but not entirely unexpected:
- That the name is way too 90s
- That there was a feeling we weren’t the right team for this project
- That there’s too much competition
- etc etc etc.
All good lessons, true. Also, there’s a bunch about the above that wasn’t in the pitch. I stored it in my memory bank to address when I got home.
We went to the after party, then I went home and crashed out. I’d been looking forward to Monday, which I’d scheduled off to sit and read books.
Instead, on that Monday I fielded phone calls all day. I called my dad (my business mentor) whose advice was, ‘ride the wave, Sunshine, see where it goes’. I called my lawyer, and asked ‘what is the first thing we need to do’. I spoke to people who saw our press release and wanted to partner with us and give us money. I spoke to people all damned day.
And I realised that I had gone to Startup Weekend thinking that this would be a bit of fun. And I came out of it with two companies, not just the one I had originally.
Since then, I have appeared in a feature in the Australian Financial Review, have been interviewed for City Mag and the Advertiser. We have started discussions with potential investors, who might be interested in giving us seed funding. Our team of eight is now an operational three, with two key people having stepped back: one on frameworks and the other as a shareholder and advisor. We have a student who can code, who might be able to do wizard things with our beta platform. We have a beta up, which you can see and sign up to here, and we have discussions with various other platforms about extensible elements like maps, locators, end-point check-ins, and so on.
I’m now the CEO of AnySpace Global, and I’m also the Director of Brutal Pixie Pty Ltd (which I’ve incorporated since Startup Weekend as a matter of protecting assets and interests etc). And now I run two companies simultaneously, and almost single-handedly.
It’s not easy. I’m re-learning to juggle. I’m learning very quickly that because I work for myself, everyone else assumes I have time to do things. In fact, I actually have far less time than most people: I work on and in two companies, attempting to grow both of them, doing 100% of the customer service for both of them, doing all of the operational stuff for both of them. I also manage the staff for both of them, train people, set the direction, am the hard decisions person in two companies simultaneously. And also having to be nice and diplomatic when people say they don’t have time to do things in one, or the other, or elsewhere.
I do all the above, and I’m a company dancer, a wife, a housewife. People who tell me they have no time or are flat out get no sympathy from me. But I don’t mention it to them; most people are proud of the fact that they have no time. As for me, I just need to meditate more.
It’s really fucking hard work. I’m having to re-learn the importance of stopping.
After the first two weeks of working flat out, going to meetings and events, as well as dancing 6.5 hours per week, my dad said to me:
“Have you spent much time with Troy lately?”
My husband, by the bye, had started making some lighthearted comments about me never being home, about me not loving him, and just poking fun. But it was causing me some concern. When I asked him, he said he was joking. But it’s a red flag to a woman like me, and I didn’t just dismiss it.
“Not much,” I admitted.
“You better do that,” dad advised me sagely. “It’s not all about business. Business has survived for a very long time between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm, and it will do so into the future. Make sure you spend time with your husband, or it will end in tears, my love.”
Dads, eh. Always the right advice at the right time. I’m lucky to have a wise man for a father, and one with whom I have a good relationship. I started making sure that I stopped work when Troy got home at 4 pm, and started spending time with him: Making coffee, talking, hanging out. Perceived happiness levels in our house went back up again.
And I started rising at 4 am instead of working through the late afternoon and evening. One does whatever one must do.
And so, here we are. AnySpace Global is 5 weeks old. We’re an incorporated company now; we have a platform, we have a team, we’re focusing on roles and responsibilities and important intrinsic things. We today landed a business that could potentially be a significant partner for us.
And as for the Pixie, I have a casual staff member, am focusing hard on keeping my customers happy, and am rethinking lead generation so that it’s not such a difficult process.
I’m also looking for a mentor, someone whose personal net worth is close to $1bn, or who has massively scaled up to somewhere near that figure. If you know of anyone, please put them in touch with me. You can’t build billion-dollar businesses on the advice of those who have yet to achieve it, after all.