Small Business

Got a Weekend? Start a Business


Trying to a start a Web-based business in two days, knowing when to turn an idea over to a pro, incorporating online tools into a business

Create a New Venture in a Weekend? Not So Fast

Like most startups, Startup Weekend launched the weekend of July 7 with lots of hopes and hype. About 70 company founders gathered in Boulder, Colo., with the intention of launching a Web-based startup—in which all would share equity—by the end of the weekend.

By late Saturday, a promised prototype had failed to materialize, says a participant who chronicled the weekend on a blog. "A group of about 10 people starting talking in private about the fact that the product was being over-engineered and not revved quickly enough," the blogger recalls. "A proposal to set off a splinter group…first surfaced then."

Then come Sunday evening, "things seemed fine again. We were shown a reasonable working version by about 6 p.m. The energy level went way up in the room. It was then announced that it was midnight or bust."

On Monday, the blogger, "…woke up this morning at about 6 a.m. like a kid on Christmas, and ran to my computer to check out vosnap [the name of the startup]. Nothing but a splash page and a big WTF." Seems it didn't happen in one weekend.

The problem? "The leaders who emerged did not clearly understand that this was a launch or bust proposition, and didn't manage effectively towards it. But it's not the fault of the leaders who emerged. It's the fault of the leaders who didn't—and I put myself in that category. I was more interested in the experiment than in making sure that it worked."

New-Business Ideas Are Only Half the Battle

"When I recollect and calculate the experiences I have had starting businesses, I can count 9 out of 10 times when the idea-generator tried to run the start-up and failed miserably," writes Dick Mastromatteo, president and chief executive officer of Us Unlimited, an investment and development company. His advice in his blog: "Hand over the idea to someone else whose main skill lies in team-building and who can grow the organization into a full-fledged business."

The Sausage Phase of a Startup

"First, let me admit we went down a mashup rat hole." So writes venture capitalist Peter Rip of Crosslink Capital, who, in the interests of "transparency," re-lives the "re-birth" of an existing startup in his blog.

"No one led us down this rat hole," he says in discussing the travails of Teqlo, an online applications company. "We led ourselves. When we realized we had to make a radical shift, we had to re-ignite the fire with limited fuel. We made personnel changes because the fuel demanded it, not to penalize or blame anyone." The reorganization includes a sharper market focus and a remake of the company's online tools, he says. Some things will take longer than he would like, though: "The site itself has not changed. It is still as confusing as it ever was."

The Lowdown on Incorporating Online Tools in Your Business

There's something inherently breezy and speedy about online collaboration, so I was curious about a recent book, Managing Virtual Teams: Getting the Most from Wikis, Blogs, and Other Collaborative Tools (Wordware Publishing; February, 2007). Unfortunately, the book is dense and plodding. The authors say they used a wiki as a collaboration tool to write the book, but maybe when you have three authors, you inevitably wind up with predictable material, no matter how cool the tool (see BusinessWeek.com, 3/26/07, "The Wiki Workplace").

In suggesting approaches such as rope courses to build team camaraderie, the authors seem to have more of a corporate than small-company mentality, and in telling readers to "be considerate" and sensitive to time zone differences, they seem to advise the obvious. The chapters on the types of information broadcasting tools, information sharing tools, and wikis seem most useful for business owners who are trying to get their arms around the rapidly evolving online world. Just be prepared to take this book a bit at a time.

David Gumpert is a journalist who blogs reports regularly about the business of health and has written a number of books about small business and entrepreneurship, including Burn Your Business Plan! He writes his What Entrepreneurs Need to Know columnevery other week.

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