How SXSW is Like Visiting Morocco

I leave for my first SXSW Interactive experience on Friday. I've been madly RSVPing, organizing and making sure I have everything covered and planned. Then my dear friend and veteran SXSWer Tara pointed out what's obvious in hindsight.

You can't plan.

You can't see everything and meet every person there.

It's impossible.

Give it up sister.
This woman is seriously wise. It reminded me of a lesson I learned while in Marrakech.

Moroccan Chaos How SXSW is Like Visiting Morocco


You can't control chaos. The Medina where all the souks (shops) are located is a confusing mess of zig zag, crooked streets. A map is useless. I gave mine up on my first afternoon allowing myself to be thrust into the chaos, trusting that I'd get where I needed to go–wherever that was. I let go of control and let the Moroccan culture reveal what it wanted to me. One of these revelations was a young artist named Benjou who I spent several afternoons with learning Arabic and him practicing his English while sipping mint tea. One of my best memories ever on a trip, it wouldn't have happened with a map stuck in my face.

I try to remember this every time I try to over-plan, over-control, over anything in my world. As I embark on my first SXSW adventure here's what I'm keeping in mind.

There is chaos.

From the chaos arises exactly what I need.

Even if I don't know I need it.

I just have to trust it and…
Enjoy the ride.

That's my mantra for chaos that is a major event like SXSW. How do YOU handle uncontrollably chaotic situations where "maps" don't work?

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Startup Weekend Boulder 5 – The Remix Version

54 intense, action packed hours to create a startup…

from pretty much nothing.

Oh yeah. There are going to be plenty of goofy and even wacky moments. I captured a few of those moments during the latest rendition of Startup Weekend in Boulder and here are some of my favorites. Two of my favorite moments couldn't have been depicted by photos so I'll use their best medium: words.

1st: Eric Marcoullier (OneTrueFan) gave advice that had something to do with having more founders making a better marriage except it's legal–kinda like in Utah. I'm not sure if I got the essence of that message but any time you make a comparison between startups and bigamy I'm going to laugh.

2nd: Micah Baldwin ( ended his round of advice with a bunch of random swear words to make Eric (a liberal swearer from what I understand) more comfortable. And these both were from the first few moments of the event on Friday night.

The rest of the weekend did not disappoint. Here are some of the best visual moments I was able to capture from the weekend. And if you don't find them funny well–I guess you had to be there to truly appreciate them.

The first was from a round of the classic rock, paper, scissors for a highly coveted Startup Weekend jacket. This the final round. The guy in the gray won. It's a pretty darn cool jacket. I almost sidled up to the winner with a "How you doin'?" just to get the chance to wear it. But…I think he's married so, not cool.

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The few moments are from that evening. The guy in this photo pitched an idea about crowd sourcing something or other political. The bib was pretty priceless as well as patriotic.

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There are all sorts of fun cut-outs around the TechStars bunker. My favorites are Chewbaca (who doesn't love some Chewie?) and the one of Co-organizer Jon Rossi with his new girlfriend. I guess he likes a woman who can kick ass while wearing leather and really, who doesn't? I wouldn't mind being that woman.

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During the event I took a bunch of random photos including teams working. When I stopped by the ID Weeds team they immediately struck this pose. It's fitting for their startup (a medical marijuana inventory system). And? Still funny since it's not something I see much in the business world I inhabit.

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Apparently, you can buy a BMW during Startup Weekend. And there's even a discount on the price as a participant. Since I wasn't one I wouldn't have gotten the discount but if I had…

I might be rolling around in style today.

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And finally, there's always a clean-up crew at events right? Well at Startup Weekend Boulder the organizers mean it when they say that no job is too small at a startup. Here are co-organizers Jon Rossi and Dave Mayer as they clean up while I sit watching them and take pictures of them hard at work.

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That's all for this edition of Startup Weekend Boulder. Now go forth and startup!


Startup Weekend Boulder – The Wisdom Edition

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Organizers Jon Rossi, Dave Mayer and Matt Bernier did an amazing job of assembling a strong group of entrepreneurial folks to serve as mentors and judges during Startup Weekend Boulder 5. Although it was virtually impossible to record every single piece of insightful information these folks offered I tried to capture some of the best below. Good advice for all entrepreneurs and startup dreamers.

Micah Baldwin,

  • As Brad Feld says, there are lots of things you measure but only 2 that really matter. Figure out what they are and make sure everything relates back to them.

Duleepa Wijayawardhana, Empire Avenue

  • Don't worry about failure. You'll succeed just because you try. Well, do.

Nicole Glaros, TechStars

  • Know your market. Understand the pain points of your market and build around it. If you do, you will be successful.
  • Be intellectually honest. Listen with unbiased ears. It's hard to do when someone tells you your baby is ugly but if you do this, you will be successful.

Eric Marcoullier, One True Fan

  • If you have to fix a feature, get rid of it.

Ari Newman, Jive Software

  • Simplify your model. As he said to one team, "There's so much I think my head just exploded."
  • Consider going after a large market because it will be more forgiving when you fail. And you will.

Niel Robertson, Trada

  • Make sure you build marketing metrics into the product right up front. Having a data-driven development approach will allow you to scale faster.

Jon Rossi, Startup Weekend Boulder

  • Help each other out and keep the momentum going.

Chris Vieville, Snap Engage

  • Build social gaming into your product but watch out for being too gimicky.

John Wright, Quick Left

  • Find a product that cannot fail and that makes sense.

My own advice
When coming up with a name make sure it's available on all the necessary outlets (URL, Twitter, etc.) and grab it quickly. Make it easy for people to find you.

And finally…

Don't play at it. Play full out and do it for real.


Startup Me Up Boulder

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This weekend, at the invitation of Jon Rossi, one of the organizers, I attended the fifth iteration of Startup Weekend in Boulder, my first. The intense, rapid ramp-up version of startup life this event offers was intriguing and because Startup Weekend concept was incubated by Andrew Hyde in Boulder I wanted to see it for myself. I'd heard that Startup Weekend Boulder has evolved since it's earlier more chaotic, less organized days and they were right. The organizers (including Dave Mayer and Matt Bernier) were extremely organized and managed the event well so the only chaos was on the part of the teams, which…is expected given the nature of this kind of event.

The event kicked off F
IMAG2137 300x179 Startup Me Up Boulderriday night in the TechStars bunker with advice from local entrepreneurs Micah Baldwin (, Eric Marcoullier (OneTrueFan), Niel Robertson  (Trada), and Chris Vieville (Snap Engage). The event was sold-out with people coming to the attend the event from as far away as South Africa and Nova Scotia. To pay? To create a startup? Over the weekend? Yep. That's dedication. The passion of the participants was clear when more than half the group pitched an idea–some even pitched two. A wide range of ideas were presented from a digital currency to geo-location for baby-friendly bathrooms to crowd sourced life coaching and even a steak toaster. That one had us all salivating for steak but it didn't get picked. In the end, eight were chosen among the 37 original ideas, teams were assembled through an organic self-selection process and the real work began.

On Saturday the chaos that's an inherent part of an event like this bubbled up as some teams changed and at least one nearly pivoted. Here is Tamara of SIMclip talking about her team.

In the end eight teams were ready to present on Sunday to a panel of judges and a crowded room of participants and supporters. Betting on startups is pretty much the only thing I might bet on I came up with a list of my favorites. I was pretty proud that that the judges agreed with 2 of my 3 choices. Here they are the top three teams for Startup Weekend Boulder 5.

1st Place: SIMclip

Solves the problems of not enough money and time by making it easier to use digital coupons. This was one of my picks as well because it's got a specific audience with a pain point AND is expected to be a 44 million industry by 2014. I was also really impressed with how well the team understood the market and came up with a product and future feature sets based on their research. Really well done.

2nd Place: ID Weeds

Helps the medical marijuana industry manage inventory through a web based management system that allows dispensaries to communicate surpluses between peers. This was one of my other picks. Given the nature of their industry they will need to work on impression management but the team and the idea is solid. There are currently 717 dispensaries in Colorado alone and it's projected to be a 100 Billion industry.

Wish You Nu
A site that collects wisdom from people around with the world answering the question “What do you wish you knew when you were 20?” This was not one of my picks even though it's very inspiring and will definitely have impact. The only reason I didn't pick it was that they didn't present a business model and well, as a business person with an eye for the bottom line this is critical in my book. After the event I found out they have some ideas for building revenue so I'll be eager to see what they do.


The rest of the teams included: Bridge My Path, Doody Duty, edyou, Sixth Gear and Snap Games–all really interesting ideas with strong teams. I hope all the participants continue to follow their startup passions whether it's one of these ideas or a new one. I will be keeping my eye out for all this great local talent.

And as for you…

Ever considered having your own startup or have an idea you want to see executed?

Go to Startup Weekend.