Launch48 (Edinburgh): what happened when Pride met Prejudice

Our Launch48 Edinburgh Board

Making Alan Sugar look distinctly sweet

Launch48 is a workshopped weekend of caffeinated chaos designed to connect tech and business enthusiasts (like me) to techpreneurs (folk with tech ideas). The techpreneurs pitch their ideas on Friday to the audience of enthusiasts, then people gravitate towards their favourite idea. Thus the Launch48 groups are formed.

The weekend consists of four Board meetings, comprising of experienced start-up folk who try and steer these chaotic groups of people towards becoming polished (at least a little bit) start-up companies. Each Board meeting is meant to represent the first half of a year and consequently it’s a pretty intense two days.

Since the wonderful start-up café bloggers have already written up the ideas, I’m just going to signpost you there for the detail on the weekend:

http://startupcafe.co.uk/2010/11/05/launch48-in-blog-posts-and-tweets/

I joined a group called “Social Catalogue”, Start-Up Café described it as:

Social Catalogue
Find products and services in your local area, compare prices, and read reviews from other users. The team made a bold statement that they are looking to change the culture and process behind purchasing decisions. They believe that accessibility and availability to information will assist the provision and recommendation of goods and services.
http://search.twitter.com/search?q=socialcatalogue

Since half the group struggled with the need to identify real problems for real people (“we don’t need marketing and we don’t need funding”), we ended up half jokingly positioning this as “an app for everyone, doing everything, competing with everybody.” A kind of local search engine, almost entirely populated by user-generated content.

I think the resulting blog posts and tweets document the challenge Social Catalogue faced over the entire weekend…. everyone (including team members and mentors) had a slightly different vision of what “Social Catalogue” should be. Each time we explained the concept to someone, it seemed to mutate. At one point, I thought we’d nailed it with one mentor by establishing that we could connect those who love to shop, with those who hate to shop; incentivising enthusiastic locals to share their favourite tips and feeding those who faint at the idea of window shopping. Yet I confess I’m not sure we were any further along on Sunday night (even with the concept) than we were in the pub on Friday.

I’ve also included some alternative perspectives on Social Catalogue here:

http://vimeo.com/16585894

http://twitter.com/#!/search/socialcatalogue

http://benwerd.com/2010/11/launch48-edinburgh-an-inspiring-start/

http://www.techliterate.co.uk/home/2010/11/1/launch48-presentations.html

I’ve got most of my pics on Flickr here, but here are a few to give you an idea of what we went through! 🙂

Late night thinking at Launch48 Edinburgh

If only we'd had Red Bull instead of all that water

Markos, Social Catalogue, Launch 48, Edinburgh

Markos working on the Social Catalogue Facebook app

Getting ready to present at Launch 48 Edinburgh

Still smiling 🙂

And I’ve distilled this crazy weekend to some key learnings (for me):

Trying something a bit different
My experience of the weekend was mixed. On the one hand I was thrown into a “just add water” culture that was very different from any previous experience. This was uncomfortable, but perhaps a necessary part of growing as an individual and dare I say it, a professional too.

Getting to the point
I learnt how important it is to explain marketing from first principles. Marketing is the hussy of the business world: she kisses everyone’s lips and allows them a good fumble, but very few people would know what the meaningful long-term relationship looked like. I’d forgotten to ensure we were all on the same page and for the very first time in my career, I experienced YCE (younger colleague envy), when I was upstaged by a 19 year old who beautifully articulated the necessity of segmentation. “You may not think you’re targeting anyone, but actually you are.”

Knowing when you should have said no
I also learnt to stop saying yes. Kind of. I’d done a 60 hour week prior to Launch48; I missed the opening pitches because of client work. I was late on Saturday morning because of client work. I don’t resent my situation at all here and I ain’t no planning martyr, but my God I was shattered on Sunday. Proper zombie fatigue. I would do Launch48 again, but I’d decide at the last minute and if there was anything else that cut too close to the event , I’d turn the weekend down. You need energy for Launch48 and sadly stretching myself between agency and start-up culture, just results in mediocre performance.

Don’t get personal
Don’t choose an idea for the sake of it. I have to admit I wasn’t wildly inspired by the selection of ideas (though I hear you all shouting WELL YOU DO IT THEN! LET’S SEE YOUR IDEAS!). I liked the running app, but chose to avoid the group partly because it was run by a friend (and we generally network independently), but also because this group had attracted a nightmare of a girl I’d met on a previous workshop and I’ve spent many subsequent networking events trying to avoid her. Bitchy? Yes. Unique viewpoint, no.

If you don’t like the party, don’t stay at the party
Don’t choose an idea you don’t believe in. Questioning it during such an intense development workshop invalidates the progress of the group and actually holds people back. Even if the idea sucks, just move graciously on and find a better group. However if you do this and the second group doesn’t work, then it’s time for some real soul searching.

The importance of structuring thinking
There are so many dirty words that begin with P. Planning, process. Nobody likes them. They’re the loners in the creative playground. Who wants to be friends with Process? Loser. But sometimes process helps. An awesome Creativity in Business workshop organised by those excellent Girl Geek Scotland ladies taught me that you need to structure the ideas generation process. First of all, you need a completely open forum for ideas. All ideas. Fat ones, thin ones, sexy ones, geeky ones. They all need to shake their booty on the catwalk. Then you can shortlist favourites and start to accessorise them and only then can the cat fight begin over which ones really aren’t America’s next top model. However when you try and brainstorm and critique ideas at the same time, all hell breaks loose and what you end up with…. what we ended up with…. was the most almighty brain-ache on Saturday night. “What’s my name again? Where am I?”

Beware the couple
Couples are no fun to work with in an environment like Launch48. They should be separated on arrival and instructed to network independently like everyone else on the weekend.

Beware the guy who just wants to be an entrepreneur
OK, so who wouldn’t want to be the next Google and Facebook? But some people are all about the show. By all means talk the talk, but walk the walk too.

Beware the mentors, they’re not wizards.
The Launch48 attracted some very interesting, experienced and successful mentors, but from what I remember, I think they all advised on the idea, rather than looking at interactions within the group or helping us work more effectively. Even though they made some genius suggestions, I’m not actually sure how helpful they were in advising us as a company. Launch48 seems to be full of idea-guys and techies, but actually making and breaking the weekend is pretty much about the people. As some groups have detailed, the effective management of people was a challenge and one with which many of us seemed to have struggled. Maybe we all need a bit more definition in our role and influence?

Just f*cking do it!
Stop worrying about being the next Google or Facebook and just get on with being something. Do something, anything(!), test it, watch it. Play with others. Share. But don’t just watch. Otherwise by the time you’ve clocked what’s happening, the kids will have left the playground. Think you can do better? Do it!

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