3 Day Startup – An analysis of Ass Kicking

Last weekend (2 to 4th of November) I was at 3 Day Startup Lisbon, an event that has been making the rounds around the globe and was brought to Lisbon (Porto and Coimbra had already had one) by the folks from the Entrepreneurs Break and TEC- Técnica Entrepreneurship Club. It was a hot & sexy weekend for entrepreneurship in Lisbon, with at least another event directly competing with 3DS Lisbon.

I’ll make very clear that I’m no expert on the matter, but from what I’ve seen, the general atmosphere at 3DS Lisbon was second to none. From what we know of previous other entrepreneurship bootcamps, courses, seminars, conferences and masterclasses, 3DS Lisbon got some very real enthusiasm from its participants. The end, especially, was beautiful, with people saying goodbye and just sticking around and extending the weekend as much as possible.
In other events this is not always the case, or at least not in the same proportion.

Now, why all of this? Why the enthusiasm? Why people that are used to these things still told us 3DS kicked more ass than others? What is the recipe?
What follows is my interpretation:

1 – 3DS Lisbon is an experience, not a course.

3 Day Startup lasts three days, helps create multidisciplinary teams and strives to result in some prototypes. There are no lectures, reading materials or even a curriculum. 3DS will not teach the same thing to everybody, but will create good conditions for good work to sprout.

People who sign up for 3DS are not doing it to pad their CVs with “Entrepreneurship” as a skill. Of course they can do that, but I think that is not their main goal with 3DS. Actually, most people I asked said they signed up to meet people, not necessarily to start the next challenge of their lives. Surely seeds were planted, though.

2 – 3DS caters to an informal audience

This is a fortunate match, 3DS and Entrepreneurs Break, known for their non-bullshit attitude and even slightly defiant attitude towards giant egos and entrepreneurial cliques. 3DS is exceedingly flat and there are no formalities holding people back. Hell, we had DJs and wine and not just for the last day.

Being informal leads to a relaxed atmosphere, with no wasted energy in politics and ass-kissing. This, in turn, creates openness to discuss things that could otherwise slip under the radar. Also, and this is important: it encourages everybody to participate. At some more formal situations it is common to see more extroverted or accomplished people taking a lead (this is to be expected and does move things forward) and shy people having little opportunity to participate. Not at 3DS, I felt.

3 – 3DS is compressed in time

3DS only has a starting and a finishing date. And in three days, there are no other scheduled moments. You are expected to manage your work and while you have to upload pitch decks at two determined moments, you are free to do as you want. If you have read “the makers schedule” Here, you will understand the value of this. Furthermore, group dynamics go under some stretching with people that had never seen each other working really hard to achieve something. People were quick to notice not just the skills but also the quirks and personal traits that come up at 2am.

All of this makes for a wider spectrum of emotions, not so available on “9 to 5” classes. 3 Days in a row are better than 5 separated ones, I feel.

Summing up:

It all depends on what you want to achieve with the events you create and participate in, but for the positioning of the Entrepreneurs Break, 3DS is a great recipe. Keep it short, agile, intense and loose and people will rise to the occasion, partner in unlikely ways and build the foundations for real greatness.

365 days

One year ago I arrived home from the Netherlands. I had a backpack, a book full of tits and dicks, a black eye and a huge “best intern ever” cup. I had just been on an amazing roadtrip with Natwerk all the way from Holland to the Tomatina party. I doubt there would be a better way to end my previous job in guerrilla advertising.

And now, looking back to this year, I´ve realized it was a pretty good one. I had a shot at different things that taught me plenty. In this year I started learning electronics (Arduino), I´ve participated in an architecture competition, been to 2 big entrepreneurship bootcamps, had a go at co-founding a company that got some attention (that I´ve just left), started doing LiveSketching and I´m now in the process of getting a work Visa to move to São Paulo, Brazil. Other interests that caught my mind were video projection, digital fabrication, mobile applications, drawing zombies/robots and hacking analog photographic cameras. Not all were a success, but the learning was awesome.

In this period, i´ve learned the following things. A few are self-discovered clichés. Others will not be so evident:

  1. Done is better than perfect
  2. People are drawn into passion
  3. You must know who you are
  4. The right team is incredibly important for a project
  5. Most people I respect and look up to are still learning
  6. There is plenty of inspirational stuff in Gangsta Rap

1 – Done is better than perfect

As a Designer, this is something I struggle a lot with. On one hand I love the process of connecting the dots, getting ideas and coming up with new things. On the other, I truly believe that the devil is in the details. It is very hard to combine lots of different ideas in diverse fields with absolute perfect execution.

It has become apparent that the best approach is to start fast and furiously, especially with side projects that are the immediate result of my passion. Given that there are so many things I care about, it is exceedingly easy to lose focus and jump on to the next project. It is better to start executing really fast, get something to show for, and improve from there. I suspect this challenge will be my road mate for the rest of my life.

2 – People are drawn into passion

With the privilege of meeting so many interesting people (a big shout out to Frank, Henrique, Diogo, Paulo, Gonçalo and Miguel), it is clear that passion is a game changer. These guys are designers, inventors, engineers and social entrepreneurs and what binds them is the fire in their eyes when they speak of what they want to achieve.

They might not have all the details down, but they know what makes them tick. Most people don´t have such vision, tolerance for uncertainty or values and we are naturally drawn into those who seem to have all the answers. Hell, Cary Grant once said “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me.”. Passionate people are committed to achieving their potential and will act as beacons for the rest of us that are still unsure of how to spend our energy.

Better yet, everybody has a passion for something. If it matches the opportunities, jackpot.

3 – You must know who you are

This one is direct consequence of the previous topic. In the big adventure of going through life (I´m working on my tackiness) there will be choices. Some of them hard and no amount of pro/cons lists will help you. Recently I had to choose if I wanted to stick with a startup or take a job in a design consultancy. Part of me was in love with the entrepreneurial glamour of endless work, contagious enthusiasm and tight-rope walking above failure. The other side wanted to learn the most about the widest set of things, move to a new country and seeing how companies manage innovation. The second won.

While I was trying to decide in abstract terms of what is “better”, I couldn´t make up my mind. As soon as I figured out that if I never had to work another day, I´d go back to school, the decision was made. It was absolutely necessary to know who I am and what I want to do. Do it for yourself and stick with it.

Bonus tip: don´t think about “tactics” (“I want to work with DIY 3D printers”), but “strategies” (“I want to work with open design that allows people to directly impact their physical surroundings”)

4 – The right team is incredibly important for a project

I used to think this was bullshit. Just like I thought motivation was bullshit. It isn´t. If we agree that teamwork will probably take you further than going solo, we have to consider the sort of team you get.

Now, getting a team that has a skillset that completes itself is nice. Getting a team that shares a vision is pretty cool. A team that gets along well and can push each other is golden. A team that has all of this is extremely hard to find. But this is what takes you further. Some people prefer to go at it solo (I´m often that person) because it is difficult to find a perfect team. But if you find yourself in such company, make it count, for you have been blessed.

5 – Most people I respect and look up to are still learning

Aha, relief! This is especially visible if you are into stuff that is just showing up, lets say, less than a few years old. The mighty power of the internet lets you follow and interact with guys that write books, give conferences and teach at renowned universities. In the old days there was this feeling that if somebody truly kicks ass at something, you can´t reach her.

Well, now you can and it is refreshing to see that they are just as curious, awed and occasionally, procrastinating as you are. Isn´t this democracy?

6 – There is plenty of inspirational stuff in Gangsta Rap

This is a bit of a joke, but only partially. I don´t claim to be an expert in the matter, but especially with the old school and east coast stuff you will find some guys so focused on the hustling, makin´ that paper and getting paid that you can´t help but to be inspired.

This doesn´t mean you must start dealing dope and working on getting your CV in the criminal record form, but the drive to overcome adversity and refusing to stay where you started is something to look up to.
And for your enjoyment, listen to this

Differentiate & Integrate

Have you read “Flow” from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi? Well, I just recently found out about it and even more recently, read it. In very brief terms, Flow is the state you are in when you are ” in an activity, fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity” (wikipedia).

For instance, I like to draw, and often try to draw difficult perspectives. Most of times I dont really end up satisfied, but in the process, it is quite common that i lose some track of time and have total focus on the task and each time I get better. You could argue that for a moment, I was in Flow. Does it make sense?

A cool aspect of Flow is that it tends to lead to growth. You reach Flow and it is likely that you learn something (not always a craft, mind you). This growth happens in two ways that must co-exist: Differentiation and Integration. By learning something new, you differentiate yourself from you previous self and from others around you. And when you integrate this knowledge, when you give it some order, it becomes part of you and sets the now larger limits of your existence. I´m really not into esoteric stuff and if this post is sounding like anything of the sort, well…Cskiszentmihalyi wrote a nice book about the topic that should set the record straight. Flow is about psychology. Not the dark arts.

Why am I talking about this?
Because “growth”, in the context of Flow, reminds me of the Design profession and how it keeps on expanding its skillset and integrating imported methods into its broader definition.

Continue lendo “Differentiate & Integrate”

Entrepreneurship Bootcamp and a new project

For the past few months I´ve been taking a more active approach to learning the ins and outs of business. And although there is a ton you can learn by reading, it is great to have a structured program to follow, with a real project and the support of proven mentors. That is why I enrolled in the Energia de Portugal bootcamp series (Run by a leading newspaper, the national energy company and a national bank). It felt great to know I made it to the selected 200 (we were 1723 at the beginning, so yeah, im happy). And now I have a new project, Apps Freely.

AppsFreely is a place where as a developer you can promote your smartphone apps and as a user, you can get credits for trying them out. These credits can then be redeemed for premium apps of your choice.
(Gonçalo, our app developer already made the website, I can´t take the credit for it)

They say the team is more important than the idea, and I got reasons to like mine. We have an experienced application developer, an IT management consultant, a digital entrepreneur and yours truly (full disclosure: I´ll be handling research, usability and design).

The program lasts 9 weeks (two gone by) and places the biggest focus on the teaching of actionable skills. It is not about “getting people excited about entrepreneurship” but more about “teaching the right tools to take off”. It places a big focus on understanding the market with plenty of mentions to “research”, “testing” and “iteration”. Now this is something I definitely want to get more of.

In the last session we worked with the Business Model Canvas to structure our approach and now it is time to hit the road. And we will need some input, so if you feel that you can help us pick a name, there is a place for that:

Google Forms App name selection
(sorry, the explanation is in Portuguese, but just remember what i said above)

Also, you can sign up for the beta, either as a developer or user, so waste no time:
AppsFreely

So, let´s see where this goes! For now it has been great to meet new people, which as usual in these community, are damn optimistic, active and interesting!

Two writing voices

Well, screw it. I was doing something else, mildly urgent but this just came up to my mind.
I´ve noticed that I have two writing modes that I most often use:

  • Very structured and efficiency-biased for “technical stuff”, gradually uncovering how I got there
  • A more loose “hook and bait” approach, that leans a bit on a narrative flow

I use the first to explain ideas and projects, so that busy readers will get the gist of it very quickly (focused on result and not process). Typically I´ll have a “if you got 5 minutes” section where the whole thing is compressed in and then little by little talk about my approach, methods and the little steps that informed the final decisions.

The second is the one I try to use when writing about more abstract topics. Here in the blog, this how I try to make it. Most often it starts with a curious fact or statement and then moves on to the step by step justification (I´m a sucker for validation).

I´m quite sure this is not rocket science, but I think it is interesting that I´ve never consciously noticed I had these two modes. Of course I knew I had different priorities when writing, but this is the first time I see them side by side. Oddly enough there is a consistent focus on aspects of structure, flow and justification. I wonder what would happen if I were to write short stories. Would these characteristics remain?

Interesting how our writing style so closely follows how we think.

Designoteca.com is live

Henrique (his personal website) is a good friend with a solid, consistent passion. He likes open design, co-creation and participatory approaches. And this is why Designoteca.com exists. Designoteca is a an open design repository, connecting designers and producers, with a strong focus on digital fabrication.
Henrique dedicated the past few months, along with the good help from Heraldo and a bit of my input, to make Designoteca happen.

Designoteca home page

Designoteca has been online for a while, but just last week released the new paypal enabled functions. You can now effortlessly upload a design, establish your price and immediately be ready to start licensing your designs. And the whole thing helps you select the right type of license, from the Creative Commons catalog.

On the website you can upload editable and non-editable file types, set up a description, indicate which technology should be used to fabricate your products and even use tags
to group similar ideas. It really has come a long way.

The whole idea is that anybody can give shape to their own ideas, and be able to make a living from them. In order to help people getting into digital fabrication, Designoteca has introductions to the topic, what processes and software one can use to model and produce her ideas. And has the site grows, it should become a meeting place for people to work on similar projects, each one contributing with a part. Right now, e.Moped the open source electrical bicycle is asking for help, maybe you can drop by and lend a hand?

There is a lot of talk at Designoteca.com on how to make it better, so if you got suggestions, fire away!

Subtlety is a compliment

The other day I re-watched Dr. No. It had been on my list for a long time due to its cultural relevance. One of the things that struck me in this film was the balanced use of plot cues. Things are simply not explained ostensibly, which gives the alert viewer enough time to process information and come to her own conclusions. The beautiful thing is that even if you don´t immediately understand what is happening (e.g. some specific gadget is used and you don´t know what it is), later in the story this will be explained in a very natural way.
It´s a win-win. If you pay attention to details you get the plot earlier, if you don´t, you won´t be insulted by patronizing explanations that break the flow of the narrative.

This got me thinking about subtlety and why I appreciate it. I suspect that most people that appreciate it do it for similar reasons, but maybe I´m wrong. If you think so, please just hit me up on the comment box below.

Continue lendo “Subtlety is a compliment”

Transparency forces value creation

I´m going to come clean on this one: I´m not the best at joining social media. Definitely no early adopter, that is. This being said, you are warned that what I´m about to say is probably no big news for the super involved type of person.

So, after deciding to go public, start a blog and start really using twitter, I´ve become aware of the effect of transparency and how it is great incentive to create value. If you share the list of people and institutions that you follow, it is “crazy easy” to figure out if the things you say are mere repetition or the creation of your own synthesis.

I´m using the twitter/blog/internet at large example, but I feel this can be expanded to pretty much everything. When people can see the references you consult, it is possible to gauge your contribution. Academic research projects are very much like this, for example.

One of the main advantages of the current time is the easy access to information. One of the main disadvantages of the current time also happens to be the easy access to information.

I´ve seen plenty of me-too content (hell, it is quite possible you see this post as such) and it is a pity. It strikes me a missed opportunity and the equivalent of pretending to be something you are not. We all have unique points of view on a few things, especially when we free ourselves from following the bandwagon.

It is our unique combination of experiences, skills and interests that makes us interesting.
Copying the gurus cannot lead to anything novel.

So, it might be better to start aggregating all those streams you follow into your unique story. This is advice I´ll be trying to follow to the best of my ability.

And by the way, am I being captain obvious? Sometimes one thinks of things that are later dismissed due to “being damn evident” and later when someone else gets accolades for similar thoughts, we get royally pissed off.

Samsung and “Future Proof TV”

I’m sorry I’ve not written in a while, I’ve been extra busy with a submission for an architecture competition of sorts. I’ll talk more about it later, if good news come my way. Wish me luck.

Samsung has just unveiled a TV set that has a slot for hardware upgrades.
This is not irrelevant and is in line with a tendency of TV sets to become smarter and more like a living-room computer. The software on these things has been improving consistently, with advanced image and audio processing.

Now, when Samsung adds a physical bay for the swapping of hardware, things get more interesting. For some reason, they call this a “Future Proof TV”.

Continue lendo “Samsung and “Future Proof TV””