Are you too busy being a startup to work on your startup?

Many of the entrepreneurs I meet seem to be all over the place. Connecting, networking, getting ideas, sharing ideas, talking about startup news, discussing new apps. But to me it seems unclear, what their own product is about. They seem to be so busy being in the startup scene, so much so that they forget to work on their own product.

Having been in the startup scene only for about a year now, I like to analyse different startups and different entrepreneurs and try to learn from the best of them. What I’ve come to notice is that there are many different type of startups and entrepreneurs.

Many were working on their projects a lot, some were starting a startup part-time while still working at another company (like moi). But there was an interesting group of people that I also started to notice. I don’t know if there’s a name for it – but I would see them a lot on the different social media channels posting information on different events they are at and their travels to different startup happenings. Most of these events are awesome and I’d really to be there as well – but at the same time, I’m also working on making my product really awesome. So I wonder: How do they find the time to work on their product when they’re travelling all around the continent (or beyond), listening to people give speeches, visiting workshops and travelling most of the time? Often they don’t have a clear product in mind but will still try to pitch it to different people. The purpose of doing that over and over again is unclear to me.

I’ve been saying no to at least 80-95% of the events – even the ones that I found to be interesting. Some are interesting to meet people and network, but if I’d go to all these cool places, when is there time to work on the product? As I’m trying to get my startup to grow and become more profitable, I go deeper and deeper into the idea of conversions and return-on-investment (ROI). So for all the money I spend on ads, printing flyers, buying new services, I ask myself: Will this do my startup more good or bad? Will the money and time I invest be worth it or not?

That goes for events, too. I ask myself: Will this event help me or my startup, or is there a better way to spend my time + money? With conversions and ROI of events I don’t mean just short-term customer acquisition or getting a deal with VCs by next month, but I mean questions such as:

  • Will I meet enough relevant people? Investors, customers, networks, bloggers?
  • Will I get new ideas?
  • Is the event’s programme insightful or does it just include things I already know?
  • Is there enough time for networking and getting to know people?

And I don’t mean just a short-term ROI. Perhaps I’ll meet an investor and there might be a chance we can cooperate somewhere in the future, perhaps a year or two down the line. Or perhaps there’s a customer who wants to buy my product directly. Or maybe there’s an interesting blogger I can connect with long-term.

So with such a big amount of interesting events, I find it’s important to go to the events that are right for YOU. That’s why I recently turned down an event where I was one of the few people who would get free entry (normal ticket would cost 700 Euros and up!). I turned it down because participants would mostly be CEOs and directors of medium and large companies. I thought it was mostly going to be high- level people from my industry giving speeches, and I would lose 2 days of work if I traveled there. Also, most of the talk will be on strategy and corporate level and there would be little time for networking.

On the other hand, I spent over 100 EUR on a 2-day event practically around the corner from where I live, because I know these are the people I will connect with, people I can directly add on Facebook while we’re still in conversation (and so we can continue conversing online in a week or so), people with good ideas and startups with similar problems or experienced people with great tips for me.

This reminds me of one of the sentences of one of the startups that was a finalist in a “pitch battle” at a (selected!) conference I went to:

“I’m the marketing co-founder of this company. The other co-founder unfortunately isn’t here with me, he’s back at headquarters trying to make the product even better!”

It’s an example to live by, I think.

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photo: Ed Schipul, Flickr

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About the author

Oliver Adria

I promote and connect sustainable lifestyles, jobs and startups. I do this through my German sustainable lifestyles blog, German jobs site and Impact Startups blog. I've worked 6+ years in the area of sustainability, focussing mostly on products, lifestyles, retail, energy. I grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, before moving to Germany and now live in Cologne. You can connect with me on Facebook

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