The Entire Startup Ecosystem in One Room

Last night, we had about 100 people come by the Microsoft BizSpark Lab to talk about Using Community and Design to Build a Business Model. That link takes you to a livestream archive that I will embed below. 

From left to right: Michael Staton, Learn Capital; Jenna Meister, Airbnb; Zachary Zorbas, Babelverse

Sahana Ullaggadi, Klout; Sumaya Kazi, Sumazi; Douglas Crets, Microsoft  BizSpark (Photo Credit: Christina Tsakona)


Design, Listening, Community and Startup Knowledge

Rather than go through the entire event, I am going to embed a video and then pull out some highlights. Here are some tweets that capture some of the thoughts from our panel.

Every person on this panel last night represents one facet of the startup ecosystem. Let's say you are having coffee and you think of an idea for a startup.

If you start with Sumaya Kazi -- her startup, Sumazi, helps people find the people they don't know they know. This is especially good for when you are interested in working on an idea, but you don't have the resources or the immediate network to find the people you need to find to get started. 

Once you find a group of people to work with, you can then use Klout to find out which of these people have the kind of resources and impact in social media and in their industry to get your marketing or your word of mouth off the ground. 

Then it's time to code, or its time to do some business model generation, so you need to talk to your consumers or the engineers that will help you get your work done. If they speak another language, then you use Babelverse to communicate with them in real time. 

And then, when its time to bring the entire distributed staff together to build, code, and generate business, you can rent a home from Airbnb and house them there for a month. 

When you have proven that your MVP has legs, and it is building traction, then you have Michael Staton and the VC fund he is a partner in, Learn Capital, to turn to. 


This kind of realization made me think that we are not living in a world where working for a corporation has to be someone's first choice. As one of our audience members put it: 

Michael Staton said that you need something called "market empathy." You may have explosive growth, but you should ensure that the explosive growth is happening because you have adressed a concern that comes directdly from the market. He went so far to say that it's not even a "tactic." It's a commitment to a form of discipline. 

This is something I riffed off, when I said that many people in what I would call traditional marketing try to sell the product first. It's all about the product. In a startup mentality, you often don't really know what you are making, because so much is dependent on the people who use it. In that case, you can't put 100% of your marketing efforts into selling the product by its features. You have to create something like an emotional space that enables people to want to help, and to want to use what they are not sure they want. It's something entirely new. 

To me this is the fundamental design trait that is inherent to a startup. It is not something big and bold that overwhelms you and makes you want it. The startup gene is the gene that expresses the trait of cooperative creation. In the space where a startup is trying to figure out what to be in order to achieve the product market fit, the startup team's adaptive skill sets and reasoning powers will make the difference between an Airbnb and a Second Life. 

The best use of this trait is in using community and design as the startup grows. 

When it comes down to incorporating the design and the community function into your business model, two things are important:

1. Your design is going to make people understand what you do, but it will also invite them to participate in what you are doing

2. The community function should be run by someone -- often called a community manager -- who has an excellent skill set that can incorporate design sense, listening, business sense, and an ability to articulate to a massive following what the company is doing and how it is going to do that WITH the community.

As Sahana at Klout says, there is no standard model, or "in the box resume" that person brings to the interview. Look for the person who understands and can execute in the social space. Everything, anyway, is improvisation.


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