We were once again glad to be a part of StartupWeekend Cluj and we would like to congratulate the team of organizers for the clear signs of maturity. All throughout the event I had a clear feeling that everything is on schedule, and you could feel it in the attitude of the attendees. Compared to last year, when there was a clear leap in participant count, this year the same number of attendees managed to pitch 49 ideas, almost as much as the combined amount of the previous editions (2012 + 2013 - 59 pitches). Proving that also the audience matured and most of the attendees came to the event with a very precise agenda.
Beyond the discreet and efficient orchestration, I would also like to underline two important merits of the organizing team. First that the audience expectations were so well set that participants came fully informed and ready for work, validating the pre-event awareness campaign efforts and evoking the success of the previous editions in creating startups and consolidating the local startup ecosystem. Second, the punctuality, especially considering the 49 pitches on Friday which, I can"t imagine how, didn"t upset the schedule at all, proving the full extent of the maturity and experience of the organizers.
To better understand the experience of a participant, we invite you to explore the following insights from the winning team: Engagement Management, formed by: Dragoș Andronic, Emil Vădana, Ionuț Radu, Călin Vingan, Marius Mocian, Horațiu Dumbrean, Oana Vezentan and, responding to our questions below, Antonia Onaca.
When did you get the idea and when did you decide to use it at StartupWeekend?
The engagement topic has appeared for a while now in my current work and I think it"s something on the radar of anyone who works for at least a minute with another person. The main issue that most organizations raise, especially in the knowledge economy, is that performance management methods don"t work and sometimes do more harm than good. Frequently one faces the question: how to reward cool people to keep on being cool (since most perks don"t work), and how to get the others to join in.
According to organizational psychology research (a massif research field) the answer is: employee engagement. The premise is that employees want to do a good job; another premise is that people know best where they can perform and shine; frequent exploration requires embracing failure (Innovator"s dilemma); people will be more involved and responsible of things they decided to act on; in knowledge economy we can"t define the expected outcome up front (like in waterfall), but rather continuously create it; people expect their leaders to reward effort, not just the results (sometimes we do a lot of exploring, with little to show, but not without a lot of work); thus the leaders are responsible with channeling the efforts and helping each team member grow.
To answer your question, the idea has teased me for many years as an existing need, but presented itself as a solution for organizational development (consultancy) in the last 6 months and as an actual product only while pondering what to do at SWCluj. The organizers have presented this event (at least to me) as an opportunity to do good and relevant things. They"ve set very high standards for the attendees and I wanted to meet them.
How did you prepare for the event?
Before the event I had no idea on how an actual product would look. I knew the market was in need for solutions to increase employee engagement, therefore I researched the concept, how it is currently being approached and which methods, validated by existing organizational solutions, influence it. I was also aware, due to my consultant work, that any implementation of the concept would require: no overhead; because it"s hard to move people away from their workspace, it should be integrated in their email client; most organizational initiatives die out due to steep learning curves.
I"ve also tried talking to people in different organizations to see how satisfied they are with their current solutions. I"ve found out that most of them use variations on traditional performance management processes, but they don"t really find value in them and consider them difficult to implement. Most of them have given considerable thought to employee engagement and are already trying to influence it with different organizational solutions.
Before the event I had millions of ideas and concepts and information that, once at the event, aligned and transformed in a realistic vision.
Taking into account the importance of the team, how many members did you attract and what was your strategy?
We were 8 cool team members. We were all acquainted from different contexts and I think the existence of a previous relationship was a determining factor. I think each of us were at some point upset with the existing performance management systems and thus saw the value behind our idea (as possible beneficiaries). Furthermore there was a certain amount of respect and fondness, circling around between us prior to the event, and it certainly helped. We knew the event would be a cool experience and we each sought that in the two days.
How many will keep working on the project?
We"ve liked each other very much and we"ve worked together exceptionally (both fun and results), each one of us engaged (to validate the tool before building it). After SWCluj each will go back to our previous projects, to fulfill our standing engagements, but we settled to meet again after a few days of rest and celebrate and figure out a way for the future. For this we will probably write a new TSM article
What was the best advice received at SWCluj?
One thing I really liked about SWCluj was the fact that both the coaches and the jury didn"t give advice and expect compliance. It was a really nice experience to see them try to understand what we want, what we"re trying to solve and how. The coaches were extraordinary in asking us the best questions to get us thinking, to help us push our ideas further, and really challenge or nourish them (constructive criticism). I think simple advice would have lacked in impact. They actually did a great job at teaching us how to think. Which is a really good strategy, since a piece of advice you get once, and most often forget, but when someone activates a thought process, it sticks even after the event, when you really need it and there are no mentors around to help.
What are the biggest accomplishments of the weekend?
First place would be the validation of the idea. Each member of the team has prior entrepreneurial experience and were aware that it is the most important thing. Second comes the access to real people"s experience. I know we each need to make our own mistakes, but being able to learn from the real life experience of others is actually priceless, even if only to make room for new mistakes. Unfortunately life is too short to be able to make all the possible mistakes and learn from them.
The third accomplishment was the fun of it. We really had a great time. And the credit goes to the organizing team who was really wise in the way it created our experience. Because it was an experience and not an event, and it set every one of the participants on steroids. Based on my knowledge it would have taken us at least one year to learn all of the things we learned during the weekend. This is what the organizers did very well, they condensed a years" worth of entrepreneurial life in 24 hours.
What prizes did you win?
So many prizes, so relevant for a startup. They are already listed on the website, and mostly consist of access to contexts in which both the idea and the work on it can be significantly accelerated, matched with tools to make our product become a reality. The prizes are well thought to get you started in turning your idea into a product that would improve the world, at least a little. But besides the ones on the list, there were many others: contacts that want and will support you in building your product, a lot of encouragement, essential in the inception phase, when all you"ve got is emotional kerosene and the fact that you become a part of a bigger group that helps you face the challenges brought by new beginnings.
Any advice for future participants and a recipe/ ingredient of success?
There"s one piece of advice that comes from entrepreneurial experience, but found its place at SWCluj: Don"t rely on intuition, but rather make sure that there"s a real and documented need. We often think our solution is really useful, because we relate to it, but we need to check whose problem we solve and whose life we make better and even if that person wants that particular problem solved. Furthermore, read the existing related research and see if your assumptions are real. There are incredible amounts of already relevant research done and easily retrieved through scholar.google.com or sagepub. Even if the IT industry is innovative and disruptive, the problems it solves are human problems, and in these matters there"s already a lot of useful know-how.
Another advice is to have sincere fun at the event. It"s incredible how many cool things are born out of fun and happiness (zenQ actually built a nice product on this concept). When you"re happy, as they mentioned in their pitch, you"re more productive, you think better, find cooler solutions, collaborate better, and the whole experience is a reward in itself.
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