4 Takeaways from Denver Startup Week 2018

By Katie Crawford on Oct 1st, 2018
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“If you dare, then you have already gotten further ahead than 99 percent of all the others” 

— Daniel EK

Wow, I cannot believe I’ve had the opportunity to attend the 7th annual Denver Startup Week (DSW). Although it’s only my 3rd year personally attending, the growth I’ve seen around empowering entrepreneurs from this annual event is beyond inspiring.

Ascend has attended DSW for the past 3 years. We’ve enjoyed going from event to event, soaking up knowledge and getting to meet entrepreneurs fueled with passion to start a business. This year, we wanted to give back to the idea of empowering entrepreneurs by providing the insights that we’ve learned from each event we’ve had the opportunity to attend.

Taking the leap of entrepreneurship can be really scary. As an entrepreneur, you don’t have the safety net of brand recognition, steady income, benefits, processes, or even office space. However, because of the entrepreneurial spirit that Denver has, you’re not alone in starting this new chapter of your life. DSW has opened the doors for every part of the spectrum; from people who believe in and support small businesses, to the entrepreneurs who are hustling every day to make their dream a reality.

As the designer for Ascend, I covered a lot of the product and design track this week and wanted to share some of my takeaways that I feel will help any new business.

Nick Coppolo

Understanding the needs of the people:

Creating a business is more than having a “good idea” you have to think about your target audience, what resonates with them, and how to solve a specific problem within that demographic.

“Design is not what it looks like and feels like, design is how it works.” - Steve Jobs

Yes, that quote is about design, but it can also be applied to designing a business; take Apple for example. This company didn’t start with what they wanted to do, but why they wanted to do it. Steve Jobs realized that people are creative, full of ideas, and all have diverse passions, but not everyone has a tool to help them bring those thoughts and ideas to life. Apple’s mission was to provide an easy to use technology to empower a culture of people to “Think Differently.”

User experience is a rising career field because it’s taking businesses back to their roots; putting the customers needs first. (I know, what a concept)

A good process for creating a delightful user experience is:

  1. Empathize: Learn about your customers
  2. Define: Construct a point of view based on customer needs and insights
  3. Ideate: Brainstorm many possible solutions
  4. Prototype: Build a representation of your solutions
  5. Test: Put your prototype in front of users for feedback

credit: Ari Weissman @travelingre

This same process can be applied to creating a business. To start, take your business model and test theories on your potential audience (more than just your friends and family.) You don’t have to have a full-fledged business plan to test your ideas either, you can interview people about your idea for a business model, and gather data that way.

How to interview potential customers and pick their brain about their pain points.

  • In Person: invite them out for coffee (and pay for the coffee)
  • Phone call: provide an Amazon gift card via email
  • Social Media Polls: have people vote on social media about ideas you are struggling with internally to implement or get rid of. 
  • Local Meetups: attend a meetup and strike up a conversation. You’d be amazed at what data can be gathered from a casual conversation.

Without a customer base, your business will not have a leg to stand on. You may think that you have the greatest idea in the world, but without an audience, your business will not succeed. Data is a powerful ally for entrepreneurs, and with great data, comes great responsibility.

The idea of success is “selling products that don’t exist to customers that do.” - Nick Coppolo, Spire digital.

Grace and Grit pannel

Be Vulnerable & Transparent:

There are three kinds of people in this world, those who will not try and ask for help, those who will try, and ask for help, and those who will sit blue in the face determined to figure out a problem alone.

When it comes to being a business owner, be the second. It’s okay to be vulnerable, and it’s admirable to admit that you need help. It’s also helps to create an environment that cultivates individual growth.

The best thing you can provide for both your employees and yourself is to find/be a leader who will point out weaknesses, give constructive criticism, and understand you personally and professionally.

Although mentors are important, it’s good to have “sponsors” too. I don’t mean in the sense that they will give you money or goods, but find someone in your industry or work environment who will put their neck on the line for you. Having relationships like that will help you move along both in your career and help you get connected throughout the community

credit: the Grace and Grit panel.

Keep in mind that these relationships can form naturally. You don’t need to officially sit down with someone and sign a contract that you are their mentor/mentee. Creating organic relationships that are authentic will be more beneficial because you both take pride in being invested in each others careers.

Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice:

Every day people are challenged with choices. They can be minor like having a bagel vs a bowl of cereal, to something major like, do I want to move to a new city or stay where I’m at? Even though these choices are vastly different they still tire your brain the same way. Each choice goes through both sides of your brain; the emotional side can make choices quickly, while the rational side can be slow to decide.

Being a new business owner you are constantly fatigued by decision making, and so are your consumers. With all of the clutter in the marketplace, it’s imperative to lessen the burden of your audiences decision making.

David Shaw and Scott Webber lead an event called “The Case for Confidence: A consumer insights perspective.” They focused on the idea of confidence. When they asked the audience to define confidence, there was a diverse set of responses, but I really liked their definition:

“Confidence - the degree to which you feel your actions will achieve positive results.”

How does one provide confidence in decision making? Well, there are a few ways actually. You can combat the paradox of choice in a few ways:

  1. Reduce the number of choices
  2. Help people tell them apart
  3. Start with easier or more important decisions.

Being a business owner, this may sound simple, but let’s unpack these ideas a little further.

Reduce the number of choices: When you are providing a good or service it’s easy to overestimate the basic knowledge that consumers will have about your business.

Example: if you sell shoes it’s best to break them down by simple categories like flats, sneakers, boots etc. This is basic knowledge that will help give your consumer the confidence to make a decision. Whereas if you listed “flip-flops, strappy sandals, booties, snow boots, rain boots, etc the consumer is immediately overwhelmed just picking a category.

Help people tell them apart: This one can be a bit tricky, but manageable. If you are selling a product or service that are similar, it’s important to clearly define the differences in the product so that you can instill confidence in your consumers decision making. A tip for this is providing imagery for your product that shows consumers how it will behave in real life situations targeted at your primary audience. If you are a service, be sure to provide examples of your work and testimonials to help users feel confident in choosing that service.

Start with easier to more important decisions: You don’t want to overwhelm consumers with too many decisions, but you want to strike the balance of their confidence in making decisions with fatigue.

Example: Buying coffee. There are quite a few decisions that go into buying coffee.

    1. How big/small is their budget?
    2. What brand do they like?
    3. Do they want whole bean or ground? 
    4. What kind of roast; dark, medium light? 
    5. What flavor profile?

Just buying a bag of coffee comes with at least 5 choices, not even considering what’s on sale, do they want it in a can, is this for home or work? Etc.

It’s important that your business guides consumers through the decision process so that they don’t get fatigued. Providing internal confidence to your target audience is the biggest boost you can give to your brand identity. If they have a delightful experience with your brand then that will carry into your brand recognition and will help create customer loyalty.

Basically, you as the business owner have to understand what your clients need, and what their challenges and pain points are, and bring that knowledge into every aspect of your business.

Always ask yourself, what will make consumers feel confident in you and your products, and how can you provide that confidence.

Creating Culture Panel

Cultivating company culture

Even though the first portion of this article focuses on audience, the internal workings of your company are just as important. Cultivating culture is more than just ping pong tables and free beer, it’s about the DNA of your company.

When hiring new employees, keep in mind that you need to be a good fit for them as much as they need to be a good fit for you. If you know that you have a very loud, outgoing, open culture you need to hire people who thrive in that kind of work environment. Every team member will change the dynamic of how your company communicates and operates.

Tips for finding the right culture:

  1. During an interview ask “what kind of work environment do you prefer?” 
  2. Take note during an interview, the way companies conduct interviews is a good insight into their company culture. 
  3. Look for red flags of what you do/don’t want to do.

Tips for creating a fun culture in person:

  1. Don’t always put the same people on projects (if you can help it.)
  2. Create an office layout to promote open communication
  3. Have weekly lunch sessions with your team and focus on non-work related activities

Tips for remote culture:

  1. Have random work challenges; example - healthy lifestyle challenges that have small rewards like a cash prize, a day off, or free lunch.
  2. Donut dates (credit: Ian Hall) have your remote team virtually chat with someone for a half hour to get to know each other on a personal level
  3. Host monthly / annual team building seminars
  4. If you have a mixed team of inhouse and remote, treat everyone like they are remote.

As the leader of your company, it’s important to take the reigns of the culture you want to provide and lead by example. Artifact Uprising had their whole team take personality tests and then they sat down with the team to go over everyone's personality traits and tendencies so that they could have a deeper understanding of how to work together.

DSW kickoff breakfast

Quick Recap:

Thank you for those who read the whole article, for those just now joining I hope you this short recap is beneficial.

What I learned this week:

  1. Understand the needs of your customers. Research, collect data and use that knowledge to position your company for success. 
  2. Be vulnerable and transparent: The shift in marketing from business to the consumer has highly affected how brands need to operate, both in-house and on the surface. Create a safe space for employees to grow, and be authentic with your brand messaging.
  3. The Paradox of Choice. People are overwhelmed with choices all day long, make the decision to trust your business easy by providing them with the self-confidence to navigate the solution that your company is providing. 
  4. Cultivating Company Culture. Finding a good fit for you is just as important as a potential employee finding a good fit. Every team member adds to the dynamic of your business, so choose wisely.

I cannot thank Denver Startup Week enough for another year of excellent events, opportunities to learn and network, and for providing entrepreneurs with the resources and support that they need.

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4 Takeaways from Denver Startup Week 2018
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