I hope you had a nice weekend, but I bet you mine was better.
I took part in Startup Weekend Denver, as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Week. The gist: Dozens of people pitch their startup ideas on Friday night, a half-dozen are upvoted, and participants form teams. Each team builds a business before Sunday night, when they present it to a panel of judges.
I’d already taken part in two Startup Weekend events, once on the winning team. This time I came in to pitch an innovative crowd-funding site for The Beanstalk Foundation. The pitch did get up-voted, but I couldn’t staff a full team, so I joined instead with the most inspiring entrepreneur in the room.
Miles the Candy Sushi Kid is 10 years old, and has been in business for three years. He makes and sells Candy Sushi. His first goal, to sell 1,000 boxes and raise money for charity, he accomplished in 2009. He came to Startup Weekend to get help on his branding, manufacturing, distribution, and website. He found what he was looking for.
My friend Robbie Jack, developer evangelist for FullContact, ran forward with a brand mark and domain name, and did all the hard work on setting up a Shopify e-commerce account, social identities, and a start on brand identity. Lauren Hybinette, a freelance illustrator and designer, picked up the torch and took the design direction to a more playful, kid-oriented approach. I lent a hand on design and illustration, and filled in the content on the site and product catalog. Meanwhile Alec Campbell, who is a global search strategist on weekdays, worked out a detailed business plan with Miles, in a serenely patient game of 20,000 questions which was the most amazing requirements gathering exercise I’ve ever seen. Shannon Ewing, as our project manager, helped everyone with everything, and before we knew it, we were close to done.
I was most moved, however, by the most intelligent member of our team, Lynnea Louison, a.k.a. “mom”. As a parent, I know how challenging it is to support your children without suffocating them, to help them reach their dreams without taking the victory from them. Our kids need our guidance, but we need them to learn to navigate by themselves. I’ve rarely seen anyone manage that as deftly, prudently, patiently as Lynnea does with her son. Mom smooths out every bump in the road, but she also makes sure that Miles is the one who chooses the path, and takes every step.
We helped him expand his product line, come up with funny names and silly characters, ideate a new brand and imagery, and build a complete Shopify e-Commerce site, Facebook page, and Twitter following. Saturday saw a flurry of calls to potential manufacturers, candy stores, restaurants, and we landed some pre-commitments and appointments for Miles and his mom in the weeks to come.
More amazingly, the site hit over 1,200 unique visitors in the first 12 hours, and many attempts to purchase product. The shopping cart isn’t active yet, but we are taking email addresses.
Sunday night I assisted Miles in delivering the 5-minute presentation to the judges. Miles is very good in front of an audience: open, relaxed and confident. His well-practiced presentation won the judges over, and he won Startup Weekend Denver. He now goes on to compete in the Global Startup Battle 2011.
The kid is ten!