Last weekend I participated in the Startup Academy, an event organised by Leon Pals at the Progress Bar, with the aim to give you a sniff of the startup life in 2.5 days.

The first evening you pitch different problems and partner up in small teams to address those problems. The next couple of days you get workshops, are kicked out of the building to go validate your idea, and have several feedback sessions with peers & coaches.

Leon managed to lure me in because I had been walking around with a couple of ideas for quite a while already, which I really wanted to start working on to see whether there was any potential. I saw this weekend as a good opportunity to finally dive into one of these and kick it off.

Now, spoiler: I didn’t get to work on one of my ideas. But, participating in this weekend did teach me a whole lot about not just validating your ideas & killing your darlings, but also the importance of team dynamics. These are the biggest insights I got:

It’s hard(er) to let go of your idea (than you might think)

What I observed is that many of the people who ended up with teams actually working on their ideas had a very hard time letting go of it. Because they had either already invested in the solution they had in mind (built it, spent a lot of time thinking about it), or because they experienced as a big problem for themselves.

Finding out that other people didn’t experience the problem in the same way, and weren’t looking for a solution, left many of them at a loss at the end of day 2. And some of them in flat-out denial.

As the famous saying goes: “don’t fall in love with the solution. Fall in love with the problem.” This weekend taught me the value of that yet again, and to first pin down a real problem you can prove people experience, before moving on to building a solution.

The right team can make or break a project

I’m sure these startup weekends must be super interesting to watch; they are like small experiments on the nature of teamwork. Because if you’re being put in a team with strangers to accomplish something quickly under high pressure you definitely get to know each other (and yourself!).

And indeed, as one of the coaches told me “sometimes you get these teams with just alpha males. They can get along really well at the start, so they team up. But then the pressure rises and they either fall out against each other, or become complacent. In both cases nothing productive happens.”

Luckily I wasn’t in an “alpha male team”: my team was composed of an idealistic programmer and a global business & sustainability student. But we had to resist our collective tendency to analyse and discuss the problem too much, and instead kick ourselves to get out of the building and just talk to people!

It underscored for me the importance knowing yourself, how you operate in teams, and finding people with complementary traits & skills.

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It’s not about the idea, it’s about the process

This is what I had to keep telling myself as I seriously considered swapping teams after hearing their ideas, and not having much faith in the one my team was working on. Of course, I only heard the tip of the iceberg, while I was deep-down in my own project. At such a moment everything else can seem better.

And many of the other “potential problems” that sounded so promising at first, actually turned out to not be real problems at all! All the teams shifted their focus, and the ones who were most successful were the ones who were quickest to do so.

It taught me yet again: you shouldn’t focus too much on the idea, always trying to come up with a new & better one. Instead, you should just start somewhere, start actually testing your idea, and see where it takes you.

No idea is perfect from the start.

And what now?

I don’t believe this is a project any of us (my team) will continue with, but I’ll definitely take all these learnings with me as I’ll take a week off to work on one of my own ideas.

And of course all the contacts I made! Because this event was not just valuable because of the things I learned, but also the people I got to know, who all had their skills & valuable experiences to share, and have the same mindset.

So would I recommend joining one of these weekends? Definitely! Just remember, in case you’re lucky enough to have your idea chosen: you’ll probably need to do the tough job of killing your darlings. Or at least changing it..

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Also interested in experiencing the startup life for a weekend?

Awesome, do it! I know of two good options:

  • Leon Pals’s next Startup Academy weekend, which will probably take place in March again. Next to learning a lot about the startup life and yourself, Leon will make sure there will be coaches with the right knowledge to help you along, and all the nice food & drinks you’d want. Sign up here to be kept up to date!
  • If you’re more serious about building a startup you can also sign up for our Firmhouse Venture Lab. This is a 3-month program with like-minded people and experienced entrepreneurs to coach you, so you can find the right co-founder & team, and get the skills needed to build a business. We’ll do a pressure cooker weekend in a couple of weeks as a selection weekend. If you’re interested sign up here!