“Whew”, as defined by dictionary.com is a “whistling exclamation or sound expressing astonishment, dismay, relief, etc.” It’s pretty safe to say that no one word better sums up Week 1 of my experience with the Fall 2014 Points of Light Civic Accelerator.
As I reflect on the week I’m astonished at just how invaluable, and ultimately influential, the structured peer-to-peer activities were to how I view our startup. Being that I’m 1/3rd of a crowdfunding platform the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ and the ability to crowdsource quality insight should be old hat for me, or at least one would think. At the end of the day there’s just something truly amazing about seeing it in action. It’s awe inspiring (and even a bit scary) to unleash a cohort of ingenious entrepreneurs from across the country to analyze, critique, question, and provide feedback on your startup. Mind you, they’re all hopped on keen insights of their own, as well as those shared with us by a host of presenters that range from serial entrepreneurs with successful exits, professional investors, and academics.
Exposing yourself to a wealth of new information can be equal parts exhilarating and dismaying. It’s awesome to learn about The Lean Startup and it’s sensible methodological approach towards running a startup, however the flip side of the coin is realizing, ‘we’ve been doing it wrong all this time.’ For me the time spent constructing a SparkMarket Business Model Canvas was as revelatory as it well as exasperating. Walking through the process of concisely describing who our customers are, why/ how we provide value to them, how we hope to reach them, and so forth was easily one of the sessions I found most productive.
Thankfully the Civic Accelerator is ultimately about familiarizing you with some of the aforementioned tools such as the The Lean Startup and the Business Model Canvas, as well as helping you take ‘next steps’ and implement these frameworks into your startup’s day-to-day life. The idea is that you will become more structured, responsive, and capable to hedge against the untested assumptions, and so-called ‘truths’ about our startups that so often bedevil entrepreneurs. Assumptions such as, How do you know your customers care about this, or that? Have you proved it? Furthermore, have you even engaged in any meaningful customer discovery in the first place? The sense of relief comes in to play as you begin to appreciate that it is with these tools you’ll be able to devise, test, and iterate in response to feedback faster and more efficiently than ever before. At the end of the day, you don’t come to a program like this to be taught particular answers to your startups’ very specific questions. Nope! And that’s ok. I believe the Chinese proverb, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” works especially well in framing my expectations of the program. As such, I’m greatly looking forward to experiencing the next 11 weeks of the Civic Accelerator as it teaches me ‘how-to-fish’. Whew, indeed.
Marcus Cannady, VP Marketing & Development at SparkMarket
Stay tuned as they travel to San Francisco in November for the second Civic Accelerator session in conjunction with the Social Innovation Summit, and with their final session in Chicago in December for Demo Night and the conclusion of the fall program. Keep up with their journey through the Points of Light Civic Accelerator at #CivicX.