This year being my sophomore return to SXSW, I had a little insight into what the experience is like and how being there tends toward being intense and even a little chaotic. So true to form, I decided to complicate matters.
A few years ago there was a wager made among a few pals in a pub. The dare went something like this… hire a charter bus, cram it with 20-30 people who want to head out to SXSW, and en route attempt to concept, execute and launch a small business. StartupBus was born. That year, they formed six teams who, in 72 hours, were able to assemble a functional prototype, a business model and their pitch. Once in Austin, they put all that hard work in front of a panel of high-profile investors. The standout was offered funding to make its idea come to life.
Fast forward two years. This year’s event consisted of 12 buses from across the US and Mexico, comprised of over 50 teams and nearly 400 people. I was one of them.
I’ve always fancied myself a bit of the entrepreneurial type. Always thought that my ideas, skills and talents might, one day, bring me around to business ownership. Charting my own course, adding to the empire and legacy, etc., etc. Well let’s just say that I found out real quick mine was just a touch of the entrepreneurial spirit compared to some of these guys. To roll with these guys, you have to speak the language. You have to walk that walk, and it takes no time for them to spot a fake. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. You have to fit their lifestyle and you have to be a part of their culture.
During the few months prior to hopping on the bus, I’d seen a slew of articles and white papers that talk about infusing the entrepreneurial culture into agency life. They talk about the tenets of start-up culture, the mindset it requires and the benefits of those elements to our creative work. It’s been my experience that many of these articles ponder the successes of a few select examples where this has worked, while others simply romanticize the idea of a start-up. What they lack is a real exploration of what infusing that culture into our organizations really means. So for those who are daydreaming of VC funding or their IPO (like me), you’ve already compromised the process and should likely finish up your latte and get back to your cubicle. For those who understand the value of starvation, sleep deprivation and passionate work that requires relentless effort… read on, brotha’, read on.
Think of the start-up process as similar to that of climbing Everest (maybe without the fear of hypothermia). And you don’t enter into that sort of endeavor without a team of experts who individually possess the right skills, intensity and commitment. Sticking with the Everest analogy, we need to be sure we have the right people before we put on our snow shoes. So if we aim to create this culture in our organizations, we must begin with recruitment.
There are a few common traits that I noticed in these folks, and we should be vetting our talent for these traits specifically. The good news is that there are more of these people than you might think. They can be found in any number of ways and may be as close as your local Starbucks, university library or anywhere you might find hipsters. However, we need more than a pair of art school glasses, too-tight corduroy and a bit of snobbishness.
We need to identify candidates who are inquisitive and love to tinker. Generally, curious people are not only great for innovation but also pretty infectious.
“Don’t be afraid to fail” is a common mantra these days. And while it’s a little overplayed and annoying at times, it’s exactly what we need. We need people who not only are unafraid of failure, but have failed and have not quit pioneering. Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting the same results is insanity. Doing it while varying your approach based on previous results is perseverance. We can all do with a little more of that around.
Side-projects, freelance or even just dabbling here and there; these are signs of good people who act. They are involved in challenging and diverse work outside the office. These people are more than self-starters, they’re driven and will drive others.
Finally, we should be undeterred by the fact that start-up types may leave us behind for fame and fortune one day. Identify their talent, invest in their growth and groom them for leadership. If they do leave, they’ll likely do so having added something to our organization, and we’ll be proud to tell others they were part of our team.
The people I met on the StartpBus were an insanely different breed. They were focused and were able to tap into skills, experience and reserve energy that kept the ideas flowing and the work cranking long after most of us would have stopped to rest. And then they did it again, and again, and again.
Start-up culture is about entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is about ideas, resourcefulness and making something your own; and I don’t think there is an agency out there that should shy away from those qualities when looking to hire the next employee.