Propelled by its culture of creativity, powered by its base of technological prowess, and fed by abundant wealth seeking a high-risk reward, Southern California boasts a world-leading startup ecosystem. A wealth of local startup events and incubators connect people with good ideas for new products and services to technologists hungry for something to build, designers eager to give those products and services the best user experience, and mentors who can guide them all toward success. These entrepreneurs gather to compete for prizes and the attention of investors who themselves seek a huge ROI. As a seasoned veteran of the creative and technology worlds, I am awed at how these events and incubators have empowered and enriched the tech community. That dream can even draw a lawyer like me from sitting safely on the side as a mentor. At Startup Weekend Santa Barbara, I threw my hat in the ring as a participant to turn a good idea into an operational business in a 54-hour period from Friday through Sunday.
The kickoff event on Friday had over 300 people. The participants came from a variety of fields and demographics, and were categorized as software developers, hardware makers, designers and non-technicals. After a few hours of introductory information and networking lubricated by good snacks, beer, and wine, we got down to business.
First came pitches – any participant could give one 60 second pitch. About 20% of the participants pitched, and I was one of them. After pitching, the attendees voted on the pitches. The top 20 vote getters would get to move on in the competition. My pitch just made the cut. Then came a 25 minute frenzy of team building. Some people came to the event with a team, but most of us came alone. For my idea, I knew I needed at least two developers and a branding/design ace. Amidst the chaos, a 17-year-old whiz kid attached himself to me, and I found a biz dev guy from the government/military mobile apps space who wanted to do UI and marketing, and he brought along a highly seasoned web services CTO. I have tried for many years to find someone to build my idea, and at Startup Weekend this happened in 25 minutes. It’s magical.
The teams then moved to a communal workspace provided by the organizers. The 20 teams worked almost around the clock to build and launch a new business before judging Sunday evening. Some of the teams were working on physical items, but most of us were developing something online.
My team developed “Agree.” For many years I have wanted to automate the process of creating, assembling, sending, tracking, getting signed and storing engagement letters. It is a repetitive and time-intensive process. Requesting and collecting a fee advance adds to the pain.
Agree streamlines things for both the attorney and the client. The client signs on-screen and pays online. We think Agree will turn more prospects into paying clients.
Though I was a Startup Weekend participant, I also helped out as a mentor. Several of the teams had questions for my area of expertise — intellectual property law. Yet, as a participant I learned a lot more about startups than I had gained from decades of professional practice. Starting a business demands a lot of resources, and doing it in a weekend with strangers entails considerable resource constraints. The first priority is to build a working system, so I threw convention out the window and told my team to not worry about others’ IP rights. What mattered most was getting the system built, so legal risks became irrelevant. If we survived the weekend, then we would start caring about IP risks. Most successful entrepreneurs adopt this kind of attitude, and after standing in their shoes I now understand why.
As the weekend came to a close on Sunday night, each of the teams was given five minutes in front of a panel of judges to present their business. Some of us had working systems, but most did not. Did my team win? Well, yes and no. We did not win any of the prizes, but my teammates felt like winners. We met some great people and had an amazing experience.
And what about our new business? After the weekend, we committed to getting the solution to market. Though I will not be “running off with the circus,” one of my teammates probably will take the helm. He will find fame and fortune at the head of a hot tech startup.
In my decades of practice as an intellectual property attorney, I have seen a lot of good ideas. The startup events and incubators provide an incredibly powerful and rapid environment for identifying the best ideas and launching them successful businesses.