by Fiona Barrows
I didn’t intend to take part in Start-Up Weekend. It was something I’d heard a great deal about but had filed away in my mind under “not for me”. But I did, and my team ended up winning.
The night before Start-up Weekend I was kept awake by flash-backs to not being picked for school teams. I was nervous that I wouldn’t have anything to contribute, that my skills wouldn’t be suited to the task. Yet over the course of the weekend I realised that the exact opposite was true, and I began to understand the real value of creativity, and creative thinking, in starting-up and running a business.
I’d been working from Hubud, a co-working space in Ubud, Bali (a town affectionately known as Silicon Rice Paddy) for about five months when the first of their two Start-Up Weekends this year came around. Start-Up Weekends are held all over the world, all year around. They were founded on the premise that the hardest part of starting-up is starting-out, so they bring together a group of smart, passionate people to give ideas a forceful kick-start. Over the course of fifty-two hours ideas are pitched, teams are formed, and businesses are born. The aim is to get your MVP (minimum viable product) by the close of the weekend.
And this was the source of my anxiety. Before the weekend began I had no idea what an MVP even was, let alone how you got one. Eighteen months ago, after six years working in book publishing in the UK, I quit my job to live the life of a digital nomad, working as a freelance copywriter, ghostwriter and just plain writer. I’m a creative. I’ve never studied business, and know nothing about process flows, business models or cash flow statements. Nor am I particularly technical, and I don’t know how to code. What was I going to do? Despite being around plenty of start-ups at Hubud, I saw them as inhabiting a completely different world, and speaking an entirely different language, to the one I was in. I had presumed that in order to start-up a business you needed to a very specific skill set, and one that was totally different to mine.
Yet I decided to give it a go, thinking that I may as well try and even if I didn’t have anything to offer, I could still have fun and learn a lot, right?
The theme of our start-up weekend was “Social Innovation” which meant that our businesses were not just judged on their viability to generate revenue, but also on their potential social impact. I was part of a team working on “Bali Earth Box”, a subscription based service for ex-pats living in Bali using products from little known farmers and producers around the island with strong social values. It was about providing these companies with a larger market, and helping them support the communities they operate in.
The biggest lesson I learnt wasn’t what an MVP is (although that is indeed very good to know), but that a good business essentially identifies a problem, and then solves it. And you get your MVP by pin-pointing potential pitfalls and possible problems, and then solving them. And as a creative, solving problems is something I’m good at.
For example, on the Saturday morning we were led through a truncated version of the Google Sprint method, a process used by the tech-giant to quickly ascertain the viability of a new idea. Part of it involves creating a massive chart of all the actors, actions and outcomes in your potential business, then covering it was post-it notes of possible problems and things that could go wrong. You then go back over the chart sticking a fresh load of post-it notes on top of “How Might We” solve these issues. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know any of the technical business terms, I just pictured what each stage of our business would look like, and thought through how we could make it run smoothly. It was an exercise in imagination as much as it was in business.
Before Start-Up Weekend I saw creativity and business as polar opposites, as two totally separate entities with each one able to kill the other. Yet the weekend showed me how wrong this assumption was. Businesses need creative thinking, as much as they need someone to hack out the numbers and develop the actual products. Starting-up a business is an act of creation, and constant creativity is needed to keep it alive and thriving.
About the Author:
Eighteen months ago Fiona quit her job as a literary agent and life in London to travel solo around Asia for a year. She scrambled up ruined temples in Myanmar, bathed butt naked in Japanese onsens, and ate indeterminate street food as standard. After a year of such adventures, London no longer held any appeal, so she turned her dedication to words into freelance creative copywriting services for The Think Collective. She now writes shiny and engaging web copy from the tropical paradise of Bali; in-between sipping coconuts from hammocks.