Over the past 8 weeks I have been participating, with a team of volunteers, on a project designed to jump-start the use of location-based services by businesses in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. Over a year ago, I wrote that location-based services could, and should, be used for economic development and incentivizing community behavior (post here). The #BeHere experiment is being done in conjunction with Downtown Visions, the management company that oversees the business improvement district (BID). The BID consists of approximately 70 square blocks and over 300 street level businesses including a number of large arts and entertainment venues. You can find out more about the project here. My kick off speech at Ignite Wilmington aka “five minutes of fear” can be seen here.
This upcoming weekend features the #BeHere events and so I started thinking about all that it took to get to this point and all the people involved. Downtown Visions is part of the Mainstreet Program a national program supported by The National Trust for Historic Preservation that, “provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to save America’s diverse historic places and revitalize our communities.” I hope that our team’s learnings help other communities to conduct similar experiments or inspire others to step up and participate in other “experiments”. Today’s location-based services are quickly evolving and are becoming powerful tools for supporting the goals of the Mainstreet program of
“Helping people protect, enhance and enjoy the places that matter to them.”
Since I live, work and play in the world of startups, I can’t help but put my experience with the #BeHere experiment in a broader entrepreneurial frame. One of the reasons I think this experiment was able to gain so much traction was that the team that formed consisted of people who have started a business, not those that hadn’t. If you want to now why this is valuable see Chris Dixon’s post on it here. So, in the spirit of “people like lists”, here are 3 reminders from the #BeHere experiment (I am sure these will be added to after this weekend). Here is the “talk” I gave at CoinLoft, a local co-working space and clubhouse for entrepreneurs, that sparked this post
Ideas Are Worthless
This meme makes its rounds every couple of weeks in the startup world and has generated a ton of blog posts and commentary (here is a classic post from Paul Graham). It’s a good thing it does comes around so often because it’s an important reminder. While this opinion is easy to objectively agree with, when you are in the grips of that huge “A Ha!” moment you suddenly turn into Gollum with his little precious ring. I wrote my post on using LBS for economic development over a year ago and had a number of ideas around it. But it wasn’t until I started to talk to everyone and anyone about it that it found a home. Ideas aren’t babies to be coddled and protected they are strands of spaghetti meant to be tossed at the wall. And the best part is that the idea I was talking to everyone about was a concept called “Beta Town” not #BeHere. I won’t bore you with the details of my idea because it brings me to my second story.
You Are Not That Smart
Eric Ries says that startups are entities built for learning. The process of fast to market and quick iterations embodies and accelerates the action/reflection cycle that is the heart of all learning. As I talked to more people, and the circle grew, the idea that had started the discussion was quickly replaced with a new one. This new idea had more focus, a clear execution path and growing support. And this lesson was further brought home as #BeHere found support from people I had not thought to engage or had not expected. I will come away from this effort with friends, connections and knowledge that I didn’t have going into it. So for me it is already a success.
Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to Anybody/Everybody You Need To
If you need feedback or support from someone, anyone, then go and get it. You can’t be limited by a fear of looking foolish or the fact that you don’t know or have access to that person. Pick up the phone or drop them an email. And if you don’t hear back, follow up. In old-school sales a mailer was often just an opening line excuse for your phone call, “I am calling to see if you have had a chance to review the materials we sent last week.” I knew guys that never sent anything and still used that line. Do whatever it takes but get to the people you need. You will be surprised where your advice support and evangelists come from.
When we decided to use FourSquare as one of the platforms for #BeHere I was tasked with finding the right person there to talk to. A review of the website left me with no answers so I did what any entrepreneur would have done… I tweeted.
And you know what? Dennis Crowley, founder of Foursquare, got right back to me!