Denver Startup Week Recap

Denver Startup Week

You've probably heard about startup weekends but have you heard of a startup week? Here in Colorado we have Denver Startup Week where instead of building a startup over a weekend you hear from local established startups about all of the lessons they learned along the way. A startup weekend is the act of creating something and the startup week is the abstract fundamentals about building something. Having gone to a startup weekend I really appreciated all of the fundamental lessons behind creating a startup. I went to a handful of sessions throughout the week and I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned in case you don't have your own startup week to attend.

How MapQuest Builds Products – The Spotify Way

Natty Zola, Director of Product at MapQuest, showed us how they organized their team with tribes, squads, & guilds to improve their process. A squad is a mini company that has every role to build a product. So you might have an iOS squad, and Android squad, and a Windows mobile squad. Those squads would be under a Mobile Devices tribe and you might have other tribes. The guilds are groups of people across different squads that share specific knowledge. So you might have someone in each squad that's very familiar with the customer support process, or the documentation section of the website, or someone who knows your internal API inside and out.

The takeaway with tribes, squads, and guilds is that people don't feel like they are a part of the dev team or part of the design team. They're part of the iOS team and when the iOS app doesn't work as expected you have the internal motivation to fix it.

Burning the Candle at Both Ends without Getting Burned

This was by far my favorite session of the entire event. Partly because the presenter, Matthew LeBauer, was a great speaker and partly because it's a topic that has really been resonating with me recently. I feel like all of us in web do a lot. We make plugins, we build sites for clients, we write blog posts, and we present at WordCamps. It's a lot of work and it's easy to burn out.

  • Burnout symptoms:
    • Fatigue, apathy
    • Distract ability, procrastination
    • Negativity, cynicism
    • Irritability, impatience
  • Foster burnout resilience:
    • Practice gratitude
    • Embrace uncertainty
    • Master enoughism (don't be a perfectionist)
    • Meaning (purpose) in your duties

In the last year I'd say 1/2 of the people that have left WooThemes left because of burnout not because they didn't like the company or didn't like their position. It takes effort to keep burnout at bay and it's especially hard to do on remote teams. I'll be passing this information onto my team – maybe even have Matthew do a Google Hangout to share his knowledge.

See his presentation.

The Top 10 Intellectual Property Issues That Every CEO Should Know

There were lots of great stories in this session from a layer who deals with IP issues. The biggest takeaway was the different types of Intellectual Property and how they're legally enforced.

  • Copyright – an expression of an idea. As soon as you take a photo, write something, or express an idea in any way you have that copyright. It's your the moment your pencil comes off the paper and no one can take it.
  • Patent – protects an idea. You file a patent with the government and once you have the patent no one can take it away from you even if they come up with the same idea later.
  • Trademark – whoever has first use gets it. Trademarks are enforced by public knowledge. If there are two advertising agencies with the exact same name and they cater to different niches and people don't get them confused then you're not infringing on another's Trademark. It's only when you start confusing people with a similar name / logo. You do have an obligation to enforce your trademark.

Podcasting and Relationship Building

The guys who do the Denver Business Podcast had a great live show telling us all about podcasting.

  • With podcasting you can really connect to a person. Just talk to them. There aren't any cell phones or other distractions. Just be genuinely interesting in them and let the conversation flow
  • Not good for direct revenue (no one is going to pay for a podcast) but it's a great way to get the word out about your company or business
  • Interview format is great to get promotion from both people. You can also talk with someone for an hour long interview where you'd never be able to do that if you just called them on the phone.
  • Their weekly 1 hour show takes about 5 hours total time to produce. That includes: setup, recording, edit, publishing, etc.

API 101 for Startups

Lots of good information. Two takeaways:

  1. Always eat your own dog food. If you use your own API you'll have a much better idea what other people will want to use it for and it will already work for them.
  2. Version your API. When you inevitably make a mistake you can fix it.

How to Support Your Customers Painlessly (For You and Them)

Support is such a big deal to WordPress companies and WooThemes in particular. We try really hard to support people quickly and effectively. It seems like we're doing a pretty good job as we hit almost all of these points from Joanne Webb's (from Pivotal Tracker) presentation.

  • Give customers self serve options (knowledge base, FAQ, tutorials, in context help, tool tips, videos, etc)
  • Measure your product not your people when it comes to support requests. If you create a system to measure performance people will abuse the system and you'll have worse support.
  • Pair new support people with an experienced support person

I'd say we learned the hard way that new support people need a lot of training. We'll have to keep improving our support training for new people so they're paired with someone for a longer time.

Long Distance Relationships: Working with Distributed Teams

I really enjoyed this panel about working remotely. It was the perfect way to wrap up the week.

  • Work remotely so you can hire the best talent
  • Don't bother tracking your employees time. For internally motivated people it's unnecessary
  • Meet whenever possible to spend even just a couple hours together
  • Track what you get done not billable hours
  • Before a remote team can work efficiently together they need to meet in person

Again I think we do pretty darn well with this at WooThemes. I think we've accidentally been hiring people that are internally motivated but now I know we need to make sure it's a factor to see if they even get to the first interview.

The End of Startup Week Denver

Well that's all from me. It's been a great week and I have so much information to share with my team. Until next year Startup Week Denver!

Photo credit: Denver Startup Week

2 thoughts on “Denver Startup Week Recap

  1. Hi Patrick,

    I also recently attended Denver Startup Week representing my startup Baked & Branded ( We help early stage entrepreneurs build software prototypes and Betas.

    I wrote a blog recap ( of the events I attended and plan to write-up a series of posts of Lessons Learned from Denver Startup Week over the next few weeks (similar to what you’ve done here). Just thought I’d share, and say thank you for sharing as well!


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