Always New Mistakes

December 13, 2010

Beware of those who say they help entrepreneurs

Filed under: Conference, entrepreneur — Tags: , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 3:00 pm

I recently attended one of the most shameful events I’ve been to in a long time. Being and entrepreneur myself and collaborating in so many ways (Tetuan Valley, Okuri Ventures, Sandbox, Startup Digest) with other entrepreneurs around the world, I was excited to attend the opening of the MIT Enterprise Forum chapter in Spain. Nothing could have prepared me to the disastrous event I was about to attend. So many people share my views, but no one wants to write them down, so here there are:

I got to the event just in time, just to realize that something was extremely wrong, the president of the MIT Spanish chapter was reading the presentation speech. Having been to so many events and talks, I can tell you, that’s never a good sign. As it happens, it wasn’t, things got much worse as time went by. A round table of “experts” talking about how Spain should help entrepreneurs just made my day. The amount of incoherent ideas, half truths, PR bullshit and just plain ignorant talk was overwealming. I just have to feel sorry for one of the speakers which is a friend and by the look of his face you could see he was as shamed as we were.

Anyhow, one of they things I realized is how dangerous these people can be. There we were, a room packed with people, everyone listening. The problem was, except for our friend, none of the speakers had real entrepreneur experience. Maybe it’s me, being an engineer turns you into a meritocratic person by default, nevertheless, I’ve always thought that if you want to fix a something, first you need to know where the problem is. In my eyes, that was the biggest problem, none of them knew anything about where that laid. Now, it wouldn’t be a problem if these people were regular folks, but they weren’t. They were smart and powerful people. They run big VCs (or so they call themselves in Spain), entrepreneur programs, consulting firms, etc.

What baffled me was that they hadn’t a clue about entrepreneurship, startups or their suffering. Even among them, they couldn’t agree as to what was best for entrepreneurs. The amazing thing was that, from the amount of suits I counted in the room, the percentage of entrepreneurs attending the talk was below 1%. So, in the end, you had, a packed room of non entrepreneurs, listening to a bunch of people talking about a topic that they had absolutely no idea.

This is the thing, a banker that creates a startup competition thinks that gives him uber knowledge on their problems. Truth is, the banker never gets to talk with the entrepreneurs. Not the ones attending his program, not the ones elsewhere. An MBA person, with expertise in finance and buyout operations, that has being doing buyouts and M&A for large (> 100) corporations during the past 6 years thinks he knows entrepreneurs. But I wonder if he’s ever seen a startup with less than 3 people or even talks with entrepreneurs. I’m sorry but working with a corporation has absolutely nothing to do with bootstraping a company in the turmoil of a worldwide economic recession. A doctor working at a hospital has even less idea of what’s in an entrepreneur’s mind. Yes, he opened several new facilities within the hospital, but excuse me if that’s even remotely similar to trying to raise capital for a crazy risky idea. Then we have the typical VC profile. X years in a consulting firm doing private equity and M&A operations. Yes, you meet so many entrepreneurs doing that… and of course, regular VC has so many real interactions with entrepreneurs I just can’t imagine why I’m even writing this (for the record, there is sarcasm here). An finally, but not least, you have the MIT Enterprise Forum chairman. First of all, how can you even speak of funding in Spain when you’ve never started a company in Spain. It just amazes me how easy it is for him to repeat what others say with absolutely a complete ignorance of a countries specific problems. But most importantly, how is it possible that being an entrepreneurs himself, he allows this mummers farce to go on. Shame on him and shame on the MIT.

If MIT thinks that having such a sorry lot talk shit about how to help entrepreneurs, giving a talk with NO Q&A and call it “Forum” and most interestingly, stressing the importance of doing networking, but kicking everyone out to the street after the talk is done, then that’s the reason why most real entrepreneurs end up in California an desert Massachusets.

So, people, please, be critic, and be careful with those that preach that they are champions of the entrepreneur cause when in reality they’re far detached from their real day to day world.

Oh, by the way, I would link to their webpage but they’ve run out of quota: “This account has been suspended. Either the domain has been overused, or the reseller ran out of resources.”


May 24, 2010

Death to the rock star conferences

Filed under: Conference — Alex Barrera @ 12:39 am

I know, I know, a long time since I last wrote here 😉 Well, been quite busy lately, but today I wanted to write about something I’ve been seeing lately. I usually attend multiple international and national congress throughout the year (LeWeb, SXSW, etc.) and one of the single most annoying trend in all of them is the lack of good speakers.

I’m not talking about the actual talk but what speakers say during those talks. Most of the times the one giving the talk is the most prominent person from that company, let it be the CEO, COO or PR spokesman. Problem with this is that, except in few rare cases, most of them already have a very mature and trained speech that bores everyone. They usually talk about something we don’t care or already know…

Which brings me to the point that, in many cases, it’s much richer to talk with the people who do the day-to-day work in those companies instead of the top executives. For example, I’ve experienced much cooler talks over dinner with Google engineers than what you usually get watching Marissa Mayer. The same is true for companies like Twitter, Facebook, etc.

In the end, those unknown persons are different from the usual PR stuff, much open to discussion and in most cases, they answer all your questions if they know them. Also, they talk to you about their projects, the next cool thing they’re building, or even the way they see the company in 5 years from now.

Other interesting persons are unknown startup guys. We always keep reverting to the usual rock stars. The reason to some extend is clear, they attract more public and that means more cash for the congress. Nevertheless, in some cases (more than I would like to remember) it’s because the organizers truly think these people are the best speakers they can find. What I’ve seen is that the nº4 or nº5 startups in a given niche are also as good or even more when it comes to give a talk. In my opinion it’s because they haven’t reached the bullshit PR level (I should talk about that sometime) yet so they speak freely about what they are doing, what problems they have (which they usually share with the top startup in their niche) and how are they trying to take the top spot.

In conclusion, I would love to start a new type of conference where we should bring unknown speakers to talk about cutting edge things. You will always have some rock star on board, the reason is that, some rock stars are REALLY good. People like Gary Vaynerchuk

from Wine Library TV or Toni Hsieh from Zappos come to my mind and are incredible speakers. Hope I could say the same from many others… This would be known as “the unknown conference” where you could feature like a 10% rock stars vs 90% “unknown” (unknown in the sense of not a rock star) speakers that would cut to the chase of what the audience is really wanting to hear.

Ah, just one final suggestion for this conference, round tables will be prohibited except if moderated by a crazy person that’s willing to ask really hard ball questions. Most round tables just suck big time… lets change that!

PS: Yes I do know the paradox I’m proposing here…

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