February 25, 2021
3 minute read
Tech hasn't so much changed the rules as it has captured the norms by which a field is governed.
"What tech calls thinking"
Everybody wants to be disruptive and innovative today. Lean, agile ... unicorn, whatever. Everybody seems to crave after the next big thing, the next revolution, the next paradigm shift. A few years back it was the jargon of startups, now it seems to be on everyone’s lips.
Disruption is a word that tech companies like to use because it brings with it a whole bunch of positive extras. It plugs into an ancient narrative we all love: David vs Goliath, rooting for the little guy. The newcomer is the small, good guy that fights for justice and progress against an old, corrupt Evil Empire.
But what we usually call disruption isn’t really that. In his book, What tech calls thinking, Adrian Daub picks the tech jargon apart to reveal another narrative, less Star Wars, more Emperor’s New Clothes.
Uber, a classic example of modern disruption is an example. Daub argues that Uber wasn’t fighting against a huge, evil corporation. It was picking on the little guys: small cab companies and private drivers earning very close to minimum wage.
The Uber model involves sucking out whatever profitability there is in the market, while pushing the financial risks and capital investment costs onto the individual driver. All this, while ruthlessly employing legal loopholes to side-step basic social and employer responsibilities (holiday pay, sick pay, pensions, social insurance etc.)
But the public narrative is very different. Uber presents itself as a champion of change, customer choice, freedom and progress. They are fighting unnecessary legislation, taxes, and restrictions to support entrepreneur-drivers and to provide better service and lower fares.
Sean Parker (of Napster and Facebook fame) has compared himself to a Loki character, working on both sides of the law for the common good, against evil.
But according to Daub, real disruption is more than bending the rules to make a profit. It’s about creating a completely new market and value network.
Wikipedia’s definition of disruption includes examples like the 78 rpm shellac record which was replaced by the vinyl record, which was replaced by the compact disc, which were undercut by mp3 technology - and later - streaming. Disruption involves a real paradigm shift, usually underpinned by technological advances in a field, based on long-term scientific research. The small startup in the garage is a charming image, but it’s hardly ever true. Real disruption, underpinned by a great scientific leap forward, is rare.
So, don’t sit around and wait for the next revolution. Incremental change or innovation through small steps often provides a better and more realistic route to positive change.
That being said, keep yourself on your toes. Smell the winds of change. Keep your eyes open for new technology and trends. Invest in space and time to think and try.
As Edison, one of our greatest inventors, says “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. Keep at it, never stop. Fine tune your ideas, try and test them, embrace every opportunity to make things better.
Startup Accelerators need a shake-up: the truth is that they don’t offer true value to their participants and we want to change that
We met Tomi at the end of 2019. Morgan, Co-Founder of Framlabs, had been a startup mentor on several high-profile programmes. Morgan had been questioning the real value of accelerators - do they actually work? There was a meeting of minds, and we realised that we shared a joint vision for a startup accelerator that would question the traditional model, and be rigorous in its approach to building successful businesses. The current accelerator model was not working and we wanted to offer something different. So we first had to understand – where were these accelerators going wrong? We got to work dismantling the current model so that we could understand where the problems lay.
We began designing a programme that would simultaneously tackle the problems of the current accelerator model and help startups become great companies, as defined by our five pillars. At the centre of the design was a heavily guided programme that would force startups to rigorously assess their ideas on an ongoing basis. We wanted to give first-time entrepreneurs the tools to be open-minded founders who were focussed on delivering real value to their users. We arrived at a structure we thought would help support startups in a more meaningful way. It involved a 12-month journey, starting with a 3-month intensive school followed by nine months of afterschool where companies would be supported by a team of hand-picked mentors to accelerate their progress.
The other participants really grilled us - for the first time we seriously considered that our business might not be viable, but in the end, we actually became more motivated to build a company that would last
We gained a new community and a new mindset of asking questions rather than seeking solutions
On 6th of March th 2020, we delivered the first bootcamp for the new version of NSS. Teams from all over Finland came to Tampere for an intensive weekend of work on their startup companies. Framlabs comprehensively planned and facilitated the event. We built a structured agenda around the question “Who is the customer and what is the problem they have?” and challenged our teams to ask themselves fundamental questions about their businesses. The weekend involved:
Facilitated conversations with teams to drive alignment and deepen their insight and understanding of their customer
Introducing teams to a unique set of tools and frameworks to challenge their assumptions and shape their value propositions
Structured sessions with mentors who had been fully briefed and would provide continued support after bootcamp
Expert advice into how to engage users and generate insight
Globally networked and partly delivered in the U.S. Helping teams think international from day one. Opening doors to national and international networks. Dedicated networking events and trips abroad.
Participants get early funding and enter a complete learning journey. In our problem-based learning model, they experience a comprehensive start-up course while building their business.
Mentors are trained and tooled to become consistent and constructive helpers. They are paid parties and invest in the accelerator equity pool. They’re vested for the long-term
Support for personal growth & learning.
Explicit focus on growing as a person, being the best first-time entrepreneur you can be.
12-months, not 12-weeks.
Built to support teams over the long term, fostering a strong foundation, and helping to avoid first-year mistakes.
Programme delivered by world-class facilitators and supported by robust innovation methodology.
Focus on solving customer problems in the international markets from day one.
The programme has allowed us to build real relationships with our mentors, whereas, before NSS, we might have brushed past issues we were having, now we lean into those problems because we know we have a support system
Now we have a list of people who we can call up when we face a problem
When Framlabs came on board with NSS to create a new type of startup accelerator, we wanted to help entrepreneurs dig deeper into the problems that would make or break their businesses and learn faster. But did it work, did we have any impact?
The startup teams’ feedback tells us that we’ve encouraged them to move away from solutions, stay in the problem for longer and ruthlessly assess their ideas. Teams are more open to challenge and more comfortable dealing with uncertainty.
But still, it’s just too early to say whether better support and learning leads to better business outcomes.
Planning meticulously and creating a comprehensive structure proved one of the most valuable elements of the programme. Detailed agendas for the bootcamp weekends and clear communication meant that everyone was on the same page. Teams remained engaged and got optimum value for their time.
We facilitated a process whereby teams had to ask themselves fundamental questions about who their user was. Even more experienced teams benefitted from interrogating what the core value of their business was. This process was tough on participants but in the end made them feel more motivated than ever before.
Many teams struggled to stay in the problem space. They found it frustrating and wanted to jump ahead to solutions. Some entrepreneurs found it hard to let go of their initial ideas but all teams ultimately appreciated that challenge and in the end they became more focussed on solving the customer’s problem.
Mentors were taken through their own training programme and given a thorough understanding of each team. Structured sessions helped participants get real value out of their time with mentors. Open communication and feedback allowed for valuable relationships to form over the course of the programme.
Participants found great value in meeting other startups who were in the same boat and a supportive community quickly formed. Whether mentors, other participants, or Framlabs facilitators, each team now has a support system of people they can turn to when they need help.
Time was an issue across the board and sometimes participants felt they couldn’t complete exercises and tasks in the given time-frame. The feedback from Bootcamp I suggested that teams were frustrated by not having enough time to have fully fleshed-out discussions. We adjusted timing for Bootcamp II and III but it’s a process and we’re still learning.
At times there was too much “teaching” and not enough “doing.” Teams wanted more time to work together and less content to absorb. We’re learning how to create a balance so that we feel we are providing enough valuable content while also leaving space for teams to make discoveries.
Some teams were at different levels to others and at times content was less relevant to certain participants. We are exploring how to deliver content that’s more adaptive to companies’ stages and needs.
Nordic Startup School has been by far the best experience I have had as a startup founder, I wish more people could get to experience it
The startups loved the new NSS accelerator format. Overall, we had an average approval rating of 9.1/10 across the three bootcamps. What really surprised us, though, was that attendees preferred the virtual bootcamps to the in-person version. The Covid-inspired switch to a virtual format seems to have actually improved the attendee learning experience.
Average approval rating, on a scale 0f 0-10, based on an average of 15 attendees / BootCamp, collated from attendee feedback forms.
We can already see how our participants' mindsets have changed over the course of the programme - they’re learning to ask important questions of themselves and their businesses
For me, that’s where the real value lies because that’s what makes a great founder; and a great founder makes for a long-lasting business
Nordic Startup School
Great entrepreneurs are all about change. Changing things that are broken; changing mindsets; challenging the status quo; making things better. Change is inherently uncertain, it’s a leap into the unknown. So we have to get comfortable with not knowing all the answers. In our experience, the most interesting startups are those led by open-minded founders who embrace this uncertainty. Founders who are honest with themselves and aren’t afraid of being wrong. Founders who actively experiment and view mis-steps as learning opportunities.
Through the NSS we’ve given first-time entrepreneurs practical tools to help them learn, experiment and grow - as people and as entrepreneurs. . Their mindsets have shifted, and they’ve become more flexible, collaborative, self-reflective and user-focused. They take away a whole gamut of new skills: in strategy, branding, sales, product strategy, team dynamics, branding, marketing, and storytelling.
Time will tell whether we really have invented a better acceleration model. Maybe one or two of our teams will become genuine world-changers. For sure, our startups will change and evolve. Some may even die. But the skills and the mindsets will persist. And by giving our founders the tools to solve real human needs, we’re confident that some of these teams will succeed in changing the world for the better.. And what could have more value than that?
At Framlabs, our process is all about collaboration and a crucial part of that is being in the same room with people. So, when the world went into lockdown, our first reaction was panic - the time of the face-to-face accelerator had come to an end.
Our key question became – How might we create the most delightful virtual experience that we can?
Framlabs has always been international & virtual by design, its tools and frameworks flexibly used across offline & online settings.
However, how could we replicate face-to-face workshops without losing the magic of being in a room with other people?
Going fully online, we were concerned with:o Human dynamicso Preserving spatial orientationo Maintaining tactile nature of workshopso Creating moments of Serendipity. The online experience is very controlled, so those moments needed to be engineered somehow.
Our fears aside, when the feedback came back from our participants and mentors, it was overwhelmingly positive and showed that participants got more value out of the weekend than any previous event. Going virtual had actually made us do things better.
Many of our participants said they would be happy with replicating face-to-face experience into a virtual setting. However, most agreed that it only worked with the benefit of the innate human connections between the participants that been built prior to the shift to virtual programme.
It’s somewhat comforting to know that at the end of the day, humans want to be close to each other. That’s why we believe the future of facilitation lies in using the best bits of both physical & digital worlds in combination with each other.
Create space for human moments
Think outside the box to encourage authentic interactions – for instance, we designed virtual walks where people went on an actual walk outside while having a chat on a pre-arranged topic.
Balance the mix of asynchronous and synchronous work
Our teams and mentors were given work to prepare in advance, so that their time together online could be optimised. This is particularly necessary to combat the ever-present challenge of online fatigue.
Be conscious of participants’ emotional experience
When facilitating online, you can’t just look around the room and see who’s having a hard time. Make sure to set a positive tone and be ready for things to go wrong so that you can keep everyone on track when something doesn’t work the way you expected.
Have a great online producer (like our Joe)
Who’s familiar with the tech, can set everything up, herd the cats and get everyone together in the right place at the right time, and knows how to fix things when they go wrong.