About a week ago, a startup icon made the trip to our Creative Corridor.
Bob Dorf, who co-wrote The Startup Owner’s Manual with startup grand shaman/godfather Steve Blank, was the keynote speaker at the Hawkeye Innovation Summit in Iowa City on March 28, 2014.
He followed up his visit with a post, The New Iowa: Where Startups Are Growing Like Weeds. I was out of town and couldn’t make the summit, but Dorf’s post immediately made the rounds among our fledgling startup community here in eastern Iowa. Dorf’s visit and post were the main topic at the Iowa City Open Coffee Wednesday, 4/2/14, at IC Colab.
Dorf’s post is a great promo for the energy of the still small but rising startup community in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area, and most of the reaction reflected that.
A lot of people didn’t like the weeds analogy.
“Weeds are something you cut down. They’re something you try to get rid of. They’re bad.” It just took one person to make the remark. And then the piling on started.
Agriculturally minded Iowans don’t like weeds. Might as well have tried to complement a group of chefs by calling them rats.
The very next day I started reading The Lean Enterprise, a new book by Trevor Owens and Obie Fernandez. Owens is that founder of leader of Lean Startup Machine, a company that for years has been advising enterprise level companies on how to use Lean Startup Principles to drive innovation.
And right in Chapter One: Weeds.
Fred Wilson, founder of Union Square Ventures, says he likes to invest in startups that ‘grow like weeds.’ Why? A weed doesn’t need carefully prepared soil, regular watering, or full sunlight. It busts open its seed, sends down roots, and pushes upward without the need for a controlled environment. Likewise, ventures built according to lean startup principles don’t require the certainty of ideal conditions to thrive. They thrive in conditions of extreme uncertainty – the very conditions that bring the highest returns on investment.”
Think on that.
Weeds are the disruptors. They don’t care that you plowed perfect rows to plant crops, that the planting and harvest need to occur on a pre-determined schedule, or that there is a process to this whole thing.
One of the other sentiments people took away from the Hawkeye Innovation Summit was that sometimes we’re too “Iowa Nice” here in The Creative Corridor. The spirit was not “let’s be mean” – it was more a realization that bluntness and honesty have even higher than normal value in startup communities, and that sometimes our tendency to make everybody feel good can be counter-productive.
Weeds aren’t Iowa Nice. Weeds don’t care what you think.
Startups are like weeds.
They’re tough, they’re unpredictable, they’re fast. They’re going to try to grow whether you want them to or not.
And they should be proud of it.
By the way, if you’re interested in more about innovation within existing companies:
- You can read the We Create Here team’s take on the Dorf visit here.
- I’m also helping to put together a track on innovation within existing companies for EntreFest in Iowa City May 14-16. Go to the site for more information about the conference, or contact me here in comments or @timmcdougall13 on Twitter.
- While I’m just half-way through The Lean Enterprise yet and can’t give a complete review, it’s great stuff. Owens is speaking from experience. Recommended.