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I had to fight to get my prize money

I had a torrent of learning and revelation that week following the startup weekend win. I couldn’t agree more with Justin Jackson’s recent article that you must do it, even something small and simple, before the secrets of the trade begin to be revealed and you really start to get it. No hours of book learning or reading would have given me anywhere near as much understanding.

Even having done my first startup weekend with a team and leading it through building an MVP within the 54 hours was nothing like the three days of managing an invaluable time-limited resource to get my idea and vision into existence, ready for showing to a real audience with the hope of getting some validation and traction. Because, what would I do otherwise? I couldn’t help but think that if this came to nothing I would be back at square one on my entrepreneurial journey.

The other thing I was thinking was that I had my small prize fund coming to me to spend on development and so the further I got with the MVP and then the feedback and validation at the exhibition, the more clued in I would be in how best to use that fund to get me further faster with my product.

But there was another hurdle with the startup weekend organiser to overcome. During the fiasco with him withholding a big chunk of my design sprint prize, I asked for a copy of the terms and conditions of the event and prizes, and funnily enough there wasn’t anything in writing. I scoured the website and there was nothing but a list of the prizes on offer. So when I asked about receiving the cash award he started to hem and haw. He said that I would have to spend money on development related directly to the product from the startup weekend win (fair enough) but I would also have to submit the receipt to him for any spend and he would decide if it was worthy of reimbursement.

It was clear he was making this up as the conversation went along, and I wondered if I had I been one of his buddies from the weekend if this would have been the case. But me, a non-techie woman who already caused a fuss about the design and dev prize, perhaps couldn’t be trusted to make sensible tech dev decisions with all that money. Or else he was just again being punitive. It doesn’t really matter either way. What mattered to me was this was another of those situations as a woman where you are fighting for what is rightfully yours and at the same time, because this is not the first time you have experienced this, you begin doubting, double-guessing, questioning yourself and the circumstances- “Is this normal? Is it him or me? Am I being paranoid? Is this fair? Am I overreacting? Am I missing something?”. You can lose perspective, and also lose confidence in your own ability to discern reality and the proportionality of things. In short, it sucks.

And in this case I was pretty sure I was right that this did suck, and it was inconvenient and arbitrary at best, punitive and an attempt again to keep me from my prize at worst.

It was here that my ability to stay calm and use logic left me. It was here that I pitched what we call where I am from A Big Ol’ Hissy Fit. I didn’t raise my voice or use bad language you may be amazed to hear, or maybe even disappointed to hear, but I told him in no uncertain terms how stupid that system was, and that I did not appreciate his treating me like a hopeless child that couldn’t be trusted to make rational decisions about the use of the money- which, I added, I had legitimately won and been awarded by a panel of independent judges.

I decided to put everything in writing at this point- the events of the week, why I wanted the fund up front and immediately since I had been awarded it by the panel of judges, what I thought of his behaviour and what I would not tolerate going forward.

I got a snooty response about how disappointed he was in my lack of trust and how they had never had anyone demand to make things formal. Everything to that point had been gentlemen’s agreements and friendly trust. But, he said, he had talked to his boss and they decided to give me the fund without needing to approve my spend after the fact (i.e., get rid of this annoying woman). The catch was that the money would be drip fed to me over a period of months, and that I would have to invoice them for each payment.

At that point I was just ready to be done with this guy, and go back to my lovely community where I had started and get on with it. So I did.

The judges from the weekend as I said had been so supportive of me, and a few had connected me to helpful relevant people in that city and back in my home city of Sheffield. I made a commitment to myself to follow up every connection. I went home seven days after I had first come to that startup weekend with no illusions of what would happen and collapsed with a real feeling of accomplishment and excitement for the future of my startup. I recharged over the weekend, then got up on the Monday morning and got to work.

I did three important things: 1) I made a list of all the people I had to go see, or email, or ring up. 2) I downloaded all my learning and ideas from the week from my brain to paper, so I could begin to develop an action plan. 3) And I thought of all the people I knew who might want to use the product I had built in three days.

I was serious about this entrepreneur thing, I felt passionately about the problem I had helped solve with my new product, and I felt confident my solution was a good fit. I was ready to take this thing forward and play to the whistle.

And I was actually learning some lessons worth sharing:

  • There are times when pitching a fit are justified and worth the risk of the fallout.
  • Always make sure there are terms and conditions written down for any type of arrangement you may be getting into, no matter how friendly, informal, trustworthy or reputable an organisation might be.
  • Put in writing any agreements or disagreements so everyone is clear what is going on. This is your chance to make your position clear, and give the other guy a chance to clear up any misunderstandings.
  • When you pick up some momentum, ride the wave. Never let it drop cuz getting the speed up again to continue is tough.
  • Write it down, make it happen. Don’t believe you’ll remember your great idea for a powerful action later. You won’t.

My next post will be a riff on the theme of Just Ask- and all that you can accomplish when you do.

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