Ben McKinnon

London Kick-Off. Start-up Genesis 👊🏻👊🏻👊🏻👊🏻👊🏿 Read how we made starting a start-up glamorously mundane, harnessed the power of the post-it and had fun mapping out the framework for our new mission.

The Hero’s Journey.

Christopher Booker’s book, ’The Seven Basic Plots’ gives us 7 handy boxes in which we can place pretty much all of the stories we will ever come across. The most loved start-up stories usually fall into the ‘Rags to Riches’ narrative and they often go something like this:

→ ‘Billionaire A’ used their last $50 at an internet cafe, where they taught themselves to code and start a business in 3 hours.

These are heartwarming stories that are meant to be motivating, but often they are not relatable and can even put us off taking the first few scary steps towards exploring, validating or even talking about ideas.

The second start-up story type that we often come across, is one of electric scooters, hackathons in the Bahamas and ping pong tables. These stories, while entertaining, don’t reflect many of our own experiences of working and starting companies.

Dekks is proof that starting a tech startup doesn’t have to be glamorous or that you have to have lived in a dustbin for it to work. This is the unglamorous exposé of what having an idea, getting a team together and working on something you care about looks like IRL.

Dekks was born out of the need for us to present and pitch our work. Check out our first blog ’Introducing Dekks’ to the world to learn more about our journey.

As the best problems to solve are usually your own, we decided to create a very simple proof of concept tool that would let us embed high-quality images and videos, use custom fonts and share the presentation via a link, rather than crashing the recipients’ mailbox. It took us one night to build, and solved our problems. We received great feedback on our presentations and won most of the pitches, that had a digital first approach.

This, combined with speaking to friends, studios and agencies in the industry who were facing similar problems, was the validation we needed to go on and build something people might want to use.

London Kick-Off

So here’s how Dekks started. To kick-off the project, we decided to have a team workshop in London, Hoxton to be precise. This was a good opportunity to bring everyone together and gather some momentum behind the project.

We rented a relatively cheap Airbnb (unfortunately during London Fashion Week), so it was a bit pricier then usual. We allocated £2K to spend on everything for 5 people … food, travel, AirBnB and of course beers. So we kept it lean.

James 🍌, Christoph 🤔 and Ben 👨🏿‍🎓
James 🍌, Christoph 🤔 and Ben 👨🏿‍🎓

One idea per post-it!

Pre-Workshop we struggled to come up with a defined plan, especially as there was so much to cover. We decided to start with a democratic post-it session where everyone wrote down what they thought were the priorities. This is the final list we agreed on:

  • Bring everyone onto the same page
  • Create team energy and gain momentum
  • Assign roles
  • Define an MVP (and create a database of features and nice to have’s)
  • Research into tools and services to define our tech stack
  • Find out and re-evaluate what we are trying to solve.
  • Create a Letter of Intent / Founder’s Agreement and address everyone’s needs
  • Sign NDAs
  • Decide on a name
  • Buy the domain

It’s a lot to talk about in 3 days, so we knew we had to get to work and not waste time. As everyone had brought their laptops and no paper, a trip to the local Art store for post-its and pens was next on the agenda.

Free flowing ideas

We started with a feature and mvp session to define the functionality of the app. Everyone had 10 minutes to get ideas out as many as possible; one idea per post-it. The output was really interesting, since everyone took a different route. Some wrote down the problem, others the solution, some defined features and others took more of a helicopter view. This was perfect to start with, as this stage was more about widening our horizons and getting a brain-dump of everyone involved.

Notion is the best app for us to start-up and collect information and store ideas.

Screenshot from our first notion setup
Screenshot from our first notion setup

We collected all the output from the post-its in a Notion database. Notion has been a godsend throughout this project. Its modular building block system helped us organise our ideas, collaborate and work from anywhere at any time.

James 👨🏻‍💻and Stefan 💀
James 👨🏻‍💻and Stefan 💀

After identifying everything that Dekks could be and shouldn’t be, our next task was to refine which features had to be in the MVP, and what features could be part of the next stages in the app’s evolution. This was a painful ‘feature negotiation’ process, where we had to defend our opinions, or agree to disagree. As everything progressed it was amazing to see how everyone began to take ownership of the areas relating to their own expertise, experience or interests. This seemed like an organic way for us to grow into our roles at this early stage.

Breathe and chill out

Sometimes the best ideas are slow burners that show face after a few beers and a moment thinking about something other than the task at hand. Our workshop in London was immersive, but it was important for us to take some time out, go for a walk, visit the pub and grab some dinner.

Developing ideas is a long and sometimes arduous process, and often a change of scenery was exactly what we needed.

Baby steps

People often call the magic between success and hard work ‘luck’. This is a logical leap of faith, as not all hard-working people are successful, and not all successful people are hard working. The question then is always, can you create luck, or increase the likelihood that you will be lucky? Our answer... Does it matter?

One of the most important lessons we’ve learned as a indie startup is to have a realistic outlook on what success will look and feel like. With this mentality, we don’t need luck, just a good plan and the determination to work hard to make our idea a reality. The fact that you are here (thank you by the way 😚) and reading this blog post is one metric of our success and proof that a good idea + logical thinking + hard-work, is a much easier life force to tap in to than pure luck.

Stefan, Adam and Christoph at the ’AI: More than Human’ exhibition
Stefan, Adam and Christoph at the ’AI: More than Human’ exhibition

We all work remotely from different cities around the world, so the goal is to continue meeting up in different places, laser-focus and then spread out again. In today’s world we have an incredible amount of tools and technologies that enable us to work from basically anywhere, however, it’s still good to meet-up face to face and exist together in the real world.

Love and Hugs,
Ben 💅🏿