Rising Tides Lift All Ships, Or What I learned at Startup Festival Montreal

This past week I hopped on a red-eye to Montreal to attend the International Startup Festival. Despite being its first year, the two-day conference brought almost a thousand attendees. What I liked about the conference—besides being held in beautiful Montreal—was that it really drove home the fundamentals of creating and running a business. A return to sensibilities.

Here are my big takeaways from the event. For many, these will come off as painfully obvious, and yet I see them being ignored time and time again.

Get good advisors. Paul Palmieri from Millenial Media spoke to the audience about building a team of advisors. It’s often said that the team is a deciding factor in the success or failure of a business. This shouldn’t be limited to just your employees. A good team of advisors can benefit your business immensely.

While “rock star” advisors may be good for introductions, you want to make sure you have people on your advisory team that have time for you. Moreover, you’ll want to regularly evaluate your advisory team to ensure that they’re delivering value to you and your company. Knowing how much value each member is contributing will help you prioritize your time with them when time becomes rare.

Avoid waste. David Weekly of PBWorks spoke about one of his past projects, IMsmarter. While developing it, he spent a considerable amount of time reverse engineering the major IM protocols in order to create a service that let you easily route, log, and remotely control your IM conversations. He proudly released it only to find that not many people wanted it.

Avoid waste by quickly prototyping your idea and testing it in the real world. (David created the first version of PBWiki in an afternoon.) David cited Meebo, which made heavy use of libpurple, and YouTube, which was a clever combination of Flash Encoder and Flash Player, as examples of successful companies that avoided waste by reusing existing technologies in order to get to market quicker.

Think long term. Charlie O’Donnell from First Round Capital wrapped things up with his talk on the importance of long term thinking and community.

Often times, startups get so engrossed in their own struggles and quickly solving their own problems that they exploit their support networks and scorch the Earth behind them. This leaves them in a poor position later on when they decide to start something new. Give before you ask, and always make an effort to empower the community around you. We’re in this together and rising tides lift all ships.

If we met and didn’t get a chance to exchange contact information, please send me an e-mail at rahim@twilio.com or tweet at @rahims. I’d love to hear from you.