An interesting thing happened the day after GamePlanU Startup Orlando 2020. We realized that we experienced something rather special. A feeling we didn’t see coming or anticipate.
The unknown for me, was that I certainly wasn’t sure how everyone else felt? Perhaps my feelings were the emotional relief you feel after planning an event for several months with all the uncertainties swirling around in your head during this time. Maybe the enormous excitement I was coming down from the day after was just a one big ole exhale that we simply pulled it off? But how did everyone else feel?
“Rob I didn’t want it to end, it far exceeded my expectations and from what I am hearing, the same with everyone else. It was an absolute blast”
That was the phone conversation I had with founder and CEO of Revel Marketing, Steve Buzby early the morning after the final night of festivities and celebration.
I felt this flood of emotions like when you graduate and partially glad it’s over, but you didn’t necessarily want it to end and leave your friends. A sense of let’s not going home yet we are having way too much fun. Or winning the playoff game that you didn't expect to win to advance to the next round. That was the feeling.
Perhaps this weekend was extra special because it wasn’t what any of us anticipated, certainly from my perspective, my priority was to connect founders with investors and hoping that both parties would show up! Paranoia for sure but if you are in the event business, you know what I mean. Until they actually show up and check in….
Being a first-year startup demo day event we had no idea what to expect. We knew that we wanted more than just a 10-minute grip-it-and-rip-it demo day pitch where you really don't get the opportunity to tell your story and for an investor to get to really know that story and you're “Why”.
Our vision with the weekend event was to get everyone (Founder and Investors) to unplug for a few days and focus on the moment. We scheduled plenty of time to network, collaborate, and have enough time to figure out if there are collaborations and funding opportunities. We knew one day wasn’t enough.
To accomplish our goal we had to go multiple days. But these were days away from busy schedules for both the founders grinding away building a business and the investor who put as much value into the commodity of time as they do sometimes with an investment opportunity. So there was pressure to over-deliver value for both parties.
What caused us the most uncertainty was the unknown of the group chemistry going into the event. Maybe it’s years of going to conferences and hosting sales meetings that were the hangover from a bit of corporate PTSD.
Always nice to get out of the office, go to a conference, be seen at a few workshops or the keynote but primarily hang in the lobby networking or in the back of the sales meeting wishing for a fast and painless death.
But this one is your event, your name is on it. You have people investing in you and this idea. Booking flights and hotels, it’s real.
You ultimately have to bring value and pay the F&B bill. Even though you have been advising, mentoring and working with this group for several months preparing for this weekend. Sharing with them as much information, managing expectations, sharing pitch deck templates, P&L forms, and a playbook to help them grab the attention of an investor. We know how important and game-changing this moment can be for their life. No pressure.
We quickly figured out, this wasn't a group that was going to mail in their weekend participation. They weren't thinking about jumping out of the conference room window or wishing for a fast painless death. This was a group that invested their time and money to get something out of every moment and they came to compete!
There was such incredible energy from this group. So much respect, support, and willingness of collaboration. The comradery was amazing, the fact that they were all open and wanting to grow and develop, heck even when we started the demo day with a session on mental health and meditating, everyone and I mean everyone embraced the session even though it was a new experience for many.
Ok, so I peeked to see if everyone was participating and to my surprise, they were even the investors were engaged. Which they later shared how important and serious they take their morning routines to balance out their daily mental and physical health.
Ironically the mindfulness workshop became a very important part of the weekend, it truly was instrumental in the overall experience and rounded out the activities, panel discussions, networking events and demo day pitches.
And there were certainly plenty of social after-hours moments where investment opportunities hatched, relationships were cemented and late-night shenanigans became weekend legends.
So as we prepare for GamePlanU Startup Weekend 2.0 this Spring back in Orlando, we look forward to our next class of eager startup founders and welcome into our network of sponsors, investors, advisors, and inspiring innovators.
We now know what to expect, raising the bar to duplicate or exceed the experience. We can’t wait to onboard new founders, can’t wait to see our alumni again, build new friendships, collaborations and investments.
Looking back to that first event and weekend, what we didn’t anticipate was the incredible connection to each other. And that was what made it so special.
About those legendary stories, oh those stories you will just have to be here to create your own.
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