A Letter to our Startup Grind BCN Community: Never Stop Grinding

Post from the Opinion category

Despair Dear Startup Grind Barcelona community,

Yesterday we had our most misfortunate event ever at Startup Grind Barcelona. Everything that could go wrong went wrong.

I’m pretty sure Murphy’s laughing his arse off from wherever he might be right now.

We’ve been successfully running Startup Grind in Barcelona for over a year and a half now by doing at least an event every month. Like every other initiative, we’ve had our highs and lows, but this one has taken a toll on the team’s morale, and I think it’s good to wind down on a public platform so everyone can learn from our mistakes.

What’s more: I have got the feeling that we will come back to this post more often than not, when something goes wrong again.

We had a bad start one month ago

Things started to go wrong when one month before the event I received a call from our regular venue saying there had been a misunderstanding. They reserved the dates for our events until March, but they failed to save our date for November, so we had to look elsewhere.

Luckily enough, we have got plenty of options to choose from because we have been holding talks with many coworking spaces and other cool venues throughout the months.

Since time was running out, we decided to go for a safe shot. We chose the comfort of Barcelona Activa, where we had been before (remember our event of June with Pablo Villalba) and where we feel always like home, thanks to the massive job of two wonderful individuals: Itziar Blasco and Xavier Dumont. They have been big supporters of our cause since the very beginning. Hats off.

Things looked slightly brighter when we were able to communicate this accordingly and we saw that the ticket sales were not affected by the change, although we know that moving out of our regular venue means selling 20% fewer tickets.

In a normal event we almost compensate all our expenses (material, catering, cabs & unplanned expenses) with the ticket sales, so we can say we’re close to break-even. That’s ok: after all, Startup Grind is an investment that pays off in many other ways, so I am not looking to win any money. However, it would be great not to lose any money either.

Bottom line: moving out of our regular venue means losing more money. Actually, if there’s one big caveat of doing the event at Barcelona Activa is that they cover all the costs except the Audio Technician, which is usually around 300–350 euro for a couple hours. That means we’ve lost some big money with this event.

Dealing with providers

In order to respect the honour of our providers I will not mention them personally, but so we can all learn from this, I’ll share the story here.

As you might be aware, some of our providers are paid with the money we get from the ticketing, and some are unpaid, depending on what kind of sponsorship we’ve got.

During my four years volunteering at ESN, I learnt what volunteer / pro bono work is and I know it’s not ideal. However, as I wrote a couple of posts ago, if you’re not ready to invest in yourself, you won’t make it as an entrepreneur. Making strong alliances that compensate your work with other things than money is a good way to get started. It can even to bring you to the next level. You should carefully select with whom you can and are willing to work for free, and with whom you shouldn’t.

Stay away from toxic clients that only want to drag you down by working for them for free.

Conversely, stay close to high-level acquaintances that can bring your project to a higher level by partnering with them. Sometimes it’s the wisest move you can do.

That being said, we’ve got a great relationship with our providers but this month we had to endure the following mistakes:

  • Some material was delivered in a different address than specified, so we had to move it ourselves.
  • The fridge arrived only three hours before the event. As a result, beverages were not cold.
  • One provider raised the prices without prior notice.
  • Another provider gave a last minute notice that they were showing up, after a month of unresponsiveness. Still better than not showing up, but I had given up all hope.
  • We were supposed to get a new photographer but turned down the offer last minute.
  • The venue rejected our idea of offering welcome drinks as we usually do. They would only be allowed in the networking session.

If I had to choose what chore is the most tiresome when organising events, it’s dealing with providers. Thankfully, our co-director Carlos is helping me do that more effectively.

Shortage of volunteers

Life’s enough complicated as it is, but some of us really like adventure and we love volunteering. Call us masochists. We just don’t like easy stuff.

Besides my Chapter co-directors Carlos and Alex, we’re lucky to count on a tireless army of 5 volunteers. But Startup Grind is not a job for any of us, so everybody has got their own steady gig.

I spend most of my day growing MarsBased, while Alex provides kickass sales-hacking services to companies and startups alike, Carlos starts up his new venture Iyiyim, and so on.

The fact that everyone has got his own job leaves small to no time to devote to Startup Grind. Despite my insistence, I can’t battle reality, and I know we all have to look for our own good first (i.e: money) and leave volunteering for whatever little spare time our steady jobs allow us.

Normally we’re about five people in the venue doing all sorts of tasks, and it’s quite enough. This time we were two: Carlos and I, until 15 minutes in the event. Luckily enough, Marc and Pol came to the rescue shortly thereafter and eased things out. Thank you, buddies, I owe you a beer, even if you came later than expected because your car broke down (that damn Murphy!).

The event

All these aforementioned problems took a toll on Carlos and me, and consequently our confidence and self-esteem was probably at an all-time low when we started the event. I was, in fact, so distracted by it, that I hadn’t sent the last-minute instructions to our speaker Simon Lee. He, however, had been very active on Twitter retweeting all our stuff, so he was informed, and he showed up right on time despite having felt sick the whole day. Hats off to him, he brightened up our day! Gràcies, Simon!

This time, we did not have Alex rocking the first part of the event because he’s on his honeymoon, but Carlos fills his shoes perfectly, as he’s done a couple of times in the past. Therefore, the open mic went quite well, I must say. Carlos did a great job to start picking up from there.

However, when the keynote arrived, the cable to connect the computer to the projector gave up working. So our CTO at MarsBased, Xavi, had to confront this situation by starting his really inspirational keynote without the slides. Xavi has got stage presence, so he handled the situation accordingly. That’s what being the frontman of a rock band during high school years teach you.

Swiftly, Xavier Dumont from BCN Activa came to our rescue with a new cable and resolved the issue, but that made us lose a good ten minutes that shortened our fireside chat a little later.

The fact that our roll-up broke didn’t even matter to me at that point. We had to fix it quickly right before the fireside chat. The whole city could’ve burnt to a crisp and I wouldn't have given a fuck about it. Honestly.

That was the last problem we had, as the rest of the event worked very well, thanks to Simon and his high spirits (despite being ill) and our loyal attendees who sparked a good networking session. I’d like to give special thanks to Kailani ice tea for offering his new products to us during this session. You’ve got a new customer, Guy.

Moral of the story: never give up

The “do not give up” thing you will hear it daily when you’re starting up a business, or attending entrepreneurs’ events. It’s a no-brainer. Winners never quit, quitters never win and all of that.

But it’s really in moments like these, when all seems to go to hell, when you feel like giving up and cancelling the event, closing your business or just take the first plane to a remote island and disappear for seven years. In moments like these, you should not fail yourself. You should find that something that keeps you grinding. That inspirational spark that picks you up and makes you walk an extra mile.

One of the things that keeps me going at Startup Grind is walking on stage and seeing the familiar faces of our community.

Having 50% of recurring attendees every event, month after month, after over 20 events in over a year and a half, might mean something.

Having people coming to every event consistently since we started. Having people that missed out on an event, but they are the first ones to send me a Whatsapp or a tweet “how did it go tonight?”.

These things might mean something.

They might mean we’re doing something right, or that they like the catering we offer. Maybe they just come to pitch one another during the networking session or to steal beer (we saw this actually happening in this last event). Might as well be that they’re into one of us (most likely into Marc), or that they just feel good among so many motivated & cheerful entrepreneurs.

It could be that.

To me, it means more than that. But I’ll keep that to myself because that’s what keeps me going. Just one final push to wrap up 2015 with a final blast: Manel Sort (Head of Studio in Spain). It’s going to be HUGE. If you miss out, you’ll never forgive yourself.

And then, onto 2016.

Never stop grinding. We’ll never do.